Pope 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.
The 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.
In 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Another 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.
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
My most popular blog post by far at World.edu is called “Sustainable agriculture jobs after college?” In this essay, I try to tell the truth about the jobs situation in sustainable agriculture based on my experience working with young women and men graduating college. My conclusion is that while there is much work that needs to be done, well-paying, meaningful jobs that offer a sense of security are hard to find. It may be that “getting hired” for a lifetime job is an unrealistic expectation in our emerging “on-demand” economy. But that might actually be an real opportunity for small, diverse and sustainable farms and markets!
The students who have graduated from our Bachelor of Sciences program in Sustainable Food and Farming and are doing well have often created their own new work, rather than “landed a job” in the traditional sense. I encourage graduating seniors to search the job boards online, but more as a way of creating a vision or coming up with a new idea for a business or service that nobody has ever thought of before! A brainstorming session in one of my classes came up with a serious, lighthearted, earnest, and ingenious list of future jobs that included; permaculture consultants, rickshaw drivers, herbal landscapers, wood mill operators, biodiesel processors, vermiculturists, urban rooftop gardeners, microlenders, witch doctors, AAA bicycle workers, compost toilet janitors, alternate transport specialists, population controllers, seed bank managers, urban wildcrafters…
I try to be honest with students when they first arrive at UMass to study Sustainable Continue reading