Getting Her Hands Dirty

Lisa Blazure ’91 teaches farmers about regenerative agriculture
by Katie Williard
Farmland abounds in Pennsylvania, where generations of families have planted, grown and harvested crops. But heavy plowing in the non-growing season has caused extreme runoff and nutrient depletion, impacting crop and livestock health and damaging the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Lisa Blazure ’91’s days are spent far from the bay, but the goal of her work with the Stroud Water Research Center focuses primarily on restoring the Chesapeake’s health. And she’s doing so right in the heart of the Pennsylvania farmlands.

“The center was founded in 1967, before the Clean Water Act,” says Blazure. “Its original focus was on understanding overall stream dynamics, but they realized the need to look beyond the stream corridor, examining how the lands in the watershed were being managed.”

Lisa Blazure
Photo: Kelly O’Neill, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Of the farmers she works alongside, Lisa Blazure ’91 says, “They’re the greatest people on Earth and they don’t get enough credit; I have tremendous respect for them.”
At Bucknell, Blazure studied biology, and her passion for environmental science was encouraged through classes with Professor Emeritus Ben Marsh P’04, geography and environmental studies & sciences. She then received her master’s in environmental science from Indiana University Bloomington, started her career doing stream assessments and eventually moved back to Pennsylvania, taking a job with the Clinton County Conservation District in 2008. It was there that she was first exposed to the concept of improving a watershed by managing the land and agricultural activity around it.

Despite knowing agriculture’s effect on nutrient and sediment loading, and understanding the benefits of no-till and cover crop practices, she felt out of her element. “But farmers are so knowledgeable,” she says. “They know about mechanics, chemistry, agronomy, and animal and soil biology — and they teach me as much as I teach them.”

It’s here that Blazure has found her niche: working with farmers to reverse decades of watershed damage through regenerative agriculture. She shares strategies to improve soil health, which in turn improves crop and herd health, and she educates farmers on the scientific benefits of the restorative efforts. “I get to teach about biology and ecology; how microscopic critters drive soil systems for nutrient density and water absorption,” she says. The result of the new practices — which are being widely adopted by local farmers thanks to people like Blazure and organizations like the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance — does more than stop land degradation and decrease runoff. “It goes beyond sustainability. We’re not just keeping things the way they are. We’re working to rebuild and improve the soil.”

In her latest project, Blazure serves as the lead coordinator for the Pennsylvania Soil Health Coalition. “It brings many great organizations together, fostering collaboration with the common goal of improving farm profitability, improving the land and improving water quality. I’m really proud of that.”