Jennifer Blesh

Principal Investigator

 Dr. Blesh is an Assistant Professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan and part of the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative. Through her work she explores the potential for agroecological management to improve the sustainability of food production. She uses interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research approaches to measure and assess environmental, agronomic, and social outcomes of a diverse range of agri-food systems, drawing on theories and methods from disciplines such as agroecology, biogeochemistry, ecosystem ecology, soil science, rural sociology, and political ecology. Practicing interdisciplinarity, thinking systemically, and integrating multiple perspectives are all fundamental components of her scholarship.


Alison Bressler

PhD Candidate

Alison’s dissertation research focuses on the impact of cover crop mixture litter chemistry on soil N retention and losses on working grain farms in Michigan. She also uses a coupled human and natural systems framework to study farmer adaptation strategies to overcoming constraints to cover crop adoption in the Midwest. Before joining the Blesh Lab in 2016, Alison completed her Master’s at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, NY), where she studied ecosystem services of commercial short-rotation shrub willow biomass. Alison also studied nutrient cycling in suburban rain gardens while working on her B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science and Political Science from Furman University (Greenville, SC).


Anne Elise Stratton

PhD Candidate

Anne Elise is a PhD candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Blesh Lab. Her research aims to make connections between agroecological management, soil fertility, and crop nutrient profiles in Santa Catarina, Brazil. Before coming to Michigan, Anne Elise developed sustainable agriculture manuals for fundraising and technical staff at EcoLogic, a Boston-based nonprofit with projects in Central America. She received her B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies from Tufts University in Somerville, MA, in 2015. Her Senior Honors Thesis examined agroecosystem resilience in the eastern lowlands of Guatemala, linking cornfield management by indigenous smallholders with protein composition of corn for local consumption.

Etienne Herrick

incoming PhD Student

Etienne plans to use a functional ecology framework to better understand linkages between agroecosystem structure and function across variable environmental and management conditions, particularly within the context of a rapidly changing climate. She received her B.S. from the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan in 2018. For her Senior Honors Thesis in the Blesh Lab, Etienne used plant functional traits as mechanistic indicators of cover crop species interactions, and also examined predictive relationships between cover crop traits and ecosystem services. During her gap year, she worked at the USGS on an invasive species management program, and then joined the Zak Lab at UM SEAS to learn and perform molecular ecology techniques for an ectomycorrhizal fungi research project.


Zihao (Howie) Chen

Master’s Student

Howie is a first-year Master’s student who is interested in the impacts of cover crops on soil fertility in agricultural systems. He received his B.S. in Horticulture and Crop Production from the University of Maryland in 2018. His undergraduate studies included molecular genetics work with Arabidopsis as well as agroecological research on cover crops and soil.

Marta Plumhoff

incoming Master’s Student

Marta is interested in using soil science as a way to develop a more sustainable agriculture industry, particularly through studying cover cropping and its impact on soil health. She previously worked with the Center for Integrative Legume Research at the University of Queensland, Australia on investigating the molecular regulation of legume nodulation, where she discovered her enthusiasm for food systems and agricultural science. Marta received her B.S. in Environment and Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan in 2019.

Thea Louis

Doris Duke Conservation Scholar

Thea is an Environmental Studies and Health and Society major at Wellesley College. As part of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, she gets to spend her summer exploring the great state (and University) of Michigan. Thea’s interests include sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change, as well as ballet, swimming, and reading.


Beth VanDusen

Lab Manager

Beth received a M.S. in Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a B.S. in Biology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. After spending a number of years fending off ghost crabs, sand fleas, sharks, and humidity while conducting research in coastal North Carolina, she returned to her home state of Michigan to join the Blesh Lab team. Though her research background is rooted in coastal ecology, Beth maintains diverse interests and has long been fascinated by all-things-food, including local food production and the development of sustainable food systems.

Blesh Lab Alumni


Vivian Valencia

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, 2015-2017

As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, Vivian collaborated on an interdisciplinary project investigating relationships between policy, agricultural practices, and social-ecological resilience of food systems for the family farming sector in Brazil. She is currently a P.R.I.M.E. Research Fellow, funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Marie Curie Program of the European Commission. In 2018, Vivian will join Wageningen University for an Ecological Design of Foodscapes postdoc position, which includes the opportunity to transition to a tenure track faculty position within Wageningen.

Santiago Bukovsky-Reyes
M.S. 2019 (SEAS Conservation Ecology)
Katie Grantham
M.S. 2018 (SEAS Conservation Ecology)
Tianyu Ying
M.S. 2018 (SEAS Conservation Ecology)

Research Assistants

Eliot Jackson
Beth Dorgay
Rebecca Minardi
Yili Luo


Alec Reznich
Aminata Fofana (University of Toledo)
Elliot Nichols
Emmett Werthmann (College of Wooster)
Ryan Nelson (Wesleyan University)
Sean Danaher
Sydney Fuller