Doctoral Dissertation Research: Social and Biogeophysical Factors Contributing to Soil Fertility Sustainability in Local and Regional Food Systems

Project: Research project

Project Details


This doctoral dissertation research project will employ a geographic approach focused on human-environment interactions to analyze soil fertility management and the combined social and biogeophysical factors that contribute to soil fertility sustainability in local and regional food systems. The project will focus on the complex interplay among farming philosophies, access to resources, and participation in local and regional food systems. It also will examine how these factors influence farmer decision making and soil fertility on participating farms. This project will provide new information regarding the human-environment aspects of agricultural sustainability and insight into the potential for local and regional food system activities like farmers markets to address the challenges of reducing adverse environmental impacts of food production and improving agricultural sustainability. The special attention given to phosphorus will yield new findings regarding the ability of local and regional food systems to break from dependence on non-renewable sources of fertilizer and prevent excessive application of nutrients that can damage connected ecosystems. Findings will be delivered directly to farmers and other engaged in local and regional food systems to help improve their practices as well as to sustainable farming associations and non-profits that work to connect farmers with resources needed to strengthen local and regional food systems. The results of this research therefore will advance basic scientific understanding about soil sustainability and will assist farmers, policy makers, and food system advocates as they work to ensure the long-term viability of the food system. As a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award, this award also will provide support to enable a promising student to establish a strong independent research career.

Soils are one of the most important resources for food production and agricultural sustainability, but many aspects of soil sustainability still are poorly understood. One of these issues is the ability of local and regional food systems to produce more sustainable soil fertility. In conducting this project, the doctoral student whose dissertation research will be supported will use semi-structured interviews, soil analysis, and geospatial techniques to answer three core questions: (1) How do farmers participating in a local and regional food systems manage their soil fertility? (2) How does participation in a local and regional food systems influence soil fertility management decisions? (3) How resilient is the soil fertility of local and regional food systems? The student will integrate information from interviews with the results of soil testing for statistical analysis to better understand how social and ecological factors interact and contribute to sustainable soil fertility. Interview analysis will identify key challenges and successes in sustainable soil management and provide greater context for statistical analysis. Geospatial techniques will be used to map and analyze degrees of farmer dependence on non-renewable fertilizers. This student will analyze regional farmers market networks based in New York City, but the research framework and findings will have applications in local and regional food systems in many other regions of North America and elsewhere.

Effective start/end date3/15/168/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $8,187.00


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