SVSF Research and Academics

Sustainable Community Food Systems

Sustainable Community Food Systems offers you a unique opportunity to connect theory and practice through classroom-based work with service learning and hands-on experiences in the local community. Focusing specifically on the issues of food sustainability, environmentalism, and social justice, you will gain vital skills that will enable you to become a leader in society’s slow and contentious, but ongoing, shift to a more equitable, just, and sustainable future.

The Sustainable Community Food Systems minor is currently taking applications for the spring 2021 cohort. Please contact, or for more information about the program or application process. Environmental Studies minor Sustainable Community Food Systems is based at Spring Valley Student Farm. Here is a link.

Sustainable Community Food Systems internship

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Hear from Students That Minored in Sustainable Community Food Systems

Rafael Concepcion – School of Fine Arts graduate program

Nearly every morning, I would drive by a sign that read "Spring Valley Student Farm" which featured an arrow pointing down a long, dark, winding driveway. An ambient, warm glow was radiating from its base. Provoked by a general desire to snoop around, I set up an appointment to visit with the farm's manager. I brought my camera. Upon my first trip, I was met with a dynamic, lively group of young people whose reasons for participating in the sustention of the farm were as varied as the farm itself. Some fervently believed that the future of agriculture laid in these grounds, others seemed as though they simply wanted a close-knit community to be a part of. As the days rolled into weeks, I continued photographing in and around this farm, motivated by a desire to depict the farmers’ processes and routines, as well as how the personality of this place is determined by those who inhabit it.

Note: Hover over image to click through photos.

Megan Chiovaro Honeybee Research

As a graduate student in the Department of Psychological Sciences here at UConn, my research focuses on collective intelligence, the ability for groups to work together productively without being overseen by a leader. Honeybees work collectively to gather resources, build homes, relocate to new homes, and defend against predators. All of these phenomena happen without supervision (the Queen bee does not instruct the others on what to do). My research asks some very broad questions such as: (1) How are they able to do this without a leader? (2) What is it about the way they communicate that makes them so successful? (3) What can humans and societies learn from this example of successful group coordination and how can we apply it to our everyday lives?

I'm particularly interested in two honeybee phenomena:

Swarming is a mass migration of a portion of a honeybee colony from their home to a new location, usually due to overcrowding of the hive. Thousands of bees uproot themselves from their habitat and fly together as a group to get to their new location. My research on swarming investigates: (1) How do individual bees explore a new location to determine that it's suitable to be a home? (2) How does the swarm keep itself together when flying upwards of six kilometers to their destination?

Task allocation is the partitioning of tasks within a honeybee colony, most commonly for the purpose of food collection, processing, and storage. Worker bees are able to re-allocate their workers to jobs with increased demand through the use of signals. I'm interested in: (1) How do the communication signals specify what job needs to be done? (2) Does this phenomena resemble human workgroups who have to relocate workers in times of need? If so, how can we structure our groups to be as successful as a honeybee colony?

If you are interested in getting involved in honeybee or human collectives research, or you'd like to know more about beekeeping and getting involved, feel free to contact me at:

9/21/20 - Check out the UConn Today feature of Megan's honeybee work at Hartford's Keney Park.

Note: Hover over image to click through photos.

Kaitlyn Goodridge Research

This last summer, 2018, I had the opportunity to work alongside Julia Cartabiano and Karl Guillard to conduct a research study at Spring Valley Student Farm. The study began by learning how to cultivate indigenous microorganism (IMOs) as a part of a process known as Korean Natural Farming. I first learned about this process in my course ‘Organic and Sustainable Vegetable Production’ which is a class taught in the Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems program at UConn. I wanted to learn more about this process and decided it would be interesting to perform a research study to see if IMO applications to fields provide any response to either microbial activity in the soil or plant yield. Spring Valley Student Farm provided me the perfect place and opportunity to be able to complete this project. By completing this project at Spring Valley, I was able to get all the supplies I needed as well as any help or advice from the student farmers or Julia Cartabiano, the farm manager.

Cultivating IMOs is a process that requires a series of steps involving the use of carbohydrates and sugars to increase natural populations of microorganisms located near the farm. The process used was outlined by the Cooperative Extension Service through the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. After spending a few weeks cultivating these IMOs, they were incorporated into soil from the fields and applied to fields plots that were seeded with either crimson clover, red clover, and chickling vetch. Soil samples were taken throughout the experiment to collect data on changes in microbial activity overtime. Plants were also harvested at the end of the experiment to record yield.

The results from this study show no conclusive correlation between IMO application and increased microbial populations since each plant species had varying results. However, this does suggest that there is a possibility that IMO applications affect the soil of various plant species differently. This was a one-year study so if it were to be continued over multiple years and showed the same trend, this correlation would be more conclusive. There was no difference found between IMO applications and plant yield.

The use of IMOs may be an option for many farmers, especially smaller farmers who cannot afford as many resources or those who want to be more sustainable by keeping their farm inputs and outputs as low as possible. The cultivation process is relatively inexpensive and easy, so it is a feasible process for many. Many farmers throughout the world already use this practice and it is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. For this reason, further studies should be conducted on this process to assess if it has any beneficial effects to either soil properties, microbial populations, or plant yields.

Air Quality Research

Student research is a significant part of the SVSF mission. Since 2017 undergraduate students in Dr. Kristina Wagstrom’s Chemical Engineering lab have used SVSF as a living laboratory for their air quality monitoring projects.

Here is what Kamil Wielechowski wrote about the research.

In collaboration with the Center for Environmental Science and Engineering (CESE), the Computational Atmospheric Chemistry and Exposure (CACE) lab is working on assessing pesticide and herbicide drift on farmlands on campus, specifically the SVSF. Use of pesticides and other chemicals in neighboring farms undermine the organic practices of the SVSF, and it is important to determine the extent of their drift. With help from SVSF, the CACE lab was able to set up air, water, and particle monitors to gather data over the course of two summers, with hopes to continue the project and arrive at conclusions in the near future. This research is partially funded through the Provost Academic Plan Grant award of 2017.

Several undergraduate students have been involved with the project over the last three years. This research is still ongoing at SVSF.