Scientists begin work at Florida's first 'body farm'

By Leah Masuda, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, April 03, 2017, 4:42 PM EDT

Scientists began work Monday at a new research and training center in Pasco County. The site has the distinction of being the state’s first "body farm."

  • Cadavers at body farms used for research, training
  • Lab space, shoothouse for tactical training also planned
  • Sheriff Nocco hopes site will become forensics hub for nation

The fence is up around the facility near the Land O’ Lakes jail, and work is beginning at the Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security, and Tactical Training, a partnership between the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the University of South Florida.

“A big part of what we're doing in the area is to try to identify unknown people, all this work goes towards that question for unidentified persons, missing persons, and homicide investigations," said Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist and Director of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science.

So what is a body farm? It’s a piece of land where donated bodies will be used for training and research.

“We can put remains on the surface and use different scenarios to try to understand how the weather, temperature patterns, water patterns affect the rates of decomposition," said Kimmerle.

The fence surrounding the Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security, and Tactical Training facility, located near the Pasco County jail. (Leah Masuda, staff)

Monday scientists were testing the soil before the bodies are placed there. So far, USF has three body donations that they’ll be beginning their research with, starting with burials.

“We're doing a lot of work on remote sensing, so that's using different types of tools and technology to say how you find a burial," said Kimmerle.

Along with the body farm, there’s plans for lab space and a shoothouse for close-contact tactical training. Officials hope it will become a forensics hub not just for the state, but for the country.

“This anthropology center is just the beginning,” said Sheriff Chris Nocco. “We believe this will be a forensics hub from cyber forensics, explosives, ballistics."

The project costs around $4.3 million, funding that still needs to be signed off by the governor.

Pasco County will be home to the seventh body farm in the country. Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois, and Colorado each have one, while two are located in Texas.