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Woody Perennial Polyculture (WPP) Research Site (In Progress)
Fresh Press, in collaboration with the Sustainable Student Farm (SSF) and the Woody Perennial Polyculture (WPP) site, are aiming to grow student opportunities through individual and collaborative research and public engagement efforts.
The Woody Perennial Polyculture (WPP) Research Site at the University of Illinois is working create a research farm in which the arrangement of plants is similar to that of the climate’s natural ecosystem, but uses plants that are more practical for human consumption. This research site is the first attempt at a large-scale WPP system in a temperate environment. The research from the farm is intended to show that the WPP system is a sustainable and economically advantageous alternative to the corn-soybean rotation that is commonly used on farms across the Midwest.
Beyond the quantitative research garnered by the site, the WPP Research Site benefits the UIUC Campus by producing local foods to be utilized in the dining halls, restoring degraded land on UI property with sustainable agriculture processes, educating students and the greater Central Illinois community about sustainability issues, and reducing the carbon footprint of the campus by sequestering carbon in the trees and soil as well as reducing N20 emission from fertilizer use.
For more information on the WPP Research Site, visit wppresearch.org.
The structure of the WPP system put in place at the research site is the Midwestern Oak Savanna. This structure entails an herbaceous understory, scattered canopy trees, and a variety of shrub layers scattered throughout. By swapping out the original plant-life within this ecological system for more utilizable plants, researchers are able to recreate the ecological niche with an economically productive purpose. One example of such a switch is from oak trees to chestnut trees. While oak trees produce acorns, which are technically edible, the chestnut tree is a tree of the same family that produces a more commercially viable nut.
The productive life of each of the plants used in these systems is high, which is important in making the system sustainable. It also evens out the higher initial costs of implementing such a system, since that expense is the only major expense. Examples of plants used are the currant, with a productive life of 50 years; the grape, with a life of 70 years; the apple, with a life of 80 years; and the chestnut, with a life of 300 years. The productive life of the hazelnut and of the raspberry is indefinite.