All posts by jgerber123

I teach sustainable food and farming at the University of Massachusetts and try to live in a way that doesn't exploit people or the land.

Teaching and Learning Food Systems

By Wayne Roberts

Earth Day has long been a day to celebrate joy in our relations with the earth, aearhdaynd renew commitments to do our personal best to respect the Earth’s needs and act on our ability to protect the planet.

In that vein, I want to introduce you to an article on researching food system agendas; it just came out in the April edition of a journal called Food Security. I think it’s game-changing for professional practitioners, citizen activists and young people looking for a career path in the food sector, as well as the target audience of academic researchers.

secuirityMy comments below aren’t a substitute for reading the article, which is an easy read. I hope to just point you to some easy ways to organize your thoughts as you read it. In a tight spot, you may get away with using my points to bluff your way through a cocktail conversation without anyone being the wiser about you not having read it.

MIXING HARD AND SOFT

Point 1: I was shocked to see that all authors of the paper were “hard” scientists. Yet the article repeatedly emphasized the need to combine natural science insights into food with insights from the social and political sciences, as well as philosophy and humanities.

Acceptance of interdisciplinary thinking has come a long way — not yet in the upper levels of the civil service and professions, but certainly among the people teaching the next generation of civil servants and professionals.

Don’t underestimate the practical significance of this.

A keystone of the industrial agriculture system that needs to be phased out is that it rested entirely on hard science, often the kinds of science that had been hardened doing war research during World War 11, and looked down on any point of view that came from the great unwashed “softies” who were influenced by the humanities, philosophy or social sciences.

To have a respected group of hard scientists welcome diverse perspectives on food is momentous. It puts people and their needs, rather than the needs of equipment capable of domesticating Nature so it can produce more crops, at the forefront of our searching for improved ways.

In my view, anything that moves us toward people-centered food policy (a term I learned from Toronto geographers Michael Chrobik and Luke Craven), and away from the paradigm of increasing yields by overpowering natural systems, is almost inherently a good thing, because tools are cast and judged as means to an end, not a self-justifying end in themselves. Since that’s so important to our thought processes about food and environment, I’ve put it first in my summary of the themes in this article.

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A SECURE STARTING POINT

Point 2: Horton and his colleagues heard a who, as a great poet once wrote. The who is the people of the world. The object of their article is the challenge of global food security, which they call one of the “grand challenges” that humans and other creatures face. They follow academic methods and standards, but the problem they choose to study is a real problem in the real world.

For all the problems that bedevil the uses of the term “food security,” the term is where most conversations about a Big Picture of food start. The authors state their argument in the second paragraph: “we conclude that achieving adequate food production whilst ensuring environmental and economic sustainability and promoting human health and social equity will require changes in all parts of the food system.” In this use, the food in food security embodies multi-functionality: it serves a range of social, economic, health, equity and environmental goals.

I believe this is the proper starting point for any discussion of food policies. Problems in food policies arise mainly because people get fixated on only one goal, most often a goal that is exclusively economic or exclusively about providing calories to end hunger, and forget about helping the whole interactive system work better.

LET THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN

Point 3:The context of new research needs to set its sights on the entire lifecycle of food, not just the supply chain part that preoccupies the business of growing, making and selling food. Humans are a narcissistic species, and we can easily slip into ways of thinking based on the assumption that we are the centre of the universe. The whole narcissism problem in ways of thinking about the world didn’t get solved way back when Galileo figured out mathematically that the earth was not the centre of the solar system.

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Food and food cycles are situated within life cycles and these cycles must be understood and respected. Creating food for humans is about interacting with the life process, not just organizing a commodity chain. The human food chain may go from farm to fork, but the life cycle goes from dust to dust, soil to soil. The authors have a good reason for not putting waste at the end of their list — waste is created at every point in the cycle, they argue — but I think the unifying of the cycle needs to “end” with waste because that is where the process of new soil begins.

THAT’S ECOSYSTEM, NOT EGOSYSTEM

Point 4: The article argues in favor of an ecosystem view of the food process. I just became aware of the business literature around transformative businesses operating within a ecosystem (I hope my next column will present this idea), and I’m blown away with the ways thinking about a pond as an ecosystem and thinking about and organizing around a set of food transactions as an ecosystem help us to generate balance, win-win relationships, and complex adaptation of our behaviour. This is another creative and expansive way of thinking about food, and gets us away from linear thinking, which is the thought pattern we must break from to do food well.

TWO-WAY STREET

Point 5: The article reconceives the supply chain as a two-way process. Food may be going from farm to fork, but relationships are going both ways. This is the understanding that Kevin Morgan and Roberta Sonnino, authors of a book on the public plate, brought to our understanding with their term “creative public procurement.” Lori Stahlbrand (my wife) developed the notion of procurement creativity in her study of local and sustainable food purchasing systems established at Canadian and UK universities.

Local and sustainable food purchases only thrive when communication is ongoing all the time, and when chefs and students are helping suppliers figure out what needs to be done, and how it can be done. Again, food initiates a relationship, not just a business transaction. We are partnering and helping each other meet each other’s needs, not conducting a take-it-or-leave-it or one-off contract offer. There has to be continuing feedback and interaction for any complex food system to work, the authors write. Farmers or processors may focus actions on the food, but they have to be also thinking in terms of health outcomes that are relevant further down to food cycle; the health and environmental outcomes cannot emerge if they are just afterthoughts.

BEYOND FOOD

Point 6: The article concludes with a plea to think of food in terms of a nexus of water, energy and food. Without water and energy, there is no food.

Governments can organize with water, energy, and food in totally different departments, but when they don’t think of the set of three as a set of one, we get into trouble. That happens at every level, including our temptation to think in terms of food security, when the essence of food security is that there is also energy and water security. They are not separate systems, the authors argue and have to be approached with full awareness that there will be ongoing dependencies and trade-offs between these distinct domains.

I would argue, by way of constructive criticism, that true nexus thinking goes beyond natural resources that go into food production, and must include human uses of food in the creation of culture, health and social cohesion. In people-centered food policy, we need to put people in the picture at all times and ways. One exciting article, by Henk Renting and friends, points us in this direction by posing a food system that incorporates civil networks and food democratization.

NEXT STEPS

Point 7: We use the term “food revolution” too lightly within the food movement (if you think in terms of the nexus, a food revolution isn’t possible as a strictly food thing, for example), and the authors of this article have a better word: step-change. It comes from the hard sciences, and is another case of improving by learning from each other.

A step-change in innovation is required, they argue, meaning change has to be system-wide, and needs to flow at least two-ways. We have to think in entirely different ways, and put relationships, not just commodity movements at the centre of food thinking.

Seven great ways to refresh your thinking on Earth Day, or any day.

Original Post

Massachusetts Farmers Fight Cancer

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Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation and Nourse Farms in Whately are planning ‘Camping for a Cure‘ on June 10.  This is a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation’s Pan-Mass Challenge team.  Currently, five farmers are set to ride more than 750 miles combined on Aug. 5 & 6 to provide cancer patients, who can’t ride in this bike-a-thon, with hope and support.

Unlike most charities, the PMC donates 100 percent of the funds raised.  Last year the organization raised more than $47 million for Dana-Farber Cancer Research Institute, which is more than 80 percent of the institute’s annual funds.  For this reason, the PMC is much more than a ride, it’s a source of hope for those whom may have little to none. You can learn more about the pmc online at www.pmc.org or you visits our team profile at http://profile.pmc.org/TM0329.

To help us do this we would love to have some local farms, agricultural organizations, or some students to help us out by providing an educational or fun activity or craft or helping out for an hour or so to help campers set up tents at the Camping for a Cure event here.  Among the farms who have already made a commitment are Nourse Farms in Whately, Davidian Bros Farm in Northborough, Pine Island Farm in Sheffield, Sauchuk Farm in Plympton and Willow Brook Farm in Holliston.

During these events, young families will have the opportunity to experience farm life. During the day, each campsite will host a children’s fair, during which a petting farm, horse pulled wagon rides, face painting, read-a-longs, coloring events and more may be held. After a day full of these terrific activities, a camp-out will be held in the evening where a movie will be shown.

To volunteer or for more information, contact:

Pete Rizzo, Horticulturalist
Nourse Farms, Whately MA
UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Graduate 2011
(413) 665-2658 Ext 222
prizzo@noursefarms.com

Sustainable Food & Farming Spring Events

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We hope you can join us in some of the exciting campus and community events happening as we wrap up our spring semester!

Learn about our Major

April 19thSustainable Food & Farming Meet & Greet

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Our Spring Workshops

April 18th –Walk Away from Your Stress Workshop

  • 5-7pm, Renaissance Garden @ UMass Agricultural Learning Center
  • 650 East Pleasant Street, Amherst MA
  • Join Megan Saraceno, SFF Student, to practice and discuss tools for stress management & nature connection

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April 21st Power in Our Bodies for Environmental Action Workshop

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April 22ndGluten Free & Sugar Alternatives in Cooking & Baking Workshop

  • 12-1pm, Amherst Sustainability Festival Demo Area, Town Common
  • Join Megan Brockelbank, SFF student, share practical tips & tools for cooking & baking with alternatives

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April 22nd– The Capitalist Ecological Crisis & How to Fight It Workshop

  • 3-4pm, Amherst Sustainability Festival Climate Transformer Space, Town Common
  • Join Ezra Marcus & Sean Tousey-Pfarrer discuss systems change & environmental activism

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April 22nd– Rethinking Local Food Systems: A Community Potluck

  • 4-7pm, Community Room Quarry Hill, East Longmeadow MA
  • Join Sierra Torres & Nancy Buddington in an engaging discussion, demo and potluck featuring local food

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April 25th– Connecting With Compassion: An Evening of Authentic Relating Games

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Celebrate with Our Seniors

April 28th– Rise and Shine with Stockbridge Seniors

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For more information on the Bachelor of Sciences degree in Sustainable Food and Farming, see: SFF Major.

Student Forest Garden Manager Job

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The Stockbridge School of Agriculture is seeking applications for a Student Forest Garden Manager to manage all aspects of the Forest Garden at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center (ALC) this season. The Forest Garden is a 2 year old 1/4 acre garden located at the ALC with the following goals and objectives.

  • A permaculture demonstration garden and an aesthetically-pleasing leisure place for the university and
  • A site for active and hands-on learning by students and community members where workshops and classes are held.
  • The Food Forest produces an abundance of food and medicinals for the community and to be donated to those in need.
  • The Food Forest is a place of opportunity where students, faculty, and other individuals make a connection to where food comes from and begins to understand a new type of agriculture which works with natural systems.

Responsibilities include:

  • Pre-season, 3-5hrs/week (Late April): Assisting with irrigation planning and ram pump irrigation workshop. Working with other land managers either with the UMass Student Farm or Food For All garden to market or donate food from the food
  • Summer Season, 15 hrs/week (May-Sept)- Establish irrigation system, mulching and weeding existing beds, sheet mulching existing plantings, establish understory plantings, labeling,
  • Fall Season, 3-5 hrs/week (Sept-late Oct/early Nov) hosting UMass permaculture classes for workdays, harvest & deliver fall crops, prepare garden for winter

Compensation for is $12/hr.

Required Qualifications:

  • Current UMass Sustainable Food & Farming student with at least 1 of the following completed courses permaculture course (Intro to Permaculture or Permaculture Design and Practice)
  • Experience with establishing and caring for perennial food systems either with UMass Permaculture Initiative or other small farm or landscaping experience
  • Excellent leadership and communication skills
  • Ability to work independently in the field
  • Commit to 15 hours/week

Desired Qualifications

  • PDC Certificate holder
  • Prior coordinating or leadership position with UMass Permaculture Initiative or equivalent.

To Apply: Send Lisa DePiano a copy of your resume with 2 professional or academic references and a paragraph describing your interest & qualifications at: ldepiano@umass.edu by Friday March 31 st 2017.

 

Lets learn about urban food systems

Join UMass Sustainable Food and Farming for a FREE and public screening of the short documentary “Brooklyn Farmer” which tells the story of Brooklyn Grange, a group of urban farmers who endeavor to run a commercially viable farm in New York City.

Brooklyn farmer

The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Dana Lucas (Freight Farms Boston and UMass Hydroponics) & Frank Mangan (UMass Professor of Urban Farming).

The film will be held in

W.E.B. Du Bois Library,

Floor 19 – Room 1920

Film at 6:00pm

Panel at 7:00 pm

Synopsis of the Film:

“Brooklyn Farmer” explores the unique challenges facing Brooklyn Grange, a group of urban farmers who endeavor to run a commercially viable farm within the landscape of New York City. The film follows Head Farmer Ben Flanner, CEO Gwen Schantz, Communications Director Anastasia Plakias, Farm Manager Michael Meier, and Beekeeper Chase Emmons as their growing operation expands from Long Island City, Queens to a second roof in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. The team confronts the realities inherent in operating the world’s largest rooftop farm in one of the world’s biggest cities.

Panelists:

Frank Mangan
umassnutA focus of my program has been to evaluate production and marketing systems for vegetable and herb crops, with an emphasis on crops popular among immigrant communities. Since 2003, farmers in Massachusetts made more than five million dollars in retail sales of crops introduced from my program, crops that had not been grown in Massachusetts before. A majority of the research done by my program is at the UMass Research Farm in Deerfield MA. We also evaluate practical postharvest and pest management strategies for these new crops. Our program works closely with nutritionists at UMass to provide nutritionally balanced and culturally-appropriate recipes for these immigrant groups. This webpage provides information on the crops evaluated and introduced by my program: http://www.worldcrops.org/

Starting in 2011, we have begun to work with urban growers as part of an overall systems approach to provide fresh produce to urban populations. As part of this work we’re also evaluating the carbon footprint used to produce and transport fresh produce to urban settings. We have created a Facebook page to report on this work: https://www.facebook.com/umassurbanag

Dana Lucas
I am from a city and I cherish local food. I have found this appreciation for sustainable produce to be extremely helpful in my own personal development within controlled environmental agriculture.

I work for an urban farm that owns three Freight Farms. I have learned to successfully manage and market almost five acres of hydroponic produce. I also have recently created my own company for urban farm consulting. I design and build hydroponic systems for commercial and residential spaces around Boston, MA. I am most proud of recently receiving a grant to build and design a vertical farm on campus at UMass Amherst, which will provide hydroponic produce to dining halls on campus starting this winter.


I believe the further expansion of city farms will help to give urbanites the opportunity to experience food systems more accessible. Completing my education in agriculture is extremely exciting and important for my career and our world’s future sustainability. I believe that urban agriculture will have a great influence on social, economic, and resource consumption problems.