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Elon's Loy Farm offers chance for Alamance students to 'discover science'

Students with Alamance-Burlington School System recently spent the day at Loy Farm as part of a National Science Foundation-funded camp. 

Alamance County middle school students visit Elon's Loy Farm as part of a one-week program called Citizen Science. Assistant Professor of Biology Jen Hamel headed the program focused on insects using the resources Elon's Loy Farm offers, and three Elon students participated: Davis McGuirt, Connor Whiffen and Alina Iwan. 

Alamance County middle school students recently spent the morning getting buggy at Elon's Loy Farm through a National Science Foundation-funded camp focused on providing hands-on nature experiences. 

Assistant Professor of Biology Jen Hamel talks with students during the camp session at Loy Farm. 

Through the Discover Science camp, dozens of rising seventh- and eighth-grade students explored the farm's patch of "Piedmont prairie," garden plots and greenhouses as they documented, collected and examined a wide range of insects. The half-day session was part of the multi-day Discover Science camp that is headed by Kristin Osborne, a science teacher at Hawfields Middle School, and is part of a larger Students Discover initiatives funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Assisting the students with their discoveries was Jen Hamel, assistant professor of biology whose research focus includes the social behavior of insects. Working with Hamel and the students were Elon students Alina Iwan, Davis McGuirt and Connor Whiffen. 

"I want them to have the experience of getting out and in a hands-on way connecting with nature and exploring it," Hamel told FOX 8, a High Point-based television station that covered the camp activities at Loy Farm. "

In the Loy Farm high tunnel, the campers worked with the trio of Elon students to document the insects on the zucchini plants. That included taking photos of the insects the campers found and collecting the cucumber beetles that were found.

The photos and collected beetles were contributed to The Great Pumpkin project, a citizen-science project based at N.C. State University, with the photos submitted to the project through iNaturalist the beetles mailed to the N.C. State lab.

Hamel notes that anyone who is growing squash, zucchini or pumpkin can collect data for this project, with more information available here - http://studentsdiscover.org/lesson/the-great-pumpkin-project/.

Campers also sampled insects along the edge of the restored Piedmont prairie patch at the front of Loy Farm. This ecosystem was once common in this part of North Carolina, but has become rare.

Janet MacFall, professor of environmental studies and biology, worked with a restoration ecology course at Elon several years ago to plant the prairie at Loy Farm, and David Vandermast, associate professor of biology, has worked with some research students to sample prairie plant diversity during the last couple of years. 

"We have not yet systematically sampled the prairie for insect diversity, but we think this would be interesting to do in future years," Hamel said. "The camp visit provided an opportunity to take a quick look at some of what we might find there."

Students collected insects including katydids, grasshoppers, beetles and skippers (which look like small butterflies) by hand and using sweep nets. Within the rows of vegetable plants at the farm, the students identified insects by the roles they played, including predators, herbivores and parasites. 


Owen Covington,
7/2/2018 12:40 PM