Rising junior Eliana Uriona, ’21 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), was just a young girl growing up in Virginia when she developed a passion for cooking, which led to the discovery of farmers markets and the idea of buying local and fresh produce. After visits to Central and South America and an internship at the Redeemer Valley Community Garden in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., Uriona knew one day she wanted to grow her own herbs and vegetables.
“It was in Ecuador that I first realized gardening and farming are both an art form and that it takes not only skill and practice, but passion and love for the earth,” Uriona said. “I have learned so much about environmental care, environmental issues, the effects of climate change and sustainability in my experiences and classes.”
This summer, Uriona and Visiting Assistant professor of Chemistry, Vanessa Boschi, PhD, are studying which organic amendments in soil best support plant productivity. The research will take place in the University’s research garden, known as Villanova Consortium for Agricultural Research and Education (VCARE). Uriona, who received a Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellowship for the summer project, and Boschi will be the first-ever research team in VCARE.
“There are so many different types of chemistry, and soil chemistry is so important,” says Boschi. “Many people don’t realize how vital chemistry is to a lot of the things we eat. We need to be asking, how are we going to feed ourselves in the next 100 year? How do we optimize soil chemistry to meet the needs of a growing population and combat the negative impacts of climate change?”
The benefits of this research are endless as concerns escalate over population growth, which leads to more people needing to be fed with food that is becoming less nutrient-rich due to climate change, among other factors. The team will be able to determine which amendments yield the best food supply and maintains the highest level of soil nutrients, which is critical with increasing air temperatures and variability in precipitation.
For the research, Uriona and Boschi chose tomatoes and chamomile, which are found across much of the world. As a pre-med student and double major in Chemistry and Spanish and minor in Global Health, Uriona has an interest in chamomile and its benefits related to plant-based medicine. The plants are rooted in the soil with four different organic amendments: chicken manure, alfalfa, dried molasses and biochar.
Over the course of the summer, they will measure several nutrients in the soil two different ways: a traditional lab setting and an affordable at-home test kit that can be used for the everyday person or farmer, which is helpful for those who don’t have access to a lab. First, they’ll examine the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, which are key nutrients plants need to produce DNA and chlorophyll, to support their growth and to make and store energy. These will be measured in the lab and the test kit.