Agriculture News

April 3, 2023

Purdue Extension needs your help growing food for science

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Novice and experienced gardeners are invited to join Purdue Extension, the University of Tennessee and Iowa State University for the citizen science experiment Citi-Sci: Growing Food for Science! from April through August.

As scientists, participants will grow six compact tomato plants, bred specifically for urban agriculture in small spaces. Plants will be provided at different stages of maturity to gauge gardener preferences and challenges. Along with provided plants and all other materials needed to conduct the experiment, participants will have access to monthly educational sessions led by representatives from Purdue Extension, University of Tennessee Extension and Iowa State Extension. Session topics will cover pest management, healthy cooking and nutrition, fresh produce handling and food preservation.

“Our citizen science approach focuses on putting comprehensive evaluations in the hand of the consumer,” said Michael Fidler, Purdue horticulture and landscape architecture master’s student and graduate research assistant. “Our research is more than about gardening. We are showing there are smaller vegetable plants that you can grow on your windowsill, balcony or indoors. It’s a way to experience nature, learn about healthy eating, connect with others and be self-sufficient.”

Data collected in the form of two surveys will include yield results, changes in consumer knowledge and plant preferences. These data will be used to share with stakeholders, such as greenhouse growers and breeders, to help the industry understand the needs of home gardeners.

“Our program comes at a time when interest in growing food at home is on the rise,” said Celina Gómez, associate professor of controlled environment agriculture in Purdue’s Department of  Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and Fidler’s advisor. “We’ve seen an increase in requests from novice gardeners asking for information and advice on how to start and maintain vegetable plants in alternative spaces beyond your typical backyard or raised beds. There’s also an increase in availability of plant products that can cater to the urban consumer. Citizen scientists will provide valuable insight to help us understand the necessary tools for them to successfully garden at home.”

The citizen science program is led by Fidler and Gómez.

Interested people living in Lafayette, West Lafayette or Indianapolis can sign up by April 13 online. The experiment is open to anyone, but participants will need a small sunny place to grow their plants. If selected for the research project, participants will receive plant pickup dates, location and more information with additional resources. Contact Gómez at citi-sci@purdue.edu or 765-494-4443 with questions. 

Writer: Abby Leeds, 765-494-7817, mayer36@purdue.edu

Sources: Celina Gómez, 765-494-4443, cgomezva@purdue.edu; Michael David Fidler, fidler1@purdue.edu

Agricultural Communications: 765-494-8415;

Maureen Manier, Department Head, mmanier@purdue.edu

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