Sarah Berquist receives major award

UMass Instructor and Program Coordinator of the Sustainable Food and Farming B.S. sarahbdegree program in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Sarah Berquist, was chosen as the 2019 recipient of the Massachusetts Distinguished Service Award by Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most selective all-discipline honor society.  According to society President, Professor Theresa Y. Austin, the UMass Chapter recognized Ms. Berquist for her outstanding service to the University in ways that are consistent with the Society’s motto of Let the love of learning rule.” 

With a focus on farm-based education and social equity in the food system, Berquist connects her passion for teaching with community engagement through hands-on projects that are actively working toward a more just and sustainable food system.  In collaboration with the UMass Student Farm, she co-founded and manages the Food for All Program that donated 10,000 pounds of recovered “excess” and “seconds” produce in 2018 to the local relief organizations Not Bread Alone and Amherst Survival Center.  She also mentors students that design and execute garden-based lessons with K-6 grade students with the School Garden Program at Amherst Regional Public Schools.

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A Food for All project – Melissa Bonaccorso, Braeden Leinhart, Dan Bensonoff, Courtney Spera, and Michi with 500 lbs of gleaned sweet potatoes from Joe Czajkowski Farm.

On a national scale, Sarah serves as Chair of the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association and is currently working with other SAEA members to champion innovative educational approaches for sustainable agriculture through research and teaching practices that are rooted in social equity.

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Berquist is recognized as an outstanding teacher and adviser by the students in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Majors in the program know that her courses help equip them with practical life skills such as the ability to grow their own food, gain confidence in leading others, and become skilled at community organizing and critical thinking.  Her love of learning is contagious as evidenced by this statement from one of the seniors in the program.

“I first met Sarah Berquist the Fall before enrolling at the University of Massachusetts. I was still applying to colleges at the time and had no more interest in Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass than any of the other agriculture programs I had researched. Upon my visit, I decided to opt out of the traditional college tour and instead I emailed Sarah to ask for a meeting. What was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting turned into a four-hour conversation.  That was the day I fell in love with the University of Massachusetts.”

As a former student in the program herself, Sarah Berquist is passionate about providing students with challenges and opportunities that build on the student’s own love of learning.  She draws on a diverse educational theories, pedagogies and frameworks for contemplation, integration and transformation, cultivating patience, presence, and compassion for both herself and others.

Berquist will be honored at the annual Initiation Ceremony for the Massachusetts Chapter of Phi Kappa Phi at the University of Massachusetts Campus Center on March 31, 2019.

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Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

“When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.”
 ‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’ Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities.

Continue reading Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food Systems and Climate Change

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After a decade of work to connect food and climate, four experts say the link is being made, but much work remains to be done.

Over the past 10 years, we have seen a tidal shift in awareness about the dangers that climate change poses, and the fact that it’s only going to get much worse if we don’t quickly take dramatic action. In fact, data released just last week found that alarm over climate change in the U.S. has doubled in just the last five years.

Despite the growth in coverage, dialogue, and action to address climate change, food and agriculture remain far from the conversation. And yet we know that food and agriculture play a major role in the production of global greenhouse gas emissions—as much as 30 percent by some estimates. Take the recent interactive report from the New York Times highlighting the ways in which countries can dramatically reduce emissions; it gave less than one full sentence to food and agriculture.

Jon Foley, the executive director of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization focused on dramatic reductions of carbon in the atmosphere, has witnessed first-hand the Continue reading Food Systems and Climate Change

Food: Low Price but High Cost

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Left, Jose, 25, cuts and ties cilantro, and Beatriz (far right), 31, picks jalapeños in the Rio Grande Valley. They work not far from one of the border fences (center).
Dan Winters for Fortune Magazine

There’s a price war raging in the grocery aisle—but the people who actually grow and gather our food may be the battle’s true losers. Meet the produce pickers of Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, whose penny-per-bunch harvest helps stock your pantry for less.

January 14, 2019

Our food is cheap—by some measures, cheaper than it’s ever been. Americans now spend less than 10% of their disposable income on what they eat. When researchers first began tracking this figure some 90 years ago, it was closer to 25%.

But the inexpensive supermarket fare that consumers now expect doesn’t come without a hidden human cost. To see, firsthand, the true price of keeping those shelves stocked, Fortune traveled down to the Rio Grande Valley—among the best areas in the country for growing food crops, and one President Trump put in the spotlight last week when he visited the region to make his case for the border wall. Continue reading Food: Low Price but High Cost

Why We Can’t Separate Social Justice from Sustainability in the Food System

NOTE:  when we first started talking about “sustainability” it was rejected by those who held power and privilege in the food system including many academics.  When it became clear that sustainability wasn’t going away…. the next step was to co-opt the term and focus on environmental sustainability.  Many people, programs, universities and especially businesses would gladly leave the requirement that we focus on social justice out of the conversations and our work to create a more sustainable food system.

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IN: Union of Concerned Scientists by , SCIENTIST, FOOD AND ENVIRONMENT | JANUARY 31, 2019

Most of us wish we could eat with the confidence that everything on our plate has a story we can feel good about, a story about taking care of both people and the environment. In the food system (as elsewhere) these twin issues, justice and sustainability, have often been talked about as if they were unrelated, independent problems with separate solutions.

This disconnect has consequences. Our understanding of the connections between justice and sustainability shapes our work in the food system and determines our chances of making real progress toward our goals. We know that industrial agriculture–large-scale, highly mechanized monoculture farming systems making intensive use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers–does not meet these aspirations. We know that the food system with industrial agriculture as its foundation does not protect the environment, does not protect human health, and doesn’t produce enough nutritious food or distribute it equitably. Sustainability and justice are connected, in part, because injustice and environmental degradation are connected. And if we don’t see the connections between Continue reading Why We Can’t Separate Social Justice from Sustainability in the Food System

Unearthing soil’s role in climate protection

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Soil plays a critical role in global carbon cycling, in part because soil organic matter stores three times more carbon than the atmosphere.

Biogeochemist Dr. Marco Keiluweit, University of Massachusetts Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture and the UMass School of Earth & Sustainability, and colleagues, for the first time provide evidence that anaerobic microsites play a much larger role in stabilizing carbon in soils than previously thought.

Further, current models used to predict the release of climate-active CO2 from soils fail to account for these microscopic, oxygen-free zones present in many upland soils, they say…

“Without recognizing the importance of anaerobic microsites in stabilizing soil carbon in soils, models are likely to underestimate the vulnerability of the soil carbon reservoir to disturbance induced by climate or land use change,” write first author Keiluweit and colleagues at Stanford, Oregon State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Institute of Soil Landscape Research, Germany.

Findings add another twist to the ongoing debate, they add, over “the mechanisms controlling long-term stabilization of carbon in soils.” Details appear in the current issue of Nature Communications.

Common Good “bank” helps support local business

Note: the Simple Gifts Farm Store in North Amherst is now accepting Common Good credit cards!  Many Stockbridge students studying Sustainable Food and Farming have worked there.

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And now for the story…..

By Max Marcus, Greenfield Reporter; January 25, 2019

Imagine a world where a community’s financial priorities routinely reflect its values.

Rather than being determined by faraway lawmakers or by single-minded corporations, a community’s economy would be managed by the people who use it. Community infrastructure, social welfare and local quality of life would all be in the hands of the people who are impacted directly by them.

That’s the idea behind Common Good, a local nonprofit organization that’s developing a system for giving communities control to fund the kinds of large-scale projects that typically require involvement of the government or big businesses.

“This gives us a hope of making the world as good as we want it to be, and to have some control over that, rather than feel like we’re victimized by our own institutions,” said Continue reading Common Good “bank” helps support local business

Carbon Farming and the Green New Deal

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By Brian Barth in Modern Farmer; January 29, 2019

Is carbon farming the most economically viable way to keep climate catastrophe at bay?

A year ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worked as a bartender in Queens. Now the 29-year old is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, the Democrats’ biggest rising star since Barack Obama. She has pushed a decade-old idea called the Green New Deal to the political fore, which has major implications for the food system.

Carbon Farming

The overarching goal of the Green New Deal is to develop a carbon-neutral economy. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not coal-fired power plants and automobile tailpipes that emit the majority of greenhouse gases; it’s food production. Tillage, synthetic fertilizer and the manure lagoons of industrial livestock operations emit copious quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. However, agriculture also holds great potential to pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in soil and plants, just as natural forests and grasslands do. There are proven techniques to do this, collectively known as carbon farming, though it would take massive government incentives to redesign our agricultural system to become a net absorber of carbon. But there is a growing consensus that, compared to the investments required to transition to 100 percent renewable energy, electric vehicles and the like, an agricultural approach might actually be the fastest, cheapest and most practical way to dial down carbon emissions before it’s too late.

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Continue reading Carbon Farming and the Green New Deal

Docs to Prescribe Food as Medicine

NOTE: the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture offers degree programs to help you move toward careers in Sustainable Food and Farming.  For more information, see: https://sustfoodfarm.org/new_students/

BOSTON (THE CONVERSATION) — In this new year, millions of Americans will make resolutions about healthier eating. In 2019, could U.S. government leaders further resolve to improve healthier eating as well, joining public health experts in seeing that food is medicine?

In 2018, Congress initiated a series of actions that represent a shift away from placing the full responsibility – and blame – on individual people to make their own healthier choices. These actions also show a growing recognition that many stakeholders – including the government – are accountable for a healthier, more equitable food system. This shift in thinking reflects an understanding that government can and should play a role in improving the diet of Americans.

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Among the Farm Bill changes, we believe that the new Produce Prescription Program holds special promise. Already offered by some nonprofit and private insurance programs, this new federal program will allow doctors to prescribe not just medications but also subsidized purchases of fruits and vegetables. (James Cohen, Flickr/Creative Commons)

As faculty members at Tufts University, our expertise spans clinical medicine, nutrition science, public health, policy analyses, Congress, federal agencies and government Continue reading Docs to Prescribe Food as Medicine

Urban bees: yards and gardens help

Research also identifies pollinators’ favourite flowers, including brambles, buttercups, dandelions, lavender and borage.

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Yards, weedy corners and fancy gardens are all urban havens for bees and other pollinators, a study has found.

The widespread decline of bees resulting from the loss of wild areas and pesticide use has caused great concern in recent years, but towns and cities have been suggested Continue reading Urban bees: yards and gardens help