Anna Ezzy: Soil Ecology and NYC Urban Garden Policy

This summer I am studying soil ecology at The Earth Institute at Columbia University and developing research on the connections between soil health, urban gardens and city policy. Soil science is increasingly identified as an integral field of study considering climate change, food insecurity, and soil erosion among other urgent issues facing our planet.

I am learning how to use the measurement tools with which ecologists measure diversity and nutrient cycling in soils. I have realized how the field of soil science currently faces many challenges, including understanding microbial functioning and diversity and the complicated physical nature of soil. The role of microbial communities in nutrient cycling is understood broadly, but our understanding becomes vaguer as we speak more specifically about species functioning. This is because very few microbial species can be cultivated and studied in a lab. For microbial diversity analyses, genetic sequencing is a helpful tool but is also limited in the specific data it can offer for community relationships and interactions. Finally, even with biotic answers from species functioning and genetic sequencing, the sponge-like matrix which makes up soil adds a complicated abiotic dimension to understanding soil ecologies. While conducting my research I have also become interested in how policy can best support this science and the search for soil knowledge.

In the coming month, I seek to illuminate how this unfolding soil science is currently being adapted by city policy and worked into urban gardens across city boroughs. What are the services and barriers from city policy for urban gardeners to obtain healthy soils? In order to explore this question, I am developing a quantitative survey and deciding upon my study categories and sites.

Photos of my project development: