Local and regional food systems, soil phosphorus, and resilience in a northeastern regional farmers’ market network

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,796.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Grant Recipient: Penn State
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: fertilizers, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: Soil fertility, organic matter
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Local and regional food systems are one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the northeast, and understanding the social and ecological dimensions of these systems is crucial for sustainably meeting future food needs and maintaining the ecological health of the region. Yet little is known of how these food systems function, particularly how soil fertility is managed, and the many social and ecological factors that influence soil management on participating farms. This project seeks to explore these factors through an in-depth, mixed methods case study of farms participating in the New York City Greenmarket network of farmers’ markets. I will interview 40 farmers to explore the complex factors that influence soil fertility management, and combine this with analysis of the sources of nutrient inputs and numerous factors of soil fertility, particularly phosphorus. This approach will begin the important work of linking social processes to soil outcomes, and provide a more comprehensive assessment of the sustainability of this local food system. I frame sustainability through resilience thinking, which focuses on farmer ability to adapt to changes in soil fertility and nutrient supply, and the extent to which farmers are able to create nutrient supply systems that are more renewable, more efficient, and more sustainable for farm productivity and ecosystem health. The findings of this project will not only advance science, but provide important resources building sustainable whole-farm systems, and for organizations in the northeast that seek to form more sustainable agro-food systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:


      1. Assess and describe soil fertility management on farms that participate in the New York City Greenmarket farmers’ markets, which includes:
          1. Documenting all farm management practices each farmer attributes to soil fertility.

          1. Documenting and tracing all input sources, frequency and quantity applied, and harvested biomass (actual or estimated).

          1. Measuring soil fertility (P (extractable, soluble, total), K, Ca, Mg, Zn, Cu, S, pH, cation exchange capacity, soil organic matter, and bulk density), and phosphorus mass balance on each participating farm.


      1. Explore and document the many factors that influence soil fertility management decisions on these farms, especially the role of participation in the Greenmarket farmers’ markets.


      1. Assess and document soil fertility resilience in the Greenmarket food system.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.