The Success of Organic Land Management
Following more than three years of advocacy and collaboration between Emory’s grounds team and the student-led Re:wild Emory campaign, Emory’s campus will soon be home to three organic pilot projects.
Nested in metropolitan Atlanta, Emory University’s sprawling main campus has, until now, been managed using integrated pest management (IPM). While this may sound acceptable on paper, IPM is an approach to land management that allows for the use of toxic, synthetic herbicides like Bayer’s Roundup. Organic land management, contrastingly, prioritizes soil health as a means to reduce the threat of pests, and mechanical controls methods such as hand weeding, steam weeding, or flame torching, as well as organic herbicides such as vinegar-based products to manage weed presence. The organic pilot projects will demonstrate to the Emory grounds team and administration that ecologically sound land management is effective, and the training provided during the transition will equip Emory stakeholders with the knowledge and tools necessary to expand organic land care to the rest of the main campus.
While we are thrilled with this recent news that Emory plans to transition areas of campus to organic, this achievement did not come easily. Students have been campaigning for organic pilot projects for more than three years. The campaign at Emory started in early 2020 with Lindsey Kapel, followed by Christie Jones, who led Re:wild Emory (formerly known as Herbicide-Free Emory), and was later led by Nicole Pozzo and Jared Fuer. Leading up to this monumental win, these student activists hosted weeding days, installed signage to educate the wider Emory and Atlanta community about the harms of synthetic pesticide use, and installed a native plant wall, which is a food-producing, organically managed community space on campus. The native plant wall project designated a corner of campus to environmental connectivity and biodiversity, improving community engagement and overall wellbeing. This wall showcases native Georgia plant species and a 112 square foot wall of muscadine grapevines. Through this initiative, Re:wild Emory transformed an underutilized area into a keystone corner of campus; a hidden gem that provides a beautiful outdoor gathering space and productive work environment for students and faculty, enhancing Emory’s connection with nature.
The organic pilot projects are the culmination of these foundational initiatives, which served to build trust between the grounds team and the Re:wild Emory student leaders. The organic pilot projects will be breaking ground thanks in part to funding from Daughters for Earth, which awarded Re:wild Your Campus a grant to bring in an organic landscaping consultant, Chip Osborne, to manage the transition and educate the grounds teams about the efficacy of organic land care.
“This is a huge win for our campaign,” shared Nicole Pozzo, current senior at Emory and co-leader of Re:wild Emory. “This funding supports our continued commitment to public health, occupational safety and environmental justice. We are excited to expand our partnerships and can’t wait for the entire Emory campus to one day be organic!”
Nicole and her teammate, Naurica Encarnación, will be conducting research throughout the first year of the transition. Nicole will take the lead on qualitative research, which is focused on understanding the current attitudes faculty, staff and grounds workers report about organic land care. Naurica will lead quantitative data analysis efforts and will analyze soil test results before and after the transition begins in the hopes of assessing changes to the soil microbiome that can be attributed to organic landcare.
“The ways that the land we walk on is managed can often be taken for granted,” noted Naruica. “To be a part of Re:wild is to not only protect this land, but to protect ourselves and those that maintain it.”
The campaign, Re:wild Emory, is a chapter of a national organization called Re:wild Your Campus (formally known as Herbicide-Free Campus). Re:wild Your Campus provides education about the harms of synthetic pesticide use and empowers students to advocate for a transition to organic land care on their college campus through a 10-month fellowship. The organization also seeks to increase campus biodiversity and climate resilience through the cultivation of soil health and rewilding projects. Their previous wins include transitioning UC Berkeley’s campus to organic land management, helping to get all herbicides banned from Hawaii public school grounds, an herbicide-free native prairie grass restoration project at Grinnell College, organic land care trails at Brandeis University, and a commitment to using organic products at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.