CBEAR awards $300,000 to fund 12 behavioral science projects

CBEAR awards $300,000 to fund 12 behavioral science projectsCBEAR – the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research, which is operated jointly by the University of Delaware and Johns Hopkins University – is awarding more than $300,000 to 12 behavioral science projects that will examine the performance of various public policy approaches to agricultural-environmental problems.

The center completed its request-for-proposals process in September 2015. The selected projects aim to explain the complex human responses to agri-environmental policies implemented by government, with the goal of helping to design better public programs.

Kent Messer, co-director of CBEAR and the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment at the University of Delaware, said, “In these outstanding proposals, the overriding question asked, and answered, is ‘What works?’ For example, does an existing subsidy for conservation of land actually result in a larger amount of land being preserved? If not, why not? What kind of incentive might work better?”

Paul Ferraro, co-director of CBEAR and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School and Whiting School of Engineering, added, “The results of these funded research projects will be available within two years and can directly affect how agri-environmental programs are designed in the U.S. and globally.”

Many of the nation’s most pressing problems — climate change, droughts, floods, fires, polluted air and water, endangered species, shrinking agricultural and natural lands — have direct links to the intersection of agriculture and the environment.

The way governments tackle these problems is changing. In 2013, the Office of Management and Budget (Memo M-13-17) called for evidence-based policy design that relies on behavioral science and experimental techniques. Last September, an Executive Order by President Barack Obama noted that “a growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics… — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people.”

CBEAR is leading efforts to use this new approach to solve the nation’s agricultural and environmental challenges. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, CBEAR supports science-based research nationwide and translates these results into useful guidance for administrators and policymakers to craft more effective programs.

To enrich the studies, the researchers are working with collaborators that include farming groups, local water conservation districts, nonprofit environmental organizations, and agencies such as the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Ferraro said, “CBEAR is excited to work with this talented group of researchers and their partners from across the country to address important agricultural and environmental problems using the best of the behavioral sciences and rigorous experimental designs.”

CBEAR, which was launched in 2014, is housed in the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

To view a full list of funded projects, visit the CBEAR website.

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

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New Castle, Sussex counties announce spring Master Gardener workshops

New Castle, Sussex counties announce spring Master Gardener workshopsDelaware Cooperative Extension has announced Master Gardener workshops for the winter and spring in New Castle and Sussex counties.

New Castle County will offer workshops for the home gardener with topics ranging from beginning vegetable gardening, beneficial insects and their role in the garden, a child-friendly bee house building workshop, as well as hummingbird gardening in Delaware, landscape weed identification and a session on growing crape myrtles, camellias and magnolias.

Most workshops, unless otherwise noted with the individual description, are held at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, 461 Wyoming Road, Newark, on the University of Delaware campus.

For a complete list of New Castle County offerings, visit the New Castle County Master Gardener website.

For more information, contact Carrie Murphy at cjmurphy@udel.edu or 302-831-COOP.

Sussex County will offer a wide variety of topics and will host a presentation and book signing in March with Arthur Tucker, internationally renowned botanist and herb expert, who will introduce his new book The Culinary Herbal.

Classes are free unless otherwise specified, and all will be held at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, Delaware.

Pre-register for workshops by contacting Tammy Schirmer at 302-856-2585, ext. 544, or via email at tammys@udel.edu.

To register online, visit the Sussex County Master Gardener website.

About Master Gardeners

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices. It is Delaware Cooperative Extension’s policy that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran or handicap status. Those who have special needs that must be accommodated should contact the office two weeks prior to the event.

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Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program to host art and conservation competition

Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program to host art and conservation competitionThe Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program will host an art and conservation statement competition, a national art competition that is held each spring to select the design for the next Federal Junior Duck Stamp.

Each state will submit its best of show artwork and statement for the national competition.

Competitors that participate will choose a waterfowl from a list of species on the official U.S. Fish and Wildlife webpage and draw a live portrayal of that species in its habitat demonstrating its natural behavior.

“For the judging process they’re not looking for just the waterfowl but its surroundings and behaviors, as well, because that’s the driver in conservation for the program, and showing that they learned something,” said Autumn Starcher, Junior Duck Stamp Program state coordinator.

Submissions must be post-marked to the state 4-H office no later than March 15. The judging event will be held on March 29 at the New Castle County 4-H office.

The 4-H Junior Duck Stamp Program is an art and science based program that encourages wetland and waterfowl conservation through sharing and expression with art.

“Some kids might not be interested in science but they might really like art, so it engages the artistic kids in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and helps the science-oriented kids to be more creative,” said Starcher.

Each submission will be checked for plagiarism and put into groups based on age. This year there will be four groups: Group I (grades K-3), Group II (grades 4-6), Group III (grades 7-9) and Group IV (grades 10-12).

Those who submit artwork work are encouraged, but not required, to write a conservation message that expresses what the child has learned through research and planning for their Duck Stamp entries.

The Junior Duck Stamp Club is a national conservation effort supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Delaware 4-H Foundation.

K-12 youth who are U.S. citizens are encouraged to participate in the statewide art competition.

For more information on the Delaware Junior Duck Stamp Program or registration for the competition, see the website or contact Starcher at starcher@udel.edu.

Article by Jackie Arpie

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Anna Wik New Professor Profile

_EK36611Could you give a little background information about yourself?

I’m a professor of landscape horticulture and design and I teach courses within that field. I have an interest in a lot of different things: plants, the built environment, the process of design,  urban spaces, and place-making that’s inclusive for lots of different types of people.

Fall 2015 was my second semester at UD. I started in January of that year. This has been somewhat of a career change for me, as I have been a practicing landscape architect for the last 10 years. I was most recently working for the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, with a focus on urban public parks, and worked on many collaborative projects with the Philadelphia Water Department and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. I have a strong interest in urban design and community engagement.

What made you make the transition to academia?

I have always been interested in teaching. When I was in graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, I also completed a certificate program through the Sheridan Center at Brown University in teaching at the university level. I always envisioned myself taking that path as a long term career goal. While I was practicing as a landscape architect, I taught a couple of courses at Temple University as well as taught one-off courses at Morris Arboretum and through a local herb school up in Philadelphia. I was interested in moving into a full time faculty position, in order to more effectively explore all my interests instead of just being pigeonholed into being behind a computer all day and doing design work. I get a great deal of enjoyment and stimulation from engaging with students and people who are just getting exposed to these ideas for the first time.

What kind of classes do you teach?

I teach a lot of classes as my appointment at UD is primarily teaching. I teach computer-aided design (CAD) for site design, which is a course that covers AutoCAD, Photoshop, and other programs useful for representing design, from concept through construction documents. This course is geared towards landscape designers as well as civil engineers; basically anyone who is going to be using the computer to create plans for the built environment. I also teach history of landscape design where we cover landscapes from pre-history up to the present. That’s a really fun survey course and that fulfills breadth requirements. In addition, I teach bidding and estimating, herbaceous plants and construction materials. I also teach an advanced urban design studio in the spring.

What do you like most about landscape design?

I love that it’s a generalist field: you get to learn a lot about a lot of different things! I never get bored. As you can probably discern, based on the range of courses that I teach, there’s lots of different parts of the world of landscape design to explore: historic precedents and theory,  how things are actually put together, how to represent ideas, and ultimately how to look at spaces in new ways. I also love that it’s a very collaborative field, in that you get to work with a lot of different practitioners and other disciplines.

What made you come to UD?

I actually grew up in Old New Castle, so my folks are not far away and I am familiar with the area. I was particularly interested in coming to UD because this is a landscape design program that’s housed within a plant and soil sciences department, rather than in an architecture department. I earned my degree at a place where the landscape architecture department was within the school of architecture and that lead to a lot of wonderful theoretical ideas and understandings of the interface of buildings and the environment. The fact that this is a plant and soil science department means that this program’s curriculum is filled with a lot of practical knowledge, and develops a hands on understanding of how things actually grow and how plants can actually be used as a design material. This department and CANR overall also provide this awesome opportunity to interface with really innovative researchers and scientists in new developments and discoveries that are happening with plants and other natural resources. It’s really an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of how we can use plants as a tool in design for big issues.

What have been your impressions of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences?

It’s been a really great first few semesters. People have been really encouraging and welcoming and helped me with questions that I’ve had in getting adjusted to a lifestyle of academia. I love that it’s a supportive department where there’s a lot of people that have young families, which is important to me. I just hope to see more collaboration within the department as my time goes along.

Favorite part of your time here?

Seeing my students really grasp a concept or get excited about a new idea is the thing that makes me the most pleased and feel like I really made the right choice in making this transition.

Why do you feel that landscape design is important?

We are all continuously interacting with our environment and if we don’t have beautifully designed and functional spaces to interact with, then there is the potential to lose out on the recognition of natural processes. In addition to visiting local gardens, which are clearly designed, I take my history of landscape design students on a walk around campus and point out that UD is a designed space. It is amazing to me that people often don’t realize that they’re in designed spaces all the time, every day, as they are walking around. Every place can be made better by conscientious design decisions. Landscape design also has the ability to address major issues that we’re facing at this time such as climate change, sea level rise, and urban food deserts, as well to make life more equitable for everyone. Everyone can enjoy being in a space, it’s not reserved for the elite.

Any interesting hobbies outside of work?

I really enjoy hiking in the woods with my family and our three dogs. We like to identify birds and wildflowers. I am better at recognizing flowers than birds, but still enjoy it! I garden, and grow and use herbs in cooking and as natural medicine. I also have a Permaculture Design Certificate, and love to read about permaculture practices, especially food forests and plant guilds.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD postdoctoral researcher receives USDA grant to study arsenic uptake by rice

Matt Limmer, a UD postdoctoral researcher, receives USDA grant to study arsenic uptake by riceThe University of Delaware’s Matt Limmer has been awarded a two-year United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Post Doctoral Fellowship to study uptake of organic forms of arsenic in rice.

Limmer is a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

He said working with Seyfferth is a great benefit because she previously has examined inorganic forms of arsenic, while his interest is in the organic forms.

“Arsenic exists in a few chemical species. Inorganic forms include arsenite and arsenate. The prevalence of each species depends on the system redox [reduction-oxidation reaction] chemistry,” said Limmer.

The inorganic forms of arsenic have an arsenic atom surrounded by oxygen atoms while the organic forms replace one or more of the oxygen atom(s) with a methyl group.

“It’s similar to mercury and methyl mercury. You might remember in high school playing with liquid mercury metal. Mercury metal isn’t all that dangerous, but the methylated form is quite a bit more dangerous. A small amount of methyl mercury would easily be absorbed through your skin, potentially with lethal effects,” said Limmer. “Arsenic is a little bit different. The inorganic forms are quite a bit more toxic than the organic forms and so it’s useful to know what’s happening with these different species of arsenic because they have different toxicities.”

It is also important to distinguish between the organic and the inorganic forms of arsenic to understand the form of arsenic that is present in foods like rice.

“Right now, if you ask people how much arsenic is in their rice, they’ll just give you the total, which isn’t all that useful because you don’t know if it’s a ‘good’ form of arsenic or a ‘bad’ form,” Limmer said. “It’s been only recently that people have started to study in more detail how the organic forms and inorganic forms get into the plants and where they go and how to measure them.”

Limmer noted that even the good form of arsenic is still not “good” in the traditional sense. “It’s the lesser of two evils, or three evils, or four evils,” he said.

Using the rice paddies at the college’s Rice Investigation, Communication and Education (RICE) Facility, as well as growing plants in a greenhouse, Limmer will investigate if silicon, which has been studied to see if it can slow down the inorganic forms of arsenic from getting into the rice, can also slow down the organic forms of arsenic that may use some of the same transporters as their inorganic counterparts.

“Part of the proposal was, ‘Does silicon also affect the uptake of these organic arsenic species?’ And we’ve done some preliminary experiments and that seems pretty promising,” said Limmer.

Limmer, who did his undergraduate work in mechanical engineering with a minor in horticulture at Ohio State University and went on to get his master’s and doctorate in environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said he was interested in finding a post-doctoral program that was food-oriented but also allowed him to work with plants and contaminants. That’s how he came across Seyfferth’s lab.

“Food is the new cool thing to be studying, given the potential for chemical contaminants. Arsenic in rice is an important topic and Angelia is someone with extensive expertise in the field,” said Limmer.

Limmer hopes to one day become a faculty member himself and said that working with Seyfferth has been a great learning experience.

“She is super friendly and helpful and encouraging, and those are all qualities you want in an adviser,” he said.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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Delaware Ag Week big on attendance and state’s global future

Delaware Ag Week big on attendance and state's global futureThe 11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week concluded Jan. 14 after a four-day run, with Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee calling the event “the biggest Ag Week ever.”

The event, held at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, is co-sponsored by the University of Delaware, the Delaware Department of Agriculture and Delaware State University.

The final day wrapped up an intensive schedule that offered a wide array of sessions reflective of the First State’s broad agriculture output.

It also included a visit from Gov. Jack Markell, who expressed gratitude to those involved with the industry for “making Delaware agriculture so strong.”

Markell praised local farmers for meeting environmental challenges. “We know very well farmers are really our first environmentalists,” Markell said, referring to the Delaware Nutrient Management Program, which began during the administration of then-governor Thomas R. Carper.

“Collectively you have done a lot of important work in this area over the last couple of decades. It has an impact in Delaware and impact more broadly in the Chesapeake Bay region,” Markell said. “Some of the numbers we’re seeing certainly reflect the progress that has been made. We are particularly grateful to you for how you are handling your nutrients more efficiently and for being good stewards of our land and water.”

Markell joined Kee in recognizing Delaware’s newest Century Farm, owned and operated by Robert C. Thompson of Hartley. The Century Farm program honors families who have farmed the same land for 100 or more years.

The Jan. 14 session also included a panel discussion on successes and challenges of agricultural production that featured Kee; his predecessor, Michael Scuse, who is now serving as under secretary of agriculture for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); Douglas Fisher, New Jersey secretary of agriculture; Steve Connelly, Maryland assistant secretary of agriculture; and Hamish Gow, agriculture professor at Massey University in New Zealand, who provided insight on emerging global opportunities for Delaware farmers.

An 11-year tradition reaps a large following

Farmers from Delaware and neighboring states view Delaware Ag Week as a valuable tradition. As co-sponsors, the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA), UD and DSU assure that the topics and speakers are timely, research-based, and reflect changing regulations and innovations.

“We try to assure our sessions offer new and timely information. Presenting new and different research is key to keeping Ag Week relevant and offering something different to farmers each year,” said James Adkins, an irrigation specialist for UD Cooperative Extension and a member of Delaware Ag Week’s planning committee.

Twenty agriculture experts from UD joined partners from DSU and DDA, and invited guest experts to present on a variety of topics and emerging issues of interest to agriculture stakeholders.

Sessions covered commercial and backyard flock poultry, beef cattle, small ruminants, and equine topics, as well as hay and pasture, woodland management, processing fruits and vegetables, fresh market fruits and vegetables, wheat quality, marketing, urban gardening and food production, and risk management.

Richard Wilkins, a third-generation grain farmer and vegetable producer, has attended Delaware Ag Week since the beginning and sees the event as an opportunity to keep abreast of best practices.

“In food production systems today, farmers are employing the most modern technology, the best science available in order to provide consumers with safe, abundant and nutritious amounts of food,” said Wilkins.

The sessions meet farmers’ need to know the many different productions practices in place today in order to appeal to specific consumer tastes.

Wilkins, citing his travels abroad, said that the “Cooperative Extension System in this state is part of what has made our agriculture system the most efficient role model for countries around the world. Their farmers look to Cooperative Extension as a role model for how to improve food production and standards.”

Bob Voorhees, a retired dairyman who currently produces hay and small grains four miles outside Harrington and also rescues horses, attended all four days and said he values the networking and learning opportunities the event provides. “The biggest thing is keeping up on the trends and updates on the amount of government regulations coming down the pike,” he said.

George Whitehead and his wife Lynda, small cattle farmers from Townsend, attended sessions on pasture, forage and beef cattle, and sought out the risk management session on farm succession in particular.

Whitehead estimates he’s attended Delaware Ag Week for at least nine years, and over that time has learned how things can be improved on his farm.

With a son, daughter-in-law and grandson involved in the family farm on a daily basis, Whitehead said he was keen to hear advice from experts on preserving his farm for future generations, specifically in the risk management and farm succession planning sessions on Wednesday.

“This session was very eye opening,” he said.

Referencing a session on estate planning, Whitehead learned an important distinction between the definition of “fair” and “equal” as they refer to matters of estate inheritance. “They’re not the same thing. This session tonight requires me to reevaluate my plan. We intend to proceed with what we learned here today,” he said.

Whitehead learned about the session from Dan Severson, New Castle County Extension agent. “He’s been super in helping us and our farm operation,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said his relationship with Extension has made all the difference in his farm operation. He advises fellow farmers to take the time to become acquainted with their Extension agent.

“The benefit to a small mom and pop farm like ours is just absolutely, well, you can’t go out and buy it. The dedication of Extension folks is just unbelievable. They are always there to help. They’re just super,” said Whitehead.

Presenting big ideas

In one of the sessions, Gow elaborated on the opportunity for Delaware farmers to understand their role in a rapidly changing global market. Trends indicate a global demographic shift to Asia, Gow said, adding that the fastest growing middle-class consumer sector is in Asia and the key to capturing that market is understanding consumer attitudes and preferences.

Gow said that 62 percent of Chinese consumers share their food experience on social networks. “Big Brother today is the consumer, and they are watching you wherever you are,” said Gow.

Holding up his smart phone, Gow said mobile devices now transform farm operations. Farmers need to connect what they are doing on the farm with the rest of the world and to those interested in buying farm products and learning more about the farm.

In New Zealand, Gow works with a clothing manufacturer aware of a consumer’s need for connection. Labels include a scannable code where the consumer can see where the wool on a shirt or sweater came from and learn about that particular farm.

Global interest in American agricultural is high, Gow said, but foreign markets are tuned into authenticity and ethics.

“Delaware has a huge opportunity to be a global local farmer,” Gow said.

Wayne Carmean, a corn and soybean farmer from Millsboro, hasn’t missed an Ag Week in 11 years, said that he found what Gow had to say about the preferences of the global consumers “very interesting.”

Article and photos by Michele Walfred

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UD students, faculty honored at annual meeting

University of Delaware students and faculty were honored at the Northeastern Branch of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America (NEBCSA) annual meeting in Philadelphia last week as part of the Northeastern Plant, Pests and Soils Conference.

Zhixuan Qin, a doctoral student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), took second place in the Graduate Student Oral Paper Competition for her presentation on “Trends in Soil Test Phosphorus Dynamics Following Long-term Application of Poultry Litter and Commercial Fertilizers.”

Katie Clark, a master’s student in CANR, was awarded third place in the same competition for her presentation on “Using Electrical Resistivity Imaging to Characterize Subsurface Phosphorus Movement to Drainage Ditches.”

Tom Sims, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Richard Taylor, an extension specialist for agronomy, were given Outstanding Career Service Awards that recognize those individuals who, during their careers, have not only distinguished themselves through contributions and service to the discipline and/or industry but have also contributed to improve the effectiveness of plant and soil science professionals within the Northeast by providing avenues for interaction among research, teaching and extension faculty, graduate students and industry personnel, one of the major objectives of the NEBCSA.

Cathy Olsen, a lab coordinator for the Soil Testing Program in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, received an Outstanding Support Staff Award that recognizes the excellent contributions made by professional research, Cooperative Extension, and support staff.

The awards conferred by the NEBCSA represent the highest in personal achievement in recognition of exceptional contributions to the agronomic, crop or soil sciences, education, and/or service.

UD to host seventh North American Duck Symposium in Annapolis

UD to host seventh North American Duck Symposium in AnnapolisThe University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology will host the seventh North American Duck Symposium from Monday, Feb. 1, to Friday, Feb. 5, at the Westin Annapolis Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland.

The conference is held every three years and this will mark the first time the symposium has been held in the Atlantic Flyway, one of four primary North American bird migration routes.

“It’s a huge honor to bring this conference to the Atlantic Flyway for the first time,” said Chris Williams, associate professor of wildlife ecology and leader of the Waterfowl and Upland Gamebird Program. Williams won the bid to host the conference on the Atlantic Flyway and is giving the opening remarks and, along with graduate students, presenting multiple papers at the conference.

“About 350 waterfowl and wetland biologists from throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and even Europe and Asia will attend to talk about the state of waterfowl ecology and management. Additionally, by hosting the conference here, it will bring attention to the Atlantic Flyway’s waterfowl conservation and management issues,” Williams said, adding, “It’s a big deal for our region and the University of Delaware.”

The conference will bring together academic researchers and students, government officials, non-government conservation organizations, and industry representatives to address shared priorities for waterfowl and wetland conservation and management.

Morning plenary speakers will be followed by concurrent sessions on key topics such as a 100-year retrospective look at waterfowl management and research, better connecting waterfowl research to successful management, integrating modern population estimation into management decisions, and implementing the 2012 North American Waterfowl Management Plan for successful conservation into the future.

Also, there will be sessions dedicated to breeding biology, migration ecology, winter ecology, foraging, physiology, diseases and contaminants.

Other conference sessions will examine techniques for determining population status and trends, population dynamics, survival and recruitment, migratory pathways, critical habitats and management options.

The conference will also feature two evening poster sessions, workshops and special sessions in response to a call for proposals.

A field trip is planned to view the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge Research Center waterfowl colony where multiple research efforts are conducted, including one by Jake McPherson, a UD graduate student who is estimating the energetic expenditure of multiple behaviors of American black duck and lesser scaup.

There will also be a forum at which students will present their research in oral and poster formats, gain professional experience, and network with professionals from around the world.

To register for the symposium, visit the North American Duck Symposium website.

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UD partnership with Mt. Cuba aims to make ‘eco-friendly’ a selling point for modern gardeners

UD partnership with Mt. Cuba aims to make 'eco-friendly' a selling point for modern gardenersSome plants are known for just plain looking good. These are the beauty queens of the horticultural world, the dahlias and orchids and lilies, turning their pretty faces toward the sun as if they’re aching to be adored.

Other plants are more highly regarded for their ability to do good—to sustain the species that rely on them and to improve the environment they inhabit. Not always as showy, and sometimes even a little awkward and drab, they tend to be ignored despite their inner charm by home gardeners intent on creating an enviable landscape.

The elusive horticultural holy grail in this equation has been the plant that looks good and does good – after all, a plant with noble qualities does little good if no one wants to plant it.

So for the past year and a half, the Mt. Cuba Center and its partners at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) have been busy searching for varieties of native plants that will charm the customer, but also benefit the environment.

As part of the search, they are taking cues from the true judges of a plant’s beneficial nature — the bees, butterflies and other insects that gather (or not) on the flowers and leaves of the plants that gardeners cultivate.

Through funding from Mt. Cuba, the researchers have set up beehives at Mt. Cuba and on CANR’s campus in Newark and have been collecting and testing pollen that insects have collected as a way of determining which plants are favored, and which pollens and nectars have the greatest nutritional value to the insects.

Ultimately, they hope to compile a “digital pollen library” of flowering plants (and their genetically modified “cultivars”) in the Mid-Atlantic.

They’re also keeping a close eye on the insects for clues about the potential impacts that genetic modifications may have had on certain cultivars’ ability to be eco-beneficial — whether, for example, a genetic modification that causes a purple leaf might actually make a plant less palatable to a hungry bug.

In the end, they hope to get information into the hands of gardeners to help them select the beneficial-and-beautiful. But they also aspire to nurture the growth of a philosophical change among gardeners, convincing more of them that bugs (and buggy gardens) are indeed a good thing — not just for the sake of crops, but also for the survival of all plants and other members of the ecosystem.

It’s an effort that’s remarkable in its willingness to explore that “nebulous area where horticulture and ecology intersect,” says Jeff Downing, executive director at Mt. Cuba, a plant research center near Hockessin, Delaware, that is already well-regarded for its studies of native plants and their role in a healthy local ecosystem.

It’s also an effort that seems likely to boost and enhance Mt. Cuba’s growing reputation as a champion of native plants, taking it further than ever into the increasingly lucrative market for bio-beneficial plants.

The UD partnership, in which Mt. Cuba and UD researchers hope to make “eco-friendly” a selling point of certain cultivars, is rare in the world of horticultural product development.

It also aligns nicely with the shifting preferences of today’s gardeners. For decades, home gardeners lined up to buy plants that were marketed mainly for their color and beauty, says Eileen Boyle, Mt. Cuba’s director of education and research. But they seem increasingly likely today to also be attracted to a plant that is marketed as having the “best nectar for butterflies,” or the “best pollen for bees,” she has found.

DKQ_3724“In the past, gardeners and landscape experts tended to treat plants like decorations, and ignored their ecological roles,” says Doug Tallamy, the professor in UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology who is helping lead the current studies, along with assistant professor Deborah Delaney. “Their priority was beauty for beauty’s sake, and insects weren’t too welcome in the garden.”

When the insects have plenty of “nature” around them to choose from, the bug-shunning inclinations of some gardeners aren’t such a problem, Tallamy says.

The trouble is, today’s overdeveloped East Coast landscape has diminished insects’ feeding grounds to such an extent that “the geographic separation of humans and nature is no longer ecologically viable,” in Tallamy’s view.

Even before the UD partnership began, Mt. Cuba had been working to help consumers choose varieties of popular plants that were best suited to the region.

Earlier in 2015, the center’s resident research horticulturalist published a guide summarizing the center’s research on a popular — but occasionally temperamental — plant called coreopsis.

That was preceded in the past few years by Mid-Atlantic guides to asters, coneflowers and heuchera, all summarizing which native cultivars “worked best.”

With the UD researchers now on board, that mission seems likely to gain greater momentum in the months ahead as research results become practical advice, working its way through the online networks of devoted home gardeners.

Originally, the UD researchers hoped to wrap up their studies at the end of summer 2015, but lower-than-expected caterpillar activity over the summer prompted them to extend their experiments through September.

In the meantime, Mt. Cuba will be continuing its efforts to draw the public even more deeply into its mission, through its twice-weekly guided garden tours, ongoing horticultural classes, and even an Ecological Gardening Certificate.

“We want people to realize that you don’t have to have an ugly garden to enjoy nature,” Boyle says. “Native plants are beautiful.”

Article by Eric Ruth

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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Leah H. Palm-Forster New Professor Profile

Leah H. Palm-Forster new professor profileCould you give a little background information about yourself?

I got my bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech where I started as an animal science major and then quickly discovered I was really enjoying all the agricultural economics courses so I decided to get a dual degree in both majors. I stayed at Virginia Tech for my master’s in Agricultural and Applied Economics with a concentration in international development. The goal of my thesis research was to identify strategies to cost-effectively disseminate information about integrated pest management (IPM) to farmers in South Asia.

Could you talk a little bit about that work?

We designed a project to analyze how the federal extension budget in Bangladesh could be reallocated to disseminate IPM information more cost-effectively by reaching more farmers and increasing adoption of different IPM technology packages. I did field work in Bangladesh for eight weeks during the summer to interview agricultural and extension experts. I stayed with a host family while I was in Bangladesh and it was a great experience.

After my M.S. at Virginia Tech, I went to Michigan State University for a PhD in agricultural, food and resource economics. I shifted my research focus from international development to domestic agri-environmental challenges.

Did you do any research at Michigan State with regards to that topic?

I did. My research examined how to design programs and policies to enhance ecosystem services and environmental benefits in agricultural landscapes. In my research, I used experimental conservation auctions and also designed two real conservation auctions.

In conservation auctions, farmers submit bids for the amount of money they would require to use different best management practices (BMPs). Bids are evaluated using different types of models to predict the amount of environmental benefit that would be generated by those BMPs. For example, benefits could be measured as the amount of reduced phosphorus runoff or the amount of sediment reduction. Bid evaluation considers both the amount of money being requested and also the benefits that would be generated by those projects. There are a number of different metrics you can use to evaluate the bids, but the basic idea is that you can select and fund the most cost-effective bids.

Sometimes these auctions are called reverse auctions because instead of farmers bidding to buy something, they’re actually the sellers of an environmental good and then the buyer is an agency, the government or a non-governmental organization (NGO).

I conducted the experimental auctions in a watershed that feeds into the western basin of Lake Erie. Lake Erie has been a poster child of poor water quality recently because of harmful algal blooms (HABs) that are fueled by too much phosphorous, primarily from agricultural sources.

When you’re in Ohio and Michigan, everyone talks about these algal blooms because, in addition to being a nuisance, they’re also toxic. In 2014, they contaminated the water supply for half a million people near Toledo so it was a really timely project, which was great as a graduate student because I felt like my research actually could make an impact in the area.

During the second half of my PhD, I actually designed two real auctions. In the experimental auctions, farmers were in a hypothetical scenario. But in the real auctions, farmers submitted bids and we paid some of them to adopt various practices like cover crops and filter strips.

And you came to UD after that?

I came directly here from Michigan State and I started in August of 2015. I defended my dissertation over the summer and then moved to Delaware. It was a whirlwind, but it was also very exciting.

What’s the main focus of your work here at UD?

My focus is still on this intersection between agriculture and the environment and thinking about how we can design agri-environmental programs that engage more farmers and are more cost-effective. We need to find ways to maintain agricultural production that we rely on in the United States and globally, but also to improve environmental conditions instead of having the kinds of the negative impacts that are sometimes associated with agriculture.

What made you decide to come to UD?

I was attracted to UD because of the work that’s being done in this department, Applied Economics and Statistics. Our faculty have published a lot of excellent research examining land use policy, and water quality issues associated with agricultural production. The Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) is a great resource in the department, and I’m also honored to be a research fellow with the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-environmental Research (C-BEAR). Research priorities within the department seem to align well with my personal interests so I am eager to find opportunities for collaboration.

When I visited UD for my interview, I felt like people were really energized and motivated. We’ve had several new hires in statistics within our department so it seemed like there could also be opportunities to collaborate with them. I met with graduate students and undergraduate students and everyone seemed excited. It felt like it would be both a fun and productive place to work.

Has that been your impression since you’ve been here?

It has. I think because of the strong foundation that’s already here, I’ve been able to hit the ground running and this first semester I’ve designed an economic experiment to look at how different policies could impact water quality. I’ve enjoyed working with some faculty in the department as well as graduate and undergraduate students.

What are you most looking forward to? Is it the collaboration and the research?

Yes, I’m really looking forward to that. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the research that I do here to have impact both in the agricultural community and also for people who aren’t involved in agriculture but who value the environmental resources in the area. The Chesapeake Bay is an important resource in this region and a lot of the work I did at Michigan State transfers here. My research is moving from one watershed to another, but the water quality challenges are similar and a lot of the issues stem from how we produce agricultural goods. I think there are opportunities to conduct research that could really improve agri-environmental policy.

Any interesting hobbies outside of work?

I like trail running and practicing yoga. My husband and I love this area – we trail run on the Fair Hill Nature Reserve with our two dogs. I also horseback ride and I knew about all of the great resources here. I’m originally from Virginia, so this area feels like home.

Anything else?

I am excited to begin teaching next semester (Spring 2016). I’ll teach two undergraduate courses. One is Resource Economics and the other is Ag and Natural Resource Policy.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD researcher Jaclyn Smolinsky uses weather radar to find migratory bird hot spots

UD researcher Jaclyn Smolinsky uses weather radar to find migratory bird hot spotsWorking at a bird banding station in Louisiana catching birds coming across the Gulf of Mexico, Jaclyn Smolinsky remembers one day leaving a site where they caught 300 to 400 birds and looking up at a tree where birds had chosen to rest and thinking that it looked like a Christmas tree.

“There was a red bird in it, a blue bird, a yellow bird, a green bird – all these different colored birds – and I just thought, ‘This is so cool that these birds just arrived from a flight that probably took about 17 to 37 hours. This is so amazing.’ From that point on, I wanted to study migratory birds in any capacity,” said Smolinsky.

Now a research associate in the aeroecology laboratory of Jeff Buler, assistant professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC), Smolinsky has gone from tracking migratory songbirds at stopover sites in the field to following their activity and departures at stopover sites using weather radar.

“It’s staying with the same birds and using the radar technology so it’s really related to what I used to do except I don’t see the birds and put little tags on them any more, I just use the radar to study them. It’s sort of transitioned from actual birds to dots on a screen. But they’re still birds,” said Smolinsky. “I’m drawn to this side of it because there are so many cool technologies available now.”

In Buler’s lab, Smolinsky explained that they are using weather radar to identify areas that birds are consistently using – areas in high densities during their migration that would be targets for conservation.

“We’re trying to identify these areas that birds are consistently using in to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is an important place,’” said Smolinsky.

Sometimes on their migration south, however, birds will just take what they can get with regard to habitat, as evidenced by an area like Central Park in New York City.

“Whether or not it’s necessarily good habitat is a whole other story. In New York City, there’s a ton of birds that use Central Park. That might not necessarily be because it’s such great habitat but because all around it there’s nothing else for them to use. There can be these sorts of migrant traps, so to speak, that concentrate birds but don’t really provide great resources,” said Smolinsky.

This leads to an interesting phenomena of birds that are flying south for the winter actually making detours north and inland, which Smolinsky said could be to look for better foraging grounds.

Interestingly, Smolinsky said, a bird departing southern Alabama might head north on Oct. 1 but be found in the Yucatan six days later.

One bird in particular that has been tracked doing this is the red-eyed vireo, which will go north to a bottomland hardwood forest location to forage and then fly south.

Paper publication

The red-eyed vireo research was featured in a recent paper on which Smolinsky was a co-author published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper was titled “How Fat, Weather and Date Affect Migratory Songbirds’ Departure Decisions, Routes, and the Time It Takes to Cross the Gulf of Mexico.”

The research was led by Jill Deppe, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Eastern Illinois University, and Smolinsky’s role in the study came when she did her master’s work at the University of Southern Mississippi with Robb Diehl and was a part of Frank Moore’s Migratory Bird Research Group.

Looking at three species of songbirds – red-eyed vireo, Swainson’s thrush and wood thrush – the research team used automated radio telemetry to track the species from coastal Alabama to the north Yucatan Peninsula during their fall migration to investigate the birds’ decisions made when navigating the Gulf of Mexico and the consequences, which had been virtually unknown to that point.

The results of the paper determined that large fat reserves built up in the birds and low humidity, which indicates beneficial weather patterns, made for a more favorable journey southward across the Gulf of Mexico.

Smolinsky said that the fat reserves are hugely important for birds to make a successful crossing.

“There’s no island oasis in the Gulf of Mexico to refuel so once they fly south and they’re doing it, they kind of have no choice and it’s a risk. If they hit a rainstorm or something like that, a lot of birds will land on oil or natural gas platforms that are out there, and they use them to rest. Sometimes they don’t make it if they don’t have enough fat,” said Smolinsky.

The researchers also found that age was not related to departure behavior, arrival or travel time and that vireos negotiated the Gulf of Mexico differently than thrushes, which the paper noted could be attributed to defense of wintering territories by thrushes and not by foraging habits.

Article by Adam Thomas

UD’s Hong Li looks at how adding amendments to poultry litter lowers ammonia, greenhouse gas emissions

UD's Hong Li looks at how adding amendments to poultry litter lowers ammonia, greenhouse gas emissionsThe University of Delaware’s Hong Li is part of a research team looking at how adding alum as an amendment to poultry litter reduces ammonia and greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions, specifically carbon dioxide, in poultry houses.

Li partnered with researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Tennessee and Oklahoma State University for the project and the results of the research were recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Li, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that the project is ongoing and that the main challenge for the poultry industry is controlling nutrient emissions from poultry houses and conserving energy while also providing for the welfare of the birds inside the houses.

Acid-based chemical compounds, alum and PLT – another amendment – that are added to the bedding material in poultry houses prior to the birds entering have proven to be a very effective tool in controlling ammonia emissions.

“In the poultry industry, ammonia is a major concern. Ammonia during the growth period is high, especially during the wintertime. Ammonia can do a lot of damage to the animal, especially the respiratory system, and can effect overall animal health and welfare,” said Li.

Also, if ammonia is emitted to the air from the poultry house, it is a precursor of fine particles and there are national Clean Air Act regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency that have strict guidelines for controlling emissions.

“We need to control the ammonia, not only for the animal health but also for the public health. That’s why I’m doing the research, to reduce the ammonia emissions and improve the animal health and the public air quality, especially for the rural areas, to make sure our agriculture is sustainable,” said Li.

Li said that there are several products on the market to control ammonia in poultry houses and alum is the preferred product for growers in Arkansas, where the study was conducted.

While adding alum to poultry litter is known to reduce ammonia concentration in poultry houses, its effects on greenhouse gas emissions had been unknown.

Li’s role in the study was on the engineering side and he helped Philip Moore, one of the authors of the paper and a pioneer researcher on alum in poultry production with the USDA, develop an automatic air sampling system to evaluate the emissions reduction by using alum in the broiler house.

“We not only looked at ammonia reduction, we also looked at the whole environmental footprint – how the alum could potentially impact the greenhouse emissions – and the results showed that we reduced quite a bit of carbon dioxide emissions,” said Li.

Carbon dioxide reduction

The carbon dioxide was reduced in two ways.

First, because alum is an acidic product, it reduces microbial activity in the litter and reduces the ammonia emissions.

Ammonia comes from uric acid being broken down by bacteria and enzymes. Once the uric acid is broken down, two products are created – one is ammonia and one is carbon dioxide.

“By reducing the bacterial activity, we reduce ammonia and also we reduce the carbon dioxide; that’s one aspect of how we reduce carbon dioxide,” said Li.

Second, by using acid-based litter amendments in poultry litter, growers can reduce the ventilation rate and reduce fuel used for heating the poultry houses, especially during the winter.

“In the broiler industry, we want to control ammonia to improve animal health and welfare. They have to keep the bird comfortable with optimum temperatures. However, if you want to have lower ammonia, you have to bring in more fresh air, remove more of the ammonia-laden air. As a result, you have to over ventilate the house,” Li said.

“That means you have to burn more fuel to keep the house warm. By using the acid-based litter amendments, we can reduce the ventilation rate and the fuel use, which reduces the carbon dioxide emission from the house through the heating process. Basically, if we reduce the microbial activity and also reduce the heating, we can generate lower carbon dioxide emissions.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Keep up with our winter study abroad session

Be sure to keep up with the University of Delaware students studying abroad this winter in New Zealand by checking out the new study abroad blog!

Hear first hand from the students currently in New Zealand who are studying issues facing agriculture in the country, which is full of beautiful scenery, friendly people and innovative farmers. New Zealand is one of the most agriculturally diverse and efficient countries in the world and during their time in New Zealand, students will enjoy the natural beauty of the Canterbury Plains, beaches, Southern Alps, glaciers, hot springs, mountain lakes and temperate rain forest.

Based at Lincoln University on the South Island of New Zealand, just outside of the city of Christchurch on the Canterbury Plains, students meet farmers, entrepreneurs and agricultural professionals. They also learn about the history and settlement of New Zealand through excursions to historic stations, farms, the Canterbury Museum and the Arts Centre.

For more information, visit www.udnz14.blogspot.com

11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held at fairgrounds in Harrington

11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held at fairgrounds in Harrington Jan. 11-14Approximately 2,000 agriculture stakeholders will learn best practices and new technologies, network with leading industry vendors and experts and meet with other agricultural producers at the 11th annual Delaware Agriculture Week to be held from Monday, Jan. 11, to Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, Delaware.

“We are again looking forward to this year’s Delaware Ag Week. Individual session chairs have done a great job pulling session topics and speakers together,” said Cory Whaley, University of Delaware agriculture Extension agent and Delaware Ag Week chair. “This is a great event where attendees can get continuing education credits, visit with friends, and interact with local vendors.”

The four-day event provides numerous sessions that cover a wide array of topics including small fruits, fresh market and processing vegetables, small flock and commercial poultry, grain crops – with wheat quality and marketing being this year’s focus in a special evening agronomic session – hay and pasture, beef cattle, irrigation, and marketing.

A risk management session on retirement and succession planning will be featured. Nutrient management, pesticide and certified crop adviser continuing education credits will be offered.

Also as part of Delaware Ag Week, the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition will host Meredith Lathbury Girard, a senior program officer with the Town Creek Foundation, who will give a talk on “A Regional Strategy for the Mid-Atlantic Food System” from 6-8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington. Networking and refreshments will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The event is free, but registration is required. For more information, visit this website or contact Carrie Murphy at 302-831-COOP.

Delaware Ag Week is sponsored by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Delaware according to a 2010 University of Delaware report that factors in agriculture jobs and related production, goods and services that support the largest industry in the First State.

As with last year’s event, the main meeting area will be located in the Exhibit Hall, with additional meetings in the Exhibit Board Room and Commodities Building. A trade show, with more than 80 exhibitors, will take place in the Dover Building.

The Delaware Ag Week website features a listing of daily sessions as well as the 2016 program book, available for download.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Isaacs, VanSant receive awards from Delaware Farm Bureau

UD's Isaacs, VanSant receive awards from Delaware Farm BureauThe University of Delaware’s Mark Isaacs and Ryan VanSant were presented statewide honors from the Delaware Farm Bureau during a ceremony held in December.

Isaacs received the 2015 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award and VanSant was named the bureau’s Youth Ambassador.

Mark Isaacs

Isaacs, the director of the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center and an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said he was honored and humbled to receive the award.

“It’s pretty special to me coming from that particular group, our state Farm Bureau, because I’ve always felt that what I did here was really connected to our state’s agriculture system and it’s important to me that those people at that level feel like we’ve done a good job,” Isaacs said. “It’s pretty special just because of who it came from and the importance of the Farm Bureau to Delaware agriculture.”

Isaacs, who also received the Sussex County Farm Bureau’s 2015 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award, has been at UD for almost 30 years and said that he is proud of the way the 344-acre Carvel Research and Education Center campus has developed over the years and of the staff that the center has assembled.

“I feel really good that we’ve set our facility up here to meet the future needs of agriculture for the state, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in,” he said. “We positioned ourselves to make sure that agriculture stays number one in the state because we’ve been blessed in having some great staff. Being a part of hiring them and watching them develop and lead tremendous research and extension programs is really great.”

In addition to his service to the state’s agriculture through his work at UD, Isaacs has also worked with members of the General Assembly on governor-appointed boards to enhance Delaware agriculture.

He also has worked with students at the high school level, having served on agricultural advisory boards at Indian River, Woodbridge and Sussex Tech, and also having served on the school boards for the Indian River and Sussex Tech districts.

Isaacs said that reaching the next generation of Delaware growers is of the upmost importance to him.

“Being director here, we’ve tried to make opportunities for high school students to work here through summer jobs and internships to try to help them and also to recruit students into agriculture by making them aware of the diversity of career opportunities out there,” said Isaacs. “I love talking about the great things that Delaware agriculture does with our younger generation and I love seeing them get involved in agriculture. It’s pretty cool when you see you’re opening career opportunities for them when you talk to them.”

Isaacs, who was born and raised on a poultry, grain and hog farm and is the fourth generation of his family to farm, also teaches at UD. Last year he developed a course on “Understanding Delaware Agriculture,” which exposed students to all the different facets of the unique agricultural enterprises in the state.

Isaacs still farms grain and said that work is very important to him in keeping his roots tied to Delaware agriculture. “I think that in working with a lot of the clientele, when we talk about different things they feel my love for Delaware agriculture because I’ve spent my entire life in it — from a kid all the way to my professional career.”

As for his favorite part of his job, Isaacs said that it would have to be the teaching and the interactions he has with members of the industry.

“I really enjoy the one-on-one interactions, working with the clientele in the industry and having the opportunity to help them move their individual enterprises forward whether it be helping them look at different production options and communicating the research that’s out there and trying to help them enhance their operations,” said Isaacs.

Ryan VanSant

VanSant, a freshman majoring in animal science and French, has close ties to Delaware agriculture, having grown up on a family dairy farm in Middletown.

His family has been heavily involved with the Delaware Farm Bureau over the years, with his sister and older cousins having served as Farm Bureau Youth Ambassadors and his grandfather and uncle having served on the boards for the New Castle County and statewide Farm Bureau.

“When my mother was around my age, she was named Delaware Farm Bureau Queen, so we’ve been pretty involved in this organization for a long time,” said VanSant.

Being named Youth Ambassador is “honestly amazing,” VanSant said. “I had to interview against a couple other extremely qualified individuals for the position, and having been selected as a representative for such a prestigious organization and for an organization that I believe in is truly an honor. I have so much belief in the agriculture industries and the Delaware Farm Bureau and what this organization can do for Delaware agriculture. It’s an honor to be able to represent the organization that I love.”

VanSant said that his duties will include serving as a representative for the bureau, attending state functions and going to classrooms to teach younger students about agriculture and the different aspects of agricultural education.

He also will do representative work at the Delaware State Fair and attend meetings and banquets to represent the organization.

VanSant, who was recently named a finalist in a national competition for job interview skills through FFA, said it is important for the next generation to study agriculture because of the challenges facing the world to feed a growing global populace.

“When we look at the world as a whole and you see where the world is going in terms of climate change, and when you think about it terms of creating more food for the growing population, the only answer is agricultural education,” VanSant said. “We have to have individuals — whether it be agricultural teachers, or representatives of different organizations, or just people who are advocating for agriculture – who can spread the knowledge and the necessity of the agricultural industries, all those different aspects of why we need agriculture,” said VanSant.

Isaacs, who had VanSant as a student in his “Understanding Delaware Agriculture” class, said that with students like VanSant interested in agriculture, he knows the future is bright.

“He really is a fabulous young man. He’s got a lot going on. He’s a freshman and I would like to get him in the field of agriculture because he is a sharp student who shows great promise as a future leader in agriculture,” said Isaacs.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Michelle Rodgers recognized with two national Extension leadership roles

Delbert Foster, chair of the national Extension Committee on Organization and Policy for 2014-15, hands the gavel to UD's Michelle Rodgers.Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, has received two national Extension honors.

Rodgers was named chair of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) and elected as a trustee on the National 4-H Council.

Rodgers said her position as ECOP chair is a major responsibility and that she looks forward to representing a diverse group of leaders with different opinions on Extension decisions made on a national scale.

“I’m very cognizant of those who may think differently than I and I want to reflect on all the interests of Extension directors from across the country,” said Rodgers. “It’s a good challenge for any leader of a group to reflect the diversity of the thoughts and opinions of the group but also to bring some consensus and decision making to move forward on the items.”

The executive committee has set forth many national goals for Cooperative Extension for the coming year, among them figuring out best practices for Extension programming in urban areas, focusing on innovation, and professional development.

Officials also are looking at the core values for Cooperative Extension on a national scale.

Rodgers said that providing a framework for a national Extension system is a challenge because each state is staffed and funded differently.

“A topic I talked about recently in Washington, D.C., was pesticide safety education. In Delaware we have no one individual assigned to pesticide safety education, whereas Texas has eight or nine people,” Rodgers said. “Extension is staffed from a statewide perspective but when we talk about doing things nationally, what does that look like and how can we speak as a national system when we’re still based in a state, funded in part by state dollars, and have expectations from our state legislators? What are the common things around the national focus that we can agree on and work with?”

Rodgers said that an example of a successful national program came about last year when Extension developed common training and curriculum for agents across the country with regard to farm risk management education.

“In our state, Laurie Wolinski and Dan Severson were the key leaders. They attended national trainings and then provided education to producers here in our state in combination with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA). All states used the same evaluation instrument and we were able to compile data and tell a wonderful story about the impact that Extension made nationally as a result of the effort across the states,” Rodgers said.

“We have the capability to work locally but on a national scale and that really helps to show the impact of our national system and why people should continue to invest and fund and support Cooperative Extension,” Rodgers added. “It’s more than a state system; it’s really bringing our collective pieces together on key issues at a national level.”

National 4-H Council

As a trustee on the National 4-H Council, Rodgers will have a role in providing leadership for fund development, marketing and promotion for 4-H nationally.

“We’re getting ready to launch a national marketing campaign across the country about 4-H and, again, instead of each state having to do their own individual marketing, we’re working with professional partners,” Rodgers said. “We’re getting ready to launch a national marketing campaign with some national spokespersons this spring. About 10 people are lined up, great people who are 4-H alums and who will speak to that.”

Rodgers is an alumna and a product of the 4-H program and her parents met in 4-H.

“I wouldn’t be here if my parents hadn’t met in 4-H, and 4-H was a major factor in my career choice,” said Rodgers, who got her first job working with a family and consumer science educator who had been her mentor while in 4-H.

“I have 35 years of work in Cooperative Extension as a direct result of having been a 4-Her and having been opened up to the career opportunities through 4-H. I also think it had a lot to do with my success in my college years in terms of my abilities to organize, make presentations and to work with others. I think it had a major impact on my capabilities to be a good scholar because I had skill sets that I had learned in 4-H.”

Rodgers said she thinks 4-H is one of the best youth-serving organizations in the country, with great adult mentorship for young people and important life skill development, and singled out all that Delaware 4-H has to offer.

“I’m very proud that Delaware has a wonderful menu of ways to be involved in 4-H. We have in-school, after-school, community clubs, we have camps, we have self determined projects that you can do — there’s many ways that you can be a 4-Her in this state depending on what works and what your interests are,” she said.

As to the future, Rodgers said that, much like institutions of higher education are reaching out to first generation college students, she would like to try and reach more first generation 4-Hers.

“I’m a product of the program, but what about the kids who haven’t had the opportunity to be a product of the program? How do we reach out to the first generation of 4-Hers who may or may not have had exposure to 4-H? I think there’s a great opportunity for us to expand our program by focusing on the diversity of young people who are first generation 4-Hers. And I think we do some of this, but I also think we could do more,” said Rodgers.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD research may lead to new control for devastating rice disease

UD research may lead to new control for devastating rice diseaseIn a “clash of the microbes,” University of Delaware plant scientists are uncovering more clues critical to disarming a fungus that is the number one killer of rice plants.

The findings, published in December in Frontiers in Plant Science and in Current Opinion in Plant Biology, may lead to a more effective control for Magnaporthe oryzae, the fungus that causes rice blast disease.

The studies were led by the laboratory of Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The first author of both research articles was graduate student Carla Spence. The co-authors included postdoctoral researcher Venkatachalam Laksmanan and Nicole Donofrio, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, in addition to Bais.

“Rice is a food the world relies on — it accounts for about one-fifth of all the calories humans consume,” says Bais. “So it’s critical to find ways to reduce the impact of rice blast disease, especially as global population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, and the need for more food increases.”

Previously, Bais and his research team isolated Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105, a bacterium that lives in the soil around the roots of rice plants and found that this beneficial microbe can trigger a system-wide defense against the rice blast fungus.

Now, they have identified a stress hormone that appears to play a crucial role in increasing the virulence of the fungus.

When little water is available, rice plants make more abscisic acid in their roots. This stress hormone travels up to the plant leaves to close off tiny pores, halting the evaporation of water from the plant to the atmosphere.

Bais and his team have shown that when the rice blast fungus invades a rice plant, an increase in abscisic acid occurs. But rather than boosting the plant’s defense mechanisms, the abscisic acid actually suppresses them, making the pathogen even more potent.

“It’s like a double-edged sword,” Bais says. “Abscisic acid can save the plant during drought. But when a pathogen is present, this same molecule blocks the plant’s innate defense response.”

In studies at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute at UD, Bais and his team treated spores of the rice blast fungus with abscisic acid. In 10 hours, 84 percent of these spores had germinated and formed a specialized infection structure called the appressorium, which acts like a battering ram, exerting pressure on a rice leaf until the fungus punches through the surface.

However, when spores of the fungus were treated with both the beneficial bacterium EA105 and abscisic acid, only about 23 percent of the spores formed this attack machinery.

“The rice blast fungus uses abscisic acid to its own advantage, which is absolutely wild,” Bais says. “People have been struggling to find targets for controlling rice blast, and now we have one, with abscisic acid. It’s one of those classic holy grails because this fungus affects not only rice, but also barley and wheat.”

Although abscisic acid may be responsible for virulence in the rice blast fungus, the molecule itself is not a feasible target for fungicides because of its crucial roles in plants, from seed development to its modulating effect during temperature extremes and high salinity, to its well-studied role in drought tolerance.

However, targeting specific genes in the fungus that biosynthesize abscisic acid could deliver the real knockout punch.

“Plants and their microbial neighbors have this beautifully complex and intricate system of communicating through chemical signals, with each trying to manipulate the situation to maximize their own fitness,” Bais says. “We want to be able to manage some of these interactions, too, to enhance food security.”

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Research images courtesy of Bais Laboratory/University of Delaware

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Botanic Gardens to present series on regional native trees, shrubs

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens will present a four-part winter mini-series on “Regional Native Trees and Shrubs” in January.

Led by John Frett, UDBG director, the series will focus on the cultural and aesthetic attributes of the region’s native woodlands and how they may fit into the home landscape.

There will be three lectures from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Wednesdays, Jan. 13-27, in 132 Townsend Hall on UD’s South Campus in Newark.

The Jan. 13 lecture will consider canopy trees, the Jan. 20 lecture understory trees and the Jan. 27 lecture shrubs. In the event of snow, lectures will be held Thursday evening.

There also will be an outdoor laboratory, a guided walk through White Clay Creek Preserve from 9-11 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 23, that will provide an opportunity to see specimens in the wild and discuss their identification more fully.

Meeting location for the White Clay Creek walk will be provided when people register.

Registration and prepayment are required, and those who register for three days will get the fourth free. The cost is $25 per day or $75 for the series for UDBG Friends and $35 per day or $105 for the series for nonmembers.

Email botanicgardens@udel.edu or contact Sue Biddle at 302-831-2531.

The gardens are open year round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll.

UDBG contributes to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, Cooperative Extension and community support.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Kent Messer explores ways to increase charitable giving

Working with students in his classes, UD's Kent Messer has conducted research on how to increase charitable giving.With the holiday season just around the corner and charitable giving on people’s minds, new research from the University of Delaware suggests that for organizations interested in increasing the number of givers and the amount of donations, the solution might be as easy as making a simple change in how charitable gifts are made.

For the past three years, as part of their course requirements, 190 of Kent Messer’s undergraduate students have attended a guest lecture presented by Kate Hackett, executive director of Delaware Wild Lands (DWL).

Following the lecture, Messer, the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment, director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics and co-director of the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), has explained to the students that as part of a research study, they would have an opportunity to make a charitable donation to DWL using the students’ class earnings from earlier in the semester.

Messer would then divide the class into two groups: the donation group and the refund group.

The donation group was given their money in cash and asked by Messer how much, if anything at all, they would like to donate to DWL.

The refund group was told that their money would be automatically donated to DWL unless they completed a simple form requesting their money back.

“We wanted to examine whether ‘defaults’ matter for charitable giving and whether by altering the defaults we could ‘nudge’ people to make higher charitable giving. By randomly splitting the class into half, we were ensuring that we had a control group. This enabled us to make an apples-to-apples comparison and directly compare the students’ charitable giving behavior,” Messer said.

The researchers found that the students in the refund group were more likely to donate, and that they donated a larger amount of money than the students in the donation group.

Seventy-five percent of students in the refund group made a charitable gift to DWL that averaged $3.71 per person while 44 percent of students in the donation group made a charitable donation to DWL that averaged $2.03 per person.

Messer attributes this to one main factor: the default setting.

“In general, humans tend to stick with the status quo, which means that the default setting can have a huge impact on human behavior, and this is something that we see in a number of settings, from employee retirement savings plans to agriculture cost-share auctions,” said Messer.

While charitable organizations can’t simply deduct money directly from a person’s paycheck and then not give that money back unless they fill out a form, there are ways in which charitable organizations can increase donations, such as increasing the suggested amount of giving, from $30 to $50, for example.

“Thinking creatively about ways to change the choice setting can do wonders. I conducted a study with colleagues at Cornell University where we had members of a church make charitable donations automatically, such as having the money be charged monthly on their credit cards. We found that people gave more to this charity and sustained this giving over time. In essence, these people had selected to set a default on themselves to give more to this charitable cause,” said Messer.

Messer worked on the project with Jacob Fooks, who has since graduated and now works for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, and Shang Wu, who started working with Messer as a master’s student and is now a doctoral student in CANR.

This research is scheduled for publication in an upcoming special issue on “Experiments in Charitable Giving” in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics.

“Working on research projects like this is interesting and exciting because it uses a simple classroom setting to mimic and better understand questions that can have a huge impact in reality. It provides me with inspiration on how knowledge learned in books can be linked to understand and deal with issues in the field,” said Wu. “Relevant organizations should be aware of and consider adopting variations on this idea since it shows people’s charitable decisions can be influenced significantly with a no-cost simple tweak in the framing of questions.”

Money from the experiment was all donated to the Great Cypress Swamp project that is run through DWL.

Hackett said that it was great to collaborate on the project and to see a non-profit organization partner with a researcher on the project.

“At Delaware Wild Lands we welcome opportunities to partner with University of Delaware researchers and students. Working with leaders and learners in the fields of economics and the environment helps us innovate and extend our mission to protect critical wildlife habitat and natural resources. In this study, we worked with researchers to formulate ways to improve charitable donation rates, and we also received considerable donations as a part of this study that directly supported Delaware Wild Lands’ Great Cypress Swamp restoration project in Sussex County,” said Hackett.

Article by Adam Thomas and Madeline Valinski

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

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UD alumna reflects on time at UD, experiences at veterinary school

UD alumna reflects on time at UD, experiences at veterinary schoolUniversity of Delaware alumna Rebecca Radisic had been an East Coaster all her life but when it was time to apply to veterinary schools, her gaze gradually shifted toward the West.

Now in veterinary school at the University of California, Davis, Radisic, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said she has no regrets about applying for a school that she thought was a long shot.

“When I applied, it was definitely one of my reach schools. I knew I had the numbers and statistics to get an interview, but I was still very unsure whether that would happen,” Radisic said. “My thought process was ‘if I get an interview, I get to see the West Coast for the first time.’ I think in the back of my mind I knew that I was really intrigued by the UC Davis curriculum, though, and the interview really solidified how much I enjoyed the school. I kept Davis in the back of my mind just because I knew how hard it was for someone out of state to get in.”

Radisic, who was recently awarded a second place outstanding senior award from National Block and Bridle, an honor for which she applied while a senior at UD, said it was a tough choice between UC Davis and an Eastern veterinary school. Ultimately what drew her to UD Davis was the curriculum and the feeling she got during her interview.

“I felt comfortable on campus. The vibes that the students gave off were very approachable. Also, the curriculum really drew me in. Starting right away your first year you have a required class in which one Thursday a month you have your schedule completely free to go in and shadow a certain area of the teaching hospital. I loved that Davis really wanted to try to get us hands-on with animals as soon as possible,” said Radisic.

Another big plus was the adventure aspect, with Radisic relishing the opportunity to try out the West Coast.

“My whole family lives in Philadelphia. I grew up about 30 minutes from there. Why not try something completely new that I may never have the chance to do again? If it turns out that I am very much an East Coaster, I could always come back after vet school. So far, I have zero regrets about choosing this school,” said Radisic.

As for her time at UD, Radisic said that certain classes, such as anatomy and comparative physiology, as well as biochemistry and molecular biology of the cell, helped her prepare for veterinary school.

She also singled out the classes she took with Erin Brannick, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and the director of the CANR Comparative Pathology Laboratory.

“I cannot say enough kind things about both of Dr. Brannick’s classes – histology and biomedical communications. Both of them were very helpful during my first case research exercises and histology, especially in any of the microscope labs we’ve had. It’s so helpful to have had a background in looking at those tissues before,” said Radisic.

“Furthermore, just being at an ag school and being exposed to the large animal side of things was really beneficial, even if that’s not necessarily what I want to go into. Ultimately, I also think all of the opportunities UD had to get involved really helped me with time management and balance. Once I got to vet school, I felt very secure in taking on clubs and extracurriculars to help me unwind.”

Radisic said it was helpful for her to maintain an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of her veterinary and animal hours, tallying the hours after any experience. That exercise helped her quantify experiences on her veterinary school applications.

Radisic also said that for any current undergraduates who are planning to go to veterinary school, in addition to working hard and getting good grades, it is very important to do what feels right for them as individuals.

“If you absolutely know from previous experience that you’re not a horse person and you would get nothing from an internship revolving around them, don’t do it. Apply for experiences and internships that actually get you interested and excited because those are the things that will stand out in an application and beyond that will inform you of where you want your future veterinary career to go,” said Radisic, who added that at the same time, students shouldn’t be afraid to try things out of their comfort zone.

“If you’ve only every worked with cows before, don’t be afraid to try out a small animal internship or volunteer experience over the summer. Keep an open mind and just go with the flow. If you really are passionate about what you’re doing it will work out in the end,” she said.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Landscape design students accept challenge to create active outdoor spaces

Landscape design students accept challenge to create active outdoor spacesFrom therapeutic gardens to facilities promoting healthy foods, University of Delaware students in an interdisciplinary landscape design course accepted an “Activating Outdoor Space Challenge” this semester.

The challenge was designed by Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), and it asked students to create better spaces on the UD campus.

The student teams presented their work Thursday, Dec. 3, in the Health Sciences Complex Atrium on the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

Bruck said the focus of the fall semester course was “landscape architecture foundation concepts, like how to build community and how to design with an eye for nature, ecological design.”

The course also considered “how to craft space that the community would want to use in terms of spatially designing something that has great form, and productive use of land,” she said.

The students, who were drawn from five of UD’s seven colleges and represented 18 different majors, ranged from freshmen to graduate students. They worked on the project for a majority of the semester.

Bruck said this was especially interesting for the freshmen who, along with the rest of the class, had to make a presentation to a team of engineers from Fore Sites Associates in New Castle as part of their first design challenge to create floating wetlands that could enhance water quality.

“How would you like to be, in the first semester of your freshmen year, put into a class where three weeks into the semester you are presenting in front of engineers off campus? It’s really a unique opportunity for them,” said Bruck.

For their final project of the semester, the class was split up into eight groups with projects focused on topics such as how to provide healthier food options, how to create a space that can generate ongoing revenue, how to design an outdoor space demonstrating the variety of agriculture and natural resources taught in CANR, and how to create an outdoor space that demonstrates the variety of therapeutic and healing methods and resources taught and administered at the STAR Campus, among others.

The students were able to choose the project, as Bruck wanted them to “self-select teams in a way that they were able to work on a project that really interested them.”

Among the eight projects that were presented, the Healthy Eating Group proposed a Blue Hen Barn in a field near Worrilow Hall that would offer healthier eating choices and increase awareness of what CANR has to offer as far as fresh vegetables, wool and honey.

“For getting actual food into the Blue Hen Barn, we were thinking of partnering with Newark Natural Foods and the UD Dining staff, which is doing a great job in incorporating healthy foods into UD’s diet,” said Elizabeth Omenitsch, a senior in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

The second level of the Blue Hen Barn would have a kitchen where the students suggested CANR could have classes. “It would be a good way to use the food grown on South Campus in a natural cooking environment. We talked to the ag students and the HRIM (Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management) majors who are cooking at Vita Nova, and this kitchen could be a cool change of scenery for them,” said Omenitsch.

She also added that the group came up with the idea of having Blue Hen Barn be equipped with a patio space outside where people could do yoga or have meditation classes.

Another group worked on a therapeutic garden. Using a Facebook survey, as well as an in-person survey in the STAR atrium aimed at UD students, faculty and staff, the group learned that most people thought that mental health therapy would be best served by a therapeutic garden.

People said that “beautiful scenery” and “open space” are key, and students found that “getting outside is a huge motivating factor for people to work harder and enjoy the therapy more, thus leading to better outcomes,” said Nick Limminia.

The group also spoke with UD professionals to get their thoughts on the project and, following those talks and incorporating other feedback received from the campus community, they decided on the theme of universal access for the garden.

“With this theme we had two major goals. The first was to use plants themselves as tools for therapy and the second was to use gardening as a tool for therapy. With both of these goals in mind, we’re hoping to target mental health therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy, as well as other types of therapies on the STAR Campus,” said Samantha Nestory, a master’s degree student in CANR.

The group proposed installing the garden to the left of the STAR Campus atrium and came up with a curvilinear and circular theme to emphasize the naturalness of the space, which would feature extra wide paths to be navigable for people with wheelchairs and other assisted mobility devices.

The most important part of the design was accessibility of planters for a garden bed, an herb garden and flower beds, which would be built to different heights in order to be available for use by everyone, Nestory said.

The garden would also have planters geared toward the senses with lowbush blueberry bushes and vegetables grown for taste, spicebush for smell, chenille plant and lambs ear for touch, and false blue indigo, with seed pods that rattle when they dry, for sound.

“You can really target a lot of senses with these plants,” said Nestory.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

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Armstrong offers students hands-on learning opportunities at UD’s Webb Farm

larry armstrong at webb farm with the happy sheep at canr university of delawareAs he took night classes in ornamental horticulture at the University of Delaware, Larry Armstrong realized something about the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) of which he had been previously unaware — the college had a livestock farm.

Having grown up on a 400-acre farm with sheep, beef cattle and horses, Armstrong said to himself that if a job ever opened up on the farm, he would jump at the opportunity.

Sure enough, in 1997, not a year after he started taking classes, a farm assistant position became open and Armstrong applied and set himself off on an 18-year journey that sees him now serving as farm manager for UD’s Webb Farm. There, he oversees 20 beef cows, around 50 sheep and six horses.

“It’s a great multi-species farm and I started doing a lot of research and learning about multi-species grazing and actually breaking up the parasite cycle. We’ll put cows out first and that will end the life cycle of a certain parasite that affects sheep, and then the horses can come through. They all graze a little bit differently. That’s been working really well and it’s beneficial for each species involved,” said Armstrong.

Animal health and natural resource management are two of the large priorities on the farm, but perhaps most important is the education component for UD undergraduate students. “That’s really why we’re here,” Armstrong said. “We want to show them how we’re doing the right things, the right way.”

At the Webb Farm, students from freshmen in the introductory animal and food sciences laboratory classes through seniors working on their capstone courses — as well as volunteers who work at the facility — get to experience hands-on learning opportunities with the animals, something that Armstrong said is vital to the farm’s success.

“So many universities with agriculture colleges of our size have gotten rid of or downsized their farms and it’s a huge disservice,” Armstrong said. “It’s awesome and it’s amazing to have the farm. The number one thing I hear from undergraduates and alumni is that their hands-on experience here, whether it’s been on Webb or in the dairy, has really allowed them to apply their knowledge and to better understand through problem-based learning. What they’ve learned has been invaluable.”

Armstrong noted that he recently heard from a colleague that a CANR alumna who is now at veterinary school said her class is currently learning how to trim sheep’s hooves, something that she learned at the farm as a freshman.

“It’s great when we can give them that foundation, and it’s really about that foundation because, especially working with the animals, a big part of it is the confidence,” Armstrong said. “If you’ve got a big cow and she’s breathing in your ear and you’re trying to work with her and give her medication, it can be a little unnerving. A lot of it is just practice and building that confidence. We try to give them that experience here because it’s hard to find.”

Farm changes

Armstrong said he has seen a lot of positive change over the years on the farm and one thing he is proudest of is the fact that he and Scott Hopkins, farm superintendent, were able to plant trees along the Cool Run stream corridor that runs through the farm and see those trees grow.

“We called it ‘Making Cool Run Cool Again,’ as cool water supports more aquatic life and biodiversity,” Armstrong said. “When the water heats up, it grows algae, lowering available dissolved oxygen and riparian buffers [a vegetated area near a stream] help prevent this by shading the water and capturing nutrients. I can go on and on about how awesome trees and buffer zones are. We started planting trees there and did two or three phases. Some of the oldest trees go back to that first summer I worked here in 1998, and they’re beautiful big oak trees now, so it’s pretty cool.”

Armstrong is also proud of the fact that the farm started a compost operation about 10 years ago, taking all the organic material generated and composting it, then reapplying it on the parts of the farm that can best use the matter.

“We always pick the field with the lowest organic matter and focus on that. That really helps lock up the nutrients. We’re not putting raw manure out on the field, we’re composting it and locking it up,” said Armstrong, who added that one of the things he finds fascinating about composting is watching up to 20 tons digest and work down to half of that.

“It’s amazing. It just slowly biodegrades and it’s beautiful stuff. That’s the new thing I geek out on is the compost, that’s what we’re sort of experimenting with. We keep data and have sheets from 10 years worth of temperatures on this stuff,” said Armstrong.

Well-rounded students

Being well-rounded and well-versed on a multitude of topics, from pasture rotation to animal health to composting, as well as being able to adapt and think outside the box, are among the core tenets that Armstrong hopes to instill in the students who come through Webb Farm during their time at UD.

“It’s really great to see them apply what they’ve learned and be able to problem solve because I don’t want to be that guy who is like, ‘Do this, this and this and don’t ask questions.’ They need to learn how to figure it out because it’s biology, there’s no constant, there’s no absolute. Things are always changing, we always have these X-factors come up and that’s exciting. If you can think it out, it really teaches them to problem solve and I think that’s a big thing a lot of students are missing these days,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong also said that his goal in exposing students to life on the farm is to help them become not only great veterinarians and farm managers in the future, but also more well-rounded as individuals.

“They can be brilliant scholars but so many people are missing that agricultural foundation now. It used to be a given. Almost everyone came or knew somebody and did some farm work, but we’ve shifted almost the other way,” Armstrong said. “There are suburban areas growing and our farms are getting bigger and there’s less need for labor, which is more efficient, but you miss some of those nuances, for sure. It’s all connected, and I think it’s going to make them not only great veterinarians and farm managers but also good people because they’re learning where their food comes from, whether it’s vegetables or animals. They’re learning the foundation and the basics.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

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UD’s Weber Stibolt travels to Indianapolis for Safe Quality Food Conference

UD's Weber Stibolt travels to Indianapolis for Safe Quality Food ConferenceUniversity of Delaware student Weber Stibolt recently received a scholarship for food safety auditing from the Food Marketing Institute Foundation and was given the opportunity to travel to Indianapolis to take part in the Safe Quality Food Conference.

Stibolt, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said he was honored to be one of 10 scholarship recipients from across the country and that the conference was a great opportunity to network and learn from industry professionals.

“It was one of the most well organized, most thoughtful, very engaging conferences that I’ve ever been to. They had all sorts of workshops for every single sector of food. They had different roundtable sessions and breakout sessions that you could go to, and general speakers for everyone to listen to,” said Stibolt.

One of the highlights of the conference for Stibolt was hearing from one of the writers of the Food Safety Modernization Act and getting her views on the act’s requirements.

“That’s a very important piece of legislation coming out for a lot of food safety people, including manufacturers and auditors. Food safety is definitely taking off, and it’s going to be a huge industry to go into very soon,” said Stibolt.

Stibolt said the event provided a great networking and learning opportunity with close to 700 people from across the country attending the conference.

“Every single food company that you can think of was there, and it was valuable to network with them,” said Stibolt.

As for his favorite part of the conference, Stibolt said that it was great to meet the other scholarship winners and to see what they are doing and hear about their interests.

“I was actually the youngest scholarship recipient there. Most of them were graduate level students. It was interesting to see the work they’re doing, how they got into graduate research, and what they want to do with that in the future,” said Stibolt.

Food safety internships

Stibolt received the scholarship because of his interest in going into food safety as a career and also based on food safety internships that he completed the past two summers, one with Magee Farms and one with Kenny Brothers Produce in southern Delaware.

At Magee Farms, Stibolt helped the company with its food safety plan and found that he really enjoyed helping put it together.

“I loved doing mock audits and improving their food safety measures at the farm level. That was very interesting to me. It takes a very certain type of person to be able to do food safety, very Type A, by the book, everything has to be perfect. Because, if not, then you fail the audit and won’t be able to sell your produce,” said Stibolt.

Stibolt said that a mock audit involved making sure that the farm met a certain set of guidelines.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into any sort of food safety manual. It’s very tedious but also very important because if you don’t document it, it doesn’t happen. You could be following food safety practices but if you’re not writing it down and adequately monitoring it, then it’s worthless. So making sure all those records were in the manual and making sure that everything was to a ‘T’ was very important,” said Stibolt.

With Kenny Brothers Produce, a cucumber processing facility in Bridgeville, Stibolt also spent time working with food safety.

“Their purpose was to sort cucumbers by sizes and then ship them out to pickle manufacturers. It was interesting to see the food safety that’s involved in that – the handling of the produce, the safe packing of the produce, making sure that all the standards were met and all the procedures were being followed,” said Stibolt.

After graduating, Stibolt said he wants to go into quality assurance or some sort of food safety job to help manufacturers make sure they are producing safe, quality food.

“Safe food is something that I think is really worthwhile. If I can prevent an outbreak from happening because of what I’m doing in the plant to make sure we’re following food safety measures, it’s really worthwhile to me and it’s very rewarding to be able to have a direct impact on the food supply of the country,” said Stibolt.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD scientist receives special appointment from the Institute of Soil Science in China

Donald L. Sparks, Unidel S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has been named an honorary professor of the Institute of Soil Science in Nanjing, China.Donald L. Sparks, Unidel S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has been named an honorary professor of the Institute of Soil Science in Nanjing, China.

A division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Soil Science is the oldest and most prestigious institution for soil science in China. Sparks is the first soil scientist to receive the title of honorary professor in the institute’s 60-year history.

“I first visited the institute in 1987 and have since visited several times and collaborated with a number of their scientists over the years,” Sparks said. “I was extremely honored to be essentially the first foreign scientist asked to join their ranks.”

Sparks received the recognition during a recent trip to China that included stops in Beijing, Nanjing and Wuhan. He traveled with a former student, Scott Fendorf, the Huffington Family Professor in Earth Sciences at Stanford University. Fendorf received his doctorate under Sparks’ mentorship in 1992.

Sparks and Fendorf delivered guest lectures at the China Geological Survey in Beijing, Nanjing University and the Institute of Soil Science in Nanjing, and China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. Over the duration of the trip they addressed a total audience of about 600 people.

Both Sparks and Fendorf also received distinguished professorships from the provost at Nanjing University and were honored with a special luncheon with the university president during their visit there.

Sparks expects that new research collaborations will result from the trip and his special appointments. He and his Chinese colleagues will be seeking joint U.S. and Chinese funding for several projects.

“The scientists at the Institute of Soil Science and at universities and institutes in other locations in China are conducting some excellent research in the soil and environmental sciences. Thus there are some wonderful opportunities for collaboration,” Sparks said.

As a member of an international steering committee on critical zone science, Sparks has been working with Chinese scientists who are interested in establishing a network of critical zone observatory sites within China. The primary goal of his visit to the China Geological Survey was to further advance this effort. The critical zone is the thin layer of Earth’s crust and lower atmosphere where land, air and water combine to support life.

An additional highlight of the trip, according to Sparks, was a Yangtze River cruise hosted by China University of Geosciences President Yanxin Wang to view the Three Gorges Dam, the largest operating hydroelectric facility in the world in terms of annual energy generation, which was completed in 2012.

About Donald L. Sparks

Sparks has been a faculty member in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources since 1979 and served as chair of the department for 20 years. He was the first recipient of UD’s Outstanding Graduate Advising and Mentoring Award. In 1996, he received the Francis Alison Award, the highest academic honor bestowed at UD.

In 2011, Sparks was named an Einstein Professor by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Twenty Einstein professorships are awarded each year to distinguished international scientists actively working at the frontiers of science. The award enables recipients to conduct lecture tours in China aimed at strengthening scientific cooperation and exchange between China and other nations.

Sparks was the 2015 recipient of the Geochemistry Medal conferred by the American Chemical Society, He currently chairs the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Soil Science Society of America, the Geochemical Society, and the European Society of Geochemists. He has also served as president of the Soil Science Society of America and the International Union of Soil Scientists.

Article by Beth Chajes

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UD graduate works with youths, grows crops at Historic Penn Farm

Becca Manning, a graduate of UD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has taken interests developed in Chile to become farm manager at the Historic Penn Farm in New Castle.As she worked on a dairy farm in Chile to learn how to make cheese after graduating from the University of Delaware, Becca Manning never would have imagined that her cheese making curiosity would one day lead her to an interest in small, sustainable agriculture and ultimately the role of farm manager at Delaware Greenways’ Historic Penn Farm in New Castle.

In fact, as an undergraduate majoring in wildlife conservation in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and minoring in biological sciences, working on a farm seemed like an unlikely career destination.

Yet that is exactly where Manning finds herself and, as she puts it, it’s a perfect fit.

Manning started working in Chile as part of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) project where she became interested in small family, organic and sustainable farming. The farm on which she worked also grew vegetables for personal consumption and for the neighborhood in which they lived.

When she returned to the United States, Manning took a job making cheese in the West, where she got involved with farmers markets.

“That’s when I learned about the connection between agriculture, food and communities, and growing a healthy community and starting to really see how much that plays a role in people’s lives. I got really interested in re-connecting people with their food, and what better place to start than with young, impressionable minds,” said Manning.

At Historic Penn Farm, Manning is able to interact with students from William Penn High School who farm a four-acre plot of land, some of which is being incorporated into the school’s cafeteria system thanks to a recent Farms to Schools grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“It’s a great program. They’ve been growing on the farm for about four years now so this grant really allows them to take it to the next level and bring it into the cafeteria system,” said Manning.

The farm hires about 15 students over the summer who work Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. until noon, and those students are able to get a sense of what it’s like to be a farmer, completing all the day-to-day tasks from planting the seeds to harvesting. During the school year, around 150 students help out with their garden plot.

Manning said she thinks it’s “great to see these students really find a connection with the land where their food comes from and understand the importance of hard work and dedication. I really think that will carry with them hopefully forever, and there are just so many aspects of it that are really beneficial to them.”

Manning, who oversees all operations on the 112-acre farm, said that they also have other tenants who lease out acreage on the property, growing everything from broccoli, cauliflower and kale to pumpkins in the fall. They also grow okra, which Manning said was a big hit with the cafeterias this year.

Manning carries the education and experience she gained at UD with her on the job.

“I get to bring all that knowledge and really pay attention to the sustainability and the ecological health surrounding the farm, which plays a huge role in the success of whatever you do. Whether it’s growing crops or having animals who are foraging for grasses, it really is important to understand the ecological soundness of it, so it was kind of a perfect fit,” said Manning.

As for advice for any current undergraduates, Manning said it is important to be creative when trying to figure out a path or a career choice.

“I think it’s exciting to be a young person in this day and age. There are so many opportunities out there and with technology and the world changing the way it is, it really gives you a great opportunity to, if you’re creative enough, create your own path and create a whole new career of some sort. There are endless opportunities out there. I never thought I’d be a farmer but I’m still able to live and function as a member of society and I enjoy what I’m doing,” said Manning.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Landscape construction materials class creates colorful benches for ELI’s Community Garden

Landscape construction materials class creates colorful benches for ELI's Community GardenStudents in a landscape construction materials class taught by Anna Wik of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) recently helped colleagues from the English Language Institute (ELI) construct a set of benches to help with seating for classes and events at the ELI Community Garden.

Wik, assistant professor of landscape design in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said the purpose of the benches is to help create a central gathering space within the garden.

“The ELI garden has all sorts of workshops throughout the fall and spring semesters and they wanted benches that could be moved around so they could use that space a little more functionally. Right now, they don’t have any seating within the garden, or any potting space,” said Wik.

Kate Copeland, an instructor at ELI and the ELI Community Garden liaison, said that the operative word in the garden is “community.”

“The challenge was this – we have a garden but we don’t have a space in the garden where we can actually congregate as a community. People want to sit down, take a break, and enjoy the space in the garden, in addition to working on garden tasks,” said Copeland. “We wanted to create a gathering space inside the central area of the garden where we could just sit and talk with each other.”

Wik said that the pocket seating benches, which were designed by the class, are of varying sizes – 36 inches, 24 inches and 18 inches – and can be stacked under one another to make for convenient storage. They also can collapse and be put away for winter, and the design allows for multiple uses. The tallest one can actually be used as a table.

Sarah Morales, Rob Phipps, Hunter Perry, Matt Tjaden and Austin Virdin, all students in CANR, were the class members who took the initial idea from concept through documentation, and ultimately helped the ELI students to assemble the final product. The landscape construction materials course focuses on the interface between drawing and building, and this project was an opportunity for the students to focus on creating really clear graphics, without resorting to a lot of text to explain the process.

The project also gave ELI students a chance to interact with UD students in a hands-on, project based activity where they had an opportunity to practice their English language skills.

“It gave the ELI students an opportunity to interact with native English speaking UD students, which is often a challenge for them,” said Copeland who explained that in addition to teaching English grammar and vocabulary, the ELI also works to acculturate international students to the UD academic and social environment.

“There are lots of soft skills that we teach them in addition to the language that they’re learning, and the best way to do that is to give them opportunities to integrate with students and teachers in the larger UD campus,” Copeland said. “This was just one example of the opportunities we try to create to collaborate with other UD students, which is sometimes an unfamiliar experience for them.”

To facilitate the interaction, the benches were color coded, which gave Wik’s students the chance to visually represent the task so that the ELI students, of all different levels of language proficiency, could understand and participate in the project.

Wik’s students presented their design and had their materials all prepared for the 25 students who arrived to hear the presentation and get involved with the actual construction of the seating.

“The agriculture students gave directions and explained their process and talked about why it was important, and the ELI students were given the opportunity to ask questions. Anna and I facilitated as needed,” said Copeland.

Copeland added that the event was a success and that she is excited about potential future collaborations between the ELI Community Garden and the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

“This was basically a beginning, just bringing the materials class over to the garden and engaging them with our international students. Anna and I are very excited to see where it could go and we hope to have many other projects in the wings,” said Copeland.

About the Community Garden

The ELI Community Garden was started five years ago by a UD student organization with funding from the University’s Sustainability Task Force. Its mission, through the Food and Garden Policy Committee, has been to engage students and faculty across the University in learning experiences that explore sustainable best practices in gardening and food production.

Members of the UD community can rent beds for a very small fee with the stipulation that they participate in community events to which international students are invited.  Some ELI garden beds are also dedicated to service learning projects that produce food for charitable organizations such the Food Bank of Delaware.

Copeland said, “through content and project based learning, the ELI Community Garden offers marvelous English language development opportunities for the 700 plus international students that we teach in our intensive English program”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UDairy Creamery, Blossoms at the University of Delaware offer holiday treats

UDairy Creamery, Blossoms at the University of Delaware offer holiday treatsThe University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery and Blossoms at the University of Delaware both have seasonal offerings lined up for the holidays.

The UDairy Creamery will once again have a visit from Santa Claus, who will stop by from 1-4 p.m., Monday, Dec. 21, in the Townsend Hall Commons. Those who attend will be able to meet and get their picture taken with Santa as well as try some of the creamery’s seasonal treats. Children under 12 years of age will also get a free scoop of ice cream.

New ice cream flavors available for the holidays at the UDairy Creamery include peppermint bark, peppermint hot chocolate, cannoli, banana bread, and oatmeal raisin cookie.

There will also be peppermint mocha coffee drinks and peppermint hot chocolate available during the holiday season.

For those looking for holiday presents, the UDairy Creamery is still offering Blue Hen Blankets, made from the wool shorn from UD’s flock of Dorset sheep at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Dare to Bee honey from UD’s apiary, available in limited quantities while supplies last only at the UDairy Creamery store location; and UDairy Creamery hats, shirts, toy cows and gift certificates that can be used at the creamery or the GoBabyGo! Café in the Health Sciences Complex at the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

The creamery also will offer ice cream pies, with the varieties apple schmapple pie pie, mud pie pie, and pumpkin gingerbread pie available for $9.99 in a graham cracker or Oreo crust.

Starting in December and through the winter months, the creamery will offer punch cards for pints and half gallons. Pints gets customers one punch and half gallons gets customers two punches. Once a customer gets to eight, they will receive a $5 gift card.

The creamery also offers thermal bags and dry ice.

Most of the merchandise, with the exception of the honey, can be purchased in store or on-line.

The creamery will be open until 8 p.m. every day in December. The store will be closed Dec. 24-Jan. 3 and will re-open Jan. 4.

UDairy Creamery, Blossoms at the University of Delaware offer holiday treatsBlossoms at the University of Delaware, an initiative launched earlier this year that provides experiential learning opportunities for UD students to plan and provide flower arrangements for special events on campus, will also have offerings for holiday events.

Blossoms works with Aramark when it comes to events, and clients who would like to use Aramark and also use Blossoms should specifically state so in event requests.

In addition to providing any type of floral event work, such as centerpieces and a “big wow” piece that gives a first impression to set the atmosphere for the event, Blossoms at the University of Delaware also will offer holiday wreaths.

For those interested in using Blossoms at the University of Delaware, visit the website or contact Theresa Clower at tclower@theresafloral.com.

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate student Sara Jastrebski travels to Africa for poultry summit

UD graduate student Sara Jastrebski travels to Africa for poultry summitWhen University of Delaware graduate student Sara Jastrebski showed in interest in traveling abroad, her adviser Carl Schmidt asked if she’d be interested in going to Africa to participate in a three-day poultry conference.

Jastrebski jumped at the opportunity and was able to attend a summit meeting in Tanzania focused on a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Innovation Lab grant.

“Going to Africa is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Jastrebski, who had Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), as an adviser while an undergraduate at UD studying pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences.

Jastrebski said she definitely did not envision herself being so heavily involved in research when she entered UD as a freshman in the pre-vet program. She also didn’t realize that her research on how heat stress effects the gene expression of the liver in chickens would eventually allow her to travel to Africa.

“I had no idea that I would be jumping into research, and didn’t know that I’d love research as much as I did,” Jastrebski said. “That’s partially why I decided to do a master’s. I definitely want to apply to vet school after I get my master’s, but I love research so much I didn’t want to have to give it up.” She said having research on her resume should be a plus in vet school applications.

Jastrebski said she got into research after telling Schmidt of her specific interest in genetics. “He said, ‘Talk to me at the end of the summer.’ So I started working for him and I fell in love with it and never looked back.”

The USAID grant was awarded to a collaboration of researchers from UD, the University of California, Davis, and Iowa State University, working in conjunction with the University of Ghana and the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, where the meeting was held.

Jastrebski said the grant focuses mainly on studying New Castle Disease in chickens in Africa, where the disease devastates back yard flocks, and empowering women in Africa, who do most of the farming.

Jastrebski said the ultimate goal would be to develop a New Castle Disease resistant chicken through classical breeding for farmers in Africa.

“Every year, farmers spend a ton of money on having to buy new chickens because their birds just get wiped out. It’s kind of a commonplace thing and so right now they’re looking at how New Castle Disease effects these birds, and whether they can identify certain genes that are involved in the resistance to it,” said Jastrebski.

Chicken distribution

The hope would be to distribute birds with resistance to local farmers in Africa.

At the conference, three poultry experts from Ghana, Kenya and Cameroon came in to talk to the group about poultry distribution, which is difficult in Africa because each area is different and different areas have certain expectations about their chickens.

“The experts discussed how they distribute poultry in each of their countries and how they keep it sustainable, and the problems that they have and the different things that they’ve done. That was really interesting, to gain those perspectives and to see how difficult it can be to get things distributed in Africa,” said Jastrebski.

The participants then discussed and developed models regarding how they could potentially distribute their chicken product throughout the continent.

They also talked about year two of the grant, which was just completed, and all the work that they’ve done so far. UC Davis and Iowa State University completed two different experiments looking at New Castle Disease and started to look at gene expression and how those patterns reflect the resistance. Experiments are now starting at the two African universities involved with the grant.

As for her favorite part of the trip, Jastrebski said that it was great to be able to see a different culture firsthand.

“It was just such a different experience, I had never been over there. I think the most interesting part was seeing how different it was and how they have chickens running around everywhere – you can see how easily diseases can be spread throughout the populations,” said Jastrebski, who added that the landscape was incredible.

“We’d go to the university and they’d have a huge mountain as the backdrop. I would love to go to school and see that every day. It was beautiful,” said Jastrebski.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

New issue of University of Delaware Research magazine now available

New issue of University of Delaware Research magazine now availableThe latest issue of the University of Delaware Research magazine profiles seven women researchers who offer insight into their work — from coral reefs to corporations — the hurdles they have cleared and what keeps them moving forward. Each researcher also talks about what inspires her work in a short video in the online edition.

Cathy Wu says her father, and especially one of his many letters, inspired her to pursue her master’s and doctoral degrees. That combination of computer science and biology unknowingly positioned her to be a pioneer in a field that uses computer science tools to make sense of massive amounts of biological data.

Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, is featured from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and talks about how she first got involved with research and her current research focus on arsenic in rice.

Seyfferth says she enjoys knowing the research she is conducting has the potential to impact society. She also loves passing that knowledge on to new students.

“Both of those things really drive me on a daily basis,” says Seyfferth. “I get to work with students and get them excited about research. I enjoy getting young people involved in research at an early age because it was so critical for me to get to where I am today.”

Other highlights of the issue include:

  • Spin In, a program developed by UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships, which is giving students the opportunity to work alongside entrepreneurs on cool inventions like mTrigger, PocketFarmer and FanDeck;
  • Groundbreaking humanities research that is bringing the forgotten slaves of the Roman Empire into new focus;
  • MADE CLEAR, a model program developed by UD and the University of Maryland with National Science Foundation support, to help teachers integrate climate change education into multiple areas of instruction;
  • The Institute of Energy Conversion’s quest to capture more sun power through pioneering work in solar technology; and
  • Fearsome Fridays — the Test Your Knowledge quiz.

UD Research is published three times a year through a collaboration of the Research Office and Communications and Public Affairs.

Click here to view the latest issue of the magazine.

To subscribe, visit this webpage.

UD’s equine science minor offers research, hands-on experiences

UD's equine science minor offers research, hands-on experiencesThe first students to receive minors in equine science graduated from the University of Delaware this spring, and with dedicated faculty members and state of the art facilities for both laboratory and field work, the minor is off and running in its second year.

The equine science minor, housed in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), was created through a generous gift from Stuart M. and Suzanne B. Grant of Greenville, Delaware. The couple have operated a horse breeding and racing enterprise since 2001, and in 2009, Stuart began taking animal sciences courses at UD.

“We want students to be proud of where they are 10, 20 years from now,” says Grant, who is also a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. “And when you look at the education and opportunities these kids are getting here at UD, you know they will be.”

Part of those opportunities are ones Grant has helped create. In addition to providing the funds to establish the minor, the Grants’ C-Dog Farm, a foaling facility that also has thoroughbreds and mares, in Chesapeake City, Maryland, will welcome students this spring to be involved in caring for mares and foals.

Amy Biddle, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, said the students will be doing their senior capstone course at the farm and that Grant has been “very generous in making that farm not only accessible for students, but retrofitting it with video cameras and viewing rooms to make it a place for students to come and learn.”

Biddle serves as the instructor for the minor along with Annie Renzetti, a supplemental professional in the department. The two instructors complement each other nicely, with Biddle serving in a research role and Renzetti bringing a wealth of clinical experience.

“Amy and I get along awesomely and she’s very much in the gut microbe research bent, which is fascinating to me. I’m a little bit more real world veterinary, in there slogging it in the trenches with the horses,” Renzetti said. “The two-prong approach is neat because you’ve got the laboratory for people who want to pursue a lab internship path, and I’m there for more of veterinary information, the whole horse picture.”

“Dr. Renzetti brings a wealth of clinical experience and a real enthusiasm for teaching,” Biddle said. “She has an incredible amount of information but also connects well with students, so she’s just a fantastic teacher.”

The minor, as well as individual courses, are open to students from across the University.

“From everybody who’s never seen or touched a horse to people who have a passing interest, all students are welcome – and it’s not just welcome to the minor but the different classes, as well. I really see it as a way to get some science classes in if you’re a music major or an economics major. It’s a friendly science program,” said Renzetti.

Biddle added that one of Grant’s missions was to make the program accessible to anyone at UD.

“It’s really important to his mission to involve students as much as possible and that the minor be attracting students from a wide range of the University, because there’s strength in that,” said Biddle.

The two instructors added that Delaware’s location is ideal for an equine science program.

“Delaware is uniquely situated for horse research and education because we have so many different equestrian activities close by. Besides thoroughbred and standardbred racing at Delaware Park and Dover Downs, we have Fair Hill Training Center, with amazing facilities for race training, veterinary care and therapy, as well as Fair Hill International which hosts a wide range of competitive events, from eventing to endurance. UD’s backyard is rich with horse activity in every direction,” said Biddle.

Renzetti added, “Delaware is centrally located for many equine pursuits, not to mention the ones we have in and of ourselves at UD, and being so close to University of Pennsylvania with their New Bolton Center and being able to tap into that wealth of knowledge is just awesome.”

Equine graduates

Elizabeth Vacchiano is one of the students who graduated in May with a minor in equine science and is hoping to one day have a career in the equine field.

She said that the minor did a great job of combining in-class course work with hands-on experiences in the field, culminating with a capstone course where she and her group had to create an equine business.

“My group created a therapeutic riding center and we had to go through every single step of creating a business. We had to think about everything from the pastures, the diseases our horses could have, the vaccinations, the zoning laws concerning how to keep horses, nutrient management, every single little step, and I really enjoyed it,” said Vacchiano.

She also had the opportunity to do a foaling internship at C-Dog Farm and her pasture management class was able to take samples and evaluate the pastures at the farm.

“I loved learning all about it in class, theoretically putting it together and then being able to actually go out and do it. I feel so prepared to go out and know what I’m talking about because I did it,” said Vacchiano.

Vacchiano said she is grateful to the farm manager and assistant farm manager at C-Dog Farm for taking the time out to answer any questions that she had, and she hopes to one day be in charge of a facility that allows her to teach University students much like she was taught.

Vacchiano said the minor covers all aspects of horse health, and that she enjoyed the plant science classes and the behavior classes, and that the minor is science based which is incredibly important for a young person going into the equine industry.

You’re taking other science classes that aren’t just about horses. That is something that I think a lot of people forget about. The animal is obviously very important but what’s going into that animal? What’s in your pastures, and your water, and your hay quality? There’s a lot of important things that this minor is going to show you,” said Vacchiano.

Vacchiano said anyone interested in research should look into getting involved with the industry.

“The equine industry is an untapped area for research. There are so many more things that we can learn and we can discover, so many questions that we don’t have answered, and it would make the industry so much better if we had those answers,” said Vacchiano.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan and Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

CANR recognizes recipients of Worrilow, Distinguished Alumni awards

Six graduates of the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) were presented with honors – the George M. Worrilow Award as well as four Distinguished Alumni Awards and a Distinguished Young Alumni Award – during a ceremony held Friday, Nov. 6, as part of Homecoming festivitiesSix graduates of the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) were presented with honors – the George M. Worrilow Award as well as four Distinguished Alumni Awards and a Distinguished Young Alumni Award – during a ceremony held Friday, Nov. 6, as part of Homecoming festivities.

The awards are given based on a clear record of outstanding career accomplishments, service and leadership to the profession, and community service, including service to UD.

George M. Worrilow Award

Charles C. Allen III was presented with CANR’s George M. Worrilow Award, named for the dean of the college from 1954-65 whose career was dedicated to better agriculture and better agricultural education.

It is given annually by the Ag Alumni Association to a graduate of the college who has exhibited outstanding service to agriculture.

Of receiving the award, Allen said he was pleasantly surprised.

Allen served as president of Allen Family Foods Inc., which was founded by his grandfather in 1919, from 1998 until 2008. Until 2011, the company was based in Seaford, Delaware, and was an industry leader and a global exporter of premium poultry products.

At its height, Allen Family Foods packed approximately 12 million pounds of finished products per week and employed more than 3,000 people.

The Allen family, including three generations of alumni, has long supported UD in such areas as scholarship programs and research facilities, including the Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory for poultry disease research.

On the importance of giving back, Allen said, “I’ve been fortunate and I think it’s incumbent upon those who have had good fortune and good starts in life, a good basic foundation, to give back. Some generation ahead of me gave back, I think I should do the same. I think all of us should do the same.”

Allen said that he has seen firsthand the great impact that scholarships can have on students.

“I think it gives them encouragement. It gives them an outward vote of confidence. Somebody else believes that I can do what I’m seeking out to do. And I’ve seen it help students overcome some hurdles of self confidence,” Allen said. “That’s the reward that you get. Giving the money is easy; seeing the result of it is what you really look for. And I’ll tell you this, my exposure to students gives me faith in the future.”

Allen served on the University of Delaware Board of Trustees from 1987 to 1993 and has been a member of the Delaware Diamonds Society since 1996. He has made several significant contributions to CANR, including gifts to the Agriculture Biotechnology Center, the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, Allen Lab, CANR Undergraduate Research, and the Cooperative Extension Program.

Allen was honored with a place on the University’s Alumni Wall of Fame in 2006.

From 1992-93, he was chairman of the National Chicken Council in Washington, D.C. In October of 2012, he was elected National Honorary Life Member of the Chicken Council.

In August of 1992, Allen had the honor to meet with President George H.W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House.

Allen received a bachelor of science degree in agriculture from UD in 1971, and his son, Chad Allen, also received a bachelor of science degree in agriculture from UD in 1998.

Distinguished Alumni

Mary Denigan-Macauley is an assistant director at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C., where she leads the agency’s work related to food safety and agriculture production and defense. In this role, Denigan-Macauley has led reviews of numerous federal programs to improve the safety of the nation’s food supply and to prevent, respond to, and recover from natural disasters and terrorist attacks on livestock and poultry.

Her work helped to shape legislation and public policy in several key areas, most notably on agroterrorism. Through the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, Denigan-Macualey also worked to improve government auditing of agricultural programs worldwide and enhance professional capacities. Prior to joining GAO, she taught program evaluation and comparative public policy for Troy University in Japan.

Denigan-Macauley earned a doctorate in public policy from Arizona State University in 1997. She earned a master of dairy science degree from the University of Arizona in 1991, and a bachelor of science degree in animal science from UD in 1988.

Devan Mehrotra

Devan Mehrotra is associate vice president of biostatistics and research decision sciences at Merck Research Laboratories (MRL). He is also an adjunct associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Over the past 25 years, Mehrotra has made significant contributions toward the research, development and regulatory approval of medical drugs and vaccines across a broad spectrum of therapeutic areas. In addition, he has served as a subject matter expert for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences and the International Conference on Harmonization. His recent focus has been on developing innovative approaches that leverage human genetics to enable personalized medicine.

Mehrotra was elected an American Statistical Association Fellow in 2008 and an MRL Presidential Fellow in 2012. He earned his doctorate in statistics from UD in 1991. Mehrotra earned a master of science degree in statistics from the University of Bombay in India in 1986 and a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and statistics from St. Xavier’s College in Bombay in 1984.

Kenneth Raffa

Kenneth Raffa, Vilas Distinguished Professor, has served as forest entomologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, since 1985. Raffa studies population dynamics of forest insects, especially the chemical signaling involved in plant defense, predator-prey interactions and microbial symbiosis. He teaches forest entomology, plant-insect interactions and scientific presentations. Thirty-six graduate degrees have been awarded under his mentorship, and his students now hold prominent positions in universities, industry and government.

Raffa once worked as a section research biologist at the DuPont Experimental Station, has published over 300 papers, and has won honors from the Entomological Society of America, the International Society of Chemical Ecology, the Spitze Land Grant Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.

He has served on advisory panels addressing various natural resource issues such as invasive species, pesticides, and biotechnology for the National Research Council, U.S. Forest Service, state agencies and corporations. He has also served on grant panels for the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture, and was a subject editor for three scientific journals.

Raffa earned a doctorate from Washington State University in 1980. He obtained a master of science degree from UD in 1974, studying biological control of gypsy moths under Roland Roth and Dale Bray. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia; he was a first generation college graduate.

H. Don Tilmon

H. Don Tilmon began his academic career at Lynchburg College in Virginia, where he was associate professor of business administration, department chair and director of the MBA program. In 1978, Tilmon accepted the position of Cooperative Extension farm management specialist at UD’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC).

Tilmon, who was promoted to full professor, conducted research for the development of crop insurance for six new vegetable crop policies in Delaware, as well as provided educational programs on the topic to growers. Tilmon also worked with Delaware farmers, privately and individually, to assist them in making financial and production decisions to help manage financial stress due to the 1980s Farm Crisis.

Tilmon served most recently as director for the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education at UD. In addition, Tilmon was the national program leader for farm management at the National Extension Service/U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. During three separate one-year “shared faculty” assignments at USDA, he also served as the national program leader for risk management education.

Tilmon earned a doctorate at Purdue University in 1971. He earned a master of science degree from UD in 1967, a bachelor of science degree from the University of Missouri in 1965, and an associate of science degree in 1963 at the School of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri.

Distinguished Young Alumni

Jared Ali

Jared Ali is an assistant professor of entomology at Michigan State University. Ali’s lab focuses on the natural defenses of plants and how plants, herbivores, and beneficial natural enemies communicate.

Ali has authored over 20 peer reviewed journal articles, review papers, and book chapters. He has been invited to give lectures, seminars and presentations on his research at universities and professional meetings both nationally and internationally. He is a major inventor on two patents for chemical attractants for both insects and nematodes. He looks forward to establishing his career as a mentor for students from diverse backgrounds and assisting them in achieving success as future scientists.

Ali developed a longing to explore an alternative path of knowledge while studying at private Quaker grade schools in Pennsylvania. He left high school during his junior year to travel throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. Thomas Lewis’ The Lives of a Cell ultimately inspired him to study biological interactions and evolution.

Upon earning a doctorate at the University of Florida in 2011 and receiving the Pauline O. Lawrence Award in Physiology/Biochemistry, Ali accepted an opportunity to study plant defense and multitrophic interactions in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, where he was awarded a USDA-NIFA-AFRI postdoctoral fellowship.

Ali earned his master of science degree in entomology and applied ecology at UD in 2008 and received a bachelor of arts degree in biological sciences from the University in 2005.

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Extension, CHS encourage Delawareans to ‘Eat Better, Move More, Live Well’

UD Extension, CHS encourage Delawareans to 'Eat Better, Move More, Live Well'University of Delaware Cooperative Extension has teamed up with the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition in the College of Health Sciences to help Delawareans improve their fitness and eating habits as part of the inaugural “Yes We Can Healthy Living Challenge.”

The challenge, which has as its motto “Eat Better, Move More, Live Well,” is funded by a Delaware Division of Public Health grant to the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition and is part of the Healthy Lifestyles Interventions: A Community Cooperative Agreement grant.

The seven-month challenge encourages individual and community wellness through a friendly competition among teams, which identify strategies for individuals and teams to improve physical activity and eating habits. Teams can enroll at any time during the challenge period.

Points are assigned to a variety of activities and each person earns points for completing an activity. Each month, individuals and teams will log their efforts and receive points.

“The idea behind the challenge is to get people to make some healthier choices about what they eat, how much they exercise, and how they engage their families or their communities in order to help support them in making those decisions,” said Maria Pippidis, New Castle County Extension director. “It’s really not just about what can I do but about how can we do this together. That’s why we’re calling it ‘Yes We Can,’ because it’s about togetherness and working toward whatever the healthy living goals might be for an individual.”

Kathleen Splane, Extension agent and state program leader for family and consumer sciences, said that in addition to improving healthy habits among individuals and teams, the hope is to also make participants aware of available Extension programs.

“The team members are able to get points based on things such as eating well, being more physically active and getting a good night’s sleep, but one of the main ways that they can get points is by coming to Cooperative Extension programs,” said Splane. “Then they get kind of bonus points for attending Cooperative Extension programs. So we have it as an incentive based team approach where we’re averaging the team scores and then we have different incentives for different levels.”

Elizabeth Orsega-Smith, associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition, said the challenge has been a three-year project, with the researchers spending the first year conducting interviews and focus groups to get information from potential program participants about their perceptions of active living and healthy eating.

After the initial interviews and after identifying key stakeholders to help promote the project within the communities, Orsega-Smith said that the team-based approach will allow them to “allot points for various physical activities that people may be doing, such as walking, and also things such as trying a healthy recipe or eating a meal with your family.” 

Orsega-Smith said that through pre- and post-questionnaires, they are hoping to see some change in fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity from the participants.

The challenge officially kicked off with two events held recently in New Castle and Kent counties.

Both events had interactive, educational displays — such as making better fast food choices and stretching the food dollar — as well as healthy living activities. Healthy recipes with food samples also were available for participants to try.

At the event in Kent County, participants took part in a shopping challenge where they went through a mock grocery store and used a certain amount of money to create a meal that included every part of MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition program.

“They were evaluated on cost effectiveness, nutrition, and how well they did with what they picked. That was, I think, the highlight of the event,” said Splane.

At the New Castle County event, in addition to the interactive exhibits, student groups such as the University’s Zumba Club, the Nutrition and Dietetics Club, Health Behavior Science Club, Public Health Club, and Health and Physical Education Majors Club, were on hand to staff displays and engage children in attendance with fun games such as one involving a parachute and a bean bag toss.

Orsega-Smith said that they wanted to get the student groups involved in the project so they can “have a real experience in looking at how they can make an impact in the community.”

There was also a soccer game at the New Castle County event featuring players from the Delupes Soccer League, with the winner taking home a Healthy Living Challenge Cup.

While the New Castle County program is primarily geared toward the Hispanic population and the Kent County program toward the African-American population, Splane and Pippidis stressed that the challenge is open to anyone who wants to participate.

Pippidis said that key partners in the challenge include churches in both counties.

Orsega-Smith said that it has been great to partner with Extension on the project because they already have key connections within the communities.

“They are the individuals who actually have a buy in with the community because people are familiar with Cooperative Extension and familiar with the programs,” said Orsega-Smith.

Those interested in getting involved in the challenge should contact Lucy Williams at 302-730-4000 in Kent County and Carlos Dipres at 302-831-1239 in New Castle County.

For more information on the Healthy Living Challenge, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

New UD study looks at adding rice residue to lower arsenic, improve crop yields

New UD study looks at adding rice residue to lower arsenic, improve crop yieldsA new study by University of Delaware researchers considers how adding silica-rich rice residue — such as husks, straw and the ash of those materials — to improve crop yields and decrease arsenic uptake may affect the soils in which rice plants are grown.

The results of the study were recently published in Plant and Soil, an international journal on plant-soil relationships.

The study was carried out by Evanise Penido, a visiting student from the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA) in Brazil.

Penido worked on the project, led by Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, in collaboration with Tom Hanson, professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy and associate director of the marine biosciences program, and Alexa Bennett, a graduate student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

Seyfferth said the current practice of removing silica-rich rice residues and not incorporating them into soil is a leading cause of yield declines and the susceptibility of rice to abiotic and biotic stress.

“Rice is a very efficient silicon accumulator. It’s able to pull silicon out of soil, and the rice straw and the rice husk have a lot of silicon stored in the tissues,” Seyfferth said. “If we incorporate those residues back into soil and get more into a holistic farming approach – kind of like with organic residues – we could improve the health of the soil and provide a source of nutrients for plant-uptake.”

Because farmers in developing countries need a low cost solution to lower arsenic uptake in rice, the leftover material could prove to be a viable option, something that became apparent to Seyfferth when she conducted work in Cambodia.

“These residues are removed from the field and just piled up, but if we were able to take these materials and put them back into soil, they might provide a source of silicon for the plants that would be something that farmers in developing countries would easily have access to and could utilize,” said Seyfferth.

Penido added that most farmers in South and Southeast Asia have small-scale operations and cannot afford regular applications of silicon fertilizers because of the high costs and limited availability.

“A low cost solution, such as applying rice residues into rice paddies, is important to both the environment and human health. We are recycling wastes which can be used by small-holder farmers in developing countries, providing enough silicon to decrease arsenic uptake by rice,” said Penido.

Importance of silicon

Seyfferth said that silicon helps rice plants grow stronger, expend less energy and work more efficiently.

“It’s almost like the plant has glass within it and when the plant has glass within its tissue, it makes things like fungal pathogens less able to chew through it. In that way it helps to increase resistance to diseases because of the rigidity it provides to the rice plant,” she said.

In addition to that rigidity, the silicon also directly competes with the predominant form of arsenic — the reduced form of arsenic called arsenite — that is present in flooded rice paddy soils.

“Arsenite looks very similar chemically to dissolved silicon and the two get taken up through rice roots along the same transport pathway. So just by increasing the amount of dissolved silicon, we can effectively decrease the amount of arsenic that gets taken up and stored in the grains,” said Seyfferth.

In addition to decreasing arsenic uptake in the rice, silicon also helps improve crop yields by making the plant more rigid, stronger and healthier. When the rice plants have more silicon, they use less water and employ water and nutrients more efficiently.

Impact on soils

The researchers were also interested in what happens when the residue is added back to the soil to see how they impacted the pH, the silicon and arsenic availability, and also the dissolved methane in the soils.

“What we don’t want to do is add something that would increase methane emissions,” said Seyfferth.

Penido explained that to conduct the research, they collected soil from UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) farm and had three kilograms of soil added in each pot.

“Different particle sizes of fresh straw, fresh husk and the ash of straw or husk were incorporated into soil. Pots were then flooded to five centimeters above the soil surface and kept flooded during the entire eight-week experiment. Pore water samples were obtained every week, for a total of eight weeks and analyzed,” Penido said.

The study showed that incorporating the straw has drawbacks because, while it has a lot of silicon, it also leads to more methane production and more arsenic release.

Husk addition, on the other hand, is very beneficial because it provides the most silicon of all the residues studied, doesn’t release much arsenic and has a low impact on methane emissions.

“There were a lot of benefits from incorporating the husk,” said Seyfferth.

Time at UD

rice0130-2As for her time at UD, Penido, who is currently working toward a master’s degree in chemistry at UFLA, said, “As an international student I just loved being a Blue Hen. UD for me was home away from home. I made really good friends, studied a lot, made the fall dean’s list, and had a lot of support. Dr. Tom Sims, Maria Pautler and Ashley Fry were of extreme importance to make my dream of studying at UD true. Ashley was the best adviser I could have asked for. I am thankful for everyone from CANR who welcomed me. I loved living in the dorms, the social events and clubs, the UDairy Creamery, Ag Day and the good UD atmosphere – everyone is so happy.”

Of working with Seyfferth, Penido said, “She was always willing to teach and help me, not just with the project but also with the courses I was taking. She always showed me kindness and respect. She was my adviser for my senior thesis and was very willing to help me prepare for research presentations. I want to continue our studies in the near future.”

Seyfferth remains in touch with Penido, who she said was great to work with on the project.

“She was so engaged and outgoing and I think it was a testament to the quality of students that UFLA has and brings here,” said Seyfferth, who added that she now has another UFLA student in her lab who is in a doctoral program.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to get high quality students and also to have this exchange. I think it’s opened the doors for a lot of collaboration,” said Seyfferth.

The research was funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development Award that Seyfferth received, as well as an NSF research starter grant and the UD Research Foundation.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate Natalie Miller finds success working with animals large and small

UD graduate Natalie Miller finds success working with animals large and smallAs University of Delaware graduate Natalie Miller puts it, her career path in the field of animal science and veterinary medicine is “constantly evolving.”

That evolution finds her currently working at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Division of Cardiovascular Devices as a veterinary medical officer, primarily reviewing animal studies for firms that are developing new cardiovascular devices for humans and are attempting to initiate clinical trials in the United States.

Prior to her work with the FDA, Miller worked with both small animals at Graylyn Crest Animal Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, and large animals as the export manager for LI Animal Health.

Miller’s non-traditional road to her veterinary degree and her doctorate began soon after she graduated from UD in 2002 with a degree in animal science.

Instead of going straight to veterinary school, she decided to take some time to figure things out and ended up traveling and working abroad, spending three months in Switzerland and six months in Croatia working on a livestock loan program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“That gave me a little bit of a sense of the international community as far as working at that point in war-affected areas of Croatia,” said Miller, who explained that the program was designed to help farmers in the area who did not have a lot of capital.

Back stateside

After returning from overseas, Miller started a post baccalaureate program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she worked in a lab studying HIV.

Having gained experience at UD working in a lab with Carl Schmidt, professor of animal and food sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Miller said that she enjoyed the NIH program. “That program is fantastic for students that are out of undergrad and preparing to go to graduate school or medical school,” said Miller.

Following her time at NIH, Miller determined that she was ready for veterinary school and enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s combined VMD/Ph.D. degree program.

Miller started the program in 2004 and finished in 2013.

With her husband completing his graduate degree, Miller had to find work in the Philadelphia area and wanted to work with large animals but realized that would be tough in the city. “There aren’t a whole lot of cows around so I was trying to figure out how to balance all of these things, and I ended up getting two different part-time jobs,” said Miller.

The first was a traditional small animal veterinary medicine job working 12 to 15 hours a week the Graylyn Crest facility. She also worked as the export manager for LI Animal Health, a company that exports livestock overseas. It was a job that she found through one of her mentors at veterinary school.

“She put me in touch with a company representative to see if it would be a good match so I worked with him for about two years and learned a ton about the export business and, honestly, I had no idea that it was even a thing that happened. That was really exciting,” said Miller.

Miller also said that it was great to be able to work with both large and small animals in the two jobs.

“It was a nice foundation for me in both ways and they were very contrasting and very different jobs and it was a lot of fun to be able to do both things,” said Miller.

Evolution continues

Two years into the jobs, however, Miller found herself on the move again as her husband found a job in the Washington, D.C., area.

That’s when Miller started her work at the FDA. Of her current position, she said “It’s completely different but a lot of fun. It’s definitely something that I never would have known anything about as an animal science student or even as a veterinary student, but it’s a great fit.”

Veterinary advice

As for any advice to current undergraduates looking to get into veterinary school, Miller said it is important to understand the financial implications, as vet school can be expensive. She also said that it is important for anyone considering a career as a veterinarian to enjoy talking and interacting with people.

“When I’m working in small animal medicine, 99 percent of my day is interacting with clients. Very little of it is actually interacting with the animals at all and if I can’t interact and talk to the clients and explain why I want to do the things that I want to do with their animals, I don’t get anywhere,” said Miller.

Miller also said there is no shame in waiting a few years to figure out if veterinary school is truly the right option.

“Take a year off, work in a clinic, work somewhere else and make sure that the decision really is the right one for you. An extra year or two is not going to make a difference in the long run and if it means that you’re more sure of your decision then it’s definitely worthwhile,” said Miller.

As for her time at UD, Miller said that she absolutely loved it.

“I had a fantastic experience at UD. I love the program, I love the animal and food science department, I love the fact that the college was a smaller, more cozy home in the south of campus but that you were still a part of this big university where you had so much diversity and so many different activities that you could be a part of,” said Miller. “I was really active in the Animal Science Club while I was in school and just got to do so many amazing things through that club and through being an animal science student. I spent a lot of time out on the farm and it was just a great experience all the way around.”

Veterinary school success

Miller is just one of many successful students that studied pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences while at CANR and went on to a career in veterinary medicine. As of 2011, the department has over 170 alumni veterinarians and the department will have 45 more in the coming years.

There are currently alumni studying at 12 different veterinary schools and from 2012-14, graduates of the pre-vet program at UD have been offered admission at 18 of the 28 veterinary schools across the United States and six schools internationally.

The program is also a major feeder school for the University of Pennsylvania with 12 UD alumni entering the Penn Veterinary School in the past two years and 10 others that graduated from Penn in 2013.

In 2014, 9 out of 12 student applicants were accepted to veterinary schools and those students were accepted to half –14 of the 28 – United States vet schools and three international schools.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate Jenna Byers finds career with Kellogg’s

UD graduate Jenna Byers finds career with Kellogg'sAs an undergraduate at the University of Delaware studying food and agribusiness marketing and management (FABM) in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Jenna Byers was able to learn about food retailing, customer behavior and how to analyze the best sales strategies for particular markets.

Byers also worked as the marketing manager for the UDairy Creamery, which gave her hands-on experience in business and marketing.

It was with these tools in hand that Byers was able to get a job with Kellogg’s as a senior customer analyst directly after graduating from UD.

Now in her second year with the company, Byers has recently been promoted to account executive, a job that allows her to travel up and down the East Coast as she supports the Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia area wholesale accounts — such as Redner’s Markets and Farm Fresh Supermarkets — for the company.

Byers works with snacks for Kellogg’s and manages the company’s portfolio of products such as Cheez-It and Keebler cookies for those wholesale accounts. She said her job is made up of responsibilities that she learned about while an undergraduate at UD.

“In the FABM program, we took a lot of classes about food retailing and consumer behavior, and that’s pretty much exactly what I’m doing at Kellogg’s – looking at the customers and the markets and figuring out what the best sales are and what the best ways to reach those consumers are,” said Byers. “It’s great because a lot of it lines up with exactly what I was learning from Dr. Ulrich Toensmeyer, Dr. John Bernard (both professors of applied economics and statistics) and the classes there.”

Toensmeyer said of Byers, “If you’re looking for a role model, someone to represent the FABM program, she would be it. Her enthusiasm, her passion and her work ethic, you put them all together and that’s Jenna.”

In her previous role at Kellogg’s as a senior customer analyst, Byers said she would perform shipment tracking and return on investment analysis, where she would look at the most effective price points for certain products. “It’s looking at what people buy and what the best prices are,” said Byers.

In her new role as an account executive, Byers said that because most of the stores are already carrying well-known products like Cheez-It, she is mostly involved with selling new items, such as a new flavor of Cheez-It or a new cookie or flavor of Nutrigrain or Special K bar.

Of her favorite part of the job, Byers said it would be the opportunity to work with such a well-known company. “The brands that we have are definitely family brands, they are brands that people know, so it’s fun to sell,” said Byers. “It definitely makes the day interesting and when you walk in and you’re selling Cheez-Its and cookies and things like that. It makes the job more fun.”

UD experience

In addition to her time in the FABM program, Byers said that working at the UDairy Creamery as an undergraduate was an excellent learning experience.

“Since it is student run and faculty supported, we really got to have a lot of say in what was going on. We could try out different ideas, so a lot of the things that I learned about how to sell and how to market products and reach consumers are things that I’ve been able to replicate here, and really kind of hit the ground running,” said Byers.

Byers was also helped along the way at UD by receiving the Charles and Patricia Genuardi Scholarship.

Byers said that receiving the scholarship from someone like Charles Genuardi – who graduated from UD in 1970, was inducted into the UD Alumni Wall of Fame in 2005 and served as chairman, president and CEO of Genuardi’s Family Markets from 1990 until the family sold the business to Safeway Inc. in 2001 – and Patricia Genuardi was a double bonus as it helped her not only financially but also gave her great mentors as she started her career.

“Having that relationship with Mr. Genuardi and Mrs. Genuardi, they were mentors for me through my time at UD and they continue to be now that I’ve been out in the real world,” said Byers. “He has been and still is very successful in the grocery industry and that’s where I made my home career-wise. I’ve been able to, both when I was in school and now, reach out to him and get his feedback. It has been great for me to have him as a mentor, somebody that I can bounce ideas off.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Friends of Extension, collaboration focus of Cooperative Extension’s annual conference

2015 Delaware cooperative extension annual conference oct 22 at modern maturity center Dover DelawareAs Delaware farmer R.C. Willin approached the lectern to deliver remarks after being named one of four National Friends of Extension, Willin quickly turned the tables on the Delaware Cooperative Extension professionals seated before him at their annual conference, held at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover on Oct. 22.

Willin, a grain and poultry producer in Seaford and last year’s recipient of the Delaware Friend of Extension Award, was surprised to learn his name had been forwarded and accepted at the national level. Humbled and surprised by the honor, Willin credited much of his success to Cooperative Extension.

“I am really the one who should be offering you my humble and heartfelt appreciation for the quality of character, the heart of service, and the passion with which you give yourselves to the work of Cooperative Extension,” Willin said.

“Each one of you, in your respective disciplines, work to advance American agriculture, promote stewardship of the abundant natural resources with which we are blessed and make a significant investment in the lives of youth, families, homes and communities throughout this great nation,” Willin said.

“Unfortunately, few in our nation are aware of the magnitude of the impact on our society and ultimately the world that you, as individuals serving in Cooperative Extension, have had in the past and are having today,” Willin said. “Thank you again for this award and the great honor of being a part of your efforts.”

Willin, along with his brother J.C. Willin and their sons, currently grow corn, soybeans, wheat and barley, and have three poultry houses on their 1,200 acres. Willin’s priority in environmental stewardship and his collaboration with the UD as a cooperator in areas of nutrient management, weeds, insects and irrigation, establish Willin and his family’s farm as valuable stakeholders in agriculture.

Willin also serves on the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Dean’s Advisory Board, Sussex County Field Crops Program, Sussex County Poultry Extension Program and UD Extension Nutrient Management/Environmental Quality Advisory Committee, as well as many other groups dedicated to improving Delaware.

Conference highlights

As in past conferences, the 2015 extension conference offered professional development workshops and a backdrop for a day of learning, sharing ideas and innovative collaboration.

Donna Pinkett Brown, interim dean and director of extension at Delaware State University (DSU), began the conference by noting DSU’s observations of the 125th anniversary of the second Morrill Act, establishing the 1890 land grant universities nationwide. Together as land grant institutions in Delaware, UD and DSU extension staff frequently collaborate on statewide outreach.

2015 Delaware cooperative extension annual conference oct 22 at modern maturity center Dover DelawareBrian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, served as the conference keynote speaker. His stated goal was to change the audience’s perspective about local food, and to challenge the audience to redefine the term “small farm,” a descriptor he believes is inadequate and which limits the larger potential he sees for smaller acreage to sustain food production for many.

Snyder mapped out the centennial U.S. in territories of water and food sheds. He suggested that Delaware is poised to play a significant role by thinking of the region in such terms.

Snyder presented examples, such as urban gardens, which are yielding crops on small plots of land. He pointed to modern and ancient cultures that adapted their agricultural practices to limited geography or resources and yet produced beyond expectation. Snyder advocates thinking local in terms of a 150-mile radius, and feeding local markets first, before exporting.

“The challenge for extension is thinking beyond its own state, and look at the region you are in,” Snyder said. “The impact of Delaware far outweighs its size. Because of where we are located, the potential is enormous and the impact is huge.”

Extension Recognition

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of CANR and director of Cooperative Extension, and Donna Brown, DSU, presented the Friend of Extension Awards in several program areas.

“The Friend of Extension Award is the highest recognition presented to a non-extension person, business or organization and is designed to recognize truly outstanding support and personal involvement in extension efforts,” Rodgers said.

University of Delaware
George Lynam – Agriculture

2015 Delaware cooperative extension annual conference oct 22 at modern maturity center Dover DelawareGeorge Lynam of Baker Farms was a model cooperator for Delaware Extension. An early innovator, Lynam embraced technology and was one of the first Delaware farmers to use GPS. He freely shared his research findings with extension experts. Fully engaged with extension programming for 25 years, Lynam served on several boards and was an invested stakeholder in Delaware agriculture. He helped to shape the vision of farming in the First State. Lynam was a willing mentor and natural-born educator to anyone who wanted to learn more. The honor was awarded posthumously and accepted by his wife Sherry Kitto.

Janice Melson – Family and Consumer Science

Well known in Delaware’s 4-H arena, Melson, a retired family and consumer science teacher in the Red Clay School District, continues to share her expertise by enrolling as a Master Food Educator (MFE) volunteer, where she develops and delivers many programs across the state. In her role as MFE, Melson trains new volunteers, and conducts programs such as “Cooking from the Spring Garden” and “Cooking for One or Two.” She stepped up to take additional training to the 4-H Food Smart Families program, where the 4-H and family and consumer science programs are seamlessly blended. Melson has refused all stipends the program offers and travels at her own expense across the state.

Walter and Burli Hopkins – 4-H

Each year in May, the Hopkins family opens the barn doors of their Green Acres Farm and Hopkins Farm Creamery in Lewes to thousands of schoolchildren who gleefully tour Delaware’s largest dairy farm. Known as the 4-H Hopkins Spring Tour, the outreach has welcomed 25,000 students to date. Each year, the family brainstorms on new and innovative ways they, together with 4-H, can deliver agriculture outside the classroom. The Hopkins family’s generosity was recognized in their support of scholarships to agriculture students, providing logistical support by offering their Henlopen Holsteins for youth to lease and exhibit.

The Cordrey Family – Ornamental Horticulture

Owners and operators of the East Coast Perennial Garden Center, the Cordrey family was honored for its commitment to charity and the development of an enrichment center, as well as a successful retail home and garden center. Growing to employ 100 people, the Cordrey family and their center serve as hosts to UD summer horticulture expos, and provides their venue for many extension programs of all disciplines. Noted for their active participation in the Livable Delaware supporting native plants, the family serves as a valuable collaborator in the Mid Atlantic Women of Agriculture outreach where last year Valerie Cordrey delivered the keynote address.

Delaware State University

Nina Graves – Family and Consumer Science

A newcomer to Delaware and a committed advocate for healthy living, Graves was commended for her willingness to take her certification as a Zumba instructor to any location, churches, schools, and alongside DSU’s established programs such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and family and consumer science outreach efforts

The Aquatic Resource Education Center – 4H

A section of the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, the Aquatic Center served as the supportive venue for two week-long summer retreats – Juneteenth and the Boys Retreat. More than 250 youth have benefited to date. Attending Mallard Lodge, 4-H youth experience the great outdoors and wetland education. Activities such as a Boardwalk Loop, canoeing, birdwatching and fishing have left a lasting impact on Delaware youth.

Andrea Aligo-Keen – Small Farms

Andrea Keen, employed by the Delaware Division of Public Health as a clinic manager, was lauded for her tireless energy and devotion as a volunteer in organizing other volunteers for DSU’s community gardens across the state. It was noted Keen motivated young volunteers to do the required weeding. Paying no mind to the obstacles of rain, mud, wind, dust, Keen leads by example and conveys the importance of community gardening.

Delaware Cooperative Extension Director’s Leadership Award – UD and DSU

The Delaware Cooperative Extension Director’s Leadership Awards were presented to Michele Walfred (UD) and John Clendaniel (DSU) for their leadership role during the Delaware State Fair, coordinating extension’s joint presence before and during the 10-day event.

Rodgers also acknowledged former UD director of Cooperative Extension, Jan Seitz, for her vision in establishing a second endowment, the Janice Seitz Seed Fund, to financially encourage extension professionals to pilot new initiatives and ideas. Seitz’s first endowment for the Extension Scholars Program has supported 69 students with a summer, service-learning internship.

Photos of the 2015 Delaware Cooperative Extension Annual Conference can be viewed on the Flickr photo gallery.

Article by Michele Walfred

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD undergraduate Felix Ackon studies statistics, Markov Chains

UD undergraduate Felix Ackon studies statistics, Markov ChainsWhen University of Delaware student Felix Ackon received his acceptance letter to UD, the future statistics student was surprised to see that it mentioned the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

“I even showed my mom and she said, ‘College of what?’ We were all surprised,” said Ackon.

Now a junior majoring in statistics in CANR’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics(APEC), Ackon said that he likes being part of the college and studying at Townsend Hall.

“I like it down here. It’s quiet and calm, a small, more intimate environment,” said Ackon who is also looking to minor in computer science.

Over the summer, Ackon had a chance to participate in the Summer Scholars Program where he was able to conduct research on Biased Shuffling Markov Chains with Nayantara Bhatnagar, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and Katie Harper, a graduate student.

Markov Chains are models that describe a sequence of possible events in which the probability of each event depends only on the state attained in the previous event. Ackon said that Markov Chains are used for a number of different applications, such as to simulate the stock market or explain certain physical and biological phenomena.

Ackon said that he enjoyed working with his mentors on the project.

“I gained a lot of knowledge from the mentorship I had with Dr. Bhatnagar and Katie Harper. They have been in my situation before so they gave me advice on what classes to take and what I should do in the future, such as graduate school or going into the industry, so I really appreciate them. I got in contact with a lot of other faculty members, too, and they were very friendly people,” said Ackon.

As for his favorite part of statistics, Ackon said that he likes that it is a mathematical field with tangible results.

“I knew I liked math and it was something I wanted to do but when I was researching it, a lot of it seemed too abstract, too conceptual and I wanted to do something that I could apply to my day-to-day life. If I go into the business industry, I could apply it to financial activities or even the economy so that’s why I chose statistics,” said Ackon.

Ackon also said that he likes working with data and enjoys how statistics works with trends that have an impact on everyday life.

“If you think about it, we’ve always had data, even dating back to early civilizations like Egypt. They probably tracked the hours that went by to determine when it would be day and night. Then they did even more advanced calculations to find out what month it was and that progressed into seasons. Using this data, they were able to determine when the Nile flows rapidly or slowly and they needed to do this because agriculture was a big part of their survival. These days, we have a lot of data and we want to use it for our own personal gain. So I think that’s the biggest part, it influences a lot of people,” said Ackon.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Research provides insights into genetic basis of obesity

Research provides insights into genetic basis of obesityJust as poultry is steadily gaining in popularity on dinner plates, the chicken is growing in attractiveness as a biomedical model for studying health issues ranging from headaches and ovarian cancer to cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.

It turns out that the chicken may also help researchers better understand diabetes and obesity.

A team including the University of Delaware’s Larry Cogburn and Cathy Wu recently published a paper in PLOS One demonstrating that adipose tissue may be more than just a place for the body to store fat — it may actually be an important organ that contributes to novel endocrine signaling, which involves the blood clotting mechanism, and the synthesis or export of fatty acids.

The paper was published in collaboration with Jean Simon and his colleagues at INRA, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.

Cogburn, professor of animal and food sciences at UD, explains that 30 years ago, INRA geneticist Bernard Leclercq created two experimental lines of meat-type chickens as genetic models to identify the mechanisms controlling abdominal fatness, a complex trait that is likely governed by interactions among multiple genes controlling different endocrine and metabolic pathways.

The two genotypes, known as the FL (fat line) and LL (lean line), have provided a rich foundation for research over the past three decades — a foundation that has been made even more robust in recent years by the development of powerful genomic tools and bioinformatics capabilities at UD.

“The field of bioinformatics has provided us with new tools for accessing previously inaccessible clues to biological mysteries,” says Cathy Wu, the Unidel Edward G. Jefferson Chair of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at UD and director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

In fact, the first author of the PLOS One paper, Chris Resnyk — a graduate student in Cogburn’s lab — received a certificate in bioinformatics from the Center’s graduate program in bioinformatics and computational biology.

The research team examined differential gene expression in the abdominal fat of juvenile FL and LL chickens using next-generation RNA sequencing, which provides a genome-wide snapshot of the presence and quantity of RNA at a given point in time. The differentially expressed adipose genes were then used for extensive mapping to metabolic pathways and gene interaction networks.

The researchers were very surprised at what they found.

“The accepted belief has been that in both birds and humans, fat is primarily made in the liver and transported to adipose tissue for storage,” Cogburn says. “But we found that a large quantity of lipids was actually being synthesized in the abdominal fat of FL chickens. This suggests that in situ lipogenesis in chickens could contribute more substantially to the expansion of visceral fat mass than was previously thought.”

In other words, it is easier for the genetically fat chickens to become even fatter.

The researchers also found differential expression of numerous genes involved in hemostasis, or blood clotting, in the fat and lean chickens, with the majority of hemostasis genes up-regulated in visceral fat 0f the LL. The results suggest that these coagulation factors could play a novel role in limiting the expansion of fat mass in the lean chickens.

The detailed findings shared in the 41-page research article indicate that the genetic deck is stacked against the fat chickens, while the lean chickens are blessed with genes that favor reduced synthesis and enhanced breakdown of lipids, accompanied by greater accumulation of protein in breast muscle.

Cogburn urges caution in making too many assumptions about human obesity based on chicken genetics, since chickens have evolved different mechanisms that control food intake, lipogenesis and adiposity.

“Chickens lack five of the adipokines — cell-signaling proteins secreted by fat tissue — that are known to play a role in appetite, energy metabolism and adipogenesis in humans,” he says.

“However, this work has provided us with a unique avian model of juvenile-onset obesity and glucose-insulin imbalance that could provide new insights into these issues in humans and lead to better ways to prevent and treat one of the 21st century’s most significant public health problems — the world-wide obesity epidemic.”

Article by Diane Kukich

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UD Crowdfunding project looks to answer horse health questions

UD Crowdfunding project looks to answer horse health questionsResearchers at the University of Delaware are looking to horse owners across the country for help as they try to tackle the fundamental questions behind the role of bacteria in the horse gut with regard to health and disease.

The Equine Microbiome Project is led by the Biddle Laboratory in UD’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources(CANR), and the project is highlighted as part of the Development and Alumni Relations Crowdfunding site.

Amy Biddle, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, said that gut health is of the upmost importance to horses. For horses, a belly ache can be a life-threatening event. Colic is the leading cause of death after old age and laminitis causes irreversible lameness. Both conditions are associated with changes in the bacteria in the hindgut due to factors such as dietary disruption, seasonal changes, stress or age. Both can be chronic, creating management challenges for horse owners and veterinarians.

“Horses’ digestive systems are very sensitive to changes, stress or diet. And as we’re learning in the human microbiome, there is a constant conversation between the gut microbes and the host but there hasn’t been a large scale effort to understand those conversations and those relationships in horses,” said Biddle. “There have been several smaller studies but in terms of a large scale effort, there really isn’t any large study. What we’re hoping to do is to get as many samples as possible, from all over the country. So far people have been very generous.”

In just two weeks since starting the project, the lab group has sent out 36 of kits to states ranging from Massachusetts and Virginia to Oregon and California, and there is a waiting list of people who are interested in submitting samples.

They have asked owners who provide samples to also provide them with metadata on the horses, information such as the horse’s history, any medication it has taken, exercise habits, and what the horse eats.

They are hoping to get samples from hundreds of horses across the country and as samples come in, they will extract DNA and do sequencing to correlate those sequences with the data that they obtain from the owners.

The horses will then be grouped by age, gender, breed, geographic location, diet, exercise and stress level.

Among the questions they are trying to answer is what the “normal” gut microbiome is for healthy horses and if the gut microbiome changes as horses age.

As the website explains, identifying the microbiome differences associated with health and disease is a necessary first step to designing therapies and/or interventions to restore balance and function to the digestive system of colicky or chronically laminitic horses.

The lab group is made up of six undergraduate students and a volunteer.

UD Crowdfunding project looks to answer horse health questionsThe students include Maryn Jordan, Brian Chambers and Hailey Siegel, all juniors in CANR, and Jessica Spleen, Barbara Hahn and Justin Berg, CANR seniors, and Candy Curro, who volunteers with the project.

Of the lab group, Biddle said, “We have a really nice team. My students have been an integral part of each part, from making the video to designing the kits. This project is very accessible for students, which is one of the really beautiful things about it.”

Biddle added that she hopes the project will lead to summer scholarship opportunities and undergraduate research projects as students have a look at the data and come up with their own hypotheses to test.

For more information or to donate or participate in the project, visit the group’s UD Crowdfunding site.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan and courtesy of Amy Biddle

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Delaware Cooperative Extension 4-H program hosts students from Russia

The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension 4-H program recently hosted 19 youths from Russia as part of a leadership program focused on volunteerism and citizenship.

The program was funded by the United States Department of State through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

The participants spent three weeks in the United States and did everything from exploring Washington, D.C., going to the Urban Tree Connection in Philadelphia and visiting New York City.

They also had a weekend retreat at Cape Henlopen State Park where they interacted with Delaware 4-H members, went to the Food Bank of Delaware in Milford and made fleece blankets for the non-profit organization “Fleece for Keeps,” which donates the blankets to children in the state’s foster care system.

The students took part in workshops that included personality development, managing conflict and effective communication.

While participating in the program, the youths were asked to develop service-learning projects designed to solve problems facing their communities, important information that they can take with them as they return home.

Mallory Vogl, an extension agent for UD Cooperative Extension, said the students chose topics such as bully prevention, teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol addiction.

The 19 participants came from five cities across Russia, including Moscow and Vladivostok, and Vogl said that they went through a rigorous application process to take part in the program.

“This group of kids were so empowering not just to the teenagers from Delaware that they got to work with but even for the staff. We were just blown away and impressed by not only their knowledge of government within their country but also their knowledge of our country as well and their ability in only three weeks to really have such an impact,” said Vogl.

When the program ended, it was hard for the young people and the staff members to say goodbye.

“It was so impactful to these kids, and we have kids that are interested in coming back to UD. We have kids that are interested in coming back to the U.S. in general and they all agreed that this was an absolute life-changing experience. For all of us staff, too – I’ve worked with a lot of groups but this group was just incredible,” said Vogl.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate Lemond Adams goes from kitchen to classroom

Lemond Adams goes from chef to studentWhen University of Delaware graduate Lemond Adams decided that at age 30 he wanted to leave his job as a sous chef in Philadelphia — one who had worked with some of the best chefs in the city and helped open three restaurants — he was certain of just one thing, that he wanted to go back to school.

Adams was not sure what he wanted to study but as has often been the case in his life, his wife had the answer. When she suggested food science, Adams knew he found the perfect match.

“My wife said, ‘You love food and I know you like science’ so she started researching and found food science programs. I looked into the subject and thought it was awesome. I had never heard of it before but I was like, ‘Yeah, this is perfect,’” said Adams, who graduated in May with his bachelor’s degree in food science from the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

After checking out Rutgers and Drexel universities, Adams’ wife suggested that he apply to UD. Adams traveled to Newark to visit UD and set up a meeting at Townsend Hall. The only problem was that when he got off the train, he started walking north toward main campus instead of south toward the CANR campus.

“I walked all the way up to Smith Hall and I’m like, ‘Where’s Townsend?’ and everyone I asked said, ‘It’s all the way back down there.’ So I walked all the way back down and I was a little late for my meeting, but I just loved everything about the University and the college,” said Adams. “I met with Dr. Rolf Joerger [associate professor of animal and food sciences] and he was a great person to talk to and answered a lot of my questions, and then I applied.”

Adams, who had experience with higher education after studying culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, started at UD in the fall of 2012 and after the initial shock of walking into one of the larger lecture halls with students half his age, settled in to life as an undergraduate and found that his experience and age helped him in his studies.

“I would talk to the professors more and I wasn’t as shy as the younger students,” said Adams. “If I didn’t get something, I wasn’t afraid to ask. At the same time, sometimes in some of those lecture halls, you can raise your hand to ask something and everyone turns around like, ‘Who is the old guy back there with the questions?’”

Adams also could draw on his experience working as a sous chef for Jose Garces, winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Mid-Atlantic best chef award and the coveted title of Food Network’s Iron Chef, at Amada in Philadelphia.

“I started working at Amada and then I opened up one restaurant for Jose and that’s where I met my wife. Then I opened two more restaurants, another one for Jose and one for [restaurateur] Stephen Starr,” said Adams. “I was one of Jose’s sous chefs so essentially I was second in command and at times first in command. There was a period of time when I was in charge of Amada, which was fun and stressful at the same time.”

That stress and the desire to spend more time with his family led Adams to UD, where he found that being an undergraduate with a family can have its own challenges, most notably time management, which got a lot tougher in 2013 when Adams and his wife welcomed a son.

“He was born in September and I was actually in a lecture when my wife started going into labor,” said Adams. “I texted her, ‘You OK?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be fine.’ And I said I wouldn’t be there until 3 and it was 10 a.m. About five minutes went by and she said, ‘Yeah, come now.’ Of course, I was up at north campus and my car was parked in south campus so I didn’t know if I should walk down or if I should wait for the bus. I didn’t know what would be faster.”

Now that he has graduated, Adams works at David Michael and Co., an ingredients supplier in northeast Philadelphia, and he said that he wouldn’t be where he is today if it hadn’t been for his wife and his family.

“She’s really been my support and my backbone through this whole process, encouraging me, pushing me on and listening to me complain — essentially being that support for me,” said Adams, who noted that his wife started this entire process. “It’s funny because she started doing research and suggested food science, she came to me and said, ‘well, what about the University of Delaware?’ and every move that we’ve made thus far has been great.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD establishes partnership with La Molina University in Peru

UD establishes partnership with La Molina University in PeruThree officials from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) recently visited La Molina National Agrarian University in Peru to strengthen the academic bonds between the two universities through the National Program of Scholarships and Education Loans (PRONABEC), an international scholarship program offered by the Peruvian government designed to increase the number of higher degree holders in the country.

The contingent included CANR Dean Mark Rieger, Eric Wommack, deputy dean and associate dean for research and graduate education and professor of environmental microbiology, and Debbie Delaney, assistant professor of entomology.

Rieger explained that the PRONABEC program is designed for eligible participants who want to earn master’s or doctoral degrees. Those who meet the requirements are able to study in America and return to Peru when they have completed their degree program so that they can contribute to the Peruvian economy.

“Peru wants to train people but they want them to come back and contribute,” Rieger said. “It’s very generous, with a stipend, tuition, air fare, book allowance, even an allowance for an English language training program if you need it. UD signed an agreement with the Peruvian government to reduce tuition by 50 percent for all students that qualify in the PRONABEC program and our college decided to participate.”

While at La Molina, the three spoke to around 80 students and faculty members.

With Peru being one of the most bio and agriculturally diverse areas in the world –mountains, deserts and rain forests afford the ability to grow a number of different plants and support a wide range of wildlife – Rieger said the partnership with Peru, and specifically La Molina University, which is the main agricultural university in that nation, was a natural fit for CANR.

In addition to the agriculture and biodiversity benefits, Rieger also said the economy is booming and downtown Lima, near where La Molina University is located, is expanding greatly, with exports of high quality agricultural products like coffee, quinoa and avocados projected to double by 2020.

“The interesting thing about Peru is that the coast is a desert and it’s very much like a California climate, which is unusual because the entire country lies in the tropics. You would expect sort of a jungle but because of the Andes you have the rain shadow and it’s bone dry with only a couple of inches of rain a year. So you have what amounts to a strip of central California on the coast where they can grow grapes, avocados, citrus – they can grow just about anything there with the irrigation,” said Rieger.

In the mountains of Peru, Rieger said that growers are able to grow potatoes, tomatoes and a lot of crops that were domesticated by the Incas, as well as coffee.

“Then, 60 percent of the country is the Amazon rainforest,” he said. “So you have cacao and banana and oil palm and all kinds of different biodiversity going on there, let alone the ecotourism and the wildlife itself that connects to our college.”

Government, grower interaction

In addition to talking with the faculty and students, Delaney also met with Peruvian government officials to talk about honeybees and pollination, specifically pest management, and to give her opinion on pollinators for growing greenhouse peppers that could be exported to the United States.

Those meetings were also attended by beekeepers from different parts of Peru, such as the Amazon and the Andes.

“A lot of people came to express their needs but also to hear what was going on in the U.S. They’re somewhat isolated in Peru, just that giant desert to the north and the Andes to the east, and so they are trying to ramp up production and they’re looking to other places that already have high production for certain crops for advice,” said Delaney.

Delaney said that Peru is in a unique spot because the country is filled with high-end food items that could potentially have strong markets.

“They’re interested in cataloging their diversity and understanding pollination issues in some of their larger crops, and also pest management. Those are probably the three biggest things that they’re interested in pursuing collaboratively via students coming here, students going there – it’s really getting people on the ground to do the work,” said Delaney.

One of the best parts of the trip for Delaney was seeing the beekeeping in the country courtesy of the Confederation of Peruvian Beekeepers.

“I visited all sorts of different beekeepers, mostly in the desert region, got maybe two hours from the Andes, but I saw a lot of different beekeeping operations,” said Delaney, who said that because they are in the desert with a very limited rainfall, honey is a high-end commodity.

“A jar of honey is very valuable and it’s different honey. It’s more medicinal when you taste it and it’s more medicinal in terms of how they market their products. It was really interesting to work with the beekeepers there. They were a really nice group and it was interesting to see the bees working in this really dry environment,” said Delaney.

Future partnerships

Rieger said that in addition to having faculty and students from La Molina come to UD to get their graduate degrees, he is hoping that the connections they made with faculty members at the institution, as well as the scholarship program, will lead to future partnerships between the two universities.

“La Molina would be a great location to place one of our students because the university is in the coastal desert but they have farms in the highlands and in the Amazon. If a student went there, they’d actually be able to study agriculture in a Mediterranean coastal desert climate, in an Andean mountain climate and in a rainforest climate,” said Rieger.

“It would be a great place for our students to go and spend a summer and be able to see the whole diversity of agriculture that can occur when you have that kind of topographic and ecosystem diversity. And even our wildlife students or our natural resource and water resource students, anybody from our college could benefit from it.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s equestrian team hits stride at fall competitions

UD Equestrain team hits stride at fall competitionsThe University of Delaware’s equestrian team is in the midst of another busy season with competitions and practices spread out across the fall.

The team competes as part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) and faces off against schools such as Temple University, Salisbury University, the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University and Valley Forge Military Academy, where most of the shows are held.

Students involved with the equestrian team come from all across UD and anyone is welcome to join no matter their level of horse riding experience.

Jenny Schmidt, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the equestrian team club president, said that the team members all have different levels of riding experience.

“We’re from all over. We have people who’ve competed nationally and done really well and made money and have been really successful. Then we also have beginners.  One of my best friends, she started riding last year, never rode before and she fits right in. Anyone can ride if they just have an interest in horses but never actually rode; it’s a great way to get into it. It’s a big group of people who just love horses and we all get along because we all have that common thing,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt also said that riding with the equestrian team is a lot cheaper than riding and showing a horse on one’s own.

“It is still kind of expensive paying for lessons every week but if you were just to compete on your own horse, you’re shelling out at least $200 a day on the competition and then for us, it’s $30 to compete so it makes competing affordable for college students,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt said the fall is the busiest time of year because of the number of competitions, each of which is hosted by a different school. That school is responsible for setting up the show, receiving entries from all the schools that are competing and getting the horses ready — though sometimes teams are requested to bring their own horses.

At the shows, individuals are placed in different levels based on their riding experience and skill level. Participants then pick a name out of a hat and that’s the horse that they ride.

“You don’t get to warm up or practice or anything. The host school gets the horses all ready, then you pick your horse randomly and you get on and go compete. So you’re getting on something that most likely you’ve never ridden unless you’re a senior and you see a lot of the same horses,” said Schmidt. “You’re riding something you’re not used to, you’re thrown into a situation where you have to act quick on your feet and it really tests you as a rider to see how adaptable you are to what you’re given. It’s really interesting.”

Schmidt said that this year is going great and at the team’s first competition, UD came in third and had a lot of individual riders get first place ribbons.

English and Western

The equestrian team is comprised of about 80 members that are split up into two different teams: an English team and a Western team.

Schmidt said that the English team is the larger of the two, with about 80 percent of the members participating on the English team.

The English team members wear hunt seat attire — tan pants, a blazer, white collared shirt, with their hair up and a helmet — and are judged based on their equitation.

“Basically equitation is how well you ride the horse and how good you look doing it,” said Schmidt.

The Western team is pretty much the same, but their attire is different and what they make the horses do is a little bit different as well.

“They wear black pants, black shirts, and hats. The Western team competes in horsemanship and reining, while the English team competes in hunter seat equitation and jumping,” said Schmidt.

The two teams also practice in different locations with the English team practicing in in Townsend, Delaware, and the Western team practicing in Westhampton, New Jersey.

The English team is coached by Whitney Carmouche and the Western team is coached by Amy Freeman.

The team is co-advised by Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS), and Amy Biddle, assistant professor in ANFS.

For more information on the equestrian team or for those interested in joining, visit the team’s Facebook page.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Jenny Schmidt

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Amy Biddle New Professor Profile

Amy Biddle new professor profileCould you provide a little background information about yourself?

I received my Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts in Microbiology with Jeffrey Blanchard, and was fortunate to do a post-Doc at the University of Illinois with Dr. Roderick Mackie who is one of the pre-eminent gut microbiologists.

What is the focus of your research?

My focus is on the gut microbiome of horses and horse gut health. The reason that gut health is so important to horses is because they are very sensitive to changes in their diet and their environment, as well as stress in traveling and competition. After old age, colic is the leading cause of death in horses.

How did you get interested in horses?

I do not remember a time when I didn’t want to be around horses, so I was your classic horse crazy girl growing up.

When I was about 10, I was very fortunate to find a barn with wonderful adult mentorship where there were opportunities to work in exchange for riding. There were probably fifteen kids and twenty or more horses. We competed in all sorts of events, went on trail rides, gave lessons, and trained young horses. Our instructors would go to a sale and bring home a trailer load of horses for us to work with. It was a fantastic way to grow up.

What did you study as an undergraduate?

I studied biological sciences at the University of New Hampshire and then taught high school science.

What was teaching high school like?

Besides the job I have now—there are few jobs that are that much fun. Students are so full of life and curiosity at every level, but particularly in high school. I love teaching and had developed a successful program, but found myself wanting to learn more and do research that would make a difference, specifically to help horses with gut health. After losing horses to colic and having friends lose horses to colic, I was really motivated to go back to graduate school to study the microbiology of the equine gut.

What will be your role at UD?

My focus will be to grow the Equine Science program here at UD through research and teaching. While my research will focus on the gut microbiome, Dr. Renzetti and I are planning new and expanded course offerings to take advantage of the resources we have nearby to give students wider and deeper experiences in equine science, and attract students from across the University to the equine science minor.

In terms of research, my lab is gearing up to launch a crowd-funding project called the Equine Microbiome Project. The general public can join this project and send a sample of their horse’s fecal material along with health history data. We will return a survey of the bacteria that are in each sample that can be shared with a veterinarian and compared with the rest of the database or subsequent samples. Hopefully we will get hundreds of samples to build a comprehensive database of bacteria and metadata for analysis.

I am excited about this project because it requires a minimum of equipment, so we can hit the ground running right away. I am fortunate to have a team of bright, enthusiastic undergraduates that want to be involved in this research, and they have been key to getting the project rolling, from designing the kits, extracting DNA and producing the promotional video. This project is a wonderful way to introduce students to working in the lab, get them excited about equine gut microbiology, and learn techniques that they can carry into a wide range of health or environmental applications.

Other upcoming projects will focus on testing specific strains of bacteria for potential probiotic use in horses, and identifying differences in the distribution of small strongyle species and their relative resistance to dewormers.

Could you give your overall impressions of the College and UD?

Everyone at UD has been welcoming and patient with all of my questions as I get started. There is a family-like atmosphere, especially in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences. I’ve been developing a network of colleagues in biology and engineering and people seem eager to collaborate and share resources across colleges. At UD I am finding that the academic culture is very student-centered, with many opportunities for students to participate in research and gain experience in the “real world”. While the research is an important focus, the primary objective seems to be the quality of students’ experiences, and how we can better meet their needs as they move forward into the work place, graduate school, or veterinary training.

Article by Adam Thomas

Farmers, growers talk about challenges facing the agriculture industry

Farmers, growers talk about challenges facing the agriculture industryMembers of the University of Delaware community, as well as regional farmers and growers, gathered Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Trabant University Center Theatre to view the documentary Farmland and listen to a panel discussion from industry experts about challenges facing the agriculture industry.

The panel discussion and the documentary screening were hosted by the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity with the panel discussion moderated by Weber Stibolt, a senior majoring in food science in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Panelists included:

  • Ed Kee, Delaware secretary of agriculture;
  • Mike Popovich, natural resource manager at CANR;
  • Chris Magee, a fifth generation Sussex County farmer from Magee Farms;
  • Nancy Bentley, owner of Fair Weather Farm, an organic operation in Fair Hill, Maryland;
  • Becca Manning, manager of Historic Penn Farm in New Castle; and
  • Sam Knauss, a student from Kansas State University who is interning with Monsanto Co.

The panelists all agreed that the movie showed an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a farmer in America and touched on the different aspects associated with farming.

Family farms

One such aspect was how many of the farms featured in the film were owned and operated by families.

Kee said family farms are especially prevalent in Delaware.

“People hear about corporate farms; well, families incorporate for legal reasons, liability reasons, but they are a family unit no question about it. Even our large poultry companies — Perdue, Mountaire — they’re owned by families and that’s part of the success story of American agriculture and Delaware agriculture. Farmers are independent, they’re resilient, they know how to cope with stress, and I think the family structure fosters that ability to be resilient and independent,” Kee said.

With so many farms being inherited and run by families, Popovich said that it can be hard to break into the farming industry for a first generation farmer.

Kee pointed out that the Delaware Department of Agriculture has a young farmers program designed to help young farmers acquire farmland through a long-term, no-interest loan.

Knauss added that his family farm has benefited from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs as well.

“I did go through the USDA to make some capital improvements on a lot of the machinery we have. We wouldn’t be able to do it without those programs. They’re definitely there; you just have to find them and know about it,” Knauss said.

Organic vs. GMO

Another topic that was discussed was organic farming versus conventional farming.

Bentley said that when she started learning about the number of chemicals that can be put upon plants and the ground, she found it mindboggling.

“My thought process is for every chemical you’re going to put on something, it’s going to have some adverse effect on something else, whether it’s another plant or people or nature,” Bentley  said, adding that her belief is nature will figure out how to problem solve.

“I believe strongly that I’m doing the right thing by not interfering with what nature is trying to do,” she said.

Popovich said that he is making the transition to organic mainly because of the education component for interns and student workers.

Magee said he believes that there is a place for both organic and conventional farming, especially with the world population increasing.

“If the world population keeps going up, you’re not going to do it with conventional seed — not with the acreage, the houses and the housing developments that we’re building. We have to do more with less,” Magee said.

Kee said that he sees agriculture as a big tent with room for everybody.

“There is certainly room for organic and non-organic. There is a need for each; there is a demand for each, and I think the markets kind of figure all that out. The organic growers find a market, and the conventional growers find a market,” he said.

Women in ag

The panel also talked about the importance of women in agriculture, with Bentley saying that she thinks more women are getting into agriculture because “we need to feed people real food from the ground, and I think there are more women getting into it because they see illness, disease, and health is basically through nutrition and getting good food.”

Manning said that after graduating from UD with a degree in wildlife conservation and ecology, she got into agriculture in order to be a good steward to the land.

“Now it’s really nice because I get to work closely with high school students so I work closely with the land. I’m growing food but I also get to be an educator and try to reach out to a younger generation to instill in them the importance of why eating healthy is important, what agriculture is, and where your food comes from. I’m not trying to make them a farmer per se but to try to open their eyes to all the different kinds of careers that can come out of agriculture in general,” said Manning.

Feeding the world

The need to feed an increasing world population was also a key theme with Knauss stressing the need to get simple technologies — such as tractors and fertilizers — as well as advanced technologies —such as apps to help with how much fertilizer to apply — to growers in developing countries.

Kee said that he wanted to leave the audience with the fact that, in 1960, there were three tillable acres available for every citizen in the world for food and by 2040 or 2050, that’s going to be down to one acre for every citizen of the world.

“I think that illustrates the need to grow more with less and technology’s going to be a part of that,” he said, adding that he wonders if his five grandchildren will have the food options that were available to him during his lifetime.

“Will it be abundant? Will they have all the choices? I hope so, and the reason I bring that up is that it’s wonderful to come on campus and see so many agricultural students engaged in this, but the other piece is every farmer is precious and every acre is critical here in Delaware and Delmarva and the world,” Kee said.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Jackie Arpie

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Delaware Cooperative Extension welcomes statewide Master Gardener class

UD Extension welcomes statewide Master Gardener classIndividuals training to become Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer educators met at the University of Delaware campus in Newark on Monday, Sept. 21, for their first, in-person, statewide meeting as part of Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener training program, an intensive 16-week course designed to prepare candidates for the volunteer phase of the program.

Training is provided by Cooperative Extension specialists and agents from UD and Delaware State University (DSU), green industry experts and experienced Master Gardeners.

While the courses previously had been taught separately in all three Delaware counties, this  statewide approach is designed to promote collaboration and camaraderie among staff and trainees throughout the state.

Classes will take place throughout Delaware, with Zoom distance learning technology allowing for video conferencing. “Ideally, it would all be face to face but that can’t happen if we’re all doing it at the same time. However, no more than one-third of the training is done via distance learning,” said Tracy Wootten, extension agent in horticulture.

Valann Budischak, extension agent and statewide Master Gardener training coordinator, said, “We decided to incorporate distance learning with Zoom, where the instructor is present in one location and teaches not only to that group of Master Gardeners but a distance group of Master Gardeners as well. The instructor rotates counties.”

The training program includes formal lectures, discussion sessions, tours, workshops and problem-solving sessions. Topics covered include plant identification, soils and plant nutrition, integrated pest management, and home landscaping and maintenance, among others.

Participants meet twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-4 p.m. until Nov. 23, when they graduate.

Upon completion of the training program, Master Gardeners are expected to donate a minimum of 40 hours of their time to Cooperative Extension. Volunteer time is spent solving problems, educating and advising the gardening public of Delaware.

Master Gardeners’ outreach efforts include home gardener workshops and presentations, youth education, answering calls put into the garden help line, plant diagnostic services and demonstration gardens.

The program is run cooperatively with DSU, with Megan Pleasanton, extension educator at DSU, working with the UD extension agents.

“Master Gardener training and the volunteer participation that follows is absolutely essential to the success of our Extension horticulture program in Delaware,” said Carrie Murphy, program leader and extension agent.  “We couldn’t have the impact and reach that we do without our incredible Master Gardener volunteers.”

Budischak said that while the class is a statewide initiative, the educators are aware that the different counties have different needs.

“We still want to preserve each county’s individuality. Sussex County will cover more information on herbs and propagation, whereas New Castle County will delve deeper into urban agriculture, which wouldn’t be as predominant in Kent and Sussex. So while we want to make sure that we’re all learning the same things in the same way, we need to preserve their individuality,” said Budischak.

Wootten said that approach stems mostly from wanting the participants to be trained on the particular questions they are most likely to get when they staff their county garden hotlines, a table at an outreach event, or interact with community members in the county office.

The statewide initiative has benefited the Cooperative Extension educators, as well.

“It’s been a great learning experience for us; it’s forced us to look at the curriculum and other aspects of the program to provide consistency. We hope that each of our programs will be enhanced because of it,” said Budischak.

Wootten said a feature of the Master Gardener classes is that each one is unique and that the classmates all form bonds with one another.

“My first class was 2003 and the members of that class, the Kent and Sussex class, they still get together once a month for lunch. And each class is different. They have their own little flavor and then they get integrated into the whole program,” said Wootten.

For more information on Master Gardener services visit the Master Gardener website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Upcoming seminars provide insight into poultry career opportunities

The University of Delaware will host a Poultry Careers Seminar Series throughout October geared towards students interested in a career in the poultry industry.

The seminars will all take place at 6 p.m. in room 101 of the Allen Laboratory and will provide students an opportunity to speak directly to employers offering internships, management trainee programs and full time positions. A free dinner will be offered before each seminar and there will be drawings for two $50 Barnes and Noble gift cards for students who attend more than 2 seminars.

The next seminar will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 7 and will focus on learning about management training programs and what companies are currently hiring.

Speakers include Ronnie Phillips, who works in human resources for Mountaire Farms, a diverse and fast growing poultry and agricultural business which partners with local farming communities to raise chickens and grains to feed them, and Leah Snyder Santiago, a UD alumnus and assistant manager at the International Standard of Excellence (ISE) America’s table egg complex in New Jersey. ISE America is a totally integrated egg laying and production operation and sets the International Standard of Excellence in egg production.

Additional seminars will be on Tuesday, October 13, and Thursday, October 22.

Presenters at these seminars will include representatives from Perdue Farms, Cobb-Vantress, the Phibro Animal Health Corporation and more.

There will also be information about a travel opportunity to Atlanta, Georgia in January 2016 to attend the largest international poultry and agribusiness trade show at the United States Poultry Foundation’s College Student Career Program, which is held in conjunction with the International Production and Processing Expo.

The program will allow students opportunities to interview with 25 regional, national and international poultry and agribusiness companies and organizations while having the opportunity to network with over 1,200 companies.

The Expo is expecting more than 25,000 attendees from all over the globe and most student travel expenses including transportation, hotel room and some meals are covered with it only costing students $75 to participate in the career program and trade show.

To apply, students must submit a 1-2 page essay of why they would like to participate in this program. Students need to have a minimum GPA of 2.0 and include their major and their expected month and year of graduation. The essay should be in Arial 12-point font, double-spaced and students should also include a copy of their resume.

Applications must be submitted by Wednesday, October 15 at 5 p.m.

Students interested in attending any of these seminars are requested to log into their Blue Hen Career account to RSVP for the Seminar Series or RSVP to Diane Venninger at dvenning@udel.edu for each individual seminar so that food can be planned accordingly.

Please submit essays and resumes as a Word or PDF file to Venninger at dvenning@udel.edu.

CANR to host lecture on pathogen research by NIH’s Kindrachuk

The University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will host Jason Kindrachuk, a staff scientist with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Critical Care Medicine Department, as he gives a talk titled “Science Under (Negative) Pressure: The Trials and Tribulations of Emerging/Re-Emerging Pathogen Research from the Lab to the Hot Zone,” at 4:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 19, in the Townsend Hall Commons.

Kindrachuk will discuss the limitations of working within a high-containment research laboratory and his work studying emerging and re-emerging high-containment viruses with an emphasis on incorporating novel methodologies for dissecting the pathogenic mechanisms of these viruses and identifying novel therapeutic strategies.

He will also discuss the events that facilitated the rapid spread of Ebola virus disease (EVD) throughout West Africa, response efforts within the region during the outbreak, his personal experiences working within the heart of the EVD outbreak in Liberia in September 2014 and perspectives for limiting future outbreaks of this magnitude in impoverished regions.

Kindrachuk earned his doctorate at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada. His current research integrates the use of kinome analysis and systems biology to carry out investigations of host-pathogen interactions with emerging and re-emerging viral pathogens such as Ebola virus, variola virus (the etiologic agent of smallpox), monkeypox virus and influenza A viruses, among others. He is also investigating the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis in viral and bacterial co-infections.

Kindrachuk recently served as a scientific lead for diagnostic support of the Centers for Disease Control/Department of Defense joint operations in Monrovia, Liberia, in support of the international response efforts for EVD outbreak.

The lecture is being organized and hosted by Ryan Arsenault, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Second annual UD water symposium focuses on science, policy

2015 water symposium, water science and police graduate program at Townsend Hall University of DelawareUniversity of Delaware students and faculty, as well as professionals from industry, government and non-profit organizations, gathered in the Townsend Hall Commons on Friday, Sept. 25, as part of the second annual Water Science and Policy Symposium.

Donald Boesch, professor of marine science and president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, served as the plenary speaker for the event and addressed his experiences with a talk titled “Science and Policy in the Chesapeake Bay: The Long-Haul and the Tight Crunch.”

Boesch discussed the physical characteristics of the bay and how those characteristics that define its vulnerability — such as shallow waters, unique shoreline dimensions and a drainage catchment that includes six states — are also what make it such a productive ecosystem.

Boesch said that when studying the Chesapeake, it is important to understand the bay beyond its geological history. “Humans have always had some impact on the Chesapeake Bay, even the small populations of Native Americans in terms of local resources, but it really started to grow substantially with the advent of the migration of the large number of Europeans into North America,” he said.

This impact was mainly through deforestation.

“When they used the landscape to grow tobacco and other crops, they were making it change from being a clear water, nutrient limited system that is still highly productive to one that is now turbid and eutrophic, which has more nutrients, one that is highly productive but doesn’t necessarily lead to the same kinds of outcomes in terms of higher trophic levels,” said Boesch.

Boesch pointed out some of the scientific pioneers who have studied the Chesapeake Bay, including L. Eugene Cronin, who conducted research on the blue crab beginning in the 1950s; Bill Hargis, who was the director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science from its founding in 1959 until 1981; and Don Pritchard, who studied the bay for 50 years and discovered that it contains two layers of water — lighter fresh water on top and salty water along the bottom.

He also pointed out statistics, such as how the oyster population of the bay is less than one percent of historic levels due to loss of habitat and filtration capacity.

Boesch said that industrial agriculture as part of the Green Revolution had an impact on the Chesapeake, as did Hurricane Agnes in 1972, which he said was like a “big flush” that brought drought-like conditions to the area.

He also said that in recent years, models have been used to estimate how much phosphorous and nitrogen is entering the bay but that the models must confront reality and that it is essential to bring together models and observations to make an adaptive management cycle to help the body of water.

Boesch stressed that when working on science with regard to the Chesapeake Bay, it is important to remember that people’s economic livelihoods are tied to it, which may make them hesitate to adopt environmental friendly practices such as restricting the number of oysters they are able to harvest. It also is important to be able to communicate complicated research to policy makers who may not be familiar with the research.

Boesch ended his talk by giving examples of how science and policies — specifically those aimed at reducing nitrogen and phosphorous inputs — has helped to improve portions of the Chesapeake.

“There are some pretty good success stories about science in the bay that were made through a sustainable use of resources. Striped bass were really in a bad situation and now a lot of those populations have recovered,” he said. “They are doing the same thing in managing blue crab in parts — if you see that it’s a female, you don’t want to catch one because they have a lot of eggs ready to go — and we have massive oyster restoration, trying to rebuild sea populations rather than just put oysters back in.”

Boesch ended by talking about how climate change and sea-level rise will play a role in all environmental science fields now and into the future, and pointed to the Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education Assessment and Research (MADE-CLEAR) as an example of a program working to engage climate scientists, science educators and the broader community of interest in implementing a comprehensive climate change education plan in the region.

2015 water symposium, water science and police graduate program at Townsend Hall University of DelawareThe conference was opened by Shreeram Inamdar, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and director of the water science and policy graduate program who organized the symposium, who welcomed the participants and talked about the interdisciplinary nature of the event.

“Since the water graduate program is spread across the University, there are students here from many colleges and departments. I think the symposium is important because it provides the opportunity for these students to connect with each other, see what others are working on, and also connect with water science faculty,” said Inamdar. “Most importantly, however, I want these students to connect with working professionals, and we have some great guests on hand to speak with the students about their professions.”

CANR Dean Mark Rieger spoke about how the symposium is growing and how it was significant to see students sitting along professionals from industry and government.

“It is important to have science-based research to determine what we do with regard to water quality, and it’s great to see the program develop and grow and see the students interact with faculty and industry professionals,” Rieger said.

Rieger added that it is difficult to administer an interdisciplinary effort and praised Inamdar, who he said “has done a great job incorporating four colleges into the program.”

Rieger acknowledged the many UD alumni who were in attendance and taking part in the expert panel discussion. He said this speaks to the importance of building connections and networks at such events.

Research presentations

Following the plenary talk, 15 UD water science and policy students gave five-minute presentations on their research, including topics such as “The Effect of In-Season Fertilization Strategy on the Yield and Nutrient Use Efficiency of Irrigated Corn” and “From Ridge Top to Valley Bottom: Soil Greenhouse Gas Fluxes Across Complex Terrain.”

The presentations were moderated by Alex Soroka, a master’s degree student in CANR, and Matthew Miller, a doctoral student in the college, and student awards were handed out after the presentations.

First place went to Miller for his talk “Extreme Weather and Drinking Water Utilities: Impacts, Risks and Tough Decisions,” second place went to Chelsea Krieg for “After the Storm: Nitrogen Cycling in Flood Sediments and Impacts on Water Quality,” and third place went to Joe Brown for “A Field Study of Biochar Amended Soils.”

A panel discussion followed with panel members including:

  • Jennifer Adkins, executive director, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary;
  • Christina Casole, water resources engineer, Skelly and Loy Inc.;
  • Ed Hallock, program administrator, Office of Drinking Water;
  • Alison Kiliszek, engineer, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC);
  • Christopher Nealen, hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey;
  • Mark Strickland, water resource engineer, Century Engineering Inc.; and
  • Larry Trout, senior manager, water resources, RK&K.

The panel was moderated by Sandra Petrakis, a master’s degree student in CANR, and Matthew Miller.

The symposium wrapped up with informal networking and hors d’oeuvres in the Townsend Hall Commons.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

UD researchers help Laurel residents reimagine town

UD researchers help Laurel residents reimagine townNeighbors ambled along the walking trail near Broad Creek, watching wildlife, kayakers and paddle boarders glide across the water. Children hopped over logs and hunted bugs in a nature playground, while music and the smell of food wafted from Laurel’s downtown commercial district.

These activities, and more, were part of the Fall Ramble along Broad Creek held on Saturday, Sept. 26. Based on a national Better Block model, the one-day Fall Ramble event was designed to help residents and visitors envision what “could be” for Laurel on a permanent basis with The Ramble redevelopment plan.

The Ramble project is a collaborative effort between the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation, the town of Laurel, and the University of Delaware’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative, led by Jules Bruck and Ed Lewandowski.

“By taking advantage of the amenities in their own backyard, like the Broad Creek, the townspeople of Laurel can create a destination spot, a reason for visitors to want to stop downtown in the future,” explained Lewandowski, acting marine advisory services director for Delaware Sea Grant and coordinator for the University’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative, which is housed in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

Attractions like the The Shoppes at Village Greenemerged as a community hot spot with café dining, entertainment, local artists and farm fresh produce, among other things, while pop-up shops including Next Level Bike and Boards, created by UD alumnus Paul Moser, and the temporary façade of a proposed residential Cottages at Laurel Mills showcased the potential businesses and residential areas that could thrive in the town.

“And of course the Ramble Tap House. It felt like a meeting spot, a place where everyone went to check in, relax, hear some music and socialize,” said Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape design in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Bruck presented the town leaders with a conceptual “nature based playground” where planted landscapes, logs and trees create a semi-wild environment for children to bug-watch, dig, play in the tall grass and otherwise explore nature.

Research supports the idea that children who spend time in nature are more active, get sick less often and develop better stress management techniques. At the same time, natural playgrounds are sustainable and offer a lower carbon footprint than their plastic counterparts.

During a special ceremony, members of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe blessed the Broad Creek at “The Wading Place,” a site shown in historical records to once have been part of the Nanticoke reservation. Neighbors and visitors stood shoulder to shoulder alongside the tidal waters as the tribe’s assistant chief, Larry Jackson, offered prayer and tribal leader Herman Jackson cleansed the area with a traditional “smudging ritual.”

Assistant chief Jackson presented the event organizers with a commemorative tribal coin and a turkey feather adorned with four colored beads representing the “Four Peoples — north, south, east and west” in symbolic recognition of their keen vision and efforts to bring the community together.

“It was a tremendous way to emphasize community unity and the concept of restoring balance and harmony to the Broad Creek through Laurel,” said Bruck.

The Ramble redevelopment plan grew out of an earlier water quality improvement project by UD, the town of Laurel and the Laurel Redevelopment Corp. Posted signs at the event described plans for a future “floating wetlands” project to help continue water quality improvements in the Broad Creek.

Article by Karen B. Roberts

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD professor, graduate look at effects of non-native plants on herbivores

UD professor, graduate look at effects of non-native plants on herbivoresNot only do native plants do a better job of hosting and supporting local insect communities than their non-native counterparts, but a University of Delaware study shows that non-native plants are compounding the problem of declining species diversity by supporting fewer herbivores across landscapes.

The research was conducted by UD alumna Karin Burghardt and Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and published in a recent issue of Ecology Letters.

To conduct the study, the researchers planted imitation yards with different common gardens of both native and non-native tree species and collected data over a three-year period, measuring the herbivore communities and species found on those plants.

They compared native trees to non-native trees that had no close native relative and to non-natives that are closely related to the native community.

Within the distantly related group, they found that herbivores were less diverse when they looked at individual non-native tree species, and as they moved from one non-native tree species to another, they found similar species of herbivores using those trees.

“You get this compounding effect where you have a lower diversity of herbivores per tree but then you also are getting more similar species as you move between trees species and among sites, so you end up with even less diverse communities than you would expect,” said Burghardt.

They found this to be especially true of non-native plants that had no close native relative.

“There is this group of species of non-natives that do not have any close native relatives at all. These non-natives support more generalized and redundant herbivore communities than the native plants that they’re potentially replacing on landscapes,” said Burghardt, who added that this is especially true for young herbivores that use the plants for food.

Tallamy said that finding young herbivores on a plant is a good indication of how that plant is supporting the local ecosystem, as opposed to finding adults, which could be on a plant for a number of reasons, such as resting or looking for a mate.

“The relationship between the adult and food is far weaker than the relationship between immatures and food, so when you find adults on the non-natives, it doesn’t mean that much. When you find immatures, that’s what you should be measuring,” Tallamy said. “Those are the plants that are creating those immatures and so we do get significant differences between the immatures that are using native plants versus the immatures using non-natives.”

When it comes to non-native plants that are congeners — non-native plants with a close native relative, such as Norway maple and red maple — the researchers found that those seem to support herbivore populations across sites more similar to those on natives than the non-native plants that have no native relatives at all.

Tallamy said that few unique species were found on these non-native congeners, as most species found were also living on their native relative.

He also stressed that that native plants always do the best job per tree of supporting herbivore communities when compared to their non-native counterparts. This study expands the understanding of that fact by looking at whether that lower per tree diversity is magnified further by non-natives hosting more similar communities across trees species and locations.

Burghardt said the goal of the research was to understand how the composition of the plants that homeowners plant in their yards affects herbivore communities.

“If you think about it, you’re driving around the suburban environment, and every time a new development goes in, you have a lot of decision making happening as to what plant species are going to be planted around those properties,” Burghardt said. “If we do all that landscaping with non-native plants, are we limiting the wildlife and conservation support system that could be available within that given plot of land? What the gardens we constructed for the study are trying to replicate are landscaping decisions that people might make if they wanted to support native insect communities that in turn support much of the diversity around us.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Kristen Rauch serves as mobile market manager for Bright Spot Urban Farm

UD's Kristen Rauch serves as mobile market manager for Bright Spot Urban FarmUniversity of Delaware student Kristen Rauch spent her summer interning with Bright Spot Urban Farm in Wilmington as its mobile market manager, providing fresh food for truck delivery at stops around the city.

Rauch, a senior majoring in natural resource management and agriculture and natural resources in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, arranged for the internship through the University’s Service Learning Scholars program, which is administered by the Office of Service Learning.

She said Bright Spot Urban Farm, which is a part of Bright Spot Ventures – a program designed to give former foster care youth real-world employment experience – is located off Route 13 in the city and includes a half-acre of arable land and a greenhouse.

“We grow and harvest everything that’s in season and because we have about eight markets a week. Whatever we can’t grow, we’ll supplement with things from the Amish auction in Oxford, Pennsylvania, and also from plots up at the community garden at Rodney Reservoir in Wilmington,” said Rauch.

As the mobile market manager, Rauch harvested crops on the farm, washed and banded the items, and then put the harvested products in a refrigeration unit on a truck that was driven around to mobile market stops.

“The mobile market is basically a food truck from which you sell produce. We set up tables, bring the produce out of the truck and set it up on the tables. Then people can come and buy the produce straight from us,” said Rauch. “We have a farmer’s market on Thursday nights and we bring the truck to that.”

Rauch worked along with Alexandra Keith, a CANR junior who worked this summer as the farm manager at Bright Spot, and her internship had a research component to it, as well.

Rauch said she is writing her senior thesis and, while it is still evolving, it started as a study focused on consumer accessibility to fresh food.

“As a mobile market, we were able to go into areas that might not have access to fresh food and we were able to sell and provide cheap produce. It was all about accessibility and comparing the demographics of who comes to the market and what they’re looking for, or whether they’re comfortable preparing the foods,” said Rauch.

Her thesis has now added a food literacy component to it. “There is this huge disconnect with people buying produce and knowing how to grow it or where it comes from, and basically why all those things are important. It’s crazy that we put these things in our bodies and we don’t know where they come from,” said Rauch.

Rauch, who had previous experience working at Valley Road Produce and Flowers in Elkton, Maryland, said she enjoyed the interactions she had with people, both the customers and especially her co-workers at Bright Spot.

“The social service mission of Bright Spot is that it empowers youth transitioning out of foster care and it provides them with basic job skills and employment so that they can find future employment in either agricultural or non-agricultural fields,” said Rauch. “As far as the mobile market goes, we teach them customer service skills and financial skills, maybe counting change at the end of the day and maintaining the books for that. On the farm you learn that you have to be there at a certain time and even when it’s hot you have to work hard, so you gain a valuable work ethic.”

As a natural resource management and agriculture and natural resources double major, Rauch said she is eventually hoping to have a career involved with social equity and sustainability.

“What’s cool about natural resource management is that there’s the economics side to it, and so I think the only way you can convince enough big business and people in the world to actually care about the environment is by appealing to their economic side. You have to consider the human aspect, too, and the benefits across the board,” said Rauch. “I believe in making local natural resource use more sustainable and equitable, and that communities and the world need to be considered when implementing policy or sustainability efforts.”

To learn more about Bright Spot Ventures visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan and courtesy of Kristen Rauch

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Study finds conservation mascots effective in more ways than one

Study finds conservation mascots effective in more ways than oneSmokey Bear has spent decades reminding picnickers “only you can prevent forest fires” and has even been known to cry over the devastation they leave in their wake. University of Delaware researchers say the cartoon bear illustrates how mascots can most effectively protect the environment – by threatening disappointment.

New findings show adults are less likely to pollute when conservation information is presented to them by a mascot. And, they are most likely to make the right choice when it prevents the fuzzy creatures from being sad.

Some conservation groups, such as the non-profit organization Rare, have been using mascots for years as part of their “pride” campaigns throughout the world, helping protect endangered species, develop sustainable fisheries, and improve water quality by tapping into residents’ pride in their communities.

Brett Jenks, Rare’s president and CEO, said that “while mascots, parades, festivals and other common elements of pride campaigns may be great for attracting media coverage, some skeptics question their effectiveness at getting landowners or fishermen to truly exchange some of their short-term profit for environmental preservation.”

Rare turned to researchers at the University of Delaware to test in a controlled laboratory setting the core question of whether mascots really can inspire new behaviors that benefit the environment, something it has seen play out in hundreds of pride campaigns around the globe.

So Kent Messer, co-director of the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resoruces, and his economics colleagues, Julie Butler, assistant professor, and Jacob Fooks, a recent graduate, set up a test involving 168 UD students.

“Frankly, as an economist, I was skeptical that a smiley-faced, goofy-looking mascot could do anything to help the environment,” Messer said. “My children might want me to pay to have their pictures next to one in Times Square, but when it comes to adults giving up money for the sake of a mascot, that seemed unlikely.”

Participating students were placed into groups and given the roles of factory owners in a common area. They made production decisions that earned them profits but resulted in byproducts that polluted a neighboring stream.

When participants chose to produce more, they earned more profit and created more pollution. The game featured the opportunity to earn real money. The more profit they earned in the game, the more they took home – on average $30 for the 90-minute experiment.

In the baseline group, participants saw only the water quality in their area that resulted from their decisions. In other groups, participants saw both the results of their decisions and whether the water met or failed to meet a clean water goal.

Study finds conservation mascots effective in more ways than one

Those groups also interacted with a mascot: either the Rare mascot Meloy Junior, a panther grouper fish from the Philippines, or the University of Delaware’s mascot, YoUDee.

The mascots silently interacted with the participants by either providing high fives and excitement or expressing disappointment and disapproval.  When exposed to pride campaigns, participants significantly lowered their pollution. The groups were eight times more likely to achieve the clean water goal compared to the baseline treatment.

The results suggest participants reduced pollution the most when the mascots expressed disappointment, similar to how Americans responded to Smokey crying.

The findings indicate that while mascots may be great at inspiring action through their cheers and high fives, the biggest impacts of mascots may come through displays of disappointment with a negative outcome. In other words, while making Smokey Bear cheer may be nice, what motivates changes in behavior to protect the environment the most is preventing him from being sad.

What interested Jenks most was that participants were nearly 75 percent more likely to reach the clean water goal when the mascot was the University of Delaware’s mascot rather than Rare’s Meloy Junior. This suggests having a social connection to the mascot matters – UD students were more likely to voluntarily reduce their pollution in response to their school’s mascot than to one they did not know.

“This is why at Rare we work in partnership with the local communities and use local animals as mascots in the pride campaigns,” Jenks said. Meloy Junior, who is now an ambassador for Rare worldwide, was inspired by his predecessor, Meloy, a pride campaign mascot in the small municipality of Inabanga in central Philippines.

Meloy, an anthropomorphized panther grouper, became a familiar and popular celebrity in Inabanga, helping Rare campaign fellow Tian Cempron, himself the son of a local fisher, to promote respect for and community enforcement of a small but ecologically important marine protected area in the municipal waters.

According to Jenks, “it is just really exciting to see this kind of high-quality research applied to questions that are so relevant to our work in the field. We are eager to take lessons from the laboratory and apply them directly to improving how we help communities to take pride in and manage their precious resources.”

About Rare 

Rare inspires change so people and nature thrive. Rare looks for proven conservation solutions and trains local leaders to inspire communities to adopt them and make them their own through its signature pride campaigns. Pride campaigns use proven marketing techniques to move the hearts and minds of local communities, accelerating the adoption and increasing the sustainability of the solutions.

Rare has conducted over 250 pride campaigns in more than 50 countries, empowering local communities across geographies and cultures to shift from resource users to become natural asset managers. Visit Rare on the web at www.rare.org.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s Yan Jin receives national society’s soil physics award

The University of Delaware’s Yan Jin has been presented the 2015 Don and Betty Kirkham Soil Physics Award by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). The University of Delaware’s Yan Jin has been presented the 2015 Don and Betty Kirkham Soil Physics Award by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA).

The award is designed to recognize a mid-career soil scientist who has made outstanding contributions in the areas of soil physics and is supported by the Don and Betty Kirkham Fund established through the Agronomic Science Foundation and administered by the society.

The award was established in 1998 as a permanent tribute to Don Kirkham, regarded as the founder of modern soil physics, and his wife Betty, who inspired and supported him in an unparalleled and unselfish way.

Jin, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences with a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the 18th award recipient and the first woman to receive the award.

Jin will be presented with the award at the society’s international annual meeting to be held in Nov. 15-18 in Minneapolis.

“I feel very honored and also humbled,” said Jin of the honor. “When I look at the list of past recipients, I see the people who have been instrumental in developing the soil physics field; some of them have been my personal inspiration and helped me tremendously during my career. I’m really grateful to them, and it feels a little unreal to be on that list.”

Jin’s primary research at UD is in the general area of measurements, modeling and interpretation of contaminant fate and transport in porous media.

In particular, she is internationally recognized for her work on colloid and microorganism transport in soils and groundwater. She was praised for her unusually comprehensive and intense focus on all of the underlying physical and geochemical processes controlling colloid and virus transport, and subsequent application of the research to practical soil and groundwater pollution problems.

Her research includes theoretical and experimental ranging from the pore scale to laboratory column scale and beyond.

One of the major contributions of her research was being the first to quantify and examine the retention mechanisms of viruses in unsaturated systems.

Subsequent studies have examined all the major factors and processes that control virus retention and transport in porous media, which led to the invention of a novel non-chlorine-based treatment technology for removing viruses and other pathogens from water using elemental iron.

The technology has been patented in the United States and Canada and has the potential to be adopted in various settings and for different purposes, such as in developing countries to provide safe drinking water and protect public health and in developed countries as an inexpensive alternative to more effectively remove viruses in a variety of treatment settings for drinking water.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in soil science from the Hebei Agricultural University, China, Jin went on to get her master’s degree in soil chemistry from New Mexico State University and then received her doctorate from the interdisciplinary environmental toxicology program at the University of California, Riverside.

She joined the UD faculty in 1995 and has been actively engaged in research, teaching and service/outreach in her 20-year tenure at the University.

She has provided leadership and services to SSSA and other scientific communities, including serving as associate editor for the Vodose Zone Journal and Journal of Environmental Quality. She was elected an SSSA fellow in 2008.

With the United Nations declaring 2015 to be the International Year of Soils, Jin said she is glad to see the importance of soil being highlighted on a global scale.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

University Botanic Gardens’ fall plant sale announced

udbgsaleAn assortment of plants with color, texture and form to add to a garden’s allure will be available for purchase at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens’ fall plant sale this weekend.

The sale will be held from 4-7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 18, and from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 19, in the production area across from Fischer Greenhouse on UD’s South Campus. Admission is free.

Those who become UDBG Friends are eligible to come to the sale for Member’s Day, Thursday, Sept. 17, from 4-7 pm. Those with interest can join online or at the sale.

The UD Botanic Gardens are open year round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll. The gardens contribute to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, cooperative extension, and community support.

 

Originally posted on UDaily

UD Cooperative Extension to co-sponsor ‘A Day on the Farm’ event in Hockessin

UD Cooperative Extension to co-sponsor 'A Day on the Farm' event in HockessinUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension invites Delaware residents and visitors to see and experience agriculture first-hand at the “A Day on the Farm” event on Saturday, Sept. 19, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin.

UD Cooperative Extension has teamed up with the Mitchell family, the Delaware Farm Bureau, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the New Castle Conservation District and other sponsors to put on this event.

The event is free and parking is free.

“We’re excited to share our farm and promote the importance of local agriculture to our special visitors,” says Jim Mitchell, owner of Woodside Farm Creamery.

The event will feature a “Who’s Your Farmer” tent showcasing local farm producers, educational exhibits, demonstrations, hay rides, a straw bale maze, outdoor woodlands classroom, a scavenger hunt for kids, simulated cow milking, and many more activities.

Food will be on sale by several vendors including New Castle County 4-H Links/Leaders, Haass Butcher Shop, the Delaware State Grange and the Woodside Farm Creamery.

For more information, call New Castle County Cooperative Extension at 302-831-8965 or visit the Facebook page.

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

CANR freshmen begin inaugural ‘Do More than Learn…Grow’ challenge

CANR Freshmen receive plants during inaugural Do More Than Learn...Grow challengeThe 171 new students enrolled in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) were presented spider plants to care for throughout their academic careers as part of the college’s academic orientation held Aug. 31 in the Townsend Hall Commons.

The plant presentations were part of CANR’s inaugural “Do More than Learn…Grow” challenge, and the individual whose plant flourishes the most will be awarded a $250 gift card at the college’s convocation in May 2019.

“Recently, The Wall Street Journal cited agriculture and natural resources as a top 10 major regarding college enrollment growth nationwide,” said Mark Rieger, dean of the college. “Students come to CANR seeking a rewarding college experience that will enable them to grow in a variety of ways. Our new ‘Do More Than Learn…Grow’ challenge captures this very spirit. I am looking forward to seeing a number of new CANR students, as well as their plants, flourish and thrive over the next four years.”

Kim Yackoski, senior assistant dean of student services at CANR, said that in addition to supplying the students a decorative plant for their residence hall rooms or homes, the gift and accompanying challenge also provided a way to help students feel connected to the college.

“The name ties into the tagline on our college website and it’s a unique new tradition to welcome our undergraduates and help them feel connected to our college,” said Yackoski. “College is a time not only to learn but to grow, so I thought we could tie the whole plant idea into that theme.”

The spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) were donated by the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) through cuttings of other plants already established by Bill Bartz, greenhouse manager, and his staff during the summer in the Fischer Greenhouse.

The plants are expected to grow up to two feet tall, and this increase in size may require them to be re-potted.

“Once they get bigger, re-potting them will help them flourish even more,” said Yackoski.

She added, “Word has definitely gotten out about the plants. I’ve already heard from an upper class plant science student who wants to help coordinate a re-potting get-together in a year or so for anyone who would want to re-pot their plants.”

Yackoski said that Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator at the UDBG, stopped her in the hall one day with the idea and it grew from there.

“I want to especially thank Valann for stopping me with the initial idea of giving students plants and to Bill Bartz and his team in our UD Greenhouse for generously donating the plants. UDBG volunteers planted 175 plants for us and also assisted every step of the way,” said Yackoski.

As for how the students reacted to the plants, Yackoski said that it was very positive.

“They loved them and were excited. At first I was worried because when they left Townsend Hall, they were heading to other planned events on campus for new students before heading back to their rooms and I thought it might be a pain to carry the plant around. But they said, ‘No, we love this. This is no problem. We’re going to head back to our residence hall first and drop it off.’ They loved it,” said Yackoski.

Yackoski said the challenge was a great example of the new ideas that blossom at CANR.

“I love working in a college where our faculty, staff and students are down to earth — no pun intended — and are always thinking up new ideas and interesting challenges or are up for a challenge,” said Yackoski.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Christy Mannering

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Tara Trammell, John Bartram Assistant Professor of Urban Forestry, new professor profile

Tara Trammell New professor profile
Tara Trammell, John Bartram Assistant Professor of Urban Forestry

Could you provide a little background about yourself?

My mathematics undergraduate degree is from Berea College, and my biology graduate degrees are from the University of Louisville. I began my research career as an ecosystem ecologist studying the effects of restoration management techniques on native glade openings in eastern deciduous forests, specifically focusing on the ecosystem nutrient losses following prescribed burns. After earning my master’s degree, I worked for a few years in a lab that focused on urban forest ecology. We studied how the context around urban forests affected aspects of forest function such as nutrient cycling. For my dissertation work, I wanted to focus on urban ecosystems, so I stayed in Louisville to conduct my doctoral research.

What were you specifically looking at with your dissertation work?

I was interested in studying indirect human influences in forests along urban interstates that experience natural ecosystem processes, like forest regeneration, yet also experience a lot of heavy influence from the highway. Encouragingly, we found that the tree community was very diverse and mostly native. We also found some rare native species in a few forest sites, which was exciting. However, there was an exotic invasive shrub species, Amur honeysuckle, that had a strong influence on the forest structure and how it functioned. I’ll be continuing to conduct research on how non-native invasive species change urban forest structure and function.

What did you do after your dissertation work?

As a post-doctoral scientist at the University of Utah, I worked on a large, collaborative National Science Foundation Macrosystems project. About half of the principal investigators on the grant were ecologists, and the other half were social scientists. Urban ecosystems are socially, ecologically, and technologically complex systems, so it is important to try to understand the impact of human behavior, preferences, activities, and decision-making while conducting ecological research. In this project, we were trying to understand how urban ecosystems are becoming more similar based on such factors. I conducted ecological field work and homeowner interviews in residential yards in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles for the project.

What is your favorite part about studying urban forestry?

The majority of the U.S. population and over half of the global population now live in cities and associated built areas, so understanding how to make cities more livable is really important for humanity. Cities also have a large impact on our environment, and in-turn can act as a natural experiment for many global change factors such as non-native invasive species and altered climate regimes. My passion for studying urban forest ecology stems not only from the fact that many core ecological questions still remain unanswered, but also the applicability and importance of urban research for people.

What made you decide to want to come to UD?

I was impressed by the warmth and passion of the people I met during the interview process. I had several positive interactions with the faculty and others in the college. I felt like it was a collegial place and since I have been here, that’s the way it’s been.

I’m also excited to be on the east coast where there are two large cities (Philadelphia and New York) to the north and two large cities to the south (Washington D. C. and Baltimore) that may be ideal study sites.

Will you be teaching any classes?

I’m teaching an urban ecology class this fall, and I will teach an urban forestry class next spring.

How was your first semester at UD?

Exciting and challenging. I’m in the process of getting the lab set up, and this past summer, we started collecting tree and understory vegetation data in some forest fragments close to Newark and in Philadelphia. I’ve meet so many wonderful people since my arrival, and the collegial and collaborative feel in the department and across the departments is really inspiring.

Article by Adam Thomas

Tallamy, Darke to present in-depth discussion of book ‘The Living Landscape’

Doug Tallamy (Professor of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology and PI) is working with Emily Baisden (graduate student in entomology) to compare the ability of insects to use the cultivars vs straight species of plants
Doug Tallamy (Professor of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology and PI) is working with Emily Baisden (graduate student in entomology) to compare the ability of insects to use the cultivars vs straight species of plants

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) will host Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke for an in-depth discussion of their new book The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden on Monday, Sept. 28, from 6:30-9 p.m. in the Townsend Hall Commons on UD’s South Campus.

Tallamy is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Darke is a UD alumnus, author, photographer and landscape ethicist.

The cost is $20 for UDBG Friends and $25 for non-members. Space is limited and pre-payment is required to guarantee entry. Send payment to UDBG, 152 Townsend Hall, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, or call 302-831-2531.

Tallamy has authored 80 research articles and has taught for 33 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities.

His book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens was published by Timber Press in 2007 and was awarded the 2008 Silver Medal by the Garden Writers’ Association.

At the Sept. 28 event, he will speak on the topic “Creating Living Landscapes.” An important component of a living landscapes is a diverse and abundant community of pollinators and while much has been written about native bees, the thousands of species of moth and butterfly pollinators have been ignored.

Tallamy will discuss the important ecological roles of these species and discuss the plants required to support their populations in landscapes.

Darke’s work is grounded in an observational ethic that blends art, ecology and cultural geography in the design of living landscapes. His many books include The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest.

During the presentation, Darke will discuss the essential layers of living landscapes. The richness of life in any landscape is linked to the diversity in its layers, and this is true for both people and wildlife.

Darke will look at layers from ground cover to canopy and will describe and illustrate how to conserve, create and manage them in home landscapes that are beautiful, maintainable, and joyfully alive.

An audience question and answer session will follow the presentation, and copies of the book will be available for sale and signing by the co-authors.

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

UD researchers identify behaviors of nanoparticle that shows promise as nanofertilizer

Drs. Deb Jaisi, Yan Jin and Dengjun Wang are doing research involving how nanoparticles can help with the phosphorous release in soil.Researchers at the University of Delaware have discovered unique behaviors of hydroxyapatite nanoparticles (HANPs) that show promise as a phosphorus nanofertilizer and could be used to help slow the release of phosphorous in soils.

This would both increase phosphorous uptake efficiencies in the growing of plants and also in protecting environmentally sensitive sites, including bodies of water, by reducing nutrient loading, which is important because phosphorous is a nonrenewable resource and an essential nutrient for agricultural production.

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the research was conducted by Dengjun Wang, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Yan Jin, professor of plant and soil sciences with a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Deb Jaisi, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences with a joint appointment in the Department of Geological Sciences.

The HANPs are known as a strong sorbent for contaminants such as heavy metals and radionuclides and are already being used to remediate soils, sediments and ground waters. However, its potential as a better phosphorous fertilizer in agriculture has just started to be fully explored, the researchers said.

The nanoparticle-based fertilizer has three major advantages over conventional phosphorous fertilizers in that it does not release phosphorous as quickly as the conventional fertilizers, it does not change soil pH upon phosphorous release and the loss of phosphorous from soil is low. The slow and steady release of phosphorous allows plants to continuously take up the nutrient as they grow.

Jaisi said that the way phosphorous is currently applied to soils in fertilizer is like someone taking a glucose tablet as opposed to receiving it through an IV drip. While a commercial phosphorous fertilizer hits the soil all at once and does not allow sufficient time for plant uptake, resulting in phosphorous loss in runoff or by leaching, the HANPs provide a slow release of phosphorous for an extended period of time.

“When phosphorous is released from HANPs, it does not increase soil acidity,” said Jaisi. “There was an issue of global soil acidification after the Green (agriculture) Revolution, a direct consequence from the application of chemical fertilizers. The cost of reversing soil pH to optimal for crop production is extremely high.”

As the demand to provide food for a growing population has increased, so has the application of phosphorous fertilizers, which has led to phosphorous loss from agricultural soils to open waters and has caused eutrophication in environmentally sensitive areas like the Chesapeake Bay. With the ability of HANPs to release phosphorous slowly, the nanoparticles could prove to be environmentally beneficial by reducing phosphorous loss to open waters.

“You can minimize that risk and at the same time, increase the availability of phosphorous for a longer period of time during plant growth,” said Jin.

“I think the goal would be to explore whether this is a feasible form of phosphorous fertilizer to be used at large scales,” she added. “We’ve been applying a lot of phosphorous to soil for many years, and the available source is diminishing. We need to find new products and new ways of supplying the nutrient, while at the same time minimizing environmental impacts.”

“A major objective of this work,” Jaisi said, “was to look at the fate of these nanoparticles — if the nanoparticles themselves move away from the soil to open waters or if they remain in the soil, and how they interact with other nanoparticles in the soil. This is important because for the best utilization of phosphorous, HANPs have to remain in soil for an extended time and not be lost via runoff or by leaching.”

Wang said the HANPs have low mobility, and the presence of other nanoparticles in the soil, such as positively charged iron oxides that are ubiquitous in soil and other subsurface environments, would fix themselves to the negatively charged HANP particles and slow down their movement.

Jin explained that in order for plants to take up the phosphorous from HANPs, it needs to be released from the nanoparticles. “When plants grow, they continuously release different types of low molecular weight organic acids such as oxalic acid and citric acid. The acids that get into the soil will interact with those particles so that phosphorous can be released and be taken up by plants,” said Jin.

Wang said the process is very dynamic. “The plant continuously releases organic acids and these organic acids will dissolve the HANPs making phosphorous available for the plant. The release rate in the presence of these organic acids and the possibility of HANPs being a phosphorous fertilizer are currently being investigated by the research team.”

In reaching their conclusions, the team examined how HANPs interact with a naturally occurring goethite nanoparticles (GNPs), a common iron oxide in soils, to investigate the co-transport and retention of HANPs and GNPs in water-saturated sand columns under environmentally relevant transport conditions.

Wang said that the nanoparticle with which the group works is very small, ranging from one nanometer to 100 nanometers, with one nanometer being about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

“These very tiny particles have large specific surface areas and high reactivity; they are quite fantastic to a variety of applications in various fields, including agriculture,” he said.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD grad student Bridget Aylward recognized for work on bovine immune cells

UD grad student Bridget Aylward recognized for work on bovine immune cellsThe University of Delaware’s Bridget Aylward was recently awarded first place for a presentation concerning her research on immunology in bovines in a regional graduate student competition sponsored by the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS).

Aylward, a master’s degree student in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), received the award at the ADSA/ASAS Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) in Orlando, Florida.

Working with Robert Dyer, associate professor of animal and food sciences, and Amanda Barnard, a doctoral student in the college, Aylward said that their research is focused on immune cells from fat tissues and lymph nodes in dairy cows.

“We extract the cells and stain them with fluorescent antibodies to look for certain surface markers that are only expressed on immune cells,” said Aylward.

The idea for the project came from studies of humans in which researchers have been able to identify significant populations of immune cells in the fat. In cases of nutrient overburdening and increased diet-related obesity, scientists have been able to show that those immune cells assume a more inflammatory phenotype.

“They start to release inflammatory cytokines and these have a direct impact on the development and progression of metabolic diseases in humans, such as fatty liver disease and insulin resistance – all the health problems that we associate with obesity in humans,” said Aylward.

There is limited literature on the phenomenon in the bovine model, and the researchers wanted to see if those same cells might be present.

“Ultimately, we want to see what they’re doing in there, but the scope of this project was just to see if they are present,” said Aylward. “It was pretty exciting to find that they are and we have been able to identify several types of immune cells, specifically the cells that make up the two components of an immune response. What that tells us is that there is the potential to mount an immune response in the tissue. Now, what triggers this immune response, and what it looks like when it’s activated, we have to find that out, and that’s what we’re working on now.”

Joining Aylward at the conference were Dyer, Barnard, Tanya Gressley, associate professor of animal and food sciences, and Jenna Wilson and Nicole Collins, both seniors in CANR.

Aylward said her favorite part of the conference was hearing about the wide range of research being conducted.

“What’s great about these conferences is that you get to hear something different than what you’ve been working on,” she said. “You listen to other people present their work, and they’re working on different aspects of dairy cow health, so you can learn about a subject that maybe you’re not as familiar with,” said Aylward.

As for how it felt to win the award, Aylward said that she was just happy that her presentation was well received.

“It was surprising but winning the award was really vindicating for us and our work,” Aylward said. “Immediately after my talk, a number of judges came up to me and said how this work is really important and we really need to start addressing this, and so for our project it was definitely a nice surprise.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD researchers look at sweet corn damage caused by stink bugs

Researchers at UD look at stink bugs on sweet cornCooperative Extension agents and researchers at the University of Delaware are taking a closer look at how brown marmorated stink bugs are causing damage to developing ears of sweet corn, the results of which could lead to better pest management strategies for growers throughout the state.

The research was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) Coordinated Agricultural Project, and the findings were recently published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Bill Cissel, an integrated pest management extension agent, is a member of the research group and said that in 2011 and 2012 the researchers infested sweet corn ears with different densities of brown marmorated stink bugs — zero, one, three and five adults per ear — at three different corn growth stages: silking, blister and milk.

“The objective of our research was to determine how many brown marmorated stink bugs it takes to cause damage, both quality and yield reductions, in sweet corn,” said Cissel, adding, “We also wanted to look at what influence the plant growth stage may or may not have on the amount of damage that we see and also the severity.”

The researchers used replicated research plots on UD’s Newark Farm, as well as the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center, and conducted their research by placing mesh bags over developing ears of corn and then artificially infesting those bags with different densities of brown marmorated stink bugs at different plant growth stages for a period of seven days.

Cissel said the results showed that brown marmorated stink bugs cause a significant amount of damage in sweet corn by piercing through the husk leaves and feeding on developing ears and kernels.

The researchers determined that the greatest potential for yield loss happened when infestations occurred during earlier stages of ear development, whereas the greatest reductions in quality — damaged kernels — occurred during later stages of ear development.

“We looked at feeding that occurs prior to and during pollination, before the kernels even begin to develop, and we found that brown marmorated stink bug feeding injury can result in aborted kernels. The reason we think that’s the case is because they’re actually interrupting pollination by damaging some of the silk channels,” said Cissel.

The research team also found that while the bags filled with the higher densities of brown marmorated stink bugs saw the most damage to the corn, the stink bugs are capable of causing substantial economic losses due to quality reductions at densities as low as one bug per ear of corn.

Cissel said that the milk stage was determined to be the most sensitive stage of corn development, with the highest number of damaged kernels observed when compared to the two earlier stages, but stressed that they did see high levels of kernel damage at all the stages.

“I think of it this way: prior to pollination, they’re feeding on developing ear tissue and causing damage to the ear where kernels could ultimately be and the kernels never develop. After pollination has occurred they’re feeding on individual kernels,” said Cissel. “The milk stage seems to be the most important, but having said that, we did see some pretty high levels of kernel injury at all the growth stages that would likely result in quality reductions for sweet corn growers.”

Now that the study is complete, Cissel said that the researchers are hoping to take their findings from the study and figure out the best times to apply pesticides to manage brown marmorated stink bugs in processing and fresh market sweet corn for growers in Delaware.

“We plan to take the findings from that study in which we identified these different plant growth stages that are important for managing brown marmorated stink bugs in sweet corn to prevent economic losses from occurring and target those timings with insecticide applications to see how or if we can achieve control by focusing on these key timings,” said Cissel.

Researchers on the project include Cissel; Charles Mason, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC); Joanne Whalen, extension specialist and state program leader for agriculture and natural resources; Judith Hough-Goldstein, professor in ENWC; and Cerruti Hooks, associate professor and extension specialist at the University of Maryland.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Christy Mannering and courtesy of Bill Cissel

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

CANR’s Linda Thompson has garden featured on Newark’s Backyard Habitat Tour

Linda Thompson's backyard featured on City of Newark's Backyard Habitat TourWhen Linda Thompson first moved into her house, her backyard was pretty typical: it was on a long slope and comprised of nothing but a lawn. 14 years later, Thompson’s yard has been transformed into a livable landscape full of plants and wildlife and was recently featured on the City of Newark’s Backyard Habitat Tour.

Thompson, who works in the administrative offices at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that she first got interested in gardening after being a member of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG).

“After that, I got what you call the plant disease and I just had to have this plant and that plant and thankfully I have a big yard and I made my own flower beds because when I moved in, it was nothing but grass,” said Thompson.

Thompson’s garden is now full of many native plants such as Echinacea, Red Buckeye, Sweetbay Magnolia, Black-eyed Susans, Cardinal Flower and three River Birch trees that support wildlife.

Donna Bailey, who also works in the CANR administrative offices and is a friend of Thompson’s who helped with the Backyard Habitat Tour, said that the garden is always alive with activity.

“The thing that’s so wonderful about the garden is as you sit there and observe quietly, the garden is alive with birds and butterflies and bees and so it’s like a ballet that goes on before your eyes,” said Bailey. “The Goldfinch come in and sit on top of the Echinacea, the hummingbirds come into the Cardinal Flowers. Linda has a birdbath and her neighbor up the street has beehives and the bees have found her birdbaths. The whole yard hums with activity and then the butterflies are everywhere dancing.”

On the day of the tour, Thompson said that 71 people came and looked at her garden from 9:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., which she described as a nice steady flow of people and never overwhelming.

As for the importance of livable landscapes, Thompson said that they provide many benefits, such as cutting down on erosion and on the need to apply chemicals, but the main thing is that it helps to support wildlife.

“It feeds and protects a variety of critters, that’s my main thing. And also the more plants you have, the less weeding you have to do because the plants fill in and the weeds don’t have a chance to grow,” said Thompson.

As for her favorite part about gardening, Thompson said that the most pleasure she gets is from “seeing the fruits of my labor pay off and watching the critters come around. If you be still, life will come to you and it’s so true. If I sit on my swing, the next thing I know, I’ll see a rabbit or I’ve got a bird or a bee nearby.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Donna Bailey

UD scientists receive funding to study tropical storm impacts on water quality

UD scientists receive funding to study tropical storm impacts on water qualityUniversity of Delaware researchers have been awarded a $475,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study how large tropical storms impact stream water quality and aquatic ecosystems, specifically the amount and fate of sediment-associated carbon and nitrogen that is eroded and deposited in streams following such intense weather events.

Shreeram Inamdar, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of the water science and policy graduate program, and Rodrigo Vargas, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, will lead the project for UD. They will be joined on the project by Jinjun Kan, a microbial ecologist from the Stroud Water Research Center (SWRC) in Avondale, Pennsylvania.

Previous work and publications by Inamdar’s research group have shown that large tropical storms like Irene and Lee in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 have substantial energy to erode large amounts of sediment and particulate material and transport them into and through waterways.

Working in a small, forested headwater watershed in Maryland, UD alumnus Gurbir Dhillon – who worked with Inamdar and received a master’s degree in plant and soil sciences in 2012 – found that in just 59 hours, stream runoff from tropical storm Irene produced nearly half the annual export of organic carbon from the watershed in 2011.

The enormity of this organic carbon input to the stream is similar to a human being consuming all of the day’s meals in just 18 minutes, Inamdar said.

Such large sediment and nutrient pulses, which are also occasionally referred to as “hot moments,” can have significant water quality implications for downstream water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay, he said.

Inamdar said understanding how these large storms impact water quality and aquatic ecosystems is important because research suggests that there already has been an increase in the intensity of large – top one percent storms – over the past 50 years and future climate change projections indicate further intensification of the largest storms, especially for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Inamdar said that capturing data during these large and intense storms can be very challenging, especially when flooding is involved, but the scientific insights that are generated can be very rewarding. “I guess that studying and monitoring tropical storms and hurricanes is similar to the thrill and excitement that tornado chasers experience when they chase tornadoes out in the Midwest,” he said.

While the scientific focus has typically been on dissolved forms of nitrogen and phosphorus, particulate forms of nitrogen and phosphorus that are eroded during these storms can also stimulate algae growth and thus degrade water quality, Inamdar said.

Even at the large scale of the Chesapeake Bay, he said, sediment exports from tropical storm Lee in September 2011 were so large that they were clearly visible in satellite photosreleased by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These sediment/particulate inputs not only pose an immediate water quality threat but could also have long-term consequences for the Chesapeake and similar coastal water bodies, Inamdar said. As an example, he noted that sediment and nutrient inputs associated with the highest-ever recorded flows on the Susquehanna River following tropical storm Agnes in 1972 impacted Chesapeake Bay habitat and fisheries for decades.

Inamdar, Vargas, Kan and their students will study how and where sediment and particulate organic carbon and nitrogen is deposited in the stream drainage network, identify the “hot spots” and sources of erosion and deposition, what proportion of the particulate carbon and nitrogen is leached/released into the overlying stream waters and is bioavailable, and what type of microbes participate in degrading the particulate material.

The researchers also will study the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from decomposing carbon in the sediments and its significance for regional and global carbon cycles.

Working alongside the professors will be water science and policy graduate students Richard Rowland, Erin Johnson and Chelsea Kreig.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

4-H to hold Science Saturdays for youths 8-12 starting in September

4-H science saturdaysThe University of Delaware Cooperative Extension New Castle County 4-H program has announced a series of science-focused Saturdays to be held September through December in various locations.

Locations include the New Castle County Cooperative Extension office and White Clay Creek State Park, both in Newark, and the Mallard Lodge in Smyrna.

The workshops are co-sponsored by Dow Chemical Co. and 4-H, and are designed to give participants hands-on experiences in entomology, habitat conservation, geocaching, mathematics, wetlands ecology and waterfowl biology, food science and chemistry.

The workshops are open to all Delaware youths ages 8-12.

Cost of attendance is $10 per workshop. Space is limited. For more information, contact the 4-H office at 302-831-8965.

Applicants need to complete the 2015 4-H Science Saturday workshop series registration form as well as a 4-H health, photo and conduct form.

The 4-H Science Saturday topics include:

Sept. 5, 9 a.m. to noon: New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, 461 Wyoming Road, Newark, “Project Butterfly WINGS.” Entomology and habitat conservation.

Oct. 3, 9 a.m. to noon: White Clay Creek State Park, Del. 896, Newark, “Treasure Hunt!” Geocaching.

Nov. 7, 9 a.m. to noon: Mallard Lodge, 5128 Hay Point Landing Road, Smyrna, “Migrate with Us!” Wetlands and waterfowl biology.

Dec. 5, 9 a.m. to noon: New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, “Be a Food Scientist.” Food science and chemistry.

For more information and to download registration forms, visit the 4-H Science Saturdays website.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Students to learn floral business through Blossoms at the University of Delaware pilot program

Blossoms at the University of Delaware partnership between CANR and Theresa Floral DesignThe University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has partnered with THERESA Floral Design, a boutique event floral design company in Newark that specializes in event work throughout Philadelphia, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland, to launch Blossoms at the University of Delaware, a six-month initiative that will provide an experiential learning opportunity for UD students to plan and provide flower arrangements for special events on campus.

UD Blossoms is modeled after the UDairy Creamery in terms of student support and learning experience. The pilot program will start Aug. 15 and run through Feb. 15, 2016, and will focus on events of all sizes within the University.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger said of the partnership, “I am delighted that this pilot initiative will give our students additional opportunities to have practical training in floral design for events. Collaborative and creative partnerships such as this provide valuable co-curricular opportunities that help train students for today’s professions in agriculture and natural resources. We are optimistic about the project’s potential.”

Students will be provided with hands-on work and management opportunities through the interdisciplinary program, which will cover all aspects of the business, including purchasing, distributing, marketing, designing and selling floral products.

Emma Brown and Sarah Morales, both seniors in CANR, have been chosen as the first two student interns for Blossoms at the University of Delaware and both will be trained in design work.

Brown will be the shop and studio manager and will work with the plant material, processing the flowers that come in weekly for orders, keeping the coolers clean and making sure the inventory is correct and organized.

Morales will be the assistant manager and will be in charge of communications and marketing. She will oversee the installation teams that put the floral work in place and will be responsible for publicizing Blossoms at the University of Delaware.

Theresa Clower, manager of Blossoms at the University of Delaware and owner and principal designer of THERESA Floral Design, will oversee the project. Clower is quite familiar with the University, having done many of its floral design projects for a number of years. She developed the project’s concept of taking the investment the University is currently making in flowers for special events and turning it into a professional learning experience for students.

Blossoms at the University of Delaware will run out of THERESA Floral Design’s studio for the first six months with the hope to eventually establish a location on campus to house the program. Clower’s intent is for Blossoms at the University of Delaware to become a stand-alone business separate from THERESA Floral Design. The pilot project will be assessed officially after its six-month duration.

“The plan is to use local product as much as we can but when you’re dealing with event work, it can be impractical for some things,” said Clower. “This year, we do have some basics started and we will use those to the extent that we can. But most of our material will come from wholesalers.”

Clower said that with the time frame for the pilot project, which runs through football season — where they provide flowers for tailgate gatherings — and the holiday season, Blossoms at the University of Delaware will have a good snapshot about what they will be able to manage.

They currently are scheduled to provide flowers for several fall events on campus.

“We haven’t even publicized yet and the requests are starting to come in. I’m optimistic that this program will succeed by providing quality and creative floral designs for events throughout the University at the same time providing students with a real-life learning experience,” said Clower.

For more information on Blossoms at the University of Delaware, visit the website or contact Theresa Clower at tclower@theresafloral.com.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Cooperative Extension class strives to educate new and beginning farmers

UD Extension training new and beginning farmersUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension is helping educate state residents who are interested in farming but lack experience through its new and beginning farmer training program.

The program, which started in February, is running one session in New Castle County and one in Sussex County and is geared toward new and beginning farmers working in small-scale vegetable and/or fruit production.

The beginning farmers tend farms, community gardens or plots of land of different sizes and have varied reasons for taking the class, with some wanting to develop market gardens or small scale commercial farms, others seeking to add to existing small farms, and still others planning to provide locally grown food for their communities.

The class covers all aspects of growing, from crop specific production practices to food safety to pest control to plant diseases to developing a sound business plan.

“I think that, more than anything, this class is an example of how Extension is helping the small, non-traditional farmer,” said Carrie Murphy, a Cooperative Extension agent and lawn and garden program leader.

Tracy Wootten, a fellow agent, said the beauty of the class is that the Cooperative Extension educators are able to tailor it to meet the needs of the individuals instead of just having a general overview for the participants.

“A lot of people in the class had already started thinking about becoming growers and this helps them get moving on to the next steps, or evaluating what they already had considered,” said Wootten.

The program involves classroom sessions as well as field trips to participants’ farms or commercial farms – such as Filasky’s Produce in Middletown and Ma and Pa’s Produce in Bridgetown – so participants can learn from growers in the field.

Gordon Johnson, a Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetables specialist and an assistant professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) who is the lead instructor in the program, said he tries to vary the classroom sessions to meet the needs of his audience.

“For example, upstate, there’s more interest in organic growing systems so I cover more on that topic. But it is challenging because there are some people who might be interested in mixed vegetable production, others in specific fruits such as blueberries, others who are interested in flowers, and still others who are interested in community gardens,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said that the New Castle County class tends to have more participants interested in community gardens and urban agriculture, while the Sussex County class has a more traditional interest with people looking to start a business or add a side business.

Class participants

Susan Kemer is one of the participants in the class and has been managing a garden on about one-third of an acre at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown since fall 2012. She said the hands-on learning has been the most beneficial part of the class, adding that other valuable aspects have been connections she has been able to make with other farmers and the resources for growers in the area that she discovered through the course.

“I took the class because I wanted to learn more about farming, and I have been learning more,” Kemer said. “There is obviously a huge learning curve because I don’t have an agriculture background and I’ve been learning the science and methods involved with agriculture. The class has been very helpful in melding it all together and it’s been nice because I’ve made a lot of really good connections with other beginning farmers.”

The class was able to tour the organic garden that Kemer tends at St. Andrew’s as one of its on-site visits and she found it beneficial. “Having them come and visit was good – just to have those boots on the ground learning and observations and recommendations from our teachers and facilitators.”

Kemer said that one of her goals for the garden at St. Andrew’s is to “try to find ways to engage students, not just in harvesting and planting and labor but also in the science behind it, and to try and help them see that part of it.” She said the class has been very helpful in that regard.

Ron Walker Jr. is a class participant who owns a farm that is about one-third to one-half an acre – and that he plans to expand to nearly one full acre next season – off of Route 40 near Porter Road, growing lima beans, tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and pumpkins. He said the networking is a great feature of the class.

“I enjoy the knowledge that the other people have. It prevents a lot of trial and error,” said Walker, who added that another benefit of the class is being able to “pick Gordon Johnson’s brain.”

Networking

Wootten said that when it comes to adult education, “You learn as much from the teacher as you do the other students. There’s camaraderie there, and you get to know each other and you can talk about things – it’s something they have in common. Through the networking with current growers, they can learn from them about things they tried that maybe did or didn’t work. It’s important for them to see what’s been successful, too.” 

In addition to the farm visits, participants are invited to Cooperative Extension field days, which take place at the 344-acre research farm in Georgetown at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center.

During sessions they also were able to tour UD’s Fischer Greenhouse and the new high tunnel installed on the University’s Newark Farm.

Helping hands

With such a sprawling program topic, the program has been helped by many Cooperative Extension agents and specialists, including Johnson, Murphy, Wootten, Emmalea Ernest, Joanne Whalen, Nancy Gregory, Mark VanGessel, Maria Pippidis and Dan Severson.

Mike Wasylkowski, a small farms educator with Delaware State University, also helped with the class.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Carrie Murphy and Tracy Wootten

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Teens test science, technology curriculum during student summer academy

Students participating in the Summer STEM program learned about plant diversity on UD's CANR campusThis summer, the Student STEM Summer Academy brought together three dozen teachers and nearly 80 students from nine Delaware high schools to promote a deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – curriculum. Hands-on interdisciplinary lessons were aimed at increasing the number of students considering an education or career in a STEM field.

“During the academy, students learn about things that would not necessarily interest them when presented in a traditional way,” said Brandi Anderson, a science teacher at Appoquinimink High School. “But when they collaborate with each other, and see how math and science work in the real world, they get energized.”

One activity took place at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus where the students learned about biodiversity by taking samples from two different habitats, one of the CANR wetlands and also a grassy area.

Using Hula Hoops as circular plot frames, the students recorded random samples and noted the biodiversity found in their frames. They then went back to the Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory and learned about chi-square analysis and how to use a biodiversity calculator to determine biodiversity indices.

Penny Rodrick-Williams, a biology teacher from the Tatnall School who taught in UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology from 2004-08, was one of the teachers who led the project.

Rodrick-Williams said that Tatnall values its environmental studies curriculum and exposing the students to the outdoor program was a natural decision.

“When we were asked to come up with an activity to do for the STEM lab, it was just natural for us to want to bring the students outside,” said Rodrick-Williams. “We’re really excited about our environmental programs and to keep that going made us really happy. We were glad to be able to do it and we were really appreciative of being able to use the space.”

Article by Adam Thomas

To view the rest of the article on the Student STEM Summer Academy, check out the article on UDaily.

CANR, Food Bank of Delaware will hold annual ‘Evening in the Garden’ event

Evening in the Garden with Dean Mark Rieger and the Food Bank of Delaware.The University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the Food Bank of Delaware will hold the seventh annual “Evening in the Garden” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 10, at UD’s Garden for the Community, which is located off South College Avenue near the Girl Scouts building.

To celebrate the bounty of the Garden for the Community, those who attend will enjoy wine and beer tastings, live entertainment from the Ellen Lebowitz Quartet, a four-piece jazz group featuring piano, drums, bass and voice, and tours of the garden.

The evening’s menu includes garden-fresh foods straight from the Garden for the Community. Students and chefs from the Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware will serve braised lamb black and tan, a stout braised local lamb, with black garlic mashed potatoes, and crispy shaved shallots; “Suffering Succotash,” a sweet corn and edamame succotash; pigtail shrimp, finished with an optional drizzle of hot chili oil; and squash blossom goat cheese taco, a jalapeño toasted almond pesto with pickled red onion.

The UDairy Creamery will also be on hand to scoop ice cream.

Attendees will also be able to enjoy beverages from breweries including 3rd Wave Brewing Co., Twin Lakes Brewing Co., Two Stones Pub, Mispillion River Brewing, Dogfish Head Brewery, 16 Mile Brewery and Painted Stave Distilling.

“Our annual Evening in the Garden event is a great opportunity for us to showcase the skills of our talented students from the Culinary School,” said Patricia Beebe, Food Bank of Delaware president and CEO. “Workforce development is important to us at the food bank, and this annual event gives students real-world experience working a catered fundraising event.”

The Garden for the Community project is a partnership between the Food Bank of Delaware and CANR faculty and staff members, undergraduate students and graduate students.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger said, “UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is very proud of its longstanding partnership with the Food Bank. This is the seventh year that the greater Delaware community has been welcomed to campus to feast on the bounty grown by its students in UD’s Garden for the Community. I can’t think of a more rewarding event than one that helps raise money to provide food for those who need it most and, at the same time, provides our students with an experiential learning project that is connected directly to the everyday lives of people living in our own community.”

Registration is $40 per person. A student discount is available for $20 per person, but student IDs must be shown to get the discount. The price includes dinner, wine, beer and entertainment. Attendees must RSVP by Aug. 31. If tickets are still available after the RSVP deadline, the price will increase by $10.

To purchase tickets, contact Kim Turner at 302-444-8074 or kturner@fbd.org. Online registration also is available at this website.

Those who attend are encouraged to bring a bag of non-perishable goods for the Food Bank of Delaware.

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD professor, students educate public about roots and soil at US Botanic Garden

UD professor, students educate public about roots and soil at US Botanic GardenRepresentatives from the University of Delaware spent a recent Saturday at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., educating visitors about the important roles that healthy soils and soil microbes play in ensuring robust plants during a “Roots Festival” held in conjunction with the garden’s exhibit “Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots.”

Janine Sherrier, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), led the team that included Cherish Warner, a doctoral student in biological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences who works in Sherrier’s laboratory, and Simone Jimenez, a visiting undergraduate student in the laboratory from Florida International University (FIU) who is taking part in the CANR Summer Institute.

The display and the related research were sponsored by the National Science Foundation, in a research grant awarded to Sherrier and her collaborator, Blake C. Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Because the United Nations has dubbed 2015 the International Year of Soils, Sherrier said the timing was perfect to educate the public about the important role soils play in keeping plants healthy and crops productive.

“Since roots are underground, we often forget about what’s happening down there in the dark,” Sherrier said. “When we look at our crops today, we achieve a high level of productivity based on the skills of growers, the genetics of the plants, the equipment and the availability of fertilizer and water, but one component that we haven’t developed fully is the health of the soil. We need to keep our soils healthy if we are going to maintain this level of crop productivity for years to come.”

Sherrier said she was honored that her team was invited to contribute to the “Roots Festival” and that she was impressed by the creative displays and varied plant collections at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

“It’s an amazing, gorgeous garden, and their set up is such that visitors can learn as they explore. It is a lovely walk through their space, and their activities and the level of staff engagement at the festival demonstrated a true commitment to public education,” she said.

At their display, Sherrier, Warner and Jimenez talked to garden visitors about the roles of roots and soil microbes and how they contribute to food production and ecosystem health.

“The whole root system provides so much, not only for the plant but for us agriculturally. The way roots grow determines how they can uptake water, how nutrients are distributed, how other plants will grow around it – it’s really this whole network of interactions,” said Warner.

The visitors were a mix of ages and nationalities, as people from all over the world toured the garden. Sherrier said that participating in the festival was a great way for Warner and Jimenez to gain experience communicating complicated scientific ideas in a way that the general public can understand. They specifically focused on beneficial soil microbes that help plants extract essential nutrients from the environment.

“We had tremendous interactions with the public explaining that healthy soils have a normal complement of microbes, why it is important for plants to interact with soil bacteria, and how these particular microbes could help reduce the environmental impact and carbon footprint of agricultural production,” said Sherrier.

As for the students, Sherrier said that they did a terrific job.

“Cherish was instrumental in designing some of the displays, thinking about how we would present our information. Simone had only been in our laboratory a week at that point, and she’s a natural when it comes to communicating with the public. It was a great opportunity for both of them to be able to communicate our science at a level that the public can understand,” said Sherrier.

Jimenez said that it was “refreshing and enlightening to be visited by people of all ages with such a real interest in soil health and gardening. With Delaware being so agriculture dominant, it was exciting to interact with children and adults and educate them with our root nodules.”

Warner, who also organized the 4-H Marvelous Microbes summer camp with Sherrier and gained experience speaking with youths about science, said, “As a scientist, communicating our research and the reasons it’s important are crucial and vital for us to progress.”

Concerning the highlight of the day, Sherrier said she enjoyed the fact that there were “so many people who were really curious about roots and the environment, and that they genuinely wanted to learn. Having the opportunity to provide that information, to me that was the best part.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Cherish Warner

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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