UMass Apples were a “big hit” at the Amherst Middle School

fooday

In its fourth year, National Food Day (held annually on October 24th) is an opportunity for people across the nation to celebrate the value and importance of eating fresh, local and healthy food.

During lunchtime on October 24th, students at the Amherst Regional Middle School had the opportunity to sample unique varieties of apples provided by the UMass Cold Spring Orchard.

Johnathan Sivel, Michelle Nikfarjam, and Jessica Maeder from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture assisted Rebecca Fricke (from Grow Food Amherst and District Aide to Representative Ellen Story) distribute the apples and answer students’ questions.

Two of the best quotes from the students during the tasting in the cafeteria were:

This is like apple heaven!

and

I didn’t know apples could taste this good!”

This was a great opportunity for the students to taste local apple varieties that they don’t typically get from school or the grocery store.  The students and teachers were really appreciative.  Many of them came back for seconds and thirds and were genuinely interested in how the apple textures and tastes were so different.

A big thank you goes out to Rebecca Treitley, director of the ARPS Whitsons School Nutrition Program and her crew, led by Diane Tower, who helped Rebecca Fricke wash, set up and clean up the tasting.  Also thanks to Dr. Duane Greene and the staff at Cold Spring Orchard for donating the apples.

Stockbridge Students served UMass apples at the Amherst Middle School
Stockbridge Students served UMass apples at the Amherst Middle School

NSF grant to create cross-campus clean energy and sustainable agriculture programs

The UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, in partnership with Holyoke Community College and Hampshire College, has been awarded an $810,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create collaborative programs combining sustainable agriculture with clean energy studies and share resources that will benefit students at all three schools.

“The main purpose of the grant is to marry what has for the most part historically been two separate sides of sustainability education – clean energy and agriculture,” said Kate Maiolatesi, coordinator of HCC’s Sustainability Studies program.

Much of the grant will allow the development of cross-campus courses that combine the strengths of existing programs at each of the three schools.  The first of these joint courses is expected to begin in the summer of 2015.

Students from all three campuses will go to HCC to learn about clean energy and then go to UMass and Hampshire to study sustainable agriculture practices.  The joint program is expected to create stronger pathways for students to transfer from HCC to Hampshire and UMass.

Another large portion of the grant will pay for new clean energy and sustainable agriculture equipment that will be used by students from all three schools.  This will include a new micro-farm greenhouse demonstration and training facility at UMass and a mobile, solar powered refrigeration unit.  HCC will install a new solar powered electric fence, along with composting and irrigation equipment as well as a wind turbine for its sustainability and permaculture gardens.

The grant will also pay stipends to students who want to do summer internships with clean energy businesses or local farms.

Agricultural Systems Thinking Toolbox

domino-effect

Some proposed “learning” or axioms discussed in class:

  • The map is not the territory – A. Zorbyzki
  • Yes, but a map can help us navigate the territory – J. Gerber
  • Humans are inside the system, not outside manipulating it
  • Ask for help
  • Change the rules when they are not working
  • Don’t be sorry for being yourself – but be yourself
  • Passing is okay
  • We become what we practice
  • Believing is seeing
  • Cultural assumptions influence how we see the world
  • Brand new white sneakers won’t make you happy
  • what else?

Here are some of the tools and resources we are using in STOCKSCH 379 – Agricultural Systems Thinking class:

  1. The Mindmap
  2. The Iceberg
  3. The Five Disciplines
  4. Mental Models
  5. Three Dimensions of the Great Turning
  6. The Five Whys
  7. Moments of Awareness
  8. Re-framing
  9. Finding the Root Cause(s) of BIG Problems
  10. Causal Loops (Fixes that Fail)
  11. Personal Mastery
  12. Shared Vision
  13. The Law of Unintended Consequences
  14. Dancing with Systems
  15. more to come…..

Some More Readings Used in Class

Reading Related to Food System Change

For more writing and thinking about systems thinking, see my blog posts here.   And for more, check out the writings of my friend and farmer, Karl North.

Group Norms for Ag. Systems Thinking – Fall ’14
  • Start with a breath at the “right” time
  • Respect each other: our backgrounds, learning styles, as people!
  • Embrace silence during discussions
  • Be there for each other
  • Yes, AND….
  • Move up and move back
  • Use active listening
  • Practice personal accountability and follow-through
  • It’s okay to bring food for everyone if we are conscious of allergies and clean up afterwards
  • We’ll take a stretch break
  • Respect end time for class
  • Lean into discomfort
  • Offer forgiveness to each other

Principle Resources Used to Develop the Course

  1. Krafel, P. 1999. Seeing Nature: Deliberate Encounters with the Visible World. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, Vermont.
  2. Capra, F. 1996. The Web of Life. Anchor Press.
  3. Holmgren, D. 2009. Future Scenarios. Chelsea Green Press.
  4. Meadows, D.H. 2008. Thinking in Systems. Chelsea Green Press
  5. Senge, P. et al. 1994. The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. Doubleday Publishing Group.
  6. Wilson, K. and G.E.B Morren Jr. 1990. Systems Approaches for Improvement in Agricultural and Resource Management. MacMillan Pub. Co.

Additional Resources Used to Develop the Course:

  1. Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., and M. Silverstein. 1977. A Pattern Language. Oxford University Press.
  2. Anderson, V. and L. Johnson. 1997. Systems Thinking Basics: From Concepts to Causal Loops. Pegasus Communications.
  3. Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chandler Publishing.
  4. Bohm, D. and D. Peat. 1987. Science, Order, and Creativity. Bantam Books
  5. Capra, F. 1996. The Web of Life. Anchor Press.
  6. Carroll, C.R., Vandermeer, J.H., and P. M. Rossett. 1990. Agroecology. McGraw-Hill Press.
  7. Edwards, C.A., Lal, R., Madden, P., Miller, R.H., and G. House. 1990. Sustainable Agriculture Systems. Soil and Water Conservation Society Press.
  8. Few, A.A. 1996. System Behavior and System Modeling. University Science Books.Holmgren, D. 2009. Future Scenarios. Chelsea Green Press.
  9. Lazlo, E. 2001. The Systems View of the World: A Holistic Vision for Our Time. Hampton Press.
  10. Margulis, L. and D. Sagan. 1995. What is Life? University of California Press.
  11. Meadows, D.H. 2008. Thinking in Systems. Chelsea Green Press
  12. Senge, P. et al. 1994. The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. Doubleday Publishing Group.
  13. Varela, F. J. 1999. Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom and Cognition. Stanford University Press.
  14. Von Bertalanffy, L. 1968. General Systems Theory. Braziller Press
  15. Wilson, K. and G.E.B Morren Jr. 1990. Systems Approaches for Improvement in Agricultural and Resource Management. MacMillan Pub. Co.

UN Report Says Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way to Feed the World

huffpost
Even as the United States government continues to push for the use of more chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once against sounding the alarm about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural and organic system.

That was the key point of a new publication from the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled“Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” which included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world.

496056329_cd5b0a5737_b
The cover of the report looks like that of a blockbuster documentary or Hollywood movie, and the dramatic nature of the title cannot be understated: The time is now to switch back to our natural farming roots.

The findings on the report seem to echo those of a December 2010 UN Report in many ways, one that essentially said organic and small-scale farming is the answer for “feeding the world,” not GMOs and monocultures.

According to the new UN report, major changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems, with a shift toward local small-scale farmers and food systems recommended.

Diversity of farms, reducing the use of fertilizer and other changes are desperately needed according to the report, which was highlighted in this article from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

It also said that global trade rules should be reformed in order to work toward these ends, which is unfortunately the opposite of what mega-trade deals like the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are seeking to accomplish.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Lifestyle-China-fa
The Institute noted that these pending deals are “primarily designed to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy…” rather than the reflect the urgent need for a shift in agriculture described in the new report.

Even global security may be at stake according to the report, as food prices (and food price speculating) continue to rise.

“This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers,” the report concludes.

You can read more about the report from the Institute by visiting their website here.

Original Post

More young farmers are needed!

SWOOPE, Va. – The United States needs to recruit new farmers, fast. The average age of the farmer is rising and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number of farmers is projected to continue to drop in the coming years.

One answer: the Agriculture Act of 2014 which will pump an extra $20 million a year into USDA beginner farmer and rancher programs.

Another answer may be found at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. This pasture-based organic farm, which only sells locally, has gained an international reputation for setting the standard in innovative farming techniques.

A Prized Internship

Third generation farmer Joel Salatin emphasizes following the cycles of nature and rejecting any pesticides, fertilizers, or hormones. Polyface offers apprentice and internship programs which have become a sought-after opportunity for young farmers.

The day CBN News visited, we found the parking lot filled with intern cars from all over the country. Every year, hundreds apply for a few coveted spots.

“I think the pendulum is beginning to swing around now to where young people are beginning to realize that sitting in a Dilbert cubicle, working for ‘the man’ in a Fortune 500 company, doesn’t do it for me,” Salatin said. “I want to touch what I’ve made.”

Salatin turns away hundreds of internship seekers every year. Many have read at least one of his many books on alternative farming, respect his sustainable methods, and envy his thriving farm operation.

Tim Rohrer fled his California desk job to intern for Salatin, who he calls the “Steve Jobs” of agriculture.

“Being here, there have not been many days we’ve worked so far that have not been less than 12 hours a day,” Rohrer told CBN News. “And yet I’m up and ready to go the next day and it’s just ’cause there’s a passion for doing it. I believe in it.”

Part of that passion is driven by a desire to help fix our country’s unhealthy eating problem. At Polyface, interns and apprentices learn the latest in regenerative farming techniques.

“I really am very concerned about health and nutrition and the way we grow foods and the way that affects us,” intern Shalena Campfield said.

For many of the interns, their walk with Christ is also a motivation.

“Faith plays a big role for me,” intern Erick Schlener said. “I see farming as my mission field.”

The ‘American Royalty’

Former Polyface intern Ben Beichler runs a dairy farm a few hours away. He credits his internship with jumpstarting his farming career.

“So much of what we do here on the farm is experiences like knowing what you’re looking for, like knowing what to do if you get into a tight situation,” he told CBN News. “And Polyface gave me real-life experiences {like} where cows get out and things break down.”

Since his internship, Beichler has faced the same challenges that deter many of today’s young farmers: land and capital.

“I like to joke, farming is the American royalty: you’re either born into it or you marry it,” he said. “Or you have a really long struggle.”

For Beichler and many of his peers, it’s been a struggle. Beichler is getting by right now managing a small herd for Old Church Creamery, his in-laws’ business.

A Viable Market

For others, like Jordan Green, working land that others have written off gives them a start. Green, owner and founder of J&L Green Farm, leases several properties in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Green oversees everything from chickens to what’s called “forested pork,” pigs that mainly feast on grass, berries, and nuts.

“I like doing something different every day, and enjoying working outdoors, working with animals,” he said.

The real question: just where is the market for local food heading? Most industry watchers doubt it will become mainstream but see it continuing to grow as a niche market.

“I see sustainable farming becoming more and more plausible and viable,” Green said.

The Farmer’s Life

What will also help is the energy and dedication these young farmers bring to their work and ultimately to Americans’ tables.

“I know it’s what I’m supposed to do so at the end of the day, it’s going to happen,” Schlener said.

“I’m in farming for life,” Beichler said. “There’s no question about that.”

Original Post

In a related story, the Associated Press reports a growing trend of young farmers in New England!

Continue reading

Growing Together: UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture works for social justice

Sarah Berquist, left, and Cate Elliott manage the Food For All garden that provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
Sarah Berquist, left, and Cate Elliott manage the Food For All garden that provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

 Join Cate and Sarah during their volunteer hours: Tuesdays from 9-12 and Wednesdays 11-2 all summer long behind the Wysocki House at 911 North Pleasant St., Amherst, MA.

By DEBRA SCHERBAN in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Amherst Bulletin –  August 14, 2014

It was a grim task, pulling up 400 tomato plants tainted by blight’s black, contagious lesions. Seven 20-something men and women at a garden at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst were untying the strings holding the fruit-laden vines to their stakes and stuffing them into big plastic bags.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Sarah Berquist, as she watched one of her co-workers close up a full bag. “But it’s pretty prominent around here.” Blight, which spreads through the air, can wipe out acres of tomatoes. Protocol dictates that infected plants be removed and discarded as soon as the condition is detected. “We don’t want to be in incubator for the disease,” she said.

The tomatoes are just one of a number of crops UMass students Berquist and Cate Elliott, managers of the one-acre plot, are growing to donate to Amherst’s Survival Center and the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen in town. So, they were taking the task philosophically — more room now for fall beets, carrots and cabbage. They were out that recent Tuesday morning with five members of the UMass permaculture team tending the crops during a time slot reserved for community members to pitch in, too. None, though, had shown up that day.

Cate Elliott and Sarah Berquist harvest vegetables in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. They manage the garden, which provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
Cate Elliott and Sarah Berquist harvest vegetables in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. They manage the garden, which provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

The project is called Food For All, and Berquist and Elliott had already turned over kale, basil, lettuce, celery, broccoli and cucumbers to the two programs which provide free community meals, as well as groceries, to those in need. They also have spinach, beans, corn, squash, onions, beets, potatoes, herbs — medicinal and culinary — and pumpkins growing.

They are proud of the step they’ve in the effort to promote local crops.

Bob Stover of Not Bread Alone takes a delivery of cucumbers, celery and cale from Sarah Berquist at the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Some of the vegetables are grown at Food For All and some are grown at other plots at the ALC and brought to the Food For All site for easier pick up. Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Stover of Not Bread Alone takes a delivery of cucumbers, celery and cale from Sarah Berquist at the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Some of the vegetables are grown at Food For All and some are grown at other plots at the ALC and brought to the Food For All site for easier pick up. Purchase photo reprints »

“It’s rare to be growing food specifically for donation centers, so it’s kind of an innovative twist,” said Elliott.

She and Berquist met with folks from the Survival Center and Not Bread Alone at the beginning of the growing season to make their plans. Knowing both places get donations from various sources, they asked where the gaps were: why grow turnips if they already get plenty?

Tracey Levy, program director for the Amherst Survival Center, is pleased with the results.

“It’s been great,” she said in a telephone interview. “We’ve received some incredible produce.”

But there is a second part to the project that she likes just as much.

“It gives people who have an interest in growing a chance to garden with others,” she said. “They might not have the land or the skills, but this gives them an incredible opportunity.”

Cate Elliott pulls weeds in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Purchase photo reprints »
Cate Elliott pulls weeds in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Purchase photo reprints »

There are hours set aside each week, like that Tuesday morning slot, for volunteers to come to the garden behind the former Wysocki farmhouse at 911 North Pleasant St., and work alongside Berquist and Elliott. Or they can just sit at a table shaded by an umbrella and watch.

“You can see it’s beautiful here,” said Berquist, her blond hair pulled back under a beige ball cap. “Two red hawks live here,” she said squinting up at one flying over head.

Elliott, dressed in blue shorts, a green T-shirt and sneakers with purple laces agreed. “We always tell volunteers that they are welcome to work in the fields, but they are just as warmly invited to sit under the umbrella and enjoy the garden.”

Visitors can park in the lot there near the farmhouse, now used for office and meeting space, and walk up a short gravel path which leads to the lush fields known as the UMass Agricultural Learning Center.

There are experimental gardens — one USDA project on Japanese Knotweed is on the right. Displays for urban gardening are on the left side where vegetables grow in blue plastic wading pools and ceramic containers. In the distance you can see a UMass student garden, a large plot of vegetables which are sold at a campus farmers market.

The Food For All garden is on the right and visitors are greeted by a sign which posts the volunteer hours — Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. But Berquist and Elliott say they are glad to try to arrange alternative hours, too.

“Anybody can come,” said Berquist. “The hands-on piece is the most fun.”

Elliott, 21, a senior in the sustainable food and farming program that Berquist, 25, finished before starting graduate studies, got college credit to design the garden.

It was the idea of John Gerber, a professor at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and Shelly Beck, pantry coordinator at the Survival Center, took part in the planning, said Berquist. Beck was involved in a similar garden in Greenfield.

Aside from Food For All, UMass has five campus permaculture gardens — plots of crops that thrive off one another in a variety of ways — supplying the dining commonses, and the idea was to create one aimed at the broader community.

Helping to stock programs like the Survival Center and Not Bread Alone also gives students a chance to see a side of the food system that is new to them, said Berquist. “You can be at the university for four years and never set food in the community that you are a part of,” said Berquist, who also works in educational gardens at two of Amherst’s elementary schools — Wildwood and Fort River.

“I think it’s the coolest thing that Stockbridge is reaching out.”

The Food For All project includes free workshops and events for the public. There was a kick-off celebration July 27, when about 20 people showed up on a rainy Sunday to tour the garden and help plant late-season eggplant and peppers. On July 30 there was a potluck supper at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst during which a panel of educators, farmers and community organizers discussed local food sources. Next up is a session on food preservation at the kitchen used by Not Bread Alone at 165 Main St., Amherst Aug. 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Berquist and Elliott brim with enthusiasm when they talk about piquing public interest. They point out that people can help themselves to produce when they come — they urged me to do a half-dozen times: “Take some kale. Take cucumbers. We have some yummy basil, too.”

“We just want people to take advantage of the opportunity to come together and grow food and share food,” said Berquist.

And that means everybody.

The garden that Elliott designed has an 8-foot wide path, covered with woodchips, running down the middle. It’s wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass one another. Lined by a thick border of sunflowers, it leads to three folding tables on one side that contain pots filled with onion, thyme, basil, squash and cherry tomato plants for people to tend without having to walk or bend over.

“Our mission was to make this as accessible as possible,” said Elliott. “We want people of all abilities to enjoy the garden.”

As Berquist and Elliott gave me the tour, Lilly Israel, Sammi Gay, Sara Hopps, Nathan Aldrich, Eric Pepperell, Erik Cullen and Matt Lee loaded the bags filled with uprooted tomato plants into a pickup truck for safe disposal. Then they turned their attention to weeding cucumber and pumpkin patches. Israel was leading a cluster of voices in a rendition of the song “Do, Re, Mi” from the “Sound of Music.”

“Gotta sing while you work,” she said, the sides of her head shaved with a pile of blond hair pulled up on top. “Keeps the morale up.”

The workers had been at it since 9 a.m. and shortly after 11, Berquist called them to the side of the garden for a stretching break and then a snack of pomegranate and black pepper chips. The chips got mixed reviews, but spirits were high.

“This is a beautiful office. I love being here,” said Berquist as I said goodbye. “Take some kale with you. We have plenty.”

Debra Scherban can be reached at DScherban@Gazettenet.com.

Source URL:http://www.gazettenet.com/home/13144451-95/growing-together-harvests-from-food-for-all-plots-in-amherst-take-novel-route-to


For more information!

Click here for information on the Bachelor of Sciences degrees in Sustainable Food and Farming at the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

Or… take ONLINE classes in Sustainable Food and Farming and earn a UMass Certificate.

Workshop series focuses on access to local food and food justice

By SCOTT MERZBACH – Staff Writer- Thursday, July 24, 2014

AMHERST — Ensuring all residents have access to locally grown organic food will be the subject of a series of workshops that begins with a kickoff celebration at the “Food for All” garden at the University of Massachusetts Sunday afternoon.

This garden, which is in its first season, is designed to fill gaps in food donations for places like the Amherst Survival Center and the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen.

The produce grown and harvested aims to meets the needs of the community based on projections from both meal sites, said Sarah Berquist, who co-manages the garden with Cate Elliott.

“Our hope is to serve as a space for people from the Not Bread Alone and Amherst Survival Center communities, as well as the general public who like to garden but don’t have space, and/or people who are looking to learn more about growing organic food through hands-on experience,” Berquist said in an email.

The event takes place at 1 p.m. at the garden, located at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center, 911 North Pleasant St. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.