In 2000 researchers started collaborating about comparing the social, biological, and physical attributes of a watershed along a north-south gradient in the Sugar Creek Watershed. The gradient consisted of mainly Mennonite German farmers in the northern part of the watershed, steadily increasing to nearly 100% Amish farmers in the south.
A number of grants from the USDA, EPA, and NSF were successfully applied for focusing on 1) headwaters research and 2) participatory research with the local farming communities. One of the hallmarks of the research is that it was based on the needs of a farming community that wanted to be more socially responsible for their water quality. As a result, the project has conducted biweekly water sampling at 1 site per 2 square miles—currently sampling 105 sites for parameters such as nitrates, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, suspended solids, ph, and temperature. Nationally this is one of the highest densities of sampling allowing for an opportunity to study the effect of change in headwaters systems across scale starting with first order streams and specific fields on a farm.
As a database was started for the project, researchers were invited to join the project. Originally started by Drs. Richard Moore, Mark Weaver, and Ben Stinner, in 2002-4 Charles Goebel, Lance Williams, and Virginie Bouchard joined the team. Currently there are over 25 researchers including 7 graduate students and 1 visiting scientist conducting research in the Sugar Creek Watershed (See Appendix for complete listing). The goal for the research team is to relate the biocomplexity of social and natural systems. The researchers have conducted work in this area through an NSF grant where they worked on 3 headwaters streams at the landscape (field) scale. The hope of the team is to create a long-term NSF funded project such as the Hubbard Brook Project. For over forty years, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest Project researchers investigated how disturbance impacts diverse biological, physical, chemical and hydrological parameters of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems within the Hubbard Brook Valley. Studies at Hubbard Brook, which included long-term biogeochemistry and whole-system experimental manipulation, led to the discovery of acid rain. One key area of difference between the Hubbard Brook Project and the Sugar Creek Project is that the Sugar Creek Project tries to link the social and natural system biocomplexity. A long-term LTER research project in France led by Jacques Baudry has similar goals so it is likely that the two teams will increase collaboration in the next few years. The French and US teams are establishing a new project in the southern end of the Sugar Creek Watershed to compare two adjacent subwatersheds on an east-west gradient, one Amish and the other in a larger-scale non-Amish dairy farm area.
A hallmark of the Sugar Creek project is the team approach to research and close relationship with the farming community. All research proposals are done in collaboration with the local community and local agencies. This has led to widespread community support of the project and our last proposal was endorsed by all 8 superintendents of public schools in the watershed.