Our research has demonstrated that there is potentially enough land in UK urban areas for urban horticulture to make an important contribution to UK fruit and vegetable production1. Our recent research findings suggest that sustainably grown urban horticultural fruit and vegetable crops can contain lower nutrient concentrations than equivalent commercial horticultural crops. Urban horticulture is widely recognised as one of the key mechanisms to increasing access to fruit and vegetables for urban communities, but these results suggest that one unintended consequence of this maybe reducing the intake of nutrients compared to consumption of commercial crops.
Lower nutritional content of urban horticultural crops might be driven by dilution within plant tissues due to the relative volume of UH crops, or less consistent application of fertilisers and pesticides. Our research has shown that associations with mycorrhizal fungi can ameliorate nutrient dilution in crops2 and that unregulated organic soil amendments negatively affect the functionality of plant-beneficial fungal associations, reducing their supply of soil nutrients to the plant3. Together, our novel data raise key questions about how we may sustainably expand urban horticulture across cities whilst maintaining nutrient concentrations found in commercial horticultural crops.
This interdisciplinary PhD aims to:
1. Understand the underlying drivers and mechanisms underpinning lower nutrient concentrations in urban horticultural fruit and vegetables.
2. Explore experimental methods to sustainably increase nutritional value of fruit and vegetable crops.
3. Understand consumer acceptability of the different methods of sustainably increasing nutrient concentrations of urban horticultural fruit and vegetables.
The PhD will run in three phases:
Phase 1. A modelling approach, using our national-scale datasets, will identify key relationships between urban horticultural management, soil nutrient concentrations, other soil properties and crop nutrient concentrations.
Phase 2. Informed by Phase 1, the student will take an experimental approach to develop new understanding of the underlying causes and mechanisms driving lower nutrient concentrations in urban horticultural fruit and vegetables. The student will explore practical ways to sustainably enhance crop nutrient concentrations, e.g. organic soil amendments and exploitation of beneficial soil microbes and fungi.
Phase 3. Online forced-choice experiments and surveys will be used to explore the acceptability of different forms of urban horticultural growing methods; existing methods and those developed in Phase 2.
The supervisors have the unique combination of expertise to deliver this PhD, with Dr Edmondson’s (School of Biosciences) expertise in urban horticulture and urban soil science, Prof. Field’s (School of Biosciences) expertise in plant and soil biology and physiology, and Dr Caton’s (ScHARR) expertise in nutrition/consummatory behaviour.
This PhD will enable the student to gain key interdisciplinary skills necessary to address current sustainability challenges. This an EPSRC funded studentship. Students from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.
This award is made in conjunction with the Institute for Sustainable Food, one of the University of Sheffield’s four flagship research institutes: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sustainable-food/. The Institute conducts basic, translational and transformative research, taking the latest scientific knowledge and applying it in real-world settings, to ensure that the production and consumption of the world’s food is sustainable and resilient.
Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/sgs to learn more.