The Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program has awarded Ross Wagstaff with 2 years of support as part of our ASAP Scholars program. Ross will join Sam Wortman’s Urban Agriculture Research Lab in the Department of Crop Sciences to study the complex relationship between plants and the urban environment. According to Ross, “the urban atmospheric growing environment is substantially different from the rural environment, which is where the vast majority of agricultural scientific knowledge has been obtained”. He argues we need to increase our understanding of this environment and has proposed four specific research objectives to help him do just that. Ross plans to: 1) characterize the atmospheric environment along an urban to rural latitudinal transect through the Chicago, IL metropolitan region with regular measurements of ambient CO2, tropospheric ozone, temperature, light intensity, vapor pressure deficit, and wind speed; 2) quantify crop and cultivar plant physiological response to altered environmental conditions along this urban to rural latitudinal transect; 3) determine the relative influence of each environmental factor on crop and cultivar physiological response and fruit quality; and 4) understand ecological processes of urban food production by monitoring insect and soil microbe diversity and population across the urban to rural gradient.
The Urban Agriculture Research Lab at the University of Illinois was formed to develop science-based information and tools necessary for urban farmers to develop productive and economically sustainable cropping systems. They seek to quantify and characterize the distribution of air and soil pollutants in and around urban areas and understand how these pollutants influence crop physiology and productivity, develop research programs focused on hydroponics and aquaponics, and understand the challenges with heavy metal soil contamination and remediation of these soils in an urban environment.