Category Archives: Business

UMass Hydro begins to feed campus

greenhouse

If you look out of the campus-side windows in Franklin Dining Commons after the sun has gone down, you can see a mix of white, blue and magenta lights illuminating the inside of the Clark Hall Greenhouse.

These lights mark the home of the UMass Hydroponics Farm Plan, where Dana Lucas, a junior sustainable food and farming major, and Evan Chakrin, a nontraditional student in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, have been working throughout the winter growing fresh leafy greens.

Back in December, the duo received a $5,000 grant from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to grow produce year-round on an on-campus hydroponic farm. Hydroponics, a method of farming with water and nutrients in place of soil, allows for a continual harvesting cycle.

hydroAlong with limited pesticide use and saving 90 percent more water than a traditional farm, the farm will produce approximately 70 heads of lettuce a week, every week of the year. Lucas and Chakrin emphasize the importance of this perpetual cycle in meeting the University’s sustainability efforts.

On the University of Massachusetts website, it states, “The University recognizes its responsibility to be a leader in sustainable development and education for the community, state and nation.”

“I don’t know how we can say our food is sustainable at UMass if it’s only grown 10 weeks of the year in New England,” Lucas said.

The location allows UMass Hydro to get their greens across campus by either walking, biking or driving short distances, leaving almost no carbon footprint.

“I think this is something that really excites me and Evan because we really see a demand for fresh, local food and this is a way to actually fulfill it,” Lucas said.

Although the farm’s production capacity cannot currently meet the needs of the dining halls, Lucas and Chakrin are looking into alternative options to get their greens on the plates of students.

hydro2“We’re kind of just centering on student businesses right now because they’re smaller and they’re run by our friends, so we can easily get into the market,” Lucas said.

Their first official account is with Greeno Sub Shop in Central Residential Area.

Last week, Greeno’s hosted a special where UMass Hydro’s microgreens were free to add to any menu item.

In a statement posted to their Facebook page, they stated, “One of the goals of our mission statement is to source locally whenever possible, with UMass Hydro right down the hill, this is almost as fresh as it can get.”

Chakrin and Lucas are currently working on getting their greens served at other on-campus eateries.

In addition to adding more accounts, there is a strong focus on getting other students interested in the emerging field of hydroponics.

“We can use this as a teaching facility for students. The techniques we’re using are used in multi-acre industrial greenhouses for lettuce, so we could scale right up potentially,” Chakrin said.

The two are hoping to work UMass Hydro into the curriculum in Stockbridge, allowing students to work hands-on with the systems while also earning credits.

“Maybe we can do a one credit, half semester thing or something,” said Chakrin.

sprout“There has been some discussion about having an accredited course for next fall where we can teach what I’m assuming are mostly going to be Stockbridge students, but we’re open to anybody and everyone who’s interested in getting involved with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

The grant covered the cost of seeds, equipment and other miscellaneous items like scissors, but the responsibility of building the farm fell entirely on Lucas and Chakrin.

“It felt really cool that we were given this much responsibility I feel like, to just buy the stuff and then build it,” Lucas said.

Chakrin noted how one of the biggest obstacles faced in getting the project off the ground was finding an available space on campus.

“Initially we were just asking for a 10-by-10 closet somewhere, then Stockbridge professor , Dr. Dan Cooley, was like ‘Do you think this greenhouse will work?’ and we were like ‘Of course!’” Chakrin said.

“He kind of posed it as a bummer that we weren’t going to be in a closet and we were like ‘No, no, no that’s fine!’” Lucas said, laughing.

“Without the space, none of it would be possible, so being allowed to use this space is just huge and we’re so lucky to have that,” Chakrin said.

The students also expressed appreciation to Dr. Daniel Cooley, who sponsored the project and Dr. Stephen Herbert for his support and donation of supplies.

Out of the entire space granted to UMass Hydro, only a portion of it is currently being used. In order to make use of the underutilized space, Chakrin and Lucas are hoping the future of UMass Hydro involves more funding.

“We want to see Dutch buckets and a vertical system in here so we can show students the breadth of what you can do with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

Visitors are encouraged to stop by at the Clark Hall Greenhouse on Tuesdays between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.  And you can follow the project on Facebook at UMass Hydro!

Callie Hansson can be reached at chansson@umass.edu.

Original Post


The decline of industrial agriculture

The following excerpt was taken from conservative blogger, Gracy Olmstead, writing about how a “bust” in the farm economy might open up opportunities for a more sustainable food system.  The full article is published here.

The negative impact of industrial agriculture on environmental quality and social justice is well recognized.  Industrial agriculture however has been justified by an assumed positive impact on the economy.  This article questions that assumption.


The History Of American Agriculture’s Decline

How did we get to this point? The Wall Street Journal gives a mini history lesson:

From the early 1800s until the Great Depression, the number of U.S. farms grew steadily as pioneers spread west of the Mississippi River. Families typically raised a mix of crops and livestock on a few hundred acres of land at most. After World War II, high-horsepower tractors and combines enabled farmers to cover more ground. Two decades ago, genetically engineered seeds helped farmers grow more.

Farms grew bigger and more specialized. Large-scale operations now account for half of U.S. agricultural production. Most farms, even some of the biggest, are still run by families. As farm sizes jumped, their numbers fell, from six million in 1945 to just over two million in 2015, nearing a threshold last seen in the mid-1800s. Total acres farmed in the U.S. have dropped 24% to 912 million acres.

 This short account of the jump from subsistence-style farming to today’s industrialized farming could easily fill thousands of pages (and indeed has—from John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” to Wendell Berry’s novels).

Today’s Farms Still Follow an ‘Industrial Paradigm’

The Industrial Revolution shaped and transformed farming in seismic ways. As I wrote for Comment Magazine last year, “farming in the new, industrialized era began to favor quantity and specialization—because new machines worked most efficiently when farmers chose to harvest large, homogenous acreages instead of the small, diversified crops of the past. Farmers sought bigger and bigger swaths of land, seeing in them the promise of greater funds in the bank.”

American farms are still stuck in this “industrial paradigm,” says sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms. “Just like the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial, and the industrial to the information, and now the information is giving way to the regenerative economy, agriculture is changing. Because farmers tend to be conservative, agriculture is the slowest of all economic sectors to embrace the new economy.”

When Salatin’s father bought their family-operated farm in Swoope, Virginia, the land was severely eroded, and soil health was poor. “When my dad, in the early 1960s, asked agricultural advisors to tell him how to make a living on this farm, they all encouraged him to abuse the land more aggressively,” remembers Salatin. “He eschewed that counsel and did the opposite of everything they said. Today, we are healthy and profitable. Every person must decide whose advice to follow.”

Incentivizing Farmers to Destroy Neighbors’ Businesses

The WSJ piece goes on, “For some, the slump is an opportunity. Farmers with low debts and enough scale to profit from last year’s record harvests could be in a position to rent or buy up land from struggling neighbors.” In other words, large (most likely government-subsidized) farms can use this opportunity to buy out their smaller counterparts. Sounds like a great thing for the economy long-term, doesn’t it?

One chilly afternoon in October, Mr. Scheufler steered his combine across the first field he bought. The machine’s giant claw spun through rows of golden soybeans. A hawk circled the combine’s wake, hunting for exposed field mice. He recalled farmers whose land he has taken over: Ted Hartwick ’s, the Matthews’, the Profits’, his father’s.

Yes, building a large and profitable business is usually seen as an integral part of free market economics. We don’t want to prevent successful farms from getting larger. But it’s crucial to ask a few questions here: first, are these farms growing via their own merits—or via the support of the federal government? (Often, the answer is the latter.) Is their business model truly sustainable (and therefore, “successful” long term)?

Too often, the growth of a commodity farm means taking diversity, sustainability, and community, and turning these goods into homogeneity, depreciation, and solitude. This may not be Scheufler’s story. But it is, increasingly, the story of America’s heartland.  As another interviewee tells the WSJ,

There were 28 students in Mr. Scott’s graduating class at Ransom’s high school nearly four decades ago. Most were farmers’ children. This year there are nine students in the school’s senior class. ‘Farms got bigger to be more efficient, but it’s caused these towns to die a slow death,’ Mr. Scott said.

It’s not just farm towns that are ill-served by the way agriculture currently works. Land erosion, water contamination, and soil pollution are just a few of the ecological consequences of bad farming practices. “The current debacle has been coming for a long time,” says Salatin. And, he adds, “It will not end quickly. Rectifying our decades of abuse will not be easy. Healing will be disturbing.”

Farmers Aren’t Encouraged to Diversify Their Operations

Part of the problem here is that farmers, rather than diversifying their farms to protect against commodity price drops, have been encouraged (largely by subsidies, sometimes by the market) to always produce more of the same.

“Rather than studying how nature works, the informational component of the agriculture sector tends to throw out historic templates and remake life in a mechanical hubris of fatter, faster, bigger, cheaper,” says Salatin.

Many farmers who’ve expanded their enterprises have continued to grow the same exact crops on all that land. Now, writes Newman and McGroarty, “Corn and wheat output has never been higher, and never has so much grain been bunkered away.” So when the price of corn, soybeans, and wheat drops—as it is now—farmers don’t have another crop to fall back on.

In the short term, diversifying your farm operation can be more expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding. But it also creates job security. Long-term, it protects both your farm and soil health.

When we focus on producing a few commodity crops, any country can beat us at our own game. We produce a glut of grain that global markets are no longer buying. Meanwhile, Americans living in the heartland of Iowa buy their tomatoes and peppers from South America. It seems strange, doesn’t it?


For more on industrial agriculture and the sustainable alternative, see this list of books used in classes offered by the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The Rise of Women Farmers – a few readings

Did you know that over 65% of the recent graduates of the Sustainable Food and Farming major in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture are women? 

Here are a few books & websites from the Women’s Agricultural Network which showcase how women farmers are changing the food system:

The Female Farmer Project Through photographs, blog posts, podcasts and now coloring books, author and photographer Audra Mulkern and her team are working to “accurately portray a group of people who” Mulkern believes have been “invisible for far too long: The female farmer . . . This group of women who had been doing amazing things.”

Drawing on 10 years of research and work with women farmers, the Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture, published in 2016, explores the societal changes that have empowered women to claim the farmer identity, describes barriers that are broadly encountered by women farmers, and offers a framework to shift the US food system to one that better supports women farmers.

Soil Sistersalso published in 2016, provides a blue-print for women who want to farm. Author Lisa Kivirist, founding coordinator of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, synthesizes key information and advice from seasoned women farmers committed to sustainable agriculture.


Original Source  – Women’s Agricultural Network

Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….

sarahtower
Sara Tower at Nutwood Farm in Cummington, MA

or the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Monday, February 06, 2017

CUMMINGTON — When Sara Tower began farming about eight years ago, she worked mostly with vegetables, which is typical of many farmers in the area. Next fall, though, she and her partner will harvest a crop that is new to western Massachusetts — nuts.

Last year, Tower and Kalyan Uprichard, co-owners of Nutwood Farm in Cummington, planted 350 nut trees on their 8-acre farm. By 2026, they expect to harvest 10,000 pounds of nuts, including chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts.

“We’re changing the food system,” Tower said. Continue reading Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….

Care Farming in the UK – Report

If you think the Stockbridge School of Agriculture should investigate Care Farming as a possible program of study for undergraduates, please join us to discuss this question on:

Monday, December 5, 2016 at 3:30pm – 5:00pm

210 Stockbridge Hall

All are welcome!

===============================================================

By Rachel Bragg;  University of Essex    rebragg@essex.ac.uk

  1. Care farming – key facts and figures at a glance

  • How many care farms are there in the UK and where are they? 115 care farms took part in a survey in 2012, representing 66% of the 180 care farms that are currently operating in the UK. Care farms are located mainly in England but also in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; at the present time the South West, East Anglia and the West Midlands contain the largest number of care
  • What sort of farms are care farms? The majority of care farmers (78%) describe their care farm sites as farms or smallholdings and the organisational type as a farm, charity and/or company. Care farms have a mix of field enterprises and livestock, typically grazing, vegetables and woodland with chickens, sheep, pigs and cattle. Care farm size ranges from 0.4 to 648 ha – average care farm size 49

Continue reading Care Farming in the UK – Report

Think U.S. Agriculture Will End World Hunger? Think Again.

By Anne Weir Schechinger, Senior Analyst, Economics and Craig Cox, Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources

The United Nations has forecast that world food production must double to feed 9 billion people by 2050. That assertion has become a relentless talking point in the growing debate over the environmental, health and social consequences of American agriculture.

America’s farmers, we are told, must double their production of meat products and grains to “feed the world.” Otherwise, people will go hungry.

Agribusinesses such as Monsanto sometimes cite the so-called “moral imperative” to feed a hungry world in order to defend the status-quo farm policy and deflect attention from the destruction that “modern” agriculture is inflicting on the environment and human health.

The real experts know better. Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization argues instead that the current conditions of “modern” agriculture are “no longer acceptable.”

The key to ending world hunger while protecting the environment is to help small farmers in the developing world increase their productivity and income, and to promote “agro-ecology” everywhere, including in the U.S.

Poverty is the root cause of hunger, not too few exports of U.S. wheat, corn, soybeans and meat. American exports go to people who can afford to buy them.

 

 

American farmers are helping meet growing demand from millions of people in developed and developing nations who can afford better, or at least more diversified diets. This is a welcome business opportunity for our farmers, but those exports aren’t going to the countries where hunger is chronic.

  • 86 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural exports last year went to 20 destinations with low numbers of hungry citizens and human development scores that are medium, high or very high, according to the U.N. Development Program.
  • Only half of one percent of U.S. agricultural exports, calculated according to their value, went to a group of 19 countries that includes Haiti, Yemen and Ethiopia. These are nations with high or very high levels of undernourishment, measured by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Even the hungriest countries produce most of their own food. Overall, in 2013, American farmers contributed only 2.3 percent of the food supply for the 19 most undernourished countries through food exports and aid.

We won’t end world hunger by doubling production in the United States while putting our nation’s environment and health at risk. We can and must help end world hunger by helping people in the hungriest countries do a better job of feeding themselves and ensuring that their farmers make a good living.

Reducing poverty, increasing income for women, providing nutrition education, improving infrastructure like roads and markets to increase access to food, and ceasing wars and conflict could all help undernourished populations better feed themselves.


There is a small farm, community based alternative to the dominant vision of industrial agriculture feeding the world.  Come to learn and grow with us in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture!

The Food We Don’t Eat

American food writer MFK Fisher once said, “First we eat, then we do everything else.”  Food is central to so much in our lives – family, health and community. But what about the food we don’t eat?

garbage
Eight percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can be ascribed to food loss and waste. Photo by jbloom/Flickr

More than a billion tons of food is never consumed by people; that’s equivalent to one-third of all food the world produces.  What many people may not know is that one in nine people on earth don’t have enough food to lead an active life, or that food loss and waste costs the global economy $940 billion each year, an amount close to what the entire UK government will spend in 2016.

They may also not know the incredible effect food loss and waste has on the environment.  Eight percent of the greenhouse gases heating the planet are caused by food loss and waste. At the same time, food that’s harvested but lost or wasted uses 25 percent of water used in agriculture and requires cropland the size of China to be grown. What an incredibly inefficient use of precious natural resources.

When you look at the kind of impact food loss and waste has on our environment, economy and society, it’s clear why the United Nations included it among the most urgent global challenges the Sustainable Development Goals would address. Target 12.3 [2] of the goals calls for nations to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” by 2030. It’s certainly an ambitious challenge, but it is also one that’s achievable.

This week is Climate Week, an opportunity to take stock of where we are on critical environmental issues like food loss and waste. A new report [3] on behalf of Champions 12.3 [4] – a unique coalition of leaders across government, business and civil society who are dedicated to achieving Target 12.3 – assesses our progress so far.

The report details a number of notable steps that have happened around the world, including national food loss and waste reduction targets established in the United States and in countries across the European Union and African Union.

It also highlights efforts to help governments and companies measure food loss and waste, such as the FLW Standard [5] announced in June, and new funding like the Danish government’s subsidy program and The Rockefeller Foundation’s Yieldwise [6], a $130 million investment toward practical approaches to reducing food loss and waste in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, the United States and Europe. There have also been advances in policies as well as education efforts like the Save the Food [7] campaign to raise awareness of food loss and waste.

The progress is promising. But the report also notes that the action does not yet match the scale of the problem, and much more work is needed worldwide if we are to successfully meet Target 12.3 in just 14 short years.