Student Spotlight: Nevaeh Johnson ’25
Junior Nevaeh Johnson is one of the co-leaders of the Urban Ag club. When a knee injury kept Nevaeh from the daily physical tasks of the farm, she turned to writing for Pi Farm’s weekly CSA newsletter, sharing her curiosity and joy as she connects her coursework to its real-world application.
Soil health has been a big topic for us in our urban agriculture class and it plays a huge role in all the food you receive in the CSA. Soil health is maintained through a variety of practices, but particularly doing little to disturb the soil, keeping the soil planted, and planting a variety of crops in your beds. These practices are to nurture soil microbiomes which are essential to growth and nutritional value of crops. Soil microbiomes consist of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses, and archaea; all of which are integral to the aeration of soil and decomposition of soil additives (soil additives being rocks and stuff that have nutrients that aren’t readily available to the plant) which feed growing plants. So a thriving soil microbial community is imperative to growing food.
If you disturb the soil such as tilling you will break up and disturb microbial populations, which would inhibit them from doing their jobs. Keeping soil planted will keep the soil in place and prevent nutrients and microbes from washing away. Plant variety is the most fun practice as it deals with the more technical inner workings of microbial populations. To sum up a lot of technical and science-y information: By-products of plant photosynthesis come in the form of carbon-rich goodies called exudates. Exudates are individual to the plant and leech from the roots into the soil which attract different microbes that feed off of them. So, in planting a variety of plants in plots, you usher in a diverse population of microbes. Also, microbes require a certain population density for various plant helping functions. SO more microbes=happier plants.
That was a pretty big biology bomb, but if I still have you with me I have an AMAZING fun fact. There’s potential for our future in medicine to be in the ground right under us! In these absolutely CRAZY microbe parties, there are microbes developing antibacterial properties in order to compete with the naturally occuring bacteria around them. So there is active scientific research in the works seeking out these naturally occurring antibiotics. Believe it or not, your investment in Paideia Farm is not only in the future of agriculture but also potentially in the future of medicine!