- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) - Timnit Kefela is spending the summer working on a project that marries beauty and science.

Under the supervision of Rutgers University-Camden assistant biology professor Simeon Kotchoni and with the help of senior biology major Aisha Dorley, Kefela is attempting to create a thriving ecosystem filled with wildflowers and pollinator insects in place of a polluted lot on Market Street in Camden.

“There’s land here that you can make beautiful,” Kefela, a Camden resident who earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at Rutgers-Camden, told the Courier-Post (https://on.cpsj.com/1f8GU6u ).

Kefela said she aims to create a little spot that can carry different plants that can flourish, despite being in the middle of an urbanized city.

The goal is to make Camden a haven for environmental sustainability. If the project is successful on the Market Street lot, Kefela and Dorley hope to turn more lots into gardens.

“If we don’t have pollinators in our environment, than we will have limited food and nutritional sources, which we need to survive,” said Kefela.

The lot’s owner is allowing the students to use it for the project, done in a partnership between Kotchoni’s lab and Rutgers-Camden Art and Urban Stability course.

In May, classmates joined Kefela and Dorley to remediate the lot, removing debris and cleaning up litter.

Together, they planted seeds and added healthy soil so new plants can bloom.

“This is an area considered incapable of such a thing, but we’re trying to disprove that.”

Dorley, an art minor, was a student in the art course when the project came to fruition. She has already noticed early signs of progress.

“If you visit the lot today, you will see a vast array of plants,” said Dorley.

“Most haven’t bloomed yet, since the project is fairly young, but as of now, you can see several flowers emerging.”

As the plants grow, Kefela and Dorley will analyze the micro-organisms that enrich the soil, as well as the pollinator insects attracted to the plants. This knowledge will help them better understand what is required to create a sustainable area for plants in the urban landscape.

Kotchoni says the project presents an opportunity to make the urban landscape more attractive and inspire a community that doesn’t understand the importance of biodiversity - the variety of different types of life found on earth.

“In an urban area like Camden, we lack the understanding of what biodiversity means to the people and the community,” said Kotchoni.

“If successful, the community can see that nature can thrive here and learn how to take care of it.”

They will know by the end of the summer whether or not the project was successful.

Kotchoni adds, “hopefully, the city will be in full bloom.”

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Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), https://www.courierpostonline.com/

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