Social Justice is a Core Component of a Sustainable Food System


Leaders of Color Discuss Structural Racism and White Privilege in the Food System

What can the food movement learn from Black Lives Matter in this tumultuous moment?

Like many of you, we watched in horror as events unfolded across the country last week, and the hell and heartache has left us reeling. We’ve long reported on food justice and last year wrote about why food belongs in our discussions of race. But we know we have a lot more work to do. In that spirit, we reached out to leaders of color in the food justice community for their thoughts about how they think the “food movement” might come together on the issues of race, equity, and access. We encourage others to speak up, add your voices to this space, and to continue the conversation.

Erika Allen, Chicago and National Projects Director, Growing Power

When people say “The Good Food Movement” are they thinking about racial and economic parity? I do, which is why I see it as a Good Food Revolution. I’m not sure how you define sustainable agriculture without this being a central point of understanding. The economic scaling up and investment in urban and sustainable agriculture without the facilitation of anti-racism work on an academic level—to truly understand one’s role as a perpetuator of racism even within liberal thought and action—is a real disconnect. Undoing racism and its companions of oppression, does not magically happen, and it requires real effort. Not just talk, or a workshop, but daily vigilance, and a real cultural shift. We are at a historic juncture. We [at Growing Power] believe that growing food and justice for all goes hand-in-hand toward the realization of a truly sustainable agriculture movement domestically and globally. To achieve that, we need to integrate our understanding on a deep level. This isn’t political rhetoric, this is what we have been struggling for since abolition of slavery. We need to address racism and white privilege and supremacy in the Good Food Movement. As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to move forward Continue reading Social Justice is a Core Component of a Sustainable Food System

On Mental Models


The following is a repost of an article by Gabriel Weinberg….. we teach this stuff in our UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture class called Agricultural Systems Thinking.


Around 2003 I came across Charlie Munger’s 1995 speech, The Psychology of Human Misjudgment, which introduced me to how behavioral economics can be applied in business and investing. More profoundly, though, it opened my mind to the power of seeking out and applying mental models across a wide array of disciplines.

A mental model is just a concept you can use to help try to explain things (e.g. Hanlon’s Razor  — “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness.”). There are tens of thousands of mental models, and every discipline has their own set that you can learn through coursework, mentorship, or first-hand experience.

There is a much smaller set of concepts, however, that come up repeatedly in day-to-day decision making, problem solving, and truth seeking. As Munger says, “80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly‑wise person.”

This post is my attempt to enumerate the mental models that are repeatedly useful to me. This set is clearly biased from my own experience and surely incomplete. I hope to continue to revise it as I remember and learn more.

How-to Use This List

I find mental models are useful to try to make sense of things and to help generate ideas. To actually be useful, however, you have to apply them in the right context at the right time. And for that to happen naturally, you have to know them well and practice using them.

Therefore, here are two suggestions for using this list:

  1. For mental models you don’t know or don’t know well, you can use this list as a jumping off point to study them. I’ve provided links (mainly to Wikipedia) to start that process.
  2. When you have a particular problem in front of you, you can go down this list, and see if any of the models could possibly apply.


  • Most of the mental models on this list are here because they are useful outside of their specific discipline. For example, use of the mental model “peak oil” isn’t restricted to an energy context. Most references to “peak x” are an invocation of this model. Similarly, inflation as a concept applies outside of economics, e.g. grade inflation and expectations inflation.
  • I roughly grouped the mental models by discipline, but as noted, this grouping is not to be taken as an assertion that they only apply within that dicipline. The best ideas often arise when going cross-dicipline.
  • I realize my definition of mental model differs from some others, with mine being more broadly defined as any concept that helps explain, analyze, or navigate the world. I prefer this broader definition because it allows me to assemble a more wide-ranging list of useful concepts that may not be mental models under other definitions, but I nevertheless find on relatively equal footing in terms of usefulness in the real world.
  • The numbers next to each mental model reflect the frequency with which they come up:
    (1) — Frequently (63 models)
    (2) — Occasionally (43 models)
    (3) — Rarely, though still repeatedly (83 models)
  • If studying new models, I’d start with the lower numbers first. The quotes next to each concept are meant to be a basic definition to remind you what it is, and not a teaching tool. Follow the link to learn more.
  • I am not endorsing any of these concepts as normatively good; I’m just saying they have repeatedly helped me explain and navigate the world.
  • I wish I had learned many of these years earlier. In fact, the proximate cause for posting this was so I could more effectively answer the question I frequently get from people I work with: “what should I learn next?” If you’re trying to be generally effective, my best advice is to start with the things on this list.

Continue reading On Mental Models

Growing Greens in the Spare Room

Dan Albert’s farm is far from traditional. There are no picturesque, rolling fields, no tractors tilling soil; there is no white farmhouse or red barn. For that matter, there is no soil, or sunlight.

The farm, Farmbox Greens, is inside a two-car garage behind Mr. Albert’s Seattle home. It consists of 600 square feet of microgreens grown in vertically stacked trays beneath LED lights.

The ability to grow in such a small space is the result of hydroponics, a system in which a plant’s roots sit in nutrient-rich water instead of soil.

Microgreens — the first, tiny greens on plants like arugula, radishes and bok choy — can go from seed to harvest in less than two weeks. That enables Farmbox Greens to compete on price against produce delivered from far away.

“We are fresher and our greens last 20 to 30 percent longer than those grown outside the area,” said Mr. Albert, who co-owns the farm with his wife, Lindsay Sidlauskas.

It has revenue of under $500,000, but was profitable enough in 2014 that Mr. Albert quit his day job as a landscape architect to farm full time. He now has three employees and sells his greens to about 50 restaurants in the Seattle area, a local grocery chain and four weekly farmers’ markets.

Consumer demand for locally grown food and the decreasing price and improved efficiency of LED lighting are driving the creation of more so-called vertical farm start-ups, said Chris Higgins, editor of Urban Ag News, which follows this segment of farming.

Enter a caption
Carrot microgreens, ready to harvest at City-Hydro. 

Energy costs are still a significant barrier to success, making few vertical farms in the United States profitable. Those that are tend to be smaller ones.

Continue reading Growing Greens in the Spare Room

Stockbridge Grad Willie Crosby Receives Farming Grant

June 22, 2016

Willie Crosby, right, and Alex Dorr mix sawdust and pelletized cottonseed hulls to make a substrate for growing mushrooms at Fungi Ally in Hadley.

Forty-seven farms in western Massachusetts and eastern New York will tackle projects this summer — including a potato digger and an insulated room for a reverse osmosis machine — with help from an awards program for farmers.

The Local Farmer Awards gave more than $100,000 this year to farms for projects to improve equipment or infrastructure. The program, which began in 2015, is a project of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and added Big Y Foods Inc. of Springfield as a partner this year.

Seventeen farms in Hampshire County were among those receiving the $2,500 grants. Max Breiteneicher, owner of Grace Hill Farm in Cummington, said his young business has benefited from the Local Farmer Awards and other programs.

“We’re only in our third year – and only entering our second full year right now,” said Breiteneicher, who will use the money to buy a pasteurizer to increase the varieties of cheese Grace Hill can produce.

He said starting a cheese farm is a difficult and expensive enterprise.

“These (grants) have really helped,” he said.

J.P. Welch of Justamere Tree Farm in Worthington and Joe Czajkowski of Joe Czajkowski Farm in Hadley both said the money will help them improve the efficiency of their operations.

Justamere, which produces maple products, focuses on energy efficiency and uses wood firing and solar power, according to its website. Welch said the farm’s new maple candy machine, which can help produce candy at a faster rate than its predecessor, has already been a significant improvement for the farm.

“We’re all about efficiency,” he said. “Anything we can do to streamline the process is what we want to do, and this just will go to help in doing that.”

Czajkowski said he became interested in making butternut oil after reading about its health benefits — it is cholesterol-free and high in Vitamin A — but lacked the equipment to separate butternut squash seeds from stringy flesh and to dry them enough to be pressed for oil.

The process lets farmers who grow butternut squash use parts of the gourd that might otherwise go to waste, he said. He’s also commissioning the building of seed driers locally to keep the money in the area economy.

“I think it’s better, if Big Y and Harold Grinspoon want to help the area,” he said. “Spending it locally is right in line with what they want.”

A cluster of Blue Oyster mushrooms growing at Fungi Ally in Hadley.

Growing mushrooms

For Fungi Ally, a mushroom-growing operation in Hadley, the award offered a chance to fast-forward existing plans. Willie Crosby, one of Fungi Ally’s co-founders, said the money will go toward building a new grow room.

The company produces about 150 pounds of mushrooms weekly, but the new room will add an additional 300 to 400 pounds to that total.

“It’s something that we were interested in and there was a desire for, but we didn’t have the capital to go for it,” Crosby said. “This is allowing us to jump forward a little bit.”

Willie Crosby rotates stock in the existing grow room at Fungi Ally in Hadley. A new larger grow room, constructed with more durable corroguated plastic panel walls, is in the process of being finished with its own climate control system.

Cari Carpenter, director of the Local Farmer Awards, said Grinspoon himself started the program to help local farms compete economically.

She said Grinspoon, an octogenarian millionaire philanthropist who made his money in real estate, also appreciates the less tangible benefits that farmers like Welch and Czajkowski provide.

“When Mr. Grinspoon started this, he wanted to help the farms compete in the marketplace, but he recognizes the environmental advantages, the health advantages and the economic advantages of local farming,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said she already is aiming to help the program grow for next year. She received 128 applications this year — a 45 percent increase over last year, she said. And partnering with Big Y let the number of farms receiving money rise from 33 to 47.

The results of the fledgling program are already apparent, Carpenter said.

“Some of the feedback we’ve gotten that’s consistent is it’s making a big impact on the farms,” she added.

“One of the farmers basically said, ‘Farmers are so used to doing frugal fixes, and this gives us a chance to step back and see what we need to address.’”

Jack Evans can be reached at

Original Post

Willie Crosby teaches courses in mushroom growing for the Stockbridge School of Agriculture in the Sustainable Food and Farming program.

Massachusetts State Apiary at UMass

clubThe Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has collaborated with the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture to create a state apiary at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center, 911 North Pleasant St., Amherst. The apiary consists of twelve honey bee hives located within an 80 foot by 30 foot plot situated adjacent to the UMass Pollinator Conservation Project. The apiary is surrounded by a solar powered electric fence (to deter animals and serve as a safety barrier for visitors). It consists of six wooden stands (capable of holding five hives each) partitioned into two horizontal rows. The apiary will also be used by the UMass Beekeeping Club and for hives maintained for UMass beekeeping courses.

e0bfd95ad4ad48b6ae9b8859bbebf98aThe purpose of the apiary is to serve as a vessel for education, outreach demonstrations and research related to agricultural sustainability, pollination, honey bee health and hive management. This apiary is also considered to be a critical component of the Stockbridge School’s student farm pollinator habitat conservation project. The apiary will provide valuable pollination services to the farms cultivated acreage of crops, trees and wildflowers. Given the ability to do live, in-hive demonstrations onsite, this apiary will also be an important tool for providing outreach education to farmers, land managers, beekeepers and the public on topics related to honey bees and agriculture. The apiary will be maintained through a collaborative effort of the MDAR Apiary Program inspectors, students and faculty members on campus.

For more on the State Apiary, see:

The Stockbridge School of Agriculture offers a Practical Beekeeping class each spring for students in the Sustainable Food and Farming major.

Local Beekeeping at Warm Colors

For the Daily Hampshire Gazette –  Sunday, June 19, 2016


Jessica Wisniewski’s two children play among old beehives during a CISA sponsored tour of Warm Colors Apiary, Thursday, May 26, 2016 in South Deerfield.  RECORDER STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO


SOUTH DEERFIELD — The air suddenly becomes thick with angry bees as a beekeeper, garbed in white, removes the cover from a beehive at Warm Colors Apiary and searches for a queen.

Inside the swarm, the overpowering sound of wings beating against air is almost as strong as the permeating scent of raw honey, which drifts up from the cluster of hives, across a small farm yard and into a quaint building, where a group of about 20 local farmers, chefs, students and business owners have gathered for a tour of the apiary to learn both about the farm, and about honey production in the Pioneer Valley.

“We have currently about 800 (hives) that are primarily honey producing colonies, another 200 raise queens,” says Dan Conlin from the front of the room.

Conlin, who has kept bees since he was 14, owns the apiary on South Mill River Road, along with his wife Bonita Conlin. Throughout the year, the apiary produces honey, pollinates farmers’ crops, sells beeswax candles and beekeeping supplies, and offers educational classes to aspiring beekeepers.

Before he became a full-time beekeeper in 2000, Conlin worked at the Northfield Mount Continue reading Local Beekeeping at Warm Colors

Register for the Real Food Challenge Practicum


Real Food Practicum

STOCKSCH 198 R – 2 credits

Wednesdays from 12:20pm – 1:10pm

Come be a part of transforming UMass into a more sustainable, healthy, and socially just campus!

This 2-credit course explores issues and dynamics around sustainability and social well-being. The class is action oriented; we will work in concert with the Real Food Challenge (RFC), which aims to support the transformation of UMass’s food system. Through project-based engagement with the RFC, we will learn about—and develop as leaders in relation to—food justice, local food systems, and ethical economies.

UMass Amherst’s food is consistently recognized among the best in the nation, yet the institution currently serves less than 20% Real Food to students, staff, and faculty. The RFC is striving to support more local, ethically produced, ecologically sound food sources and working to more thoroughly connect with campus and community partners.

The project-based nature of the course means that student interests and ideas will significantly shape course content. All majors are welcome!  Student research and actions will not only inform the class and other students, but we will make a tangible impact on the UMass food system through supporting dining product shifts, educational outreach and events, and policy work.

STOCKSH-198 Real Food Practicum
Wednesdays, 12:20-1:10
Instructor: Boone Shear,
Co-facilitators: Carly Brand,
Co-facilitator: Krystal Kilhart,

To register, contact Carly Brand at

For more on the national Real Food Challenge project, see:


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