Our Seed Saving Workshop

By Hannah Helfner

On the first day of my junior year writing class for Sustainable Food and Farming majors at UMass, we were presented with the choice to work on a project either partnering with the League of Women Voters on a Sustainable Agriculture Expo or with Grow Food Amherst on a Seed Saving Workshop. Going into the class with basically zero familiarity on saving seeds, I decided to join that group in hopes to expand my knowledge. What I did not expect was that working on this project resulted in a meaningful experience for me, helping to develop my skills as a team-member, organizer, and also as a seed saver.

The 11 students in our group began our project by meeting with Phyllis Keenan, an Amherst community member and an experienced seed saver. We decided to organize a free workshop for community members at Amherst Town Hall about basic seed saving. Choosing March 31st as the date for the event gave us plenty of time to prepare our research and make arrangements for the event to be a success. Because many of us began this project with little to no knowledge of the subject, we spent time in the first few weeks of the semester researching and compiling information on what is seed saving, how to do it, and other topics associated with saving seeds.

Emilee Herrick and Emily Goonan preparing research in class
Emilee Herrick and Emily Goonan preparing research in class

As we progressed further along in the semester, we continued to meet with Phyllis and began choosing specific topics for each individual to concentrate on and present at the workshop.  I was assigned to the topic of saving pepper seeds with my classmate Joe Cecchi. We also spent a good amount of time on conceptualizing the actual structure of the event, which I found to be the most difficult part of the whole process. Because each member of our team had different ideas of what the event would be, we worked to negotiate and decide on a vision that was agreed on my all members.

In order to attract attendees and enrich the workshop, we decided to feature Oona Coy, an experience seed saver as our guest speaker. Additionally, I was responsible for making the arrangement to reserve the room at town hall for our event from 7-9 pm on March 31st. To do this, I contacted Stephanie Ciccarello, the sustainability coordinator at the town hall, who was very helpful in securing the room for us and arranging other logistics such as table and chair setup and projector use.

Now that we created a framework and plan for our event, we concentrated on advertising the workshop to the Amherst community. As another homework assignment for our class, we all created press releases for our event. Because of this, we were able to select the best one and send it out to a variety of different media sources. Emilee, another member of the group, created a flyer that was printed and hung up on campus and in town. Other ways of advertising our event were through emails and word-of-mouth.

seedAs the event drew closer, we began to organize specific details such as props and posters. Meeting every week in class was a useful way for us all to check in and help someone if they were having difficulties with their research, poster, or handouts. Before we knew it, the day of the workshop was upon us and we all arrived at town hall a bit early to help set up.

Setting up in Town Hall

Not knowing exactly what to expect going into the seed saving workshop, I was very pleasantly surprised. We had a great turnout- basically every chair set up was filled with community members and students. Oona presented an informational and engaging talk on seed saving background and basic skills. Afterwards, attendees were invited to walk around to the different stations set up all over the room. Each station had a different topic from tomatoes to storage to a kid’s table. There were many materials to be taken home such as seeds, pamphlets, and catalogues. Also, each member signed a contact list that will be compiled into Grow Food Amherst’s database so the connections and community built at this event will continue. The event only lasted for 1.5 hours but it felt like much longer. So much information was exchanged, questions were answered, connections were made, and smiles were brightened.

Oona Coy presenting a talk on seed saving

Oona Coy presenting a talk on seed saving

Being at this event was exciting for me for two main reasons. First, after working all semester on this project and experiencing all the effort that was put into making the event a success, it felt great to have such a positive turnout and response from the public. While standing at my booth, I was able to engage in conversations with people I normally wouldn’t and spread information that is useful and people seemed to really want to know. Second, it seemed like everyone there was having a nice time and many people expressed gratitude to us for putting on this event for the community. Often times school work does not go beyond the classroom but by engaging in this project I was able to connect my studies with a greater community and share my passions with others, for which I am very grateful to have this experience.

Friends having fun at the workshop

Friends having fun at the workshop

After the event was over, we all packed up, said goodbye, and went home. Although almost a week has gone by since the workshop, the positive feelings I am writing about still resonate with me. I know that the skills I gained from this experience will help me work in groups to organize events in the future, and also to save many many seeds!

Here is a short video about the workshop.

For more events sponsored by my class, see: Writing for Sustainability Projects 2015

$1.7M in federal grants to bolster food-related research at UMass

Congressman James McGovern visits with Stockbridge School of Agriculture students
Congressman James McGovern visits with Stockbridge School of Agriculture students

The money will be directed to programs detecting harmful bacteria and minerals on food, developing a new safer type of food packaging and working with Massachusetts farmers to produce different crops popular with immigrant groups in the state.

“I’m proud to be a strong supporter of science and research and of this incredible university,” McGovern said. “I’m excited about the positive impact your research can have in our society.”

Dr. Frank Mangan

(In addition to support for the Food Science Department)….  the final grant is $250,000 from the USDA’s Food Insecurity Incentive program that will support Frank Mangan and Zoraia Barros of the ethnic crops program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass. That program teaches local farmers to grow healthy foods popular with some low-income, immigrant groups in the state.

McGovern expressed a personal commitment to the grant supporting crop development for immigrants, which is a part of a larger $3.4 million grant supporting the state’s low-income food program and other issues addressed by the state Department of Transitional Assistance.

“I sit on the agriculture committee because I am very concerned about the issue of hunger and food insecurity in this country,” McGovern said. “I believe hunger is a solvable problem.”

Barros, an urban agriculture specialist at the Stockbridge School, said the supported program would promote “weird-looking” vegetables among local farmers.

“In immigrant communities, they want what they want — they want the vegetables they are used to and that they used to eat in their country,” Barros said.

urbanagStockbridge does research on those vegetables, including red and green Brazilian eggplants, and passes advice on to growers so they can do it themselves and then sell the produce at farmers markets where immigrants shop. That way, they have access to fresh fruits and vegetables with which they are familiar, Barros said.

Different growers are near different immigrant populations, and the Stockbridge School works to connect those growers with foods in demand by those immigrant communities, she said.

Mangan, also of the Stockbridge School, said $1.25 million of the $3.4 million Food Insecurity Incentive grant will go toward the state’s SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, and will help low-income people buy food at places like farmers’ markets.

Latinos make up 62 percent of the public school population in Springfield and 80 percent in Holyoke, Mangan said. Finding nutritious foods that are popular with these populations is important work, he said.

Lili He, the project leader on the programs to detect pathogens and harmful chemicals in food, said the grants announced Wednesday would go toward buying equipment and hiring student researchers to complete her research.

“This is the first time we have people here to broadcast our work,” she said. “It feels very great, very honorable.”

Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, said the UMass food science department is the best in the world, and that its research touched on food production, distribution, safety and security.

“All are issues becoming increasingly important on our campus,” he said. “The future of food science at the university is really bright.”

Original Post.  Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.

Food Solutions New England Celebration


Join us to celebrate a healthier, happier New England

 April 21 at 1:00 pm – 3;30pm


UMass Student Center Cape Cod Lounge

 UMass Sustainable Food and Farming students have organized an event for the “unveiling” of a major new effort to grow 50% of the food consumed in New England right here at home by 2060. The “50 by 60” campaign is sponsored by Food Solutions New England.  The first Western Massachusetts celebration will at UMass on Tuesday April 21.

fsstockAlthough a leader in the local food movement, New England is currently sourcing more than ninety percent of its food from outside of the region. That means more than ninety percent of the money spent on food in New England is not circulating through our own economy.  Campaigns such as “Be a Local Hero” and “No Farms No Food” have been vital to promoting the benefits of purchasing local food. We think the “50 by 60” campaign raises the bar and sets a bold new vision for what we can achieve

 This is not a lecture!  This is an opportunity for citizens to discuss and interact with experienced farmers, students, and experts about the various elements involved in our food supply. The event is being offered to grant our community the opportunity to illustrate their commitment to local sustainable food, and how that fits into 50/60.

 Please join us!   And read the report here:


“On the Bus” for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

fairfoodBy Anna Hankins – UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Student

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a group of tomato pickers who have been organizing for the past twenty years in Immokalee FL, where 90% of all winter tomatoes are grown in the U.S.  The CIW has created the Fair Food Program; an accountability structure that ensures workers dignity and justice in the fields. To learn more http://ciw-online.org/

In October 2013 I attended my first action with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. We marched outside a Wendy’s in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chanting words like “Up up with the fair food nation, down-down with the exploitation.” I didn’t know that much about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at that point, but I didn’t question what it meant to stand with them. Their work quickly became common conversation within the realm of the UMass Real Food Challenge (RFC). There’s a great deal of overlap between young people involved in RFC and the Student Farmworker Alliance who work directly with the CIW.

Anna Hankins and Chris Raabe, UMass SFF students "on the bus"
Anna Hankins and Chris Raabe, UMass SFF students on the bus

A year and a half after that first march I found myself getting on a bus in New York City, destined for St. Petersburg, Florida. A mere 25 hours didn’t even seem daunting. I got on this packed bus with students from Boston, Providence, NYC, and five familiar faces from UMass. There were folks who are involved with the Student Farmworker Alliance, Real Food Challenge, the Audre Lorde Project, Make the Road New York, amongst others. We went around the whole bus introducing ourselves in English and Spanish as we began driving through the night.

immokaleeWe arrived in Florida the next evening. It was already dark out when we got off the bus, but we did pull up to a circle of trees lit with white lights, a warm meal, new, and familiar faces. We were quickly welcomed in and spent the evening painting signs, making music, and sharing the warm air that many of us from the Northeast hadn’t felt in months.

The next morning we were greeted by a breakfast cooked and donated by a local community group. Then we headed over to the park where the march would begin. When we arrived there were already floats being set up, flags being raised, puppets being set up, and signs being painted. There is almost no way to describe it. For the next few hours’ people began arriving. There was a huge range of people gathering around this park, carrying their own signs, their own stories. About a hundred members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers attended, along side many of their kids, family members, and friends. Faith based communities came in full force, as well as student constituencies from around the east coast and Midwest.

We began our 3-mile march that afternoon. There were vans being driven to ensure accessibility of the parade. We yelled, sang, danced, cried (maybe that was just me). We went to Wendy’s and Publix, once again demanding that they sign onto the Fair Food Program. The workers led the march, followed by others who are on the front lines, and then allies followed behind.

The CIW has a powerful model for solidarity and partnership. The Student Farmworkers Alliance works closely with the CIW in order to effectively organize campaigns that are based at colleges and universities. For example when the CIW was targeting Taco Bell to sign the Fair Food Agreement, students were able to target Taco Bell by pressuring their universities to cut their contracts.

When we reached the end of the march, the celebration was just beginning. We struggled together that morning – we demanded that these corporations step up their practices. We acknowledged that there is still so much work to be done. But by that evening was about using art, music, and land to tell the story of the work the CIW has done and to celebrate the power they will continue to build.

To start the evening, members of the coalition put on a theater piece that illustrated the story of their struggle. Then the Student Farmworker Alliance announced the national boycott of Wendy’s and the #bootthebraids campaign. I ended up sitting and talking with RFC folks and a farmworker for the Vermont dairy industry. These conversations are not only important, but they are absolutely essential.

One member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers stood on the stage and said, “We must fight together and we must also dance together.”

realfodIt is essential that we are centering the narratives of those at the front lines of our food system. It is essential that we are recognizing the intersection of immigration, race, labor and the ways in which our modern day food system is still deeply rooted in the logic of violent colonization and the plantation model. No matter how many classes I take at UMass, I will never understand what it means to pick 90% of the tomatoes that are produced in the U.S. But I am in a position to listen, to build connections, to march, and to follow the lead of those who do know. Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been to show up.

Amherst Sustainable Ag Expo: April 12: 2:00-4:00pm


Learn, Discuss, and Explore the World of Sustainable Agriculture

mapAn expo on sustainable agriculture is being held at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst (121 North Pleasant St.) on Sunday April 12 from 2PM to 4PM. Events will include activities for children, informational tables, and a raffle with goods donated by local farms and vendors. Hosted by Sustainable Food & Farming students of UMass Amherst, the League of Women Voters, and the Green Sanctuary, this is a free, family-friendly event. Designed to educate the public on the meaning of sustainable agriculture, this expo will provide concrete answers to questions surrounding how to live a more sustainable life.

The Expo will address sustainability from multiple angles: history of sustainable agriculture, soil health, legislation, local food, food justice, and methods of sustainable agriculture. Each topic will have its own table, complete with visual aids, pamphlets, and students of the Sustainable Food & Farming major at UMass who are there to educate and inform. Collectively, the students at UMass have studied these topics and will be ready and excited to engage the public in open dialogues aimed at educating the local community on issues that are of significant importance, locally and globally.

localsustainable Participants will be welcome to peruse the expo, partaking in different activities, conversations, and locally grown and prepared snacks donated by local farms. The goal is not to preach about a right and wrong way to live, but rather, to actively engage the local community through an educated discussion on sustainability.

UMass Amherst is a state university and is one of the major public research universities in America. Students majoring in Sustainable Food and Farming are gravitating 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 League of Women Voters is a citizen’s organization that has fought since 1920 to improve our government and engage all citizens in the decisions that impact their lives. The Green Sanctuary Program provides a path for congregational study, reflection, and action in response to environmental changes.

flyer 1-5###

If you’d like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with the UMass Sustainable Food & Farming group, please call Jason De Pecol at 203.617.7292 or email Jason at jdepecol@umass.edu.

Want to Major in Sustainable Food and Farming?

The Bachelor of Sciences degree in Sustainable Food and Farming is a welcoming home for those students who want to apply their knowledge of biology, environmental science, sociology, anthropology, policy, health and education to the real world!

Our students get involved in the world!

Sustainable Food and Farming Graduates 2014
Sustainable Food and Farming Graduates 2014

Many students at UMass find that while they have a desire to be useful in the world, their area of study turns out to be a bit abstract and they are disappointed when their classes seem to be disconnected from the real world.  If this is the case…..

the Stockbridge School of Agriculture welcomes you!

Our major in Sustainable Food and Farming allows students to create their own degree plan, while earning a B.S. degree from UMass.   Working closely with an adviser, our students select courses from a diverse set of interest areas at UMass and the Five Colleges.  They are encouraged to get involved in internships which count toward their major.   And each academic plan is custom designed based on the student’s personal passion and career goals.

This major is about growing food….. and much, much more!  Our students are headed for careers in:

  • local ecological farming and marketing
  • community-based education for sustainability
  • public policy, advocacy and community development
  • permaculture and community gardening
  • food justice
  • medicinal herbals
  • and more…

If you are struggling with your current major and would like to explore your options in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, please contact Dr. John M. Gerber for an appointment.

A few fall classes that may be of interest are:

STOCKSCH 197D – Draft Horse Husbandry (get up close and personal with some really big horses.  Meets at the AG Learning Center.  Very hands-on!)

STOCKSCH 197G – Intro to Permaculture (both the application and ethics of ecological living)

STOCKSCH 197 MC – Intro to Mushroom Culture (practical class that fills up fast)

STOCKSCH 211 – Pasture Management (for the serious farming student who wants to work with livestock)

STOCKSCH 265 – Sustainable Agriculture (field trips to local farms every Tuesday afternoon)

STOCKSCH 281 – Topics in Herbalism I (Chris Marano is the guy to know on local herbalism)

STOCKSCH 297 AL – Ag Leadership and Community Education (Sarah Berquist will teach you how to be an effective community leader)

STOCKSCH 297P – Small Farm Husbandry II – Pigs and Poultry (small class, very practical – fills fast)

STOCKSCH  300 – Deciduous Orchard Science (field trips to local orchards every Wednesday afternoon)

STOCKSCH 350 – Sustainable Soil and Crop Management (for the serious farming student)

STOCKSCH 397C – Community Food Systems (best local food systems class on campus)

STOCKSCH 397 GB – Grapevine Biology (new class on growing grapes)

STOCKSCH 397 PB – Pollinator Biology and Habitat (very practical science class with lots of work outdoors)

For more classes, see: Requirements for the Major

Stockbridge School of Ag Students Serve the Local Community

amherstbulleJohn M. Gerber      –     Friday, February 27, 2015

One of the most exciting programs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today is an undergraduate major that serves the citizens of Amherst and surrounding towns by growing food, growing community and “growing” new farmers.

As local and regional food production expands in New England, 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 to create more community and to reduce the carbon cost of shipping food long distances.

UMass began as the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863 and recently the former “Mass Aggie” was recognized as having the third-best agricultural science program in the U.S. and the eighth best in the world. Levi Stockbridge, Hadley farmer and one of the first teachers 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.

Many Stockbridge students and grads are committed to implementing the Food Solutions New England vision of producing at least half of New England’s food by 2060. They 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.

An example of a local business providing students with valuable 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.

Other Stockbridge students engage with their local community by working with Grow Food Amherst, a network of neighbors and students uniting town and gown. Amherst Development and Conservation Director David Ziomek planted the seed, and Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello nurtures the project with monthly meetings that engage over 450 residents helping to move Amherst towards greater food-resiliency.

Many students gain valuable experience by working on local farms, nonprofit organizations, co-ops, local businesses and community groups. The vibrant local food economy of the Pioneer Valley provides a supportive environment for food entrepreneurs, and Stockbridge is closely tied to this rapidly growing community of young people.

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 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 Massachusetts Renaissance Center Garden is a demonstration garden open to the public, featuring the herbs and vegetables grown during Shakespeare’s time.

The Student Food Advocacy group and Chancellor Subbaswamy 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 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. They believe that a consciousness rooted in sustainability will deepen as producers and consumers become more self-aware members of a community of caring for each other and the earth.

But these young entrepreneurs need our help. We buy food from local farmers at a rate far greater than the national average, yet these purchases represent less than 10 percent of total agricultural sales. We can do better. We can support these young people by buying their products from local farms, at our new All Things Local Cooperative, and at our weekly farmers’ markets.

At the same time we can invest in one of the key economic development objectives of the Amherst Master Plan, relocalization, and help the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture grow local food, grow community and grow more local farmers.

John 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.

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


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