August 13, 2018, BY Matt Hughes

T. Adu-Attobrah ’20 and Defne Sement ’20 pick broccoli
T. Adu-Attobrah '20 and Defne Sement '20 harvest broccoli in the Lewisburg Community Garden. Their study uses broccoli grown in the garden as an index of nutritional quality. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

Bucknell University students T. Adu-Attobrah '20 and Defne Sement '20 know the difference that the fresh, organic vegetables grown at the Lewisburg Community Garden can make in the lives of local residents. They see it each Monday, when they prepare hot meals from the garden's harvest for community members in need, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when they lead local children on tours of the garden, introducing them to plants that they didn't know existed. But this summer, Adu-Attobrah and Sement are asking another question: just how different are the vegetables themselves?

Adu-Attobrah and Sement are among the hundreds of Bucknell students who've spent their summer on campus exploring research projects related to their academic and personal interests. Under the guidance of Professor Mark Spiro, biology, the pair are investigating whether there's a nutritional difference between the food you grow in your garden and the food you buy at the store, and how income and social class might affect that difference.

Using Vitamin C as a marker of nutritional quality, the students are comparing heads of broccoli grown at the Community Garden with those purchased in high-, middle- and low-income neighborhoods, and from vendors including supermarkets, corner stores and the Lewisburg Farmers Market. Vitamin C degrades over time, and the students suspect that in neighborhoods like Milton, Pa. (the study's low-income focus group), the nutritional value of the produce might be lower. Professor Elizabeth Durden, sociology & anthropology, is helping the students define the areas they're examining and their research methods.

Sement and Adu-Attobrah are working with professors Mark Spiro and Elizabeth Durden on their summer research project. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

"It's about how long it sits on the shelves," explained Adu-Attobrah, an environmental studies major from Lumberton, N.J. "People in low-income areas tend not to shop for fresh produce as often because of factors like cost, access to transportation and the time it takes to cook. The time that food sits not being purchased could affect its nutritional quality."

The students believe that finding such a difference would highlight the importance of the programs like the Community Garden, a partnership between Bucknell and the Borough of Lewisburg that supplies food to a weekly hot-meal program in Milton called Community Harvest. Coordinated by Bucknell's Office of Civic Engagement, the program addresses food insecurity by serving approximately 200 balanced, nutritious dinners to local residents each week.

"We decided really early on that we want to find a difference in nutritional quality, but then we don't want to just write about it — we want to try to solve the problem," said Sement, a biology major from Mendham, N.J. "It sounds cliché, but with Community Harvest, we can really see the impact that the garden has on the community."

In conjunction with their research, Adu-Attobrah and Sement spend up to 20 hours a week volunteering at the garden and the Community Harvest hot-meal program. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

Each week, Sement and Adu-Attobrah are putting their plan into action by spending 15 hours working in Spiro's lab, and another 15 to 20 volunteering at the garden and at Community Harvest. Along the way, they're also developing connections to their community and exploring their own passions and ambitions.

"By doing this I've learned that I really like hands-on work — just getting dirty and learning through practice," Adu-Attobrah said. "We see that direct impact - from harvesting asparagus in the morning to cooking and serving it to people, that same night. It gives us fulfillment to see that whole process happen in one day."

"I didn't think that working in a lab would be such a rewarding way to help people," added Sement, who hopes to pursue a career in medicine. "But this is definitely one of the most rewarding things I've ever done."

Learn more about opportunities for undergraduate research at Bucknell.