Stockbridge was a “hit” at the UMass Majors Fair

Students who have not yet declared a major showed up yesterday to “go shopping” at the UMass Majors Fair held in the Campus Center Auditorium.  There was lots of interest in Stockbridge majors.

Sustainable Food and Farming seniors, Kelsey Welborn and Will Lewis were kept busy answering questions.  The Honeycrisp apples from the Cold Spring Orchard were also a big hit!


Dr. Om Parkash  spoke to students about the Plant, Soils and Insect Sciences major and highlighted opportunities for students to get involved in our research programs.


Dr. Scott Ebdon was busy talking with prospective Turfgrass Science and Management majors.


Students had fun guessing the weight of the Rouge de Provence winter squash (a French heirloom variety).   Natural Resources Conservation student, Holly Giard, won a Stockbridge hat when she guessed the weight of the squash (which weighed 16 lbs. 7 oz.) missing the actual weight by only a few ounces!   Special thanks to new Sustainable Food and Farming graduate student, Nikki Burton, who grew the squash!


Students guessed anywhere from 7 lbs. to 95 lbs.!


Drs. Parkash, Ebdon and Gerber had fun speaking with students about the Stockbridge School of Agriculture!


Not every major had as much interest as ours!


Cleaning up we discovered how many Ph.D’s it takes to fold up an A-frame!   :)


2013-01-30 16.24.40

Sustainable Food and Farming Grants and Scholarships

Here is  a list of grants and scholarships I share with students.  If you find any broken links or grants/scholarships you think I should add, please send a note to
Grants and Scholarships
The best resource on how to write a grant will be found at The Foundation Center.

Sustainable Food and Farming Government Grants

Sustainable Food and Farming Foundation Grants

Local Gardening & Community Grants

And here are a few lists of grants and agencies:

Environmental and Sustainability Scholarships:

Lots of interest in Sustainable Food and Farming B.S. Degree

The Sustainable Food and Farming Bachelor of Sciences degree is the fastest growing major at UMass Amherst.   Evidence of this was apparent at the recent Open House held at the Mullins Center!

No, these are not all SFF majors! :)


While most of the SFF majors have come to Stockbridge in the past via transfer from other majors at UMass or from other colleges, the interest among high school students was exciting at the Open House.  Lots of questions from students and parents!

Our "Yes Farms Yes Food" bumper sticker was a big hit at Open House!
Our “Yes Farms Yes Food” bumper sticker was a bit hit at Open House!


There has been a steady increase (green line) in Sustainable Food and Farming majors in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture over the past 10 years.


Sustainable Food and Farming is the largest program in Stockbridge (including both A.S. and B.S. students) representing about 40 % of our 300+ students.

dataPerhaps most important however, the Stockbridge School of Agriculture was ranked 4th highest (out of 55 departments) in the university for quality of experience in the Senior Survey for 2013.  Stockbridge was also highest program overall for quality of advising and preparation for career .

Recent graduate Lilly Israel gave a tour of the Franklin Permaculture Garden to a few high school students and their parents at the Open House.   Lilly is now working for Auxiliary Services, coordinating the UMass Permaculture Gardens


For information on where some of our graduates are now working, check out the Recent Graduate link above.   And for more information on the major, see: B.S. degree in Sustainable Food and Farming.

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


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!


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


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

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.

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.

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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.

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