Its the U.N. International Year of the Cooperative in Western Massachusetts

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Did you know that 2012 is the United Nations International Year of the Cooperative? 

Well, students in the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program and many people living in Western Massachusetts sure do!   There have been lots of activities, events, and work in my neck of the woods related to the U.N. IYC.

Here are a few….

1.  Rebekah Hanlon, former UMass student and currently a co-owner of Valley Green Feast spoke to the UMass Sustainable Living class on cooperatively managed businesses.  Check out this short video on “why I prefer to work in a cooperative/collective business“.

2.  The students in my UMass Writing for Sustainability class this spring sponsored a celebratory event in which over 100 students and faculty came to hear presentations by local food cooperatives in the region.  Presenting at the celebration were:

  • Equal Exchange –  offering fair trade products from small farmers
  • Earthfoods Cafe – a vegetarian cafe on the UMass campus organized as a collective since 1976
  • Pedal People – a worker-owned human-powered delivery and hauling service for the Northampton, Massachusetts area
  • Franklyn Community Cooperative – two local stores stores offering fresh organic produce, bulk foods, organic meats and cheeses and natural groceries and wellness items
  • Valley Green Feast – offering fresh, organic and local food products delivered to your home or workplace

Adam Trott, from the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives was the keynote speaker.

3. In recognition of the extraordinary efforts of the worker-owners of Valley Green Feast, our local newspaper did a front page story and a follow-up editorial praising their work.  Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

This mission-driven business, run by four women, started five years ago as a food delivery service for people who might be customers for community-supported agriculture operations.  This crew now says it is ferrying fresh, locally produced food to 300 households in the Valley and south into Connecticut.  But this year it is also shaving its prices by 20 percent for low-income buyers and making do with those lower payments.

Though we live in a nation obsessed with appearances and worried about rising obesity, little headway is being made to help people shift from highly processed foods, which often contribute to weight gain, from nameless factories hundreds of miles away to healthier local alternatives.  The four co-owners of Valley Green Feast are doing something about that by making fresh produce and other local farm products available at lower cost to people who qualify for benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

4.  The University of Massachusetts Department of Economics recently launched a new certificate program in  Applied Economic Research on Cooperative EnterprisesThis program provides undergraduates with new opportunities for practical, field-based research while also promoting local economic development.   Working in collaboration with the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives (VAWC), UMass offers a course of study and internship combined with intensive, supervised summer research in this new program.  This program is sponsored by the UMass Cooperative Enterprise Collaborative. 

5. Graduating UMass student Nora Murphy, presented an idea for a local worker-consumer owned food cooperative designed to increase food access, provide meaningful employment and strengthen the local food system and economy, at the 2012 IGNITE UMass event.  There is lots of interest in the new proposed Amherst Community Market.

6.  Finally, a small group of citizens  associated with Transition Amherst is working to create a cooperatively managed store to be called All Things Local.  The core idea is to create a resilient local community market by employing a model with lower costs (because of significant contributions from volunteers who care about the mission) and shared-risk (items are sold on consignment, rather than taking on debt to stock inventory).

The store’s design makes it…

 Easy for buyers to buy:
  • Convenient location and hours
  • Year-round and indoors
  • Ability to pick-and-choose among many local producers
  • Single checkout, with all the usual payment options
 Easy for producers to sell: 
  • Producers set their own price
  • 90% of the selling price goes back to the producer where it belongs
  • Fast drop off
  • Don’t have to be onsite (lower staffing costs)
  • Online pre-sale bulk orders

Local producers, consumer advocates and organizers are working together to figure out how this concept might work.  To follow our progress, see: All Things Local blog.

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According to the U.N. IYC

  • Cooperative enterprises build a better world.
  • Cooperative enterprises are member owned, member serving and member driven
  • Cooperatives empower people
  • Cooperatives improve livelihoods and strengthen the economy
  • Cooperatives enable sustainable development
  • Cooperatives promote rural development
  • Cooperatives balance both social and economic demands
  • Cooperatives promote democratic principles
  • Cooperatives and gender: a pathway out of poverty
  • Cooperatives: a sustainable business model for youth

We are celebrating the International Year of the Cooperative in Western Massachusetts.    Tell us about what is happening in your region in the comments box below.

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Land Grant revitalization at UMass

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On May 3, 2012, the University of Massachusetts Faculty Senate unanimously passed a motion to create a new academic unit, The Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Faculty currently in other units in the College of Natural Sciences will move to the new School to help revitalize and refocus agricultural teaching, research and outreach programs in service to the people, businesses and communities of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This landmark decision will merge the popular UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program, the Bachelor of Sciences degree in Turfgrass Management and Science, and the newly restructured Sustainable Horticulture fB.S. program, with the 92-year old Stockbridge School which currently offers a 2-year associates degrees in the areas of Arboriculture, Equine, Landscape Contracting, Turf, and two new programs in Sustainable Horticulture and Sustainable Food and Farming.  The “new” Stockbridge School will allow the University of Massachusetts to celebrate its roots as “Mass Aggie” and thus affirm its commitment to the land grant mission.

Few people remember that the Land Grant Act of 1862 was an act of Congress signed by Abraham Lincoln that established the world’s largest public university system.  Public universities in each state of the U.S., serve the people of the nation.  This blog looks at the evolution of the land grant university system.

Americans have long valued public education. Early settlers built schools as cornerstones of their new communities, and leading farmers of the 18th and 19th centuries were known for their interest in public speeches and pamphlets (the blogs of that era) introducing and debating new ideas. Although the value of education has been recognized since the tablet writers of Mesopotamia almost 5000 years ago, public education is truly an American ideal.

Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner, native of Templeton, Massachusetts championed the idea of a public university to serve “the working classes” in speeches and pamphlets in the 1830s.  Support for Turner’s ideas grew among farmer groups, newspaper editors, industrial societies, and state and federal legislators. Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont introduced the legislation which would provide grants of public land (land grants) to be sold to finance a university in each state to “teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanical arts in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.”

This legislation represented a major shift in thinking about the purpose of higher education, which previously had been available only to the wealthy classes. The second Morrill Act (1890) further broadened the availability of higher education by providing federal appropriations to support “separate but equal” colleges for African Americans living in the Southern states. In 1994, Congress gave land grant status to twenty-nine Native American tribal colleges, thus continuing the tradition of extending the land grant ideal to marginalized peoples of the nation.

Although the need for a national system of agricultural research was identified by President George Washington, it took nearly 100 years for Congress to pass legislation creating the agricultural experiment station system with the Hatch Act of 1887. This legislation represented the second evolutionary step in the growth of the land grants. It provided federal funding “to promote scientific investigations and experiments respecting the principles and applications of agricultural science.” The research function was thus added to the evolving land grant ideal.

The third stage in the evolutionary growth of the land grants was accomplished with the passage of the Smith Lever Act in 1914, establishing the national Cooperative Extension Service “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics and to encourage the application of the same.”

President of the University of Massachusetts Kenyon L. Butterfield was an early champion of the land grant ideal. In a 1904 speech, President Butterfield made a case for the three land grant functions when he called for each college to support ” its threefold function as an organ of research, as an educator of students, and as a distributor of information to those who cannot come to the college.”

The UMass College of Natural Sciences remains committed to Butterfield’s vision of an integrated program of teaching, research and outreach.

Under the leadership of Dean Steve Goodwin, the College of Natural Sciences has created the new UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture which administers the agricultural research and extension functions of the college – and now adds the expanded Stockbridge School of Agriculture to continue its commitment to the land grant mission.

This mission is particularly relevant today as the world experiences the “perfect storm” of climate disruption, peak oil, and economic stress.  Scientists from the diverse fields of entomology, plant pathology, animal science, soil science and plant science have come together in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to address these major global issues, which are of such importance to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Students have recognized this as an opportunity and are gravitating to the study of sustainable farming working toward careers in local food and green businesses, urban agriculture, ecological landscape and turf care, and Permaculture.  The time is right for the re-emergence of “Mass Aggie” built upon its historical and timeless mission of research-based public service and teaching – but manifested in this cutting edge and future focused partnership between the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Its surely a good time to be an “Aggie.”  

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Please share this post with friends.  For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more World.edu posts.  You may be interested in the 2-year programs in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major or other 4-year majors.  The UMass Extension program provides access to university resources to the citizens of the Commonwealth.