The deeper into gardening you get, the more you see that you are really growing soil — which is a crucial carbon reservoir.
By Leah C. Stokes – December 27, 2020
Between the coronavirus and the election, 2020 blurred together in a haze of stress. But for the huge number of people who took up gardening this year, the seasons did not just slip by: They were measured in inches of plant growth.
In the spring, some seed companies saw sales spike up to 10 times normal. The 144-year-old company Burpee had a record year. Like weeds growing up through cracks in pavement, this trend was a reminder of all the ways life continues.
Last spring, we all plunged into a great unknown, as our university transitioned to be fully remote in response to COVID 19 and its risks. This fall, the Sustainable Food & Farming students are studying mostly remotely, though as you can imagine some aspects of farming just need to happen face-to-face. Only about 1000 students are living on our large campus while others live off campus, or at home, across the US and across the globe.
Our flexibility, adaptability, and strategies for balance have all been put to the test. It has been amazing to see our students, instructors and staff show up, adapt, and engage in this new online way of being. Many students join our program because they are seeking HANDS ON LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.
So, what does that look like right now? Many students have continued working at farms either in the Amherst area or local to their homes. About 11 students are still working at the UMass Student Farming Enterprise to maintain their 100+ share CSA. Check out this video made my SFF Junior & Student Farmer Isadora Harper to see what that looks like!
Other students are working at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center to raise and process chickens & lambs. Want to go on a virtual tour of the ALC? Check out this video!
Many if not all of our students are working on their requirements remotely in online courses.
It isn’t what we signed up for but we are making the best of it. Farmers need to be flexible to respond to the ever-changing climate and challenges that emerge in growing food and raising animals. Food systems advocates need to be adaptable and creative in solving complex problems that are ever-present in the work required for transforming how we grow, distribute, process, market, and consume food. We are all being tested and growing our capacity to behold the challenges, injustice, and uncertainty of these times. Fortunately, we are in this together, though it might be hard to remember sometimes. We continue reminding each other how to keep hope alive, how much the world NEEDS farmers, leaders, organizers, stewards, teachers, and change agents, and how TOGETHER we are a part of building/rebuilding the more just and sustainable food system we know is possible.
YES! You did it! We did it! Likely not the ending any of us were imagining, AND I our you all embracing it with resilience and grace.
Graduating is a threshold. It is a time when you leave one reality and identity (student) and new terrain and new opportunities await you. It can be overwhelming, anticlimactic, emotional, numbing, exciting, relieving and perhaps a combination of all of those things. It isn’t the same but one thing I can liken it to is a birthday, when someone asks “how do you feel?” and I really I feel the same. Yet there is a change in identity in aging from 21 to 22 or from 30 to 31 or from 66 to 67. Graduating seniors, you may not actually feel very different when you wake up tomorrow even though today you just GRADUATED! A big deal!
Maybe you will feel drastically different and/or maybe you will feel a slow trickle of change. However you feel, is exactly how you’re supposed to feel! In reflecting with some students I heard folks saying it felt anticlimactic to graduate. Especially now, seniors can’t get up on stage and be seen, acknowledged and celebrated by family and friends in the way their peers of 2019 did. While I’m amazed, impressed, and grateful for all the ways UMass is striving to celebrate undergraduates despite the circumstances, virtual celebrations are not the same. Yet, rituals of any kind can be an important way to mark a threshold crossing. So in tandem with engaging in these virtual events however you may be, I invite and encourage you to do something for YOU. Plant something, eat something, call someone, walk somewhere, have a fire, whatever that looks like for you, I hope that you are taking a pause to celebrate all you have done. Your instructors and advisors in SFF are SO proud of you!
CNS Virtual Celebration can be found here and Stockbridge BS Sustainable Food & Farm celebration can be found here. On those pages you will find videos (including a video from your SFF student ambassador Rhianna Zadravec!) and some really great photos of you! I hope you take some time to look at them and share with your families & friends. There also is a special video I made for your families here.
Adrienne Maree Brown’s principles of Emergent Strategy continue to anchor me in this turbulence. Sometimes I want an answer now, when is this going to end? When can I hug my friends and family again? And at this time, the principles that anchor me the most are: “Change is constant (be like water)” and “What you pay attention to grows.” It feels important to grieve all of the loss due to COVID-19. AND I believe in the transformative power of paying attention to delight and gratitude. I trust the resilience of each of you and know you will continue to do great work in this world. THANK YOU for all your hard work, for learning so passionately and teaching me. I see you and celebrate you as you cross this threshold to become a graduated human being! Best wishes in your next steps. May you & your loved ones be healthy and happy. Please stay in touch!
In this time of global crises, many universities including UMass Amherst have transitioned to online learning. Making a transition like this is surely difficult for any discipline…but farming remotely?! How does that work? Sustainable Food & Farming also includes a depth of study of theory, plant science, and social dimensions of food systems which our instructors have been hard at work to continue teaching using online Zoom sessions, using forums on course pages like Moodle & Blackboard and designing a blend of live and pre-recorded lectures so that students can keep learning.
Many students have shared that they look forward to our weekly Zoom sessions and we are continuing to learn and have fun together as best we can in these times. To be a farmer, one must be resilient and able to adapt to challenge and change (the weather is constantly surprising us!). What is also becoming more clear in this emerging pandemic is the need for SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE and healthy resilient systems.
Farmers across the globe are responding and organizing efforts to continue to expand and provide community access to local produce. Here in the Pioneer Valley, the newly formed Sunderland Farm Collaborative is providing a delivery service so Western MA residence can get local produce delivered to their homes safely and still support local businesses. Our local paper did a story on this collaborative which employs several alumni from our program. Neighboring Simple Gifts Farm has been offering an online ordering & curbside pickup for our local community. Current SFF students & alumni are working hard and with caution on the frontlines to make our food system more resilient during these times.
We are continuing to advise students remotely and designing our schedules for the fall semester. At a time where so much is uncertain, in many conversations we all seem to agree connecting with nature by going on daily walks, growing seedlings (from just a few in a windowsill or a large backyard garden) helps keep hope alive. Few things offer such simple wonder and awe and remind us that what we’re doing here is important and essential. Now more than ever we must learn to grow food, to organize, to collaborate, to be resilient and adapt. To do what farmers, Indigenous communities, and grassroots organizers have been doing for centuries. Wishing good health and happy spring to all!
-Sarah Berquist, Program Coordinator, Lecturer, & Advisor
The US News & World Report published their 2020 ranking of the top agricultural universities, and UMass Amherst ranked 4th in the World and 2nd best in the United States.
“We are delighted by these rankings,” says Stockbridge School of Agriculture Director, Dr. Wesley Autio, when asked about the QS and US News & World Report rankings. “Of course, we think the 156-year-old University of Massachusetts has always been among the ‘go to’ schools for excellent undergraduate education, but it is wonderful to get this recognition” continued Dr. Autio.
The Stockbridge School of Agriculture offers 5 Associate of Sciences, 4 Bachelor of Sciences, M.S., and Ph.D. degrees. In addition, Stockbridge has an extensive offering of online classes serving working adults all over the world. The Sustainable Food and Farming Program, which allows students to concentrate on farming and marketing, agricultural education and public policy has grown from just 5 students in 2003 to 130 today. Other Associate and Bachelor programs focus on all aspects of agricultural science, important in a rapidly changing world.
Autio believes that the international recognition is long overdue and that “educational programs and our World-class research have really put us on the map.” He concludes “our alums will certainly tell you that Stockbridge is among the top agricultural programs in the world.”
Repost from Civil Eats (great resource!) : Original HERE
After the recent legalization of hemp production, new and beginning farmers are following the green rush, though obstacles abound.
Asaud Frazier enrolled in Tuskegee University with plans to study medicine, but by the time graduation rolled around in 2016, he’d already switched gears. Instead of becoming a physician, Frazier decided to farm hemp.
“I was always interested in cannabis because it had so many different uses,” he said. “It’s a cash crop, so there’s no sense in growing anything else. Cannabis is about to totally take over an array of industries.”
Frazier doesn’t come from an agricultural background, but while he was growing up in Ohio, he watched his father become a master gardener. He also made frequent trips to visit relatives in Alabama, where his family owns a five acres farm. Today, he’s growing hemp on that land as part of a two-year pilot program for small farmers in the state.
“I love getting an opportunity to grow such a beneficial plant,” Frazier said.
In the fragmented ecosystems where we live and work, the importance of diversity in our landscapes cannot be over emphasized. Diversity of native plants, insects, mammals, birds, amphibians…. They all play a crucial role in sustaining a healthy environment.
When we encourage a diversity of native plants in the landscape, we provide just one component of a successful habitat. We all learned the components of sustainable habitats when we were in elementary school – all creatures need food, shelter, and water. But what does this mean in a landscape? We need diversity of food: native plants that supply food for insects that in turn become food for other insects, birds, and animals large and small. We must have plant diversity to feed a diversity of creatures, but we also need structural diversity. Places for butterflies to hide at night and moths to hide during the day. Places for all sorts of creatures to shelter from weather, both summer and winter. Places for cover and nesting sites. We need diversity of form: trees, shrubs, evergreens, Continue reading Landscaping as if ecology mattered→
A cover crop of buckwheat in flower on permanent beds with grass strips between the beds to reduce tillage and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Elizabeth Henderson wonders about how regenerative farmers can help mitigate climate disaster by returning carbon to the soil while trying to stay in business.
“Government programs like the current farm bill pit production against conservation, and doing the right thing for the environment is a considerable drain on a farmer’s bank account, especially when so many of them are losing money to low commodity prices and President Trump’s tariffs.”
Original Gazette article can be found here by Rema Boscov
It doesn’t look like it could save the planet — long grass dotted with 4-foot high chestnut trees, inch-thick trunks with a few broad leaves on short, thin branches, surrounded by plastic mesh tubes to protect them from the sheep not yet here. But it’s what you don’t see on Lisa DePiano’s research plot that gives hope. There’s carbon, lots of it, pulled from CO2 in the atmosphere, now sequestered in the soil — with more to come, explains DePiano, a Sustainable Food and Farming lecturer at the University of Massachusetts’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture.
On April 2-4, University of Massachusetts Amherst was the host of the Farm to Institution New England (FINE) Summit. The themes for the summit were “Celebrate, Mobilize, Transform” and the program included field trips to local farms, food processing facilities and, of course, the UMass Agricultural Learning Center. Presenters and attendees gathered from a breadth of sectors: education, culinary, farmers, policy/advocacy, county jails, and government.