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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A Class will be offered during the summer:

Clean Energy & Sustainable Agriculture

Holyoke Community College SUS 220 – 6 credits

May 26 – July 2, 2015

Monday to Wednesday from 9:00am – 1:00pm and Thursdays from 9:00am – 3:00pm

Clean energy is becoming a priority as our global community faces the challenge of climate change. At the same time agriculture is changing to meet the needs of a more environmentally aware consuming public. In this intercollegiate and collaborative course students will learn how to apply clean energy technologies to sustainable agriculture practices. This class brings together students at Holyoke Community College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to learn a variety of emerging technologies. Topics will include solar, wind and geothermal technologies, ecological farming, greenhouse management, rainwater collection, root zone heating and considerations of social justice.

Tuition is free for qualified students from:

  1. Holyoke Community College
  2. Hampshire College, Amherst MA
  3. University of Massachusetts Amherst
  4. Greenfield Community College

For more information contact one of the project leaders: jgerber@umass.edu, kmaiolatesi@hcc.edu, or bhooker@hampshire.edu.

This course is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation

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This article was co-authored by Kathleen Maiolatesi (HCC), Beth Hooker (Hampshire College) and John Gerber (UMass).

 

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