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50 Years Later: A comparative study of currently farmed and old-field soils at the Vassar Farm

Alison Denn

Advisor: Professor Jeffrey Walker

The Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve is an incredible resource. Once a working farm that provided food for the Vassar Campus, today the land serves as an ecological preserve as well the home of the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and Greenway Environmental Services. As I explored the many trails of the preserve and harvested my farm share in the fields of the PFP, I became increasingly interested in the history of the farm. I wanted to know more about the land use histories there, and (as a geologist who is interested in soils) I began to wonder—have Vassar’s land use decisions created clear differences in the soils of the area? I chose two areas in particular to test my hypothesis—eight beds within the PFP, and a grassland area a few hundred meters to the south in the Ecological Preserve. Both of these areas were classified as the same soil type in the NRCS soils map, were in close proximity, and had a similar age, topography, climate, and parent material. The soil formation factor that I hoped to study was the effect of biota, as the vegetation of the area has changed with Vassar’s land use decisions.
I proposed a comparative study of the soils of the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve in which I asked—are there measurable differences in the characteristics of a field that has been left fallow for 50 years versus one that is still cultivated? How have my college’s land use decisions influenced what, at first glance, might appear to be the “same” soils? In my project I will investigate many properties of these soils including (but not limited to): moisture, bulk density, porosity, soil organic matter, texture pH, available nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and the clay mineralogy of the samples.