I applied for my position at University of Maryland from the guest house at the Kanisa Anglikana Tanzania (Anglican Church of Tanzania). I am not a religious person, but it was inexpensive compared to the one hotel in town where all the wealthy game hunters would stop over for a night. I much preferred learning how to make chapatti from the nuns than listening to the drunken banter of someone who just shot a zebra for sport. My house had spotty power, no internet, and no hot water. The day before the application was due, the power to the entire town was cut off and I had to ride my bike to my friend Rashid's family store. Where I sat atop a pile of bursting bags of sugar and hooked up my dying laptop to the generator as I tried to submit my application. There was no time for last minute edits and agonizing. It was submit now or never.
Joining the faculty in a Plant Science Department felt odd. I am an agroecologist, soil scientist, and biogeochemist. I still don't claim the "plant hat." But, I feel like I have made a home for myself at Maryland in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I have the best students a professor could hope for. I love teaching undergraduates as much as I love mentoring my graduate students.
The journey to tenure has not been easy, just like grad school wasn't easy. Being a woman in science isn't easy period. I am fortunate to have wonderful colleagues (who I now call friends), brilliant students (who are now becoming colleagues), and a host of cheerleaders outside of academia who kept me sane throughout this process.
It is an especially difficult time to be pre-tenure with the looming budget cuts across Universities as COVID-19 strips their rainy day funds and fall enrollments plummet. It is also an incredible time to be an educator. For the first time, my single voice is being echoed by the administration - we can't talk about food systems without talking about food justice. We can't talk about food justice without talking about racist policies.
I have the luxury of being on the other side of the tenure line, which means I can speak out. I can amplify voices that need to be heard. I can help change racist policies within the University system. We educators have a duty to have uncomfortable conversations with others and with ourselves. Hell, isn't that what learning is all about? Turns out we are wrong a LOT of the time. But as long as we do something about it, as long as we try to correct it, understand it, we will end up better off than when we started. Some people say, "Ah, now you have tenure, you can take a deep breath and relax." Rather, I like to think of it as, now I have tenure, I can take a deep breath and start speaking loudly.
- By Kate Tully
In the United States, health is often defined by deficiency and lack rather than vigor and abundance — and rightfully so. The World Cancer Research Fund found that, in 2018, the United States had the fifth highest rates of cancer worldwide. Additionally, a report in the International Journal of Cardiology found that the U.S. has the highest rates of heart disease among “High Income Countries”. It is likely that you know at least one person with cancer, heart disease, and/or other chronic illnesses. Suffice it to say that Americans are not the healthiest bunch.
While we may not be able to immediately control several of the factors that contribute to the ubiquity of chronic illness — genetics, medical racism, environmental hazards, etc — there are many factors that we can, and therefore ought to, control. And for some, the food they purchase is something they can control. One responsible way to boost personal health is to maintain (safe) participation in farmers’ markets, CSAs, urban agriculture projects, and other alternative foodways. In doing so, you also support local agricultural systems, farmers, and overall community health.
It is important to acknowledge that the ability to choose the source and quality of one’s food is a privilege. Due to historic and structural systems of oppression, including wealth inequity, racism, and the heteronormative patriarchy, access to environmentally, socially, and culturally sustainable food systems is not equally afforded to every person and community. Therefore, those who have the ability to participate in holistically sustainable and just food systems have the responsibility to do so.
- By Dylan Fishbein
On 4 Apr 2020, Dani Weissman successfully defended her dissertation, earning the title, Dr. Weissman!! I couldn't be more proud of her. Mentoring her was a joy and I am so happy that she will be sticking around the lab for a while and continuing to work on conservation efforts in the Chesapeake Bay Region.
- By Kate Tully
AgroEcoLab alumna, Elizabeth de la Reguera, published a great blog post about saltwater intrusion for Sustainable, Secure Food Blog. Check it out!
A collaboration between the AgroEcoLab and the Northeast Climate Hub resulted in a newly published factsheet! Check it out here.
New publication in ECOSPHERE (Open Access) about nutrient release from saltwater-intruded ecosystems authored by PhD Candidate, Dani Weissman. Check it out here.
New article about allelopathy in cover crops published in Chemoecology. Check it out here.
Hot off the presses! Check out our new article in Organic Agriculture!
I have been working in Agroecology Lab over a little month ago when I’ve been working with a field/lab technician, Aubrey Wiechecki water samples from various agricultural plots along the Eastern Shore from August 28, 2019 where it recently had rain. As the weeks progresses there’s had recently no rain, so the lab technician goes out soil sampling every other week causing the soil is so dry and the crops are going to die. We are analyzing these samples to examine the levels of nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) loading in the Chesapeake Bay in response to saltwater intrusion.
These studies of coastal agricultural communities are extremely important, as they are the leading edge of climate change. Increased drought associated with climate change will increase saltwater intrusion (a landward movement of salinity from the ocean onto the coastal plain) on coastal wetlands. This will cause the wetland become brackish or saline that suffers stress from reductions in rainfall and freshwater flows in groundwater on agricultural lands. Droughts can also alter biogeochemical cycles that can cause coastal wetlands to release nitrogen (N). Past applications of N and P on farms may be released by the intruding waters. The lab work that I am helping with Aubrey with this semester will be used to help demonstrate the effect of saltwater intrusion on agricultural plots in coastal wetlands.
My experience in the lab so far this semester has been very informative and interesting. I have learned many things up to this point and anticipate learning more. At the beginning of the semester, I conducted out water samples for measuring conductivity, salinity, and pH. I’ve also learned how to make 5 different reagents by formulating a single chemical compound such as nitrate, ammonium, and phosphorus. As of late, I have been analyzing filtered soil samples using a pipette for 2mL of the sample and 4 mL of water for each test tube. This has all been valuable information that I will use in the future. As it is still early in the semester, there is plenty of time and opportunity to learn new things and to continue helping Aubrey with her work.
- By Skylar Petrik
Agricultural soils in the Chesapeake Bay region are often rich in nutrients such as phosphate. However, some forms of phosphate are bound to iron in soils and are not available for plant uptake (McQueen et al. 1986). As a result of saltwater intrusion (SWI), or the underground movement of ocean water to inland areas, coastal farmland around the region has begun to transition to wetland habitat. This has caused shifts in the dominant pools of iron found in the soils along these transitional zones (Tully et al. 2019; Williams et al. 2014). The changing structure of iron from crystalline to amorphous and dissolved forms can release phosphate from soils and allow it to wash farther downstream with outgoing tides. The resulting excess of phosphorus in the water can lead to nutrient pollution problems. Therefore, the underlying chemical mechanisms that mediate interactions between saltwater and iron in coastal soils is important to study.
Dani and I spent the summer and into the fall semester simulating SWI on a farm soil in the lab. First, we collected agricultural soil from an actively farmed field on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Then we weighed it into separate beakers and treated it with eight different combinations of ions found in saltwater. We set the treatments to 15ppt to simulate brackish water intruding onto an agricultural field. We purged half of the microcosms with nitrogen gas and sealed them off to simulate anaerobic conditions as agricultural soils transition to wetlands. The other half were left open to the air. Then, we extracted total dissolved iron from water and total and amorphous iron from soil sampled from the microcosms at 0, 15 and 30 days. We finished the iron extractions last week and have run two of three sets of extractions on the Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS). One more to go!
Our initial plan was to finish the analysis by the end of September. However, due to some serious technical issues, we could not run our samples until October. Although encountering technical problems was not a pleasant experience, the troubleshooting process improved my problem-solving skills and enhanced my conceptual understanding of the AAS. Furthermore, discussing AAS methods with Dani was rewarding. I not only enhanced my analytical skills but learned the importance of choosing appropriate methods for analyzing samples in order to collect reliable data.
We are currently in the process of analyzing the data, and I am looking forward to our results. I hope that our work will help others understand the effects of SWI on iron transformations in coastal soils. This research could lead to improved environmental policies on agricultural land affected by SWI.
McQueen D.J., Lean D.R.S. & Charlton, M.N. (1986), The effects of hypolimnetic aeration on iron-phosphorus interaction. Water Res. 20:1129-1135.
Tully, K.L., Weissman, D., Wyner, W.J., Miller, J. & Jordan, T. (2019). Soils in transition: saltwater intrusion alters soil chemistry in agricultural fields. Biogeochemistry. 142:339-356, DOI: 10.1007/s10533-019-00538-9
Williams, A.A., Lauer, N.T. & Hackney, C.T. (2014). Soil Phosphorus Dynamics and Saltwater Intrusion in a Florida Estuary. Wetlands, 34:535-544. DOI: 10.1007/s13157-014-0520-7
- By Tia Ouyang