At 5:00 am on a Wednesday morning the sun has yet to rise in the Pocomoke River State Forest, but our team is already up cooking breakfast and putting on our boots to prepare for a day of work in the field. It’s important for us to get an early start in an attempt to beat some of the Maryland summer heat, or to make up for lost hours due to yesterday’s afternoon thunderstorm. We load up our truck with tape measures, augers, fertilizer, and of course our plants, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and saltmeadow corgdrass (Spartina patens). The purpose of this field excursion is to plant several salt tolerant crop species in order to see how they fare in the increasingly inundated and brackish farm fields of the eastern shore of Maryland, one of the regions most vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise in the entire country.
This summer I have been lucky enough to join the AgroEco Lab’s saltwater intrusion team and come along on multiple field excursions, where I have gotten to experience field work first hand and get a sense of what a typical day in the field looks like. Some may assume that scientists are only there to observe, and simply stand by making tick marks on their clipboards while others do the dirty work...but this couldn’t be further from the truth! One important thing I have learned this summer is that agroecologists are not afraid to get their hands dirty, and field work involves a great deal of manual labor, such a making soil “slushies” in order to install lysimeters, hammering probes 60 cm into the ground to get soil samples, and crawling up and down plots to plant our treatments.
During this planting excursion in particular I was thrown into the reality of field work: that it’s really hard! It involves long hours (sometimes dawn to dusk!), exposure to all kinds of weather, including sweltering heat and torrential downpours, strenuous labor, and worst of all, ticks! While some may know the eastern shore of Maryland for its picturesque landscapes of tall grasses blowing in the breeze against the backdrop of the Chesapeake Bay, or perhaps its delicious crab dinners, our field trips are certainly no vacation!
But sometimes these field excursions don’t seem like work at all, and the lines between work and leisure are more blurred. For instance, when I’m standing out on a wooden dock overlooking the bay, and behind me is a small cottage and willow tree that belong to a historic property, just down a dirt road from one of our field sites. Or when I get back from a long day in the field only to enjoy a lively make-your-own taco night with the rest of team, an evening fueled with laughter, stories, and an appreciation for good food. For all the things that make field work hard, there are plenty more that make it an incredible experience overall. As agroecologists we are lucky enough to get to go to so many extraordinary places and spend time outdoors, as well as get to bond with our fellow researchers, as a part of our job, which is a luxury not everyone has. I cannot wait to see all the places agroecology research will take me in the future!
- By Louisa Kimmell
Anderson, Eric K., et al. “Determining Effects of Sodicity and Salinity on Switchgrass and Prairie Cordgrass Germination and Plant Growth.” Industrial Crops and Products, vol. 64, Feb. 2015, pp. 79–87., doi:10.1016/j.indcrop.2014.11.016.
Titus, JG, and C Richman. “Maps of Lands Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise: Modeled Elevations along the US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.” Climate Research, vol. 18, 2 Nov. 2001, pp. 205–228., doi:10.3354/cr018205.