Ag College Students Contribute to Local Community

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SSA Logo -- blue on white with UMASSOne of the most exciting programs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today is an undergraduate major with a tradition that goes back 150 years and yet still serves the citizens of the local region by growing food, growing community and “growing” new farmers.

As local and regional food production in New England grows, so does enrollment in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture’s Sustainable Food and Farming program.  UMass graduates are engaged in creating ventures to relocalize the food system, build community, and reduce the carbon cost of shipping food long distances.

140926-global-universities-woman-with-badge-design_1UMass began as the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863 and recently the former “Mass Aggie” was recognized as having the eighth best global agricultural science program and 3rd best in the U.S.  Levi Stockbridge, Hadley farmer and the first teacher at Mass Aggie, would be proud.

Building on its historic mission of practical research, outreach to the community and hands-on education, today’s Stockbridge School helps educate young women and men in ecological landscape management and sustainable food systems — crucial training in an era threatened by the impact of radical climate change.

50by60Many Stockbridge students and grads believe that global trends and the need for enhanced food security will make the Food Solutions New England vision of producing at least 50% of New England’s food by 2060 a realistic objective.  Students and graduates both contribute to this goal by working toward careers in local food and farming, urban agriculture, permaculture, herbal medicine, community education and advocacy for a more sustainable and just world.  Most “Stockies” choose to complement their classroom work with real world experience, often in the local community, earning academic credit for this work as part of their undergraduate studies.

atl2An example of a local business providing students with valuable real world experience is the All Things Local Cooperative Market in downtown Amherst, started by area people committed to the relocalization vision. Stockbridge students and graduates volunteer at this year-round farmers’ market, some selling products they produced themselves, such as organic eggs, milk, artisan tea, blueberries, fermented kombucha, mushrooms and other vegetables.

gfaOther Stockbridge students volunteer with Grow Food Amherst, a network of neighbors and students uniting town and gown.  The vibrant local food economy of the Pioneer Valley provides a supportive environment for food entrepreneurs, and this project  engages over 450 local residents helping to move the region towards greater food-resiliency through education and action.

Building on Levi Stockbridge’s commitment to experiential learning, students in the Sustainable Food and Farming major are actively engaged in hands-on learning projects that contribute both to their own education as well as to the local community. For example:

  • The UMass Student Farm is a year-round class where students manage a small organic farm and sell their produce through food service and retail markets — including a popular on-campus farmers’ market.

  • The UMass Permaculture Initiative has converted underused grass lawns on campus into edible, low-maintenance food gardens, winning the White House Champions of Change competition in 2012.
  • The Student Food Advocacy group and the UMass Chancellor signed the Real Food Commitment, which ensures that by 2020, at least 20 percent of the food purchased for the dining halls will be local, organic, fair trade and animal-friendly.
  • The Massachusetts Renaissance Center Garden is a demonstration garden open to the public, featuring the herbs and vegetables grown during Shakespeare’s time.

  • The School Garden Project helps K-6 teachers at Amherst elementary schools create vegetable and herb gardens as living classrooms.
  • The Food for All Garden at the new Undergraduate Agricultural Learning Center is a student-led project that grows food with the help of Amherst community members, and distributes the food through Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center.

Stockbridge students and alums are committed to building a more sustainable food system focused on environmental quality, social justice and economic vitality. These young visionaries imagine a world where the bulk of one’s food comes from local and regional farms. Stockies and thousands like them around the world need help from consumers who are committed to creating a more vibrant, peaceful and sustainable world.  We must invest in our future by shifting our priorities and perhaps even spending a little more on the local food that is surely part of our future.


Dr. John M. Gerber is a member of the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project, a professor in the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture and founding member of Grow Food Amherst.  You may find more essays and commentaries on his regular blog at World.edu.  This article was created for the In Close Proximity column for the Amherst Bulletin and was printed on February 27, 2015.

Adapted from the Original: http://www.amherstbulletin.com/commentary/15821972-95/john-gerber-new-life-for-an-old-school-the-stockbridge-school-of-agriculture

Catholic Church “sustainability superhero” needs our help

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popePope Francis has become something of a sustainability superhero today, finding his picture on the front covers of Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and TIME magazine. He has been an outspoken critic of the dominance of the human desire for short term financial success at the expense of the other two sustainability goals of social justice and environmental quality. But I have to wonder if we are not expecting too much from just one man. If we are to realize positive change and a more sustainable world, this Pope needs our help.

Pope Francis surely deserves praise as he has courageously used his bully pulpit to challenge his own management team, the Roman Curia, to examine their collective Continue reading

Western Massachusetts colleges focus on clean energy and sustainable agriculture

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energyagThe National Science Foundation has awarded 3 western Massachusetts higher education institutions a grant to create a collaborative program combining clean energy studies with sustainable agriculture.  This project will help introduce students to new technologies and sustainable practices at Holyoke Community College (HCC), Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The application of clean energy technology to sustainable agriculture is “a natural” for the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, where several colleges and organizations are available to assist residents grow healthy food and promote a culture less dependent on fossil fuels. Concern about climate change and food security are driving these changes nationwide, but western Mass is a “hotspot” for this sort of work.

One of the unique features of this project is the collaboration among three higher education institutions.  Holyoke Community College offers a unique 2-year Sustainability Studies program and maintains the highest transfer rate of community colleges in Massachusetts. Hampshire College was established to focus on interdisciplinary and self-directed learning, and is particularly strong in agriculture and the life sciences. And the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the state’s flagship land grant university, originally founded as Massachusetts Agricultural College.  It is the home for the Stockbridge School of Agriculture Sustainable Food and Farming program.

threelogosIn addition to three educational institutions, the project has a wide array of industry partners to draw upon, both in clean energy and agriculture. The local, sustainable food movement has taken solid root in the Pioneer Valley. Those involved in this movement are predisposed to know how important it is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Over 220 farms are members of our regional Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) organization (which was initiated by a collaboration among Hampshire College, UMass, and several local non-profit organizations).  Many of the CISA members are already utilizing clean energy in their agricultural enterprises and hire college graduates.  Of these, 27 of local business have already joined the Advisory Board for the project.

sustagThe culture of agriculture is changing across the nation from large industrialized corporate farms to smaller, more ecologically friendly farms. Farming is developing as one of the most interesting career paths in New England, offering opportunities for young people to start their own business.  Many of these new more sustainable farms are utilizing clean energy technologies in their farming practice. Their desire to be more sustainable includes using less fossil fuel, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Training future employees in the use of new clean energy technologies will create a viable workforce for these farm enterprises.

logo-NSF-CMYKThe NSF grant will help support a new multi-campus 6-week summer class that combines the strengths of existing programs at each of the three schools: clean energy at HCC;  efficient heating and cooling technologies at the Hampshire College Farm Center focused on sustainable practices; and sustainable agriculture at UMass. This class will run from May 26 through July 2, 2015.  Tuition is free for qualified students from the three colleges.  This class is expected to create a pathway for those students who want to continue their studies in clean energy and sustainable agriculture to transfer easily from HCC to Hampshire College and UMass.

inStoreAnother large portion of the grant will pay for new clean energy and agriculture equipment that will be used by students from all three schools, including a micro-farm greenhouse demonstration and training facility at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center.  The micro-farm greenhouse demonstration and training facility will be managed by the UMass Student Farming Project, which grows vegetables for sale throughout the fall and winter.  The new facility will give students an opportunity to practice and learn energy-efficient technologies while producing fresh, local vegetables for the campus community.

Other funds from the grant will be used by Hampshire College to construct a moveable greenhouse and mobile refrigeration unit, both of which will be solar-powered. Students will build the greenhouses and also convert an old diesel tractor to be powered by solar energy.  HCC will be getting a solar-powered electric fence, composting and irrigation equipment for its sustainability and permaculture gardens and a small wind turbine.

Money from the grant will also be used to pay stipends to students who want to do summer internships with clean energy businesses or local farms.  This project will allow students to gain practical experience while earning college credit and preparing for work in the emerging field of clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

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This article was co-authored by Kathleen Maiolatesi (HCC), Beth Hooker (Hampshire College) and John Gerber (UMass).  For information on the project, please feel free to contact Kathleen Maiolatesi from Holyoke Community College, Holyoke MA

 

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