Saturday, June 28, 2014

Happy Soil, Happy People

Week 2: What have you learned this summer so far? What don't you know at this point? What are you going to learn more about? How do you plan to learn more?

My favorite part about this program thus far is how it has allowed me to focus in on subject matters that I am passionate about as well as explore new topics that I am being introduced to. That's the beauty of interdisciplinary research.

My research project aims to capture the upstream producer's (farmer's) willingness to accept payments or services so that they may transition to or maintain environmentally sensitive and socially sound farming practices in order to remediate phosphorus pollution. This project will also capture the downstream consumer's (citizen's) willingness to pay to clean up the lake. In doing so, we will be surveying and talking to both farmers and citizens to get a clear picture of what can be done in this community. We have learned which questions to ask and how to phrase them to get the most information out of a minimal number of questions. This was a challenge since we all have a million questions in our heads! The rest of the summer will be spent distributing this survey, collecting responses, and analyzing data.

View of farmland from the observation tower at Hoffman Hills.
This week we began designing the survey, but we also had the opportunity to attend a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) meeting of stakeholders. Members of the TMDL committee emphasized the importance of soil health repeatedly. This led me to do further research into what healthy soil is and what techniques exist to improve soil health. Through this research I realized that I have only scratched the surface of soil science. I guess that one time in high school when my teacher had me lick dirt in AP Environmental Science to understand soil texture didn't exactly drive home any important points. I look forward to learning more about what it takes to have a symbiotic relationship with soil - after all, one of my go-to phrases is "a little dirt never hurt."

Attending this meeting brought into focus the true purpose of this research project - to improve quality of life for members of this community while simultaneously caring for the environment that sustains this community (that's right - it's not all about beefing up our CVs!). It was a joy and a learning experience to listen to members of the community that are invested in the phosphorus pollution problem. As I move forward, I am going to continue to engage in conversation with more farmers and citizens as that is the type of work that I enjoy doing. I learn best by turning to the people who are immediately affected by the problem. I'm quickly discovering that I have a mini anthropologist/sociologist in me screaming for attention!

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