COS 49-10
The University of St. Thomas Stewardship Garden: Combining biodiversity research and community service in an urban agriculture setting

Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 4:40 PM
M101A, Minneapolis Convention Center
Ashela A. Richardson , Biology, University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, MN
Quinn A. Wrenholt , Biology, University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, MN
Adam D. Kay , Biology, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN
Background/Question/Methods

Global food demand and environmental impacts from agricultural intensification are rapidly increasing. Development of urban agriculture can help meet some of this growing demand without degrading natural systems. Research in urban agriculture is needed to help identify best growing practices while raising community awareness of food issues. Here we report on an urban agriculture project, the Stewardship Garden (SG) at the University of St. Thomas that integrates research, education, and community service.  The SG is an on-campus community garden project designed as an ecological research project. The experiment compares main and interactive effects of crop diversity (monoculture vs. 8-species assemblages) and fertilizer type (synthetic [urea] vs. organic [coffee compost or bat guano], 10 g N/m2/yr) on crop growth, crop nutritional content, and soil quality. It consists of collection of small community-garden style plots assigned to different treatments; crops used in the experiment are common crops used in community gardens. 

Results/Conclusions

As a research experiment, we found that diversity generally increased crop growth but effects differed among crops. Fertilizer type had little effect on overall production. Neither treatment significantly affected soil microbe community composition. These results suggest that organic fertilizers can serve as adequate substitutes for synthetic fertilizers in urban settings, but any belowground benefits from organic fertilizer use may not emerge after single season applications. As an educational tool, the SG provided a setting for student gatherings to discuss the importance of biodiversity, urban agriculture, and food justice issues. It has also galvanized sustainability actions on campus, and has been incorporated into classes from a broad range of academic departments (from Theology to Geology). As a service project, the garden yielded over 2000 lbs. of produce in 2010 and 2011 that was donated to local food shelves. By integrating research, education, and service, the garden project provides a gateway for socially conscientious students to become involved in ecological research, and provides tangible opportunities for social impact (through food donations) for students interested in community service. The focus on biodiversity and urban food production also increases student awareness of two of society’s most pressing challenges.