Category Archives: Education

Women in Agriculture Series at UMass

Women make up nearly half of the global agricultural workforce but receive much less funding, land, input, and training than men.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has spotlighted the gender gap in agriculture as a key obstacle to sustainable development – here’s a great infographic with statistics around this issue.
female
We want to take these stats and turn them on their head. We’ve rallied women entrepreneurs in agriculture locally and regionally who have the capacity to inspire others to create a better food system.
We’re inviting the campus community and the public to join us to learn about the successes and challenges of their journeys.
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There are three lectures in the series, with one taking place each month this fall (click the title for details):
The series has been organized and coordinated by Stockbridge instructor Angela Roell and lecturer Sarah Berquist and the flyer was designed by SFF student Annalisa Flynn.
Each lecture has its own Facebook event (links are included above). Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to individual events on Facebook.
We’d appreciate if you could pass along this information to anyone else you think may be interested. Questions and feedback can be directed via email (abthorpe@umass.edu).
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Learn about the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture! 

or…
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How to Prepare for WHATEVER Comes Next

NOTE:  Joanna Macy is a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology.  I rely on her work when I teach STOCKSCH 379 – Agricultural Systems Thinking.  I had her permission to modify one of her essays and share it under the title of The Shambhala Worker.   Stockbridge instructor, Catherine Sands, sent me this interview.  If you think life looks pretty bleak right now…. read this!
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Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure. In all great adventures there comes a time when the little band of heroes feels totally outnumbered and bleak, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings or Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress. You learn to say ‘It looks bleak. Big deal, it looks bleak.’”

Joanna Macy on How to Prepare Internally for WHATEVER Comes Next

This is an interview with Joanna Macy published in Ecobuddhism.
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Ecobuddhism: How do you feel about the Sixth Mass Extinction?

Joanna Macy: It’s happening. It’s combined with so much else that promises wholesale collapse. How do we begin to deal with the plastic in the ocean that covers areas the size of countries? What are cell phones and microwaves doing to our biological rhythms? What exactly is in our food? How do we address genetic modification of crops? We are so hooked on all of this, on every level. How do we begin to contain it?

The most immediate level of crisis concerns the Earth’s carrying capacity. Many civilizations prior to ours, starting with Mesopotamia, could no longer support themselves because they exhausted their natural resources. Carrying capacity is the level most people talk about. It’s a defining aspect of the climate crisis. How will we grow the food we need given huge variations and extremities of weather? How will we handle the natural disasters and famines that will result from a chaotic climate?

DEEP DENIAL: The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States History and Life

DENIAL

Join Gardening the Community and Undoing Racism Organizing Collective for a reading from DEEP DENIAL: The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States History and Life by David Billings, Core Trainer with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

 

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 13;  6:30 – 8:00 PM

Scibelli Enterprise Center, 1 Federal Street, Springfield, MA

Come learn, reflect and be inspired!

Now more than ever we need to address the root causes of the racism and racial superiority that permeate our country and institutions.

Refreshments will be served

Copies of the book will be for sale and all proceeds will benefit the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond

Deep Denial focuses primarily on the deeply embedded notion of white supremacy, and tells us why we remain, in the words o the author, a nation hard-wired by race. Each chapter begins with an intimate and unsparingly personal account from the author’s own life. He then lays out the historical facts, while preserving the master storyteller’s connection with the reader.

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“No one speaks to racism and its cure better than David Billings, a white Southerner who has seen it all.   His is a voice that needs to be heard.  It is a voice with a perfect pitch.”  . . . .Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Emmy and Peabody Award winning journalist and civil rights pioneer.

Event sponsors:  UROC of Western MA, Arise for Social Justice, Gardening the community, PV Grows Racial Equity in the Food System Working Group

 

UMass Researchers Run Hydroponic Farm

Evan Chakrin, harvests leeks from a hydroponic raft bed Aug. 4, 2017 at the new UMass Hydrofarm he co-founded at the university with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming. Overhead, LED strip lights supplement daylight for the plants.

AMHERST — Evan Chakrin, 33, spends his summer afternoons harvesting plants, mostly lettuce, at a hydroponic food farm.

He worked Friday afternoon, harvesting 10 pounds of lettuce that he was planning to donate to the Amherst Survival Center. He picked a head, doused it in insect soap and packaged it in a clam-shaped container.

Evan Chakrin harvests butterhead bibb lettuce

The hydroponic farm grows food without using soil. Started in the winter of last year, it is the first of its kind on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The farm provides food for on-campus restaurants such as Earthfoods Cafe.

Chakrin, a junior studying horticulture, co-leads the farm with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming, using techniques that they say will revolutionize the future of farming.

“It’s basically just using science to grow plants,” Chakrin said.  The farm grows everything from strawberries and tomatoes to lettuce and kale. It is housed in an underutilized greenhouse on the UMass Amherst campus. Chakrin and Lucas use the most common hydroponic techniques to grow their plants: raft systems and nutrient film technique channels.

Evan Chakrin displays the roots of strawberries growing in watertight channels using the nutrient film technique

The basic idea behind hydroponic farming is growing plants without soil, Chakrin said. Nutrients get dissolved into water surrounding the plants’ roots. This allows the system to be up to 90 percent more water- and nutrient-efficient than other types of farming. The system uses less water than an irrigated field. There is also no nutrient runoff into local water sources.

“We can totally control whatever we waste,” Chakrin said.

Lucas started working on the idea of creating a hydroponic farm in 2015, but she and Chakrin were not able to secure a grant until last December. The two received $5,000 and a previously underused greenhouse from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

“We were expecting a little space on campus, basically just a closet,” Chakrin said. “Then they surprised us with this.”

As soon as they got the space, they started working right away. They started germinating seeds, and by the middle of February, all of the systems were up and running. They then started selling their food to places on campus. The money from the sales goes into a fund that they can use to purchase more equipment or seeds.

Chakrin said selling the products allows them to be financially stable and gives the business a fresh, locally produced food option.

The farm will continue to grow in the years to come. In the fall, the two are teaching 12 undergraduate students in a one-credit practicum course about hydroponic farming.

The university offers many courses on the theories and science behind farming but not many on hydroponic techniques. Allowing other students to work in the farm gives them hands-on experience, Chakrin said.

“The techniques we use here are the main hydroponic techniques used,” Chakrin said. “This work is directly applicable to any of their food production goals.”

Chakrin said he hopes any students who are involved in urban food production get involved, even those not involved in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The two also want to scale up their sales. Chakrin said he is hoping to start selling to bigger dining halls and other places on campus.

One of the benefits of hydroponic farms is that they can be used to grow food locally, even in urban areas. The lettuce grown at the UMass farm doesn’t come from some giant farm in California, Chakrin said. This reduces shipping costs and carbon costs for interstate shipping.

“I think it is a major loss that the average bite of food travels extremely far to get to our plates, and this is the solution to the problem,” Lucas said.

Lucas and Chakrin have started a consulting service for the future of farming, called Farmable. Lucas said the idea behind it is that any space, even small urban areas, can be made into a green space.

“Anywhere is farmable and this concept will revolutionize how urbanites are able to access food,” Lucas said.

We’ve got really good food at UMass Amherst!

The Princeton Review Ranked UMass Amherst No. 1 for Best Campus Food

At least part of the reason for this is the strong commitment to buying local food and supporting the UMass Student Farm!

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AMHERST, Mass. – The Princeton Review today ranked the University of Massachusetts Amherst No. 1 for best campus food in the nation.

After being ranked among the top three schools nationally since 2013, news of the No. 1 ranking is being celebrated by UMass Dining staff, who have worked tirelessly to achieve national recognition, says Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass Amherst.

The university was among the schools featured live on NBC’s Today Show on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Sam the Minuteman, the UMass mascot, made a guest appearance and delivered a tray of delicacies, including pork sliders and Napoleons.

Robert Franek, senior vice president of Princeton Review, praised the university’s dining as “fresh, local and delicious”  and called UMass Amherst “a glorious place … nourishing the body as well as the mind.”

“This honor is shared by every member of our staff who work each day to serve healthy, sustainable and delicious meals to our students,” says Toong. “This ranking is also a tribute to our students, whose high expectations drive our team to excel.”

“We’re pleased to see that The Princeton Review has recognized what all of us at UMass Amherst have long known: when it comes to college food, UMass Dining can’t be beat,” says Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “Congratulations to the entire UMass Dining family.”

The rankings of the top 20 schools in 62 categories in The Princeton Review’s The Best 381 Colleges, released Aug. 29, are based on surveys of 143,000 students at the schools in the guide.

UMass Dining is now the largest college dining services operation in the country, serving 45,000 daily meals or 5.5 million per year. Since 1999, overall participation in the university meal plan has more than doubled, from 8,300 participants to more than 19,200.

The award-winning UMass Dining is a self-operated program committed to providing a variety of healthy world cuisines using the most sustainable ingredients. UMass Dining incorporates recipes from accomplished chefs and nutritionists as well as principles from the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard School of Public Health to its cycle menu. UMass Dining is known for being among the most honored collegiate dining programs in America by many national organizations. For the past six years, UMass Dining has been selected to the Princeton Review’s Best Campus Food list. Previously, it was ranked No. 10 in 2012, No. 3 in 2013 and 2014, and No. 2 in 2015 and 2016.

Continue reading We’ve got really good food at UMass Amherst!

A letter to those of you who have taken a class in French Hall at UMass

TO:  Stockbridge Students who have taken classes in French Hall

FROM:  John M. Gerber, Professor of Sustainable Food & Farming

newfrenchallWhile you were studying horticultural plant pathology with Bess Dicklow, or sustainable agriculture with Katie Campbell-Nelson, or visiting your adviser Doug Cox or Susan Han, did you ever wonder who French Hall was named after?  Probably not.

You have surely walked by the plaque near the front door commemorating Henry Flagg French, the first President of Massachusetts Agricultural College (Mass Aggie).

henryfrenchA native of New Hampshire and graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, French loved agriculture but spent most of his career as a lawyer and a judge.  He operated a farm, did his own agricultural research and was considered a leader in the emerging application of science to agriculture.

French held the post of president for two years, resigning in 1866 even before any students had arrived.  According to Henry Bowker, a student who entered Mass Aggie with the first class in 1867, and remained connected as an alum and trustee for many years, “Judge” French “was a keen, sensitive man, with q good mind, highly trained and well informed, rather distant in manner, but kindly in nature.”   Professor French was said to be well ahead of his time in his thinking on agriculture.

His short stay as President seems to have been because of an argument with the Board of Trustees (not an uncommon problem for college presidents then and today) over the proposed placement of new buildings.  It seems that the original design for the campus was created by the famous architect who designed Central Park in N.Y. City, Frederick Law Olmsted.  In 1866 the Trustees of Massachusetts Agricultural College requested that Olmsted, provide recommendations for the grounds of the newly formed institution.

Olmsted recommended that the college as a whole be modeled after a typical New England village. The Board of Trustees did not like the plan, fired Olmsted, and proceeded place buildings in a more expansive manner, spread farther apart among the fields.  French seems have sided with Olmsted, and lost.

OpeningMassAggieAfter leaving Mass Aggie, French moved to Washington D.C. and served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury on the President’s Cabinet.  He also authored a book titled “Farm Drainage” which described the way a particular type of drain was used called a “French Drain” which were probably invented in France but popularized by Professor French.

While here for only a few years, “Judge” French had a lasting impact on the policies and core values of the new college.  The following was taken from a report he wrote:  “Our college is to be established as part of the great scheme of public education…., not as a rival to our other excellent colleges, but as a co-worker with them in a common cause.” 

Remember that prior to the Morrill Act of 1862, signed by President Lincoln, all of the colleges in the U.S. were private institutions offering education only to the wealthy.  Levi Stockbridge himself, was frustrated because his father could only afford to send one of his son’s to Amherst College, and his older brother Henry was chosen.  Nevertheless, Levi attended classes with his brother, and was mentored by Amherst College President Edward Hitchcock in chemistry.  Public institutions, such as Mass Aggie which offered a free college education for many years to anyone qualified, was a radical departure from the elite colleges of the day.

Judge French has strongly held democratic tendencies and claimed that Mass Aggie should “… differ essentially from any college existing in the country controlled by an aristocracy.”   Further, he wrote in one of the first reports  ever coming from the nascent University of Massachusetts Amherst that “wealth and education, monopolized by any class in any country, will draw to that class the political control of the country.”   Sounds like Judge French would have camped out with the protesters at the Occupy Wall Street site!

frenchquoteOne of my favorite quotes from French is above.  He believed that we must “recast society into a system of equality.”   Indeed he fully understood the purpose of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which was passed “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”