Jennifer Blesh

Principal Investigator

 Dr. Blesh is an Associate 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.

Kent Connell

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

 Kent is an ecosystem ecologist broadly interested in soil carbon and nutrient cycling, plant-soil interactions, and global change. He is currently working on the USDA AFRI grant to investigate the influence of management legacies on nitrogen and phosphorus retention in farms across varying climate and soil conditions. Previously, for his PhD research at Kansas State University and the Konza Prairie LTER site, Kent used a combination of field studies and long-term data analysis to investigate rhizosphere interactions and soil biogeochemical cycling in grasslands.


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 an applied agricultural ecologist and PhD Candidate in the Blesh Lab. Her prior work at the sustainable development non-profit EcoLogic Development Fund shed light on the importance of participatory research guided by sound science to shift agricultural practices. Now, her dissertation focuses on farm management practices that can support both environmental sustainability and human nutrition via crop yield and quality. She conducts participatory research in southern Brazil, engaging with farmers in marginal environments to increase their cropping system diversity, build soil fertility, and increase production of nutritious vegetables for growing organic markets. Through her dissertation, Anne Elise hopes to enhance understanding of management strategies that can support long-term transitions to sustainable agriculture at local, regional, and global scales.

Etienne Herrick

PhD Candidate

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.

Marta Plumhoff

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.


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
Devorah Gordin
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
Thea Louis (Wellesley College)