IMG_0644Jennifer Blesh

Principal Investigator

 Dr. Blesh is an Assistant Professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan and part of the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative. Through her work she explores the potential for agroecological management to improve the sustainability of food production. She uses interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research approaches to measure and assess environmental, agronomic, and social outcomes of a diverse range of agri-food systems, drawing on theories and methods from disciplines such as agroecology, biogeochemistry, ecosystem ecology, soil science, rural sociology, and political ecology. Practicing interdisciplinarity, thinking systemically, and integrating multiple perspectives are all fundamental components of her scholarship.

Vivian_edited2Vivian Valencia

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Vivian is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Agroecology and Food System Sustainability at the University of Michigan. Her current work investigates relationships between policy, agricultural practices, and socioecological resilience of food systems for the family farming sector in Brazil. In 2015, Vivian received her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Columbia University, where she investigated the environmental sustainability of shade-grown coffee. She integrated methods and theories from the natural and social sciences to investigate how small-scale farmers manage forests to produce shade coffee and the consequences for biodiversity conservation.

alisonbAlison Bressler

PhD Student

Alison joined the Blesh Lab after completing her M.S. in Wetland and Water Resource Studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse NY where she studied ecosystem services of commercial short-rotation shrub willow woody biomass in Upstate New York. Alison plans to integrate biogeochemical analysis of sustainable agricultural systems with social science studies of receptiveness of farmers and the public to an agriculture system dominated by polyculture and cover crops.


Anne Elise Stratton

PhD Student

Anne Elise is a PhD student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Blesh Lab. Her research aims to make connections between agroecological management, soil fertility, and crop nutrient profiles in Santa Catarina, Brazil. Before coming to Michigan, Anne Elise developed sustainable agriculture manuals for fundraising and technical staff at EcoLogic, a Boston-based nonprofit with projects in Central America. She received her B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies from Tufts University in Somerville, MA, in 2015. Her Senior Honors Thesis examined agroecosystem resilience in the eastern lowlands of Guatemala, linking cornfield management by indigenous smallholders with protein composition of corn for local consumption.


Katie Grantham

Master’s Student

Katie is a second year Conservation Ecology Master’s student at SEAS. She is conducting her Master’s thesis in Detroit, studying how urban agriculture management practices impact soil health and soil contamination. She also aims to investigate urban farmer and gardener perceptions of sustainability, and how this influences their management practices. Before coming to the University of Michigan, she received her B.S. in Environmental Biology and Zoology from Michigan State University in 2016. Her undergraduate research investigated the impacts of agricultural fertilizer usage on mycorrhizal fungi presence at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research station.

tianyu Tianyu Ying

Master’s Student

Tianyu is a second year student in SEAS’s Conservation Ecology track. His research interests include soil chemistry, microbial communities and weed control. Before entering the Blesh Lab, he received his B.S in Environmental Science with a James Scholar honor from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2016. For his undergraduate research thesis, Tianyu investigated how different cover crop combinations affected soil nitrogen pools on farms in Rockford and Bloomington, IL.

Santiago Headshot_cropped

Santiago Bukovsky-Reyes

Master’s Student

Santiago is a second year Conservation Ecology Master’s student, and is conducting a research thesis in the Blesh Lab focused on belowground traits and interactions of cover crop mixtures. Before coming to Michigan he studied environmental chemistry at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and then worked as a chemist for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s Feed and Fertilizer Lab. He also interned with Colorado Springs Food Rescue, a small nonprofit focused on reducing food waste while promoting food security. In addition to agricultural and soil ecology, Santiago’s interests include movies, music, playing guitar, and exploring Ann Arbor.


Etienne Herrick


Etienne is a rising senior at the University of Michigan pursuing a B.S. in Environment with a Terrestrial Ecology specialization and Food Systems minor. For her Honors Thesis, she will be teaming up with the Blesh Lab to explore functional trait expression in summer cover crop mixtures and monocultures as it relates to the delivery of various ecosystem services. An active member of the UM Sustainable Food Program, Etienne has held several leadership positions with Student Food Co., a student-run produce stand working to improve access to healthful foods and promote sustainable practices on campus. In her free time, she enjoys baking nutritious and delicious treats with ingredients from local farmers markets.


Research Assistant

Eliot recently received her M.S. in Conservation Ecology from SNRE at UM. Her interests include urban ecology, agro-ecology, food systems, and vertical farming. Before coming to U-M, Eliot monitored endangered plant species and the invasive Tamarisk across the Rocky Mountain Range. She also worked to identify the changing food web structure of fragmenting streams along the California coast while she was a student at Saint Mary’s College of CA. When not with the Blesh Lab, Eliot can be found tracking down ants in Ann Arbor to learn more about species richness in the urban landscape.

Beth VanbethDusen

Lab Manager

Beth received a M.S. in Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a B.S. in Biology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. After spending a number of years fending off ghost crabs, sand fleas, sharks, and humidity while conducting research in coastal North Carolina, she returned to her home state of Michigan to join the Blesh Lab team. Though her research background is rooted in coastal ecology, Beth maintains diverse interests and has long been fascinated by all-things-food, including local food production and the development of sustainable food systems.

Blesh Lab Alumni

Research Assistants


Beth Dorgay




Rebecca Minardi




Yili Luo





Alec Reznich




Aminata Fofana (University of Toledo)




Aminta Valmon-Charles




Elliot Nichols



EmmettEmmett Werthmann (The College of Wooster)



Nelson_Ryan2Ryan Nelson (Wesleyan University)




Sean Danaher



Sydney FullerSydney_edited