Category Archives: Education

UMass’s First Carbon Farming Initiative Demonstrates How to Sustainably Grow Food and Mitigate Climate Change

UMass’s First Carbon Farming Initiative Demonstrates How to Sustainably Grow Food and Mitigate Climate Change

By: Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton

The UMass Carbon Farming Initiative is the first temperate climate research silvopasture plot at the University of Massachusetts. Carbon farming is the practice of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into soil carbon stocks and above ground biomass. Silvopasture, a carbon farming practice is the intentional combination of trees and livestock for increased productivity and biosequestration.

The plot is a 1 acre silvopasture system at the Agriculture Learning Center (ALC) that integrates a diverse planting of complex hybrid chestnuts systematically arranged to ensure ease of management for rotational grazing sheep. Establishment of the initiative has been funded by the Sustainable Food and Farming Program (SFF) and a grant from the Sustainability Innovation and Engagement Fund (SEIF) and is managed by Stockbridge School of Agriculture Faculty Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton and SFF students.

According to Project Drawdown, a broad coalition of scientists, policy makers, business leaders, and activists that have compiled a comprehensive plan for reversing climate change, silvopasture is the highest ranked agricultural solution to climate change. Silvopastoral systems contribute to climate change mitigation both through the direct drawdown of atmospheric carbon into soil and biomass and through the reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by industrial livestock systems. With the growing demand for meat and dairy products, and the limited amount of land available it is essential that we identify agricultural practices that are part of the solution rather than exacerbating the problem.

In order to get to down to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2, the safe amount of concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we need to have NET Zero carbon emissions and remove 300+ billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.Research suggests that silvopasture systems are capable of storing as much as 100 tons of Carbon (367 tons of CO2) per acre while adding the yields of tree crops to the existing animal systems, and ecological benefits like reduced nutrient runoff, erosion, and animal stress from heat and wind. Traditional silvopasture systems, such as the dehesa in Spain and forest pastures in Scotland, have existed for centuries but more research and development is needed for cold climate sites in the United States.

Some goals and objectives for this project are:

  1. Establish a concrete example of carbon farming. This example will function as an outdoor classroom for SFF and related courses as well as a demonstration site for farmers and policy makers.
  2. Trial different varieties of complex hybrid chestnuts looking for traits like climate hardiness, nut size and yield, disease resistance, and precociousness
  3. Test market for products such as chestnuts, chestnut flour, nursery scion wood
  4. Track financial implications of these practices such as: cost of establishment, ongoing costs, revenue streams, and CO2 sequestration per acre
  5. Empower students as emerging leaders in the cutting edge fields of Permaculture, carbon farming and sustainable animal husbandry.
  6. Conduct research and development to support regional farmers in adopting carbon farming practices and strategies
  7. Catalog the carcass yields of the pastured livestock
  8. Monitor and test parasitic loads with livestock
  9.  Track rotations of sheep

For more information on the Initiative contact Lisa DePiano at ldepiano@umass.edu or Nicole Burton at ngburton@umass.edu

 

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STOCKSCH 166 – Practical Beekeeping

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STOCKSCH 166 – Practical Beekeeping 

Instructor: Angela Roell, M.S.

NOTE: interested non-majors are welcome but will need permission to register.  Contact the instructor at Angela Roell <angela.roell@gmail.com>.

Class Meets Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:00- 3:30;  This course will be both in person and online via Moodle, digital content will be released weekly on Monday, weekly course content will be due by the following Monday by midnight.

Office Hours: Via phone or Skype, by appointment only

Contact Information: Angela Roell, angela.roell@gmail.com, 413.588.6977

Course Description

This course will focus on knowledge pertaining to honeybee hive anatomy & social structure, and the management strategies necessary to perform basic beekeeping. Continue reading STOCKSCH 166 – Practical Beekeeping

Congressman James McGovern Will Visit UMass Agricultural Learning Center

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As part of his eighth annual Farm Tour in western Massachusetts, Congressman James McGovern will make a stop at UMass Amherst’s Agricultural Learning Center (ALC), where approximately 30 of its 60 acres are in production this summer. The focus of this season’s tour is farms that produce and sell food and produce to schools and other institutions.

Center director Amanda Brown says 10 active faculty-sponsored projects employing 20 undergraduate student summer workers are currently underway at the ALC, including:

  • a silvo-pasture, combining a woodland nut crop and grazing sheep in a mutually beneficial way
  • a chicken-raising operation as a source of lean local protein
  • the “Food for All” garden, which provides fresh local produce to the Amherst Survival Center and the Amherst-based soup kitchen, Not Bread Alone
  • a native plant demonstration plot, pollinator garden and permaculture garden
  • honey bees
  • an off-grid greenhouse funded by a National Science Foundation grant, now up and running, will allow students to grow produce year-round without fossil fuels
  • an organic vineyard, now staked out, will be planted in the fall
  • an organic apple orchard
  • a demonstration plot of cover crops, grain and pasture management

Continue reading Congressman James McGovern Will Visit UMass Agricultural Learning Center

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.
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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…

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.