NCU professor tests effects of local music on plant growth

NCU professor tests effects of local music on plant growth

Dancehall-grown food?

BY NADINE WILSON Sunday Observer reporter

Sunday, February 10, 2013

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CAN the heady beat and raw lyrics of dancehall music make crops grow faster, or cause them to wither and die? It’s a music genre that has been dealt its fair share of criticism over the decades, including being blamed for a wide range of societal ills, but one local educator plans to conduct an experiment to determine whether plants will flourish or die in an atmosphere where this genre of music is consistently played.

Vice-president of Academic Administration at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU), Professor Marilyn Anderson, strongly believes that the sound of music can affect food production.

She hopes that her study will be further proof of this, perhaps to the extent of impacting the level of local food production.

"Within the space of a very short time, say about even two or three years, food production results can be obtained that will definitely indicate that no Jamaican needs to go to bed hungry, and that no school child needs to go to school beset by undernutrition," she told the Jamaica Observer recently.

The professor has reason to be optimistic.

She undertook a small study three years ago, which saw classical music being played daily in a small greenhouse where tomatoes, corn and pumpkin were planted.

"The corn stalks grew very, very thick, an, of course, the corns were above my head.

Then of course, the tomatoes were cherry-red and beautiful," she said.

The pumpkin plants were, however, removed from the greenhouse prior to the end of the project because they were simply growing too quickly, she said.

But while her first experiment yielded success, she admitted that she is not sure what results she will get when she uses dancehall music instead.

Previous research has shown that while live plants grow bending towards the source of classical music, they tend to bend away from the speakers when loud music is played.

Either way, she believes the findings will be of value to Jamaica, and will add to the body of existing knowledge on food production best practices.

"You have to have evidence-based information.

You could go ahead and say something, but that would not be the right way to approach it, because the fact is that you would have to say you have actually tested it through experiments and this is the result.

I think this would make better sense, because you have people who are scientific-minded and those who are sceptics who will challenge you," she said.

Professor Anderson was the dean of the College of Humanities, Behavioural and Social Sciences at the NCU, prior to becoming the vice-president of academic administration.

She has a degree in Music Education from Eastern Michigan University and was a music teacher at the Michigan-based Peterson-Warren Academy.

She was also the chair of the music department at NCU and is a member of several music organisations in Jamaica, including the Jamaica Music Teachers Association.

The professor's interest in exploring the connection between music and plant production was sparked while grocery shopping one day in a large supermarket in the US.

She was amazed at the wide variety of organic products on display in the produce aisle and wondered how Jamaica could also go about producing ground provisions without fertilisers.

Through her research, Professor Anderson came across Dan Carlson’s work on sound therapy and the impact it has on food production.

That American-born researcher argued that sounds could be used to open the stomata of plants so they can better absorb nutrients.

Carlson achieved worldwide recognition for his research and is well known for his purple passion plant — normally at full growth at I8 inches — which grew to 1,300 feet after being exposed to music, and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest indoor plant.

He was also able to get the US Department of Agriculture on board with some of his projects.

Professor Anderson believes food insecurity in Jamaica would be a problem of the past if agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture and the managers of agro-processing companies consider her research.

"This whole approach has been used elsewhere with a great amount of success and the fact is that Jamaica is looking for alternatives.

It could assist in increased production, in terms of the yield that you get, for example, from tomatoes on one vine," she said.

Food safety and plant health specialist at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, Francine Webb, said this is definitely a project that she is interested in.

"It sounds familiar to me, but I cannot recall any examples, although I have heard of this in the past.

"I don't know of it being done in Jamaica at all," she said.

"We definitely need to have the data to move forward, but it is something that I would be interested in looking at to see what had been done," she assured.

Professor Anderson said although she plans to start the project later this month, she hasn't yet decided on what produce she will be trying this time around.

She knows she will definitely be using tomatoes again, but she wants to utilise fruits such as grapes and other types of vegetables as well.

She is currently in the process of securing the equipment for her experiment which will be done in a larger greenhouse at NCU.


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