Category Archives: Education

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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

UMass Hydro begins to feed campus


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

Original Post

Seeds of Time: Film and Discussion

UMass Sustainable Food and Farming (SFF) is hosting a three part PUBLIC and FREE film series to provide a community space where students can critically engage in issues surrounding the food system.  Each film is followed by a panel discussion featuring local individuals within the field.

seedsOn March 9th, 6-8pm in the W.E.B Dubois Library, Floor 19 Room 1920, SFF will be screening the documentary “Seeds of Time” followed by a panelist discussion at 7:30pm featuring professor of Economics, James Boyce, along with other individuals from the community.

Film Synopsis
A perfect storm is brewing as agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler races against time to protect the future of our food. Seed banks around the world are crumbling, crop failures are producing starvation and rioting, and the accelerating effects of climate change are affecting farmers globally. Communities of indigenous Peruvian farmers are already suffering those effects, as they try desperately to save over 1,500 varieties of native potato in their fields. But with little time to waste, both Fowler and the farmers embark on passionate and personal journeys that may save the one resource we cannot live without: our seeds.


10,000 years ago the biggest revolution in human history occurred: we became agrarians. We ceased hunting and gathering and began to farm, breeding and domesticating plants that have resulted in the crops we eat today. But the genetic diversity of these domesticated crops, which were developed over millennia, is vanishing today. And the consequences of this loss could be dire.

As the production of high yielding, uniform varieties has increased, diversity has declined. For example, in U.S. vegetable crops we now have less than seven percent of the diversity that existed just a century ago. We are confronted with the global pressures of feeding a growing population, in a time when staple crops face new threats from disease and changing climates.

Crop diversity pioneer Cary Fowler travels the world, educating the public about the dire consequences of our inaction. Along with his team at The Global Crop Diversity Trust in Rome, Cary struggles to re-invent a global food system so that it can, in his words: “last forever.” Cary aims to safeguard the last place that much of our diversity is left in tact: in the world’s vulnerable gene banks.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, a group of indigenous Peruvian farmers work to preserve over 1,500 native varieties of potato in their fields. Through the guidance of activist Alejandro Argumedo and the help of the International Potato Center gene bank in Lima, several communities join forces to create a new conservation grounds called “The Potato Park.”

But not all is well in this haven for diversity. The Andes Mountains, our planet’s most diverse region for potatoes, is already seeing the crippling effects of climate change. Potato production has risen more than 500 feet in altitude over the last 30 years, leaving varieties at lower elevations unable to produce. With erratic weather patterns already eroding biodiversity, what is to be done when these farmers can no longer continue moving “up”?

With a passion few possess, Cary set out to build the world’s first global seed vault – a seed collection on a scale larger than any other. The vault, located in Norway, is an unprecedented insurance policy for the crop diversity of the world. In an extraordinary gesture of support, the farmers of the Potato Park become the first indigenous community to send samples of their potato diversity to the vault for safekeeping.

But as the stakes of maintaining a secure global food system continue to rise, adaptation will become a requisite for our own survival. How can we best maintain the diversity that still exists for our food crops? How do we create new diversity to adapt our fields to a changing climate? The answers are as complex as the system they intend to fix. And it will require a combination of efforts: from scientists, plant breeders, researchers, farmers, politicians, and even gardeners.



New Stockbridge Course on Food Waste/Recovery – STOCKSCH 197 W

STOCKSCH 197 W:  How to Recover a Truly Sustainable Food System:
A Look at Food Waste and Recovery


  • Mary Bell, B.S., Local Food Waste researcher, educator, advocate
  • Angela Roell, M.Ed.

Class Meeting:  Tuesday 4:00-5:15 pm

Location:  Paige Lab Conference Room (202)

Office Hours:  By appointment

Contact Information:

Course Description:

wasteThis course is an introduction to food waste, and the impact waste has on our food system.  We will introduces the current food recovery hierarchy, and examines how consumers, producers and distributors waste food.  We will explore the environmental and social impact of food waste in our food system, and introduce social and policy initiatives employed to recover food.  Students will read, reflect and discuss the actionable steps being taken to shift our local food system’s food waste into food recovery.

Prerequisites: Open to all UMass students interested in food recovery.

Required Course Materials:

A blank notebook should be brought to every class.  This notebook will be used for notes, reflections and homework assignments.  It is a vital part of your grade.  Laptops will be permitted as a note taking tool ONLY if students elect to create a digital journal.

There will be no formal text book for this course, readings will be distributed via .pdf


Project Percentage
Pre-Course Self Assessment 10.00%
Reflection Journal:

·       Interview Project

·       Case Study Notes

·       Weekly Homework

·       Technology Tools

Case Study Presentation 40.00%
Post-Course Self Reflection 10.00%

Course Schedule:

Week 1, 1/24/17, Course Introduction

In Class:

Review Syllabus

Based on current knowledge and assumptions students will build EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy in small groups

Self-Assessment Survey & Learning Styles Quiz

  • Students will complete initial self-assessment survey
  • Students will complete a learning style quiz:



  • American Wasteland, by Jonathan Bloom: Chapter 4, A Culture of Waste:  Our Fall from Thrift and Our Imminent Return (pg 59-66)
  • Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, by Dana Gunders, Natural Resources Defense Council (pg 1-6)


  • Use your phone’s camera to document your own food waste. In one week take one photograph per day the food that you throw out, discard, spoilage, compost, etc.  Share photos via UMass UDRIVE

Week 2, 1/31/17, How Does Food Waste Impact the Food System

In Class:

A definition and discussion of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy

  • EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy and Three Reasons for a Growing Interest in Food Loss, Economic Research Service, USDA

Review and discuss our class’s cumulative weekly food waste



  • American Wasteland, by Jonathan Bloom: Chapter 5, American Farms:  Growing Waste, Selling Perfection
  • Causes of Food Loss and Waste at the Farm, Farm-to-Retail, Retail, and Consumer Levels, Economic Research Service, USDA


  • Reflect on the Food Recovery Hierarchy, how is it different than you assumed? How is it similar?   

Week 3, 2/7/17, Why is there Food Waste?

In Class:

Discuss readings from American Wasteland and the Economic Research Service

Think/Pair/Share Activity



  • Review the website:
  • Read one case study from the “case study” tab
    • How is Lean Path using technology to address food waste and recovery?
      • Record your thoughts in reflection journal


Week 4, 2/14/17, The Gap- Expiration Dates and Labeling

In Class:

Facilitated discussion with student questions

Experiential Activity

Case Study Overview and Distribution


Review assigned Case Study, record brainstorm and any actionable steps in your journal

Week 5, 2/21, The Value of Food vs. The Cost of Waste

In Class:

Interview Questions Brainstorm

Discussion about Farm-Based Food Waste



  • Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winne: Chapter 7:  Growing Obese and Diabetic; Going Organic and Local


  • Interview Questions Project published/shared to begin

Week 6, 2/28, Food Insecurity and Nutrition

In Class:

An introduction to food insecurity with facilitated discussion and student questions



  • How Food Made History by BW Higman: Chapter Seven: Cooking, Class, and Consumption


Week 7, 3/7, Gleaning as a Food Recovery Tool

In Class:

Facilitated discussion with student questions

In-Class reading: Farmers Help Fight Food Waste by Donating Wholesome Food




  • Meet with your Case Study team, record brainstorm and actionable steps in your reflection journal

Week 8, Spring Break


Week 9, 3/21, Redirecting Food Waste: Farm-Based Food Recovery

In Class:

Panel Discussion, guests TBD




  • How is Food Donation Connection using technology to address food waste? How could they do better?
    • Record your thoughts in reflection journal, 1-2 pages

Week 10, 3/28, Creative Community Initiatives Addressing Food Insecurity

In Class:

How is food insecurity being addressed in our community?

Facilitated discussion with student questions

Facilitated review of results found in Interview Questions Project



  • Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winne: Chapter 9:  Public Policy; Food for the People

Week 11, 4/4, Bill Emerson Food Donation Act

In Class:

Presentation by Mary Bell

Facilitated discussion with student questions




  • Write about two new things you learned from the Mass Local Food Action Plan
    • How are these ideas actionable in your local or regional food system?
    • Are any of these ideas being implemented in our local food shed?

Week 12, 4/11, Mass Local Food Action Plan

In Class:

Discuss Mass Local Food Action Plan

Think/Pair/Share Activity  



  • Legal Fact Sheet for Massachusetts Food Donation: Liability Protections, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, July 2015
  • Federal enhanced – Tax Deduction for Food Donation – a legal guide, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, April 2016

Week 13, Patriots Day: Monday Schedule

 Week 14, 4/25, Self Assessment and Course Review

In Class:

Students will complete a final self assessment

Students will complete an exit survey  


Meet with group to work on final presentations

Week 15 & 16, 5/2-5/9, Final Presentations

In Class:

Final Presentations of Case Studies

Attendance at all presentations is mandatory to receive a passing grade


Project Description Due Date
Case Studies in Food Recovery

◦   A Perfect Loop – Food Recovery in San Diego, BioCycle 2013

◦   The Good Food Fight for Good Samaritans: The History of Alleviating Liability and Equalizing Tax Incentives for Food Donors, Stacey H.Van Zuiden- 2012 Drake University

◦   3rd Case Study TBD

1.     Students will review one of three case studies of a food recovery project in our local/regional food system assigned by instructors

2.     Case studies are designed to address our three themes: farm/environmental impact, food security/food justice, and food policy

3.     Students will record main ideas from the reading in their reflection journal

4.     Students will generate a list of 3-5 ideas for addressing the thematic nature of the case study and record them in the reflection journal

5.     Students will work in small groups assigned by instructors

6.     Using case studies students will generate an actionable idea for addressing food waste and recovery at a campus, local or regional level

7.     Students will prepare a presentation of their main ideas and actionable steps to address food waste using Prezi or Power Point



Interview Project 1.     As a class students will compile interview questions

2.     Instructors will generate a survey based on student input and distribute digitally via Google Forms

3.     Students will interview 3 people in their communities about their food system experience: one consumer, one producer, one retailer or distributor

4.     Students will reflect on their findings in reflection journal

5.     Findings will be shared in class and discussed

Reflection Journal 1.     All weekly reflections and writing assignments MUST be kept in one reflection journal

2.     The journal will be collected on the last day of class


Course Policies

  1. The success of this course depends on student participation. Everyone is expected to arrive on time, ready to comment, answer questions, and actively contribute.  Cell phones, iPads, etc should be turned off during class unless you have requested accommodations from the instructor prior to class. Please bring all reading materials to class.  Laptops will be permitted as a note taking tool ONLY if students elect to create a digital journal.
  2. Written work is to be handed in on time. Late work will not be accepted.  We will make exceptions to this rule only in the case of serious emergency, and only if contacted via phone or email within 24 hours of missing the scheduled deadline.
  3. Students are responsible for course information sent to their UMass email accounts. We will respond to your email within 24 hours, please plan accordingly.
  4. Office hours will be by appointment, if a question or concerns arises
  5. Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. Use care in written work to avoid the appearance of cheating/plagiarism.  Please discuss questions with us if you have a concern.
  6. If you are in need of learning accommodations, please come speak with one of us at the beginning of the semester so we can guarantee your needs are fully met throughout the course.   

Food Systems Work by UMass Students


While it is true that the Stockbridge School of Agriculture has been offering courses in food production and marketing since the beginning, our students today are engaged in many learning activities that include farming but also focus on necessary changes to the larger food system.

Here are a few of the things Stockbridge and other UMass students have been up to in October….

  • UMass Permaculture gleaned 900 lbs. of butternut squash from Plainville Farm in Hadley.  Thanks to Stockbridge Alum Xochi Salazar and her team for providing food to a  local shelter, the Student Farmer’s Market, and “Pledge” a program supporting sustainability, the use of “ugly” vegetables, and less food waste!


  • Our Stockbridge Community Food Systems and our Food Justice and Policy classes collaborated with Nuestras Raices to provide high school students with the tools to conduct a school food survey at Paulo Freire Social Justice High School, as well as a community visioning session about a new community garden;  and designed production tracking systems with urban farmers.  Here are a few of the high school students during a visioning session.  Thanks so much to Stockbridge instructor Catherine Sands for connecting our UMass students to students in Holyoke!


  • The SERSI student RSO is interested in helping with the Food Recovery Network and will focus future efforts in this direction.  Here are some of the SERSI members from last year. We look forward to see what 2016-17 will bring!



  • The UMass School of Public Policy and the Amherst Survival Centter is sponsoring an event with Congressman McGovern on  Oct. 26 Food Insecurity Event.    Stockbridge students plan to attend. 
  • The Food for All Garden at the Agricultural Learning Center is having a FALL HARVEST CELEBRATION preceded by GARLIC PLANTING on Friday, October 28th @ 4:30pm (garlic plant) and 5:30 is our Community Potluck.  Bring a food or non-alcoholic drink to share or just come hungry.  Hope you can join us!



  • Stockbridge will offer a one credit seminar in the spring titled How to Recover a Truly Sustainable Food System – A Look at Food Waste and Recovery, on Tuesday afternoons at 4:00-5:15pm.  Thanks to Mary Bell and Angela Roell who will be the instructors!