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The Ursinus College Food Forest (UCFF) represents a transformation from an herbaceous pasture to a forested system characterized by long-lived wood tree and shrub species. This project sought to understand, quantify, and educate members of Ursinus College and broader communities on the transformation of former agricultural soils to a mature forest ecosystem. This project has developed protocols to assess changes in soil properties associated with the transformative land management strategy employed by the Ursinus College Food Forest (UCFF) at the Whittaker Environmental Research Station. The focus of the protocol development was to support the study of soil biological communities as well as the physical and chemical properties of the soil. Drawing on an interdisciplinary approach, the project first used a soil ecology sampling methodology to develop a comparative baseline to inform environmental education about soil transformation and create a comparative baseline for future sampling at the UCFF. The protocols developed this year will be used in future years as a means to document belowground changes over the long-term and quantify the impact of land management on soil. This information helped in the development of an artistic approach to visualizing these complex dynamics, which serves as an interdisciplinary outreach and education tool for the Ursinus College and wider Collegeville and Trappe communities. Wild clay samples were harvested from the site and processed to assess the usability for ceramics in the planned art installation. Beyond providing a baseline for future sampling, this project provides data for early mapping efforts of the below-ground root structures to support educational imagery and information about this often-overlooked component of ecosystems. By using both artistic and scientific methods to demonstrate the land transformation, this project is able to reach a broader community from various disciplines through the multiple mediums used.
Fowler, Lexi, "Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Impact of Tree and Shrub Species on Soil Health at the Ursinus College Food Forest" (2023). Environmental Studies Honors Papers. 11.