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With any new task, challenges arise. Persevering through them is a life lesson. For soon to be Earth and Environment graduate, Alex Crow, the task of identifying plants and trees was no picnic.

During his senior year, Crow took an internship with the Agroecology Program under Dr. Cara Rockwell. Crow’s task was to investigate food forests – edible gardens– to analyze the growth and identify the species they produced. To do this, Crow worked alongside the Education Fund, an organization dedicated to bolstering Miami Dade County Public Schools through various initiatives and programs. One such program is the “Food Forests for Schools”, which installs edible gardens and forests on school grounds to teach children about plants and their importance. There are currently 51 participating schools, 24 of which are designated food forests.

For his internship, Crow visited seven of the schools with food forests to record the species composition, richness and diversity, total area, the stem density of these forests and what ecosystem services they might provide.

Crow first located the trees using an imagery tool, ArcMap, which plots the points of the tree’s location. He then measured the diameter at breast height (DBH) of the trees and gathered the data. With the help of USFS i-Tree MyTree, a citizen science tool, he estimated the value of five ecosystem services that the food forests provide: storm water runoff avoidance, reduced energy use, carbon dioxide sequestration, air pollution removal and avoided energy emissions. Many of the trees also bore fruit such as, mangoes, guava, papaya and bananas of which he cataloged the abundance and diversity.

“Many times, I’ve had to double check my work for errors when identifying certain trees because they were wrong, but after reading a lot of papers and working hands-on with these diverse species, I learned a lot and overcame my mistakes.”

Alex Crow

At verge of graduation, Crow is ending his undergraduate career on a high note. He plans to continue this project under the mentorship of Dr. Cara Rockwell. Moreover, he accepted an internship in Jamaica to work on a sustainable plantation. Regardless of what comes next, Crow will continue to use his skills and experience at FIU to accomplish anything he sets his mind to.