A Renaisance Garden Grows in Massachusetts

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AMHERST, Mass. – Visitors to the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst, MA this summer can enjoy the sense of traveling back in time to experience sights, smells and tastes of an authentic 16th-century kitchen garden, now open for tours.  UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture Sustainable Food and Farming students raised historic fruit and vegetable varieties to create the full-scale replica on the center’s grounds.

Many plants chosen for the 1500’s-era garden are based on research by recent Mt. Holyoke environmental studies and nature culture history graduate Jennie Bergeron, who steeped herself in Renaissance herbal lore at the center’s library to help plan the project, which was first envisioned by Center Director, UMass Professor Arthur Kinney.

“This garden is what we are calling a ‘pottage’ or kitchen garden,” says Bergeron. “It represents the utilitarian garden of the common family of 400 years ago and contains both herbs and vegetables, with a couple kinds of flowers, but mainly herbs that were used in the daily pottage food stuff of commoners.”

“Pottage” was thin, onion- or garlic-based broth made with whatever was available from the garden or farmyard to provide the staple meal of working families. People in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and other northern European lands grew such crops as garlic, onions, turnips, beets, cabbage, fava beans, leeks and carrots in “pottage gardens” in medieval and Renaissance times.

Bergeron, who also serves as the head gardener for the project, says most homes also had an herb garden. In addition, wealthier people could afford more than one garden for different purposes, such as a flower garden or “herber” for sweet-smelling blooms and plants. Herbs were categorized by their use: pot, cup, floor or distillery. Hops were grown for beer; fragrant plants such as angelica, anise, tansy, yarrow, evening primrose, coriander, mugwort, hyssop, horehound and vervain for flavoring food or for “strewing” on the dirt floor because they smell good or have anti-microbial properties.  The Center’s new garden has 49 different fruits and vegetables.

A special feature of the project was arranged by UMass Extension berry specialist Sonia Schloemann, who obtained small amounts of authentic heirloom beer hops and strawberry cuttings from the 16th and 17th century to come to the Renaissance Center garden from the USDA Germplasm Collection in Corvallis, Ore.

It will take a couple of years, but these small cuttings will be propagated by Stockbridge students in UMass greenhouses for use in the Renaissance Center gardens.  Strawberries in medieval times were much smaller and sweeter than the cultivars we are used to eating. But many other plants, for example herbs such as hyssop and anise have not changed much at all in 1,000 years. Many herb varieties we have today would be familiar to medieval gardeners.

Renaissance Center Librarian Jeff Goodhind has set up a display of books that Bergeron and her classmates used for her research, including a gardener’s almanac published in London in 1632 that lists garden chores by the month, a Latin “Dictionarium rusticum” or Rustic Dictionary from 1717 and a 1564 “Creuterbuch,” in German with hand-painted color plates, plus John Gerard’s famous folio of 1632.

The new garden, the adjacent Renaissance Apple Orchard and grounds are free and open to the public for tours and picnics from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Renaissance Center staff are planning an…

Open House on Saturday, August 17 from 10:00am – 3:00pm,

…as well, for those who can’t visit during the week. A plant list and map of the pottage garden will be available for visitors.

Be sure and watch this 3 minute video describing the project.

For more background on this project, see:

Special thanks to Janet Lathrop and Elizabeth Wilda from the UMass News Office for the press release from which this post was developed and the excellent video.
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For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more World.edu posts.  If you like this project, you may be interested in the 15-credit Certificate, the 2-year Associate of Sciences degrees or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major in the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

Quercus Questions: “I am oak”

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Okay, so this blog is quite different than most of my others

Summer time you know!  

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A small, gray squirrel stopped his running about one day to say hello to his friend and provider, the great oak tree in the wood. Scampering up the rough, whitish trunk, he sat among the many branches, sighed and said “you are so strong – so tall – so old – you have seen much in your many years here in the wood – but don’t you ever want to run about like me, to play, to jump, to climb?”

After a moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly… “I am oak.”

The small, gray squirrel nodded knowingly (or at least as knowingly as the small brained rodent could nod). He said to the oak, yes, yes, yes you are oak, but really aren’t you even curious to see what is over the next hill, beyond the woods, where I can go whenever I want? Oh yes, I remember you telling me how your roots intermingle with the other trees in the forest and you do know what lies around you for many hills – but come on, wouldn’t you just like to get up and go see it for yourself?”

After a moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly…

I am oak.”

Slightly exasperated the small, gray squirrel said, yes, yes, yes I know you are oak, but aren’t you at all sad when you drop all your acorns and most of them are eaten by my brother squirrels, and those ridiculous little white-footed mice, the rabbits and even the very hungry bears? Most of your seed never sprout and grow into oaks like you – oh, well except for once in a while when I forget where I’ve stored my winter supply, and they sprout in the spring. But, but even then those small sprouts of oaks rarely grow up – most are eaten by deer or mice before they see one winter. Oh yes, I remember you telling me how you feel complete when you can be of service to others, giving of yourself that they might grow and live. But come on really, wouldn’t you like to see more baby oaks around here?  Wouldn’t ya? Wouldn’t ya?”

After a moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly…

I am oak.”

After a long slightly angry pause, the excited little gray squirrel thought of something that would surely elicit a more satisfying reply than “I am oak” – from the oak. With a scheming glint in his eye, the little gray squirrel said to the oak, “so what about those humans, huh?” He thought he felt a slight shudder in the trunk of the great tree, but it may just have been the wind. What do you think of their saws and bulldozers and trucks? What do you think you would do if you saw a human approaching, measuring (as they always do), looking you over with the eye of the hunter, desirous, greedy, murderous, what then? Would you be so generous then? You who love to give of yourself then – what would you say to that? What about those humans…. huh? huh?”

After a much longer moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly…

I am oak.”

With that, the little gray squirrel decided this game was no longer fun, he jumped to a lower limb and back to the ground, and just ran off without even saying goodbye. The oak took a deep breath and seemed to smile.

As time passed, the oak did as the oak always did and was content in his place – breathing the clean air, taking nourishment and water from the soil, dropping acorns in the fall for the many animals that lived at his feet. Dropping leaves in the winter to replenish the soil – in thanks. Occasionally the oak noticed a small sprout from one of the acorns the silly squirrels had planted and forgot, but always a deer ate it before it saw one winter. The oak didn’t mind, he was oak and that was his place. Once in a while he thought about the question of the human, but not having seen one for a long time he chose not to wonder, but just to breath, to grow slowly in place, to be oak.

One day as it happened, he heard a strange sound. Yes, it was a vehicle of some sort – which meant one thing – a human. He heard, well really he felt the on-coming presence of the human, measuring (as they always do), looking about with the eye of the hunter, desirous, greedy, murderous (you see, he did remember the words of the excited little, gray squirrel). As the human approached, the oak became curious. This man had no saw, no bulldozer, no truck. In fact, he looked fairly harmless, all in all.

The man approached the mighty oak, stopped, looked up, breathed deeply – and seemed to smile. Yes, it was a smile, but he was not measuring, he didn’t quite have the eye of the hunter, he didn’t appear desirous, greedy or those other things the squirrel had talked about. The man simply stood quietly before the oak – breathing the same air as the great tree, the small animals, the earth.

Slowly, with a voice full of quiet gratitude and much love the man spoke. “Spirit of the oak, I honor you  you have lived long and seen much. You have felt the wind and the rain, the warmth of summer, the cold of winter. You have fed the earth with your leaves and the animals with your acorns for many, many years. My people honor you and all you have given. You are indeed oak.”

The oak wondered, how could this human – understand?

The human continued slowly “I come from a tribe that wishes to build a new home for a young family in our village. We come here to ask your permission and forgiveness. We wish to take your mighty trunk for timbers for a new dwelling that will stand for many years. We wish to make furniture of your limbs, to be used and admired in this home for many generations. We wish to take your many branches for the fire, to warm this home. We have come to thank you for your gifts to the soil, to the little animals, and to ask your permission to allow us the greatest gift you have – your self – for our needs.”

The oak breathed deeply.

The man breathed deeply.

The earth breathed deeply.

The man then said, I will return when you have dropped your leaves to feed the soil and your acorns to feed the many animals. At that time, I will seek your reply. The man left.

The oak signed.

As time passed, the oak did as the oak always did and was content in his place – breathing the clean air, taking nourishment and water from the soil, dropping acorns for the many animals that lived at his feet. Dropping leaves to replenish the soil – in thanks. He noticed one small sprout from one of his acorns had grown in a place that seemed to have more light and had not yet been eaten by a deer. Perhaps this one would grow? Perhaps this one would be the one?

And the man returned, as the oak knew he would. Once again the man stood before the great oak, smiling in appreciation – breathing the same air as the oak, and the animals, and the earth. After a time he said with a quite, grateful, loving voice “will you become part of a home for a young family in our village, part of the furnishings in this home, part of our lives, to be admired and appreciated for many years? Will you heat our homes so that our children can be warm? Will you give us permission and forgiveness for ending your time in this wood?”

The oak breathed deeply.

The man breathed deeply.

The earth breathed deeply.

And the great oak replied with acceptance and love…

I am oak.”

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For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more World.edu posts.

Do public land grant universities serve the public good?

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As the University of Massachusetts celebrates its 150th year (the “sesquicentennial” –  a word I can’t pronounce) there have been speeches and events and lots of discussion about our heritage as a land grant university.  This seems to me to be “all good.”

We recently had a groundbreaking ceremony establishing a new Agricultural Learning Center for example, within walking distance of the dorms and classrooms of campus, with the intention of providing students experience growing their own food.  There are lots of changes at “Mass Aggie” of late!

Again…. all good!

And yet, I wonder how many faculty, students and administrators are truly committed (or even understand) our land grant heritage.  This post explores our heritage and the commitment of the public land grant university to serve its public mission.

First, “land grant” is not about land…..  or at least, not in the way that many people associate the words “land grant” with farming.  While it is true that most of the original land grant universities were committed to scientific education for rural America and therefore developed agricultural research and education programs, “land grant” in fact, refers to the means of funding those universities.  Grants of federal land (mostly in the western United States), were made available to each state to sell in order to establish the first public colleges, the University of Vermont, and Kansas State University (which was the first public university established under the Morrill Act of 1862), and the University of Massachusetts.

According to the UMass webpage…. “UMass Amherst was born in 1863 as a land-grant agricultural college set on 310 rural acres with four faculty members, four wooden buildings, 56 students and a curriculum combining modern farming, science, technical courses, and liberal arts.”

Agriculture was indeed important to these public universities, primarily because while the urban areas of the nation were experiencing rapid growth and the beginning of prosperity, the rural areas were being left behind.  As a service to the larger public good, universities were established to help those in most need…. who happened to live in rural America and of course earned their livelihood farming.

Today, if we celebrate our land grant heritage as a commitment to farming, we are missing a deeper understanding of the mission of the public university to serve the public good (including farming, of course).  My concern is that after all of the celebrations of our agricultural heritage are over, the general public may be left with a question – so why are we still investing in a public university if their mission is to serve such a small percentage of the population (the farming community)?

Please don’t get me wrong….. I think it is important for the university to be proud of its heritage and continue to support agricultural research and education.  But I think the rationale for this support must be deeper than nostalgia for a time gone by.

We must recommit to serving the public good and in doing so continue to grow 21st century agricultural programs focused on the three sustainability objectives of economic vitality, environmental integrity, and social equity.  It is only by clearly articulating a commitment to a more sustainable agriculture that we may continue to expect public support!

There are many forms of agriculture in the world.  The dominant form is “industrial” in the sense that it is economically efficient and highly technical, and leaks toxins from their point of application, uses natural resources such as fossil fuel and water at rates greater than replacement, puts farmers and ranchers off the land, and results in an overfed but poorly nourished citizenry.  I believe we must be clear with the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that this is NOT the sort of agriculture we support at the land grant university.

This is about the public good!

A clear understanding of how the land grant organization serves American citizens, those today and those yet to be born, is key to the future of the institution.  Most people agree that the system has an obligation to serve the public.  But we have difficulty talking about “who is the public ‑‑ and what is the public good?

Many of our research and education programs are designed not to serve “the public” but to serve particular publics, or special interest groups.  I propose that there are interests, common to all people which we might call “basic human needs” such as:

  • affordable and nutritionally adequate food;
  • adequate clothing and shelter;
  • a healthy, livable environment free of violence;
  • opportunities to provide for one’s livelihood; and
  • accessible educational opportunities.

Our teaching, research and outreach should serve these larger public goods by working with the farmers, consumers and communities dedicated to building a more local food production and distribution system.  This is truly “public work” and is consistent with a commitment to a more sustainable agriculture.

Students seem to have noticed the change at the University of Massachusetts, as the enrollment in our Sustainable Food and Farming major has grown from 5 students in 2013 to about 85 today.  Things are changing at UMass, and I’m hopeful that our commitment to our public mission will be sustained.

What do you think?  Please share your own thoughts in the comments box below.

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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 Associate of Sciences degrees 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.

 

 

The Graduation Day Question

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It’s that time at universities when faculty have the privilege of meeting the families of students we have known for several years.  It’s a time of celebration, transition, and that “dreaded” question from family members….. “so now that you have a college degree, what are you planning to do with it?”   The implication of course, is that the primary purpose of a college degree is for “job preparation.”

As a parent of a recent college grad, I can certainly relate to the relief (the kid finished!) and the anxiety (now what?) that parents experience.  Most of us parents with recent grads are smart enough not to ask the “now what” question on graduation day.  We know that we will have other opportunities to explore this sensitive issue, especially since most college grads end up living back home for a while.  It is often the uncles and aunts (who don’t see the grad very often) who ask the dreaded question.  This can be a moment of tension and awkwardness, since most graduates really don’t know!

The “now what” question is especially difficult for my students.  I am the faculty adviser for the Sustainable Food and Farming major at the University of Massachusetts.  My students feel called to grow food or be involved in some aspect of the local and regional food system, but often have not yet clearly identified a particular career.  Our recent graduates generally find themselves working on local farms, managing community markets, or interning with non-profit advocacy or community development organizations, while they explore opportunities in the local food system (here are a few examples).  It can be rich and rewarding work – but really difficult to explain to “Uncle Robert and Aunt Sue.”

Inevitably, when Uncle Robert learns that our student transferred from her original major of Biology or Environmental Science into Sustainable Food and Farming, he will look at the graduate with a confused look on his face, and say something like “so you want to be a farmer?”  After a short pause, he then says “Can you make any money doing that?” And finally, “isn’t farming hard work?

Of course, this uncomfortable experience is not unique to agriculture majors.  Any recent graduate who is not a business major or pre-med may be able to relate.

So you want to be an anthropologist?   ….a writer?   ….a community organizer?  ….an artist?    ….a philosopher?”“Can you make any money doing that?”  

Many people have a relatively shallow understanding of the purpose of higher education.  Certainly we should expect college to prepare students to be employable.  But we should expect much more from a college education than simply to be prepared for an entry level job in some corporation or business.  College should help prepare students for both a livelihood AND a rich and satisfying life.

The questions, “what will you do with your college degree?” and “can you make any money doing that?”  are the wrong questions to ask a recent grad.  While certainly understandable, a thoughtful uncle or aunt might consider trying to start a more meaningful conversation with a different question.  Here is the one I suggest…

“So, how do you plan to be of service to your friends, family and community or perhaps the larger world?”

Yes, I suggest Uncle Robert ask his big question not about career or money but about service.  There is plenty of sociological research, native wisdom, and just plain common sense that support the basic fact that people who live for service have more fulfilling lives than those who live their lives to accumulate consumer goods.  This is such a fundamental truth of human existence that the bible quote (Timothy 6:10) “the love of money is the root of all evil” is a cliche.  We all know this to be true, yet Uncle Robert still feels compelled to ask “any money in that field?

So I ask all the “uncles and aunts” and other family members of recent grads to please try to “raise the bar” and challenge the recent grad to be more than just a money earner.  This is your chance to join Plato and Aristotle (really) in placing the human experience within a larger context, which the ancients called The Great Chain of Being.  The chain starts with the divine (God) and progresses downward to the angels, stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, humans, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals, and other minerals.  Get it?   —  This 16th century picture depicts the Great Chain.

Today we understand that The Great Chain of Being as a rough approximation of a natural hierarchy (which I’ve written about here earlier).  The lesson we can take from this powerful visual metaphor that goes back over 2500 years is that all aspects of the universe are interrelated in a specific way.  The short version of the interrelationship rule is “we look up for purpose and down for function.”

That is, the “lower” levels find purpose in the “higher” levels of the hierarchy – but the “higher” levels are dependent on the “lower” levels for function.  As a human, I look for function at the “lower” levels (animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals, and other minerals).  AND (this is the critical lesson)….. as a human, I look for purpose and meaning in my life at levels of complexity “greater than myself.”  That might be in friendships, family, community, Mother Nature, or perhaps the divine.

This is where Uncle Robert’s big question comes in……  “So, how do you plan to be of service to your friends, family and community – or the larger world?”  This is a question rooted in a deep understanding of human experience (going back to Plato and Aristotle).  It is challenging and respectful….. and much more interesting than “any money in that field?

Why not give it a try with a recent grad?

And finally, congratulations to all of the graduates of the Sustainable Food and Farming major in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture!

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And go here for more of my World.edu posts.  If you are interested in the major that prepares students for BOTH a livelihood and a rich and meaningful life, check out the Sustainable Food and Farming major a UMass.  Please note that jobs ARE important and I’ve written about finding good work here.

UMass to sign the Real Food Challenge!

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The Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA has agreed to sign the Real Food Challenge.  This will make UMass the largest university in America (serving about 40,000 meals per day) to sign the agreement committing the institution to assuring that 20% of the universities’ food purchases come from socially responsible farms and food businesses–what they call ‘real food.’

The Challenge was introduced to UMass in January 2012 with a presentation by the Real Food Challenge regional team in our Sustainable Living class.

Following this presentation a small group of students began to meet with university faculty and the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee to begin to explore the possibility of making this commitment.

The Executive Director of Auxiliary Services and the person responsible for managing food services on campus, Ken Toong (left in the photo), has made a major commitment to high quality, sustainable food, and was an immediate and vocal supporter of the effort.

Students mounted a petition drive, collecting names of other students, faculty and staff who were in favor of the university making a commitment to the Challenge and on May 1, met with University Chancellor Subbaswamy.  According to Sustainable Food and Farming major Molly Bajgot, “the Chancellor was enthusiastic about the proposal and we expect to host a public signing in the fall.”  The actual text of the commitment is linked here

The UMass Student Food Advocacy team of (left to right in the picture below) Rachel Dutton, Ezra Small, Lila Grallert, Molly Bajgot, and Hannah Weinrock, should be congratulated for their hard work and perseverance.

Students in the project earn credit from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to review invoices from hundreds of food vendors, investigating their commitment to Real Food.

According to Real Food Challenge leaders, “despite a growing interest in local, organic and sustainable food on campuses, little consensus exists on what makes food truly “good”…”  Further, they write…. “the youngest generation of Americans today will be the first in our nation’s history with a shorter lifespan than their parents, thanks in part to the food they eat.  Our food system is driving an epidemic of diabetes and diet-related disease, while also fueling climate change and the loss of our nation’s family farmers. The challenge is there’s just not enough ‘real food’ out there – it’s less than two percent of our national food economy. Fortunately our nation’s colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to address these 21st century challenges and help build a truly healthy food economy. With a combined annual purchasing power of almost $5 billion, U.S. colleges and universities have the capacity to significantly impact our nation’s food system through their decisions. Further, by educating students—our future CEOs,politicians, parents, and (yes!) farmers — we can cultivate the leadership and the ingenuity needed to successfully transition to a healthier, more sustainable food system.”

This student-led campaign is an example of how the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is leading the nation in creating opportunities for small, local farmers and encouraging change in the industrial food system.  Other projects and activities at UMass along these lines are:

  1. The UMass Student Farming Enterprise is a yearround class that gives students the opportunity to manage a small organic university-owned farm and sell their produce through a CSA, farmers market, and to university and private food service and retail markets.  See the video!
  2. The UMass Permaculture Initiative is a unique class and program that has converted underused grass lawns on the campus into edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable food gardens. See on of the program videos!
  3. Permaculture in the Pioneer Valley is a class, sponsored by the UMass Dining Services UMass Permaculture Initiative that designs and installs permaculture gardens off-campus in local elementary schools.
  4. A celebration of local food cooperatives was sponsored by Sustainable Food and Farming students introducing the UMass campus and students to work opportunities in local foods!
  5. There has been an “explosion” of interest in the Sustainable Food and Farming major, growing from only 5 students in 2003 to over 85 students today.

One of the most important aspects of student education is the emphasis on getting practical experience either with local farms and markets, or non-profit public policy and advocacy groups, and farm-based education collaboratives.  Practical education built on a solid foundation of biological and ecological sciences prepare students to explore creative options and good work Its surely a good time to be an “Aggie.”

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Anyone interested in discussing this new major should contact Dr. John M. Gerber, Program Coordinator and Professor.  Many students have found the flexibility of the Sustainable Food and Farming major attractive.  Contact us or check out the major here and some videos presenting courses and topics of interest.

UMass announces new Sustainable Food and Farming B.S. major

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The university that began as “Mass Aggie” recently announced the approval of a new Bachelor of Sciences major in Sustainable Food and Farming.  Interest in this area of study has been growing steadily over the past 10 years.  Originally a “concentration” within the Plant and Soil Sciences major, Sustainable Food and Farming grew from just five students in 2003 to seventy-five in 2013.  This rapid growth in student interest provided impetus for the elevation of the former-concentration to a full-fledged major 2013.

At the same time that Sustainable Food and Farming was attracting more student attention, the University of Massachusetts re-vitalized the applied agriculture programs by moving faculty from Plant and Soil Sciences, Plant Pathology, Entomology, and Animal Sciences into a new “super-department” – the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Building on its nearly century old tradition, the newly configured school (which is part of the College of Natural Sciences) will help energize agricultural teaching, research and outreach programs in service to the people, businesses and communities of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Under the leadership of Dean Steve Goodwin, the College of Natural Sciences has made several new investments in agricultural programs including the UMass Center for Agriculture which administers the agricultural research and extension functions of the college.  Plans were unveiled recently for a new Undergraduate Agricultural Learning Center, which will offer hands-on education to students at a location within walking distance of the heart of campus.  These new investments are critical to the continued growth of the new major, which is building on a resurgence of public interest in local food and farming systems.

This growth of local food and farming is particularly important today as the world experiences the “perfect storm” of climate disruption, peak oil, and economic stress.  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, permaculture, herbal medicine, and related jobs in farm-based education, public policy, community development and advocacy.  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.

Related Student Projects

Just a few of the projects that were either initiated or are actively supported by students studying Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass are:

  1. The UMass Student Farming Enterprise is a yearround class that gives students the opportunity to manage a small organic university-owned farm and sell their produce through a CSA, farmers market, and to university and private food service and retail markets.  See the video!
  2. The UMass Permaculture Initiative is a unique class and program that has converted underused grass lawns on the campus into edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable food gardens. See on of the program videos!
  3. Permaculture in the Pioneer Valley is a class, sponsored by the UMass Dining Services UMass Permaculture Initiative that designs and installs permaculture gardens off-campus in local elementary schools.
  4. The UMass Student Food Advocacy group supports several projects, including the national Real Food Challenge, which is working toward a campus commitment to purchasing 20% “real food” by 2020.   Students earns academic credit to create supportive networks which promote education, leadership and activism around just and sustainable food systems. See the video!
  5. A celebration of local food cooperatives was sponsored by Sustainable Food and Farming students introducing the UMass campus and students to work opportunities in local foods!

New Courses Established

In response to the increased student demand, many new classes have been added over the past few years (in addition to traditional agricultural courses in soil science, vegetable production, plant pathology, fruit growing etc.), such as:

  • Organic Weed Control
  • Community Food Systems
  • Introduction to Permaculture
  • Clinical Herbalism
  • Sustainable Soil and Crop Management
  • Nuestras Raices: Community Farming & Food Security
  • Permaculture Design and Practice
  • Agricultural Systems Thinking
  • Food Justice and Policy

One of the most important aspects of student education is the emphasis on getting practical experience either with local farms and markets, or non-profit public policy and advocacy groups, and farm-based education collaboratives.  Practical education built on a solid foundation of biological and ecological sciences prepare students to explore creative options and good work Its surely a good time to be an “Aggie.”

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If you are interested in sustainable food and farming, please join my Facebook Group Just Food Now on FB.  Check out my Just Food Now Resource Page and please see our Sustainable Food and Farming blog. Please share this page with anyone who might be interested in either the Bachelor of Sciences degree or our 15 credit Certificate Program.


Renaissance gardens included more than food plants

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My last post shared the results of research by six UMass and Mt. Holyoke College students who hit the libraries to learn about English cottage gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries.  What they learned was fascinating and is being used to design a Renaissance Era garden at the UMass Renaissance Center.

According to Mt. Holyoke College student Paula;

….gardens first became common after the ‘Black Death’ from 1347 to 1351 that killed an estimated 25-50% of the European population.  The plague left vast tracks of previously peasant-owned land untended after centuries of escalating food prices, famine and intensive food production whose abrupt halt due to the plague resulted in personal garden plots to be constructed near houses.  In addition to vegetables, these gardens would host an array of flowers and herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes.”

This post looks at a few of the non-food plants which are so much part of the story of the period.  While colewort (cabbage), leeks, peas, and broad beans were important in the English cottage garden, herbs, flowers and even strawberries were well-represented as well.

Abby wrote;

“Wild strawberries in Europe were very plentiful and grew like grass. They could be seen on lawns or in gardens between the flowers.  The flavor of the wild strawberries were much sweeter than today’s strawberries.  Strawberries also had a religious symbolism.  Celia Fisher wrote in Flowers of the Renaissancethe white flowers and red fruit stood for purity and for Christ’s redeeming blood. The three parts of a strawberry leaf reflected the doctrine of the Trinity, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were distinct entities joined in one God.”

Notice the bowl of strawberries in Allegory of Summer by Lucas van Valckenborch, c.1595. Flowers were also part of the English cottage garden, as Madeline wrote;

“The rose is widely recognized as the national flower of England. It was likely introduced to England in the 13th century in the form of Rosa gallica – or the “apothecary rose” which earned its title from its many medicinal properties. Preparations of the apothecary rose include rose hip jam, candied rose petals, essential oil, teas, and rose water.”

Madeline continued;

“…the symbolism of the rose has a rich history… medieval Christians cherished the five-petal geometry of the rose – a symbol of the five wounds Jesus received during crucifixion. The red color of the rose also symbolized the blood of Christian martyrs.”

The rose also had important political symbolism;

“The most famous example of rose symbolism was the Wars of Roses (1455-1485), which were a series of struggles between the House of Lancaster (symbolized by the red rose) and the House of York (whose emblem was the white rose). Both houses groups claimed lineage to the royal British crown.

Following the death Henry V (the House of Lancaster) in 1422 (and respective crowning of the psychotic Henry VI), England was in a state of chaos. This period was characterized by heavy taxes, lawlessness, and massive private armies dominating the countryside.

After Henry VI (of Lancaster) was eventually deemed insane, Edward IV of the House of York assumed the crown in 1461.  Edward IV died in 1483 leaving his 12-year old son Edward V in control. The regent (temporary ruler) for Edward V was Richard III of York who locked the young king in the Tower of London.  He was never seen again.

Richard III became king in 1483, but was defeated in 1485 by the Lancaster army and their leader – Henry Tudor of Wales who claimed blood relation to John Gaunt, the First Duke of Lancaster. Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII and married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. This marriage united the feuding Lancasters and Yorks and brought peace to England. Thus was born the Tudor Rose (sometimes called the union rose) which represented both houses and incorporated both red and white in their emblem.

The Tudor (or Union) Rose

Roses had a more pedestrian use as well during the Renaissance, as rose petals were used for strewing (that is spreading fragrant herbs about the house to release pleasant odors as they were walked upon).  Remember, people didn’t bathe much during this period and became quite smelly!

Please be sure and take a look at my first post on this project, Creating a Renaissance Era Cottage Garden in New England.

These stories about the gardens of the Renaissance and others will be shared at our new UMass Renaissance Garden.  If you would like to follow the development of the garden and/or be kept informed when we are planning events at the University of Massachusetts Renaissance Center, please join our “friends and fans” mailing list:

Join the Renaissance Garden Friends and Fans mailing list

We also encourage those of you who are knowledgeable about English kitchen gardens during the Renaissance and related subjects to share your own thoughts in the comments box below.  We would appreciate your ideas and may include them in the garden design.

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  If you are interested in sustainable food and farming, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And please check out more of my World.edu posts or my personal webpage.

Creating a Renaissance Era Cottage Garden in New England

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Have you ever wondered what the garden of an English commoner might look like during William Shakespeare’s time?   Well, a group of University of Massachusetts and Mt. Holyoke College students did – and they learned quite a lot – often not what they expected!

pickngcabbagde

This project, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Interdisciplinary Center for Renaissance Studies and the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, asked six undergraduate students to investigate what an English commoner’s garden might look like pre- and post-1492. Once the research was completed, we planned to design and build demonstration gardens at the Renaissance Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.

wh18_columbianexchangeWe began this project with a hypothesis.  We believed that the Columbian Exchange would have changed the way common people grew their food during this period.

Our original plan was to create two gardens, representing pre- and post-1492 northern European cottage gardens to demonstrate the impact of the Columbian Exchange.

However the students learned early in the project that New World plants coming to Europe after 1492 did not have a dramatic impact on cottage gardens in northern Europe until after the period we think of as the Renaissance.  Most New World plants were better adapted to the Mediterranean climate and those that did find their way into northern Europe were found mostly in the gardens of the nobility.  Aaron wrote in her research blog;

“…about 127 new plants came across the Atlantic from the Americas during the first hundred years after Columbus. These plants diffused through the Old World at different rates, mostly from the port city of Seville, where the plants initially arrived.”

Corn (maize) which is native to the Americas became well-established in the Mediterranean region within 20 years of being brought to Europe by Columbus.  Other warm-season vegetables such as squash, sweet potato and various types of beans, also spread through the region but did not find their way into northern Europe quickly.  Aaron continues:

“…other crops were not such an easy sell to Europeans. The sixteenth century tomato was little like the delicious, juicy red fruit we know today. It was small and hard, and very bitter.  The tomato and other Solanaceae plants (peppers and potatoes) were outright rejected by most of Europe because they were recognized, by their flowers and leaves, as being members of the poisonous group called the nightshades.”

Although plants from the Americas did arrive in Europe following the explorations of the 16th century, they did not become a significant part of the common people’s diet for some 200 years.

The nobility, on the ohenryfoodther hand, seem to have benefited from the Columbian Exchange.  Jennie writes in one of her blog posts, Henry VIII reined in England from 1509-1525 and according to John Harvey in Vegetables in the Middle Ages, “…there was a very marked enrichment of diet during the reign of Henry VIII and royal and noble tables first saw delicacies such as asparagus, globe artichokes, melons and apricots.”

labyrinthOne of the difficulties in learning about commoner’s gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries is that most resources focused on gardens of the nobility.  Clearly, most common people weren’t writing books at this time. Thomas Hill’s classic, The Gardener’s Labyrinth, was printed in 1570 and is still available today.  Hill’s book recommends gardeners employ a labyrinth garden design for aesthetic reasons.  He writes “it much availeth in a Garden to frame seemelye walkes and Alleys, for the delight of the owner, by which hee maye the freelier walke hither and thither in them…” 

Its not very likely that the kitchen garden of commoners were designed to “freelier walke hither and thither….”  Nevertheless, the student research (which may be found here) discovered quite a bit about the diet and the gardening habits for commoners during the Renaissance.  This and my next few blogs will share some of what they have uncovered.

One of the most interesting stories that emerged from the research focused on the common food called pottage (sometimes confused in the literature with porriage).  Jennie continues in her blog post:

“Andrew Boorde, Dyetary of 1542, states that pottage, NOT porridge, was most defiantly a primary food staple of England. Pottage has been commonly confused with the word and food porridge, but it is quite different. Oat based Porridge was not a primary food staple in England.”

And;

“Pottage, also called Porray or Sewe, is the what we might think of as a watered down savory/herbal soup, consisting of different herbs/plants, grown specifically for pottage.  Pottage was cooked over a fire in a metal pot, water or stock from meat, fish or poultry was added and then the ‘good pottagersthat is, leaves of colewort (Brassica oleracea), leeks (Allium porrum), peas (Pisum sativum), and broad beans (Vicia faba) were added.

bavariaThe student’s research brought forth some really interesting ideas that we will include in our garden at the Renaissance Center.  We plan on designing a vegetable/herb/flower garden typical of the period.  We believe we can use the garden to tell some interesting stories about how common people lived (and ate) during the 14th to 17th centuries.

Of course, pottage plants will make up a good part of our garden at the Massachusetts Renaissance Center, as it represents a major part of the diet for English commoners.  Other typical plants to be included are garlic, leeks, onions, turnips, hops, and even roses along with many common medicinal and savory herbs.

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To see part two of this series on the garden, see: Renaissance gardens include more than food plants.  And if you would like to follow the development of the garden and/or be kept informed when we are planning events at the Renaissance Center, please join our “friends and fans” mailing list here:

Join the Renaissance Garden “Friends and Fans” mailing list

We also encourage those of you who are knowledgeable about English kitchen gardens during the Renaissance and related subjects to share your own thoughts in the comments box below.  We would appreciate your ideas and may include them in the garden design.

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  If you are interested in sustainable food and farming, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And please check out more of my World.edu posts or my personal webpage.

 

 

 

My Sustainability Blogs – 2012

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Well, seems like everyone is writing their end of year (beginning of the new year) blogs….. so here is mine.  As I look back over 12 months of blog posts, there are several themes:

  1. Localization as a Solution
  2. Personal Sustainability and Responsibility
  3. Systems Thinking
  4. Sustainability Education and Change in the University

This pretty much sums up most of my interests these days, so lets take a closer look at what I wrote about in 2012.

Localization as a Solution

Last winter, I was asked to give a sermon (a real sermon in a church) about eating locally and in the opening remarks I said; “we live in a world that is profoundly unjust and fundamentally unsustainable.  Food is grown, packaged, processed and distributed in a way that contributes to global climate change, is dependent on non-renewable energy sources, and contributes to social inequality.   For me, buying local is a means of uncoupling my household from an inherently unjust global food economy. While I am not against global trade or corporations, I am concerned about the control they have over our lives and our economy.”

In another post, I called for us to “relocalize our money” and reported on one of the more exciting trends in food marketing, the creation of local food hubs.  In addition to supporting more local farms and markets, I think we need to take more personal responsibility for growing, cooking and sharing our own food, as I called for 50 million new farmers in the U.S.!   I also challenged municipal government to provide public spaces to create edible landscapes.

In one of my more “angry” posts (well, it was around election day) I wrote “unless each one of us makes a commitment to changing our behavior, politicians will never find the political will to sponsor much needed policy initiatives.”

 

In “Burn America First“, I  called for personal behavior change on energy use at a time when politicians seemed unwilling to seriously address both climate change and our dependence on fossil fuel.  One of the more comical experiences of the year was getting blocked from posting to Facebook for a few days when the several “clean-coal” Facebook groups reported my post as spam.  I guess I shouldn’t have posted my blog on their Facebook pages!

Personal Sustainability

Continuing on the theme of personal responsibility, I explored several ethical questions in “Ethics, Self-interest, and Purposeful Life.”  Once again examining the ethics (or lack thereof) for many large corporations, I put the failure of business in general to act with integrity in the context of personal ethics and called for “redemption” through service to community, the earth or perhaps the divine.  And I further explored our relationship with God in “Agriculture is a Business and a Way to Connect with the Divine.”   Finally, the the third of my more philosophical blogs, I wondered why we hang onto old patterns and habits, even when we know they are not working any longer.  The process of navigating change in a purposeful way requires the letting go of old ideas.  Why is this so hard?

 Systems Thinking

Sometimes it is difficult to let go of old ways of thinking because we have nothing useful to replace it with. Our modern educational system trains students to think in a linear, analytical way (at best) or simply to memorize disparate facts (at worst).  College graduates are well-prepared to take exams and write term papers, but often not to think creatively and systemically about the big problems (many of which I’ve written about in the past) like climate change, loss of biological diversity, peak oil, the threat of global pandemic, democracy, economic collapse, globalization, hunger, and food security, safety and quality.  Albert Einstein reminds us that…..

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

Last summer I began to prepare a new course at the University of Massachusetts called Agricultural Systems Thinking.  I had participated in several strategic planning sessions in which my colleagues claimed that if we are going to take sustainability seriously, we will need to teach students to think more systemically.  So, I decided to try to do so.  In a series of blog posts, I examined topics like:

The blogs linked above offer a glimpse into how I believe we must teach sustainable agriculture if we ever hope to address systemic global problems related to food and farming.  Then in Education for Sustainable Agriculture – A Vision, I wrote:

Today’s graduates from university agricultural programs are generally well-prepared to address problems and opportunities from both a practical management and a theory-based perspective at the organism, organ, cellular and molecular levels. Graduates in the future will also need to understand complex food and farming systems at the population, community, and ecosystem levels.

 I remain quite concerned about the quality of education offered by mainstream universities.

Sustainability Education and the Role of the University

I began the year with a post challenging my colleagues to think about teaching sustainability in a way that reflected the values of sustainability.  I celebrated the announcement that my own college at UMass made a commitment to “revitalize the public mission” and establish a strong agriculture unit. We found evidence of this revitalization in a project initiated by a group of students celebrating the United Nations Year of the Cooperative.  Further evidence of change was offered by the UMass Permacutlure Initiative which was recognized by a trip to the White House.

Still, in spite of the progress we are making – I remain concerned about the commitment of the public university to serving the public good.  In a series of blogs called “my truths” posted at the end of 2012, I took a hard look at my personal perspective on the public agricultural university.

If you have any topics you’d like to read about in 2013 – let me know!

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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.

Five Truths V: finding wisdom in humility

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I began this series of blogs on “my truths” with an introduction to the project and then explored “My Truth One (that modern agriculture is not sustainable).”  My second truth examined the tension between public good and private benefit. The third blog in the series looked at how leadership becomes disconnected from others, and the forth looks at how “busyness” keeps us from the truth. This fifth post is my last blog post for 2012 and examines the last of the series of “my truths.”

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My Truth Five:. . .  the quest for sustainability may be the best hope for public universities, the farming communities we love, and perhaps for ourselves –  but this quest must be founded upon a strong sense of humility. 

This “truth” had much support in the survey.  About 87% of the respondents choose either strong or full agreement.  Public universities badly need a bold idea to focus our energy and rebuild hope –  and thus “save ourselves from human cleverness“.

The public agricultural universities that should contribute to a more sustainable food and farming system are perceived by many to be part of the problem.  The American public has questioned the credibility of land grant universities because of the seemingly close relationship they maintain with the world of business.  The response to this criticism has been that that university research contributes to economic growth and business is the engine of growth.  And this appears to be partly true, at least in the short term.  But universities should also think beyond the short-term economic growth.  One respondent wrote:

“A country’s strength and standing in the world community should be measured by the health of its ecosystems…”

A public research university devoted to ecosystem health (rather than corporate wealth) would certainly be a shift from the situation today where universities have created special offices designed to attract corporate funding and faculty are rewarded based on how much grant money they attract. This is a far cry from the university of the people created over a century ago.  University leaders respond that they have no choice but to seek private funding, as the public commitment to higher education continues to erode.  One has to wonder however about the long-term effect of corporate partnerships have on the mission of a public university.  Students in our Agricultural Systems Thinking class investigated and presented their own thoughts on a corporate gift from the Monsanto Corporation recently.   When I first picked up the banner of sustainable agriculture in my own work, I had great hopes that the public university I worked for would make a serious institutional commitment to this great project.  The initial response among most of my colleagues was ridicule and derision.  That was over 25 years ago.  Today the university I work for (a different institution) has taken up the banner of sustainability as part of our public message.  While I applaud this message, I hope we are also ready to examine our relationship with corporate power and the influence of corporate money and rebuild the dream of a public institution that truly serves the public good.

University leaders have called for a transformation in research and education to embrace the goals of sustainability.  My hope remains that a major public university will make a serious institutional commitment to this great project.  Our agricultural programs are working toward this great change.  So far, much of the progress toward sustainability by my own university has been in the arena of cost saving changes to our energy systems and the construction of new energy efficient buildings – and this is good.  If we are going to truly transform our research and educational institution however, a fundamental shift in how we think about sustainability is needed.

A few of our leaders are indeed exploring how to think about sustainability and are trying to help faculty grapple with the fundamental change that is needed if we are to achieve this transformation.  For me, this is a transformation from the quest for knowledge to the quest for wisdom and recognizes that thought alone is not enough. This quest for wisdom, I suspect, will require a shift to a perspective founded upon a strong sense of humility.   T.S. Eliot wrote;

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

Maybe Eliot meant that only the ‘wisdom of humility’ is truly sustainable (if we substitute  Eliot’s word “endless” for sustainable).  In any case, it seems a worthwhile quest.  And it sort of makes sense that the sustainable agriculture community might be a good place to begin this quest for wisdom in humility, as the Latin word “humilitas” has the same root as humus and means “to be grounded” or “from the earth.”  What do you think?

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my World.edu posts or my personal webpage or my resource page.