Category Archives: Education

Schools Add In-House Farms as Teaching Tools in New York City


scholIn the East Village, children planted garlic bulbs and harvested Swiss chard before Thanksgiving. On the other side of town, in Greenwich Village, they learned about storm water runoff, solar energy and wind turbines. And in Queens, students and teachers cultivated flowers that attract butterflies and pollinators.

Across New York City, gardens and miniature farms — whether on rooftops or at ground level — are joining smart boards and digital darkrooms as must-have teaching tools. They are being used in subjects as varied as science, art, mathematics and social studies. In the past two years, the number of school-based gardens registered with the city jumped to 232, from 40, according to GreenThumb, a division of the parks department that provides Continue reading Schools Add In-House Farms as Teaching Tools in New York City

The art of systems thinking in driving sustainable transformation

According to this blog post in The Guardian: Sustainable Business Blog systems thinking helps us to “change systems and help multiple stakeholders find a common vision.”


Systems thinking may represent the next phase in the evolution of sustainability, but it is not an arena for corporations to enter lightly.

While collaboration may offer the best opportunity for scaling up change, it is far from easy and requires a certain skill set, including a sense of humility and sensitivity, that seemingly all-powerful corporations are often not well versed in.

So I thought it would be good to outline some of the essential ingredients for a successful systems change programme.

I give the credit for these guidelines to two women I met at the SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas; Sarah Severn, director of stakeholder mobilisation at Nike, and Darcy Continue reading The art of systems thinking in driving sustainable transformation

UMass Stockbridge School, Wildwood embark on grow local partnership

By By NICK GRABBE Staff Writer

Thursday, October 25, 2012

AMHERST — Wildwood School kindergarteners and Principal Nick Yaffe, sat in a circle Thursday around a hole in the ground where an apple tree was about to be planted.

Ryan Harb, coordinator of the permaculture program at the University of Massachusetts, who carted in two semidwarf apple trees, asked the children if they had ever eaten apples. Every hand shot up.

“The reason we came here and want to plant this apple tree is that we’re really passionate about growing food, so we wanted to give you an opportunity to grow some food with us,” he explained.

They shook out the dirt from the sod that Harb and his colleague, Tripper O’Mara, had dug up. One child found a large worm, and as his classmates gathered around to look at it, Continue reading UMass Stockbridge School, Wildwood embark on grow local partnership

National Grid Green Scholar Recognized at UMass

Congratulations to Mr. Derek Silva, a sophomore in the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, for being selected as the recipient of the 2012 National Grid Foundation Green Scholarship Award.

Presenting the award in Stockbridge Hall was Mr. Robert Keller, President of the National Grid Foundation.

Derek was selected by the faculty of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture as an outstanding example of a young person committed to both academic excellence and sustainable living.  His education includes practical, scientific and policy aspects of sustainable food and farming.

In this photo, Derek and other Sustainable Food and Farming students learn how to prepare cauliflower for harvest at Simple Gifts Farm In North Amherst, MA.   

Derek, who comes from Lowell, MA, hopes to pursue a career in advocacy for sustainable issues including local farming.  He is currently studying sustainable food and farming and will focus on public policy and advocacy in his degree.  His family originally comes from a farming community in the Azores and Derek’s grandfather is an avid gardener.

As part of the presentation, Dr. Wesley Autio (pictured above), Director of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, met with Derek and Robert Keller to talk about the rich history of the school and its recent elevation to an academic unit in the College of Natural Sciences.


Special thanks to the National Grid Foundation and congratulations to Derek Silva from the faculty in the University of Massachusetts College of Natural Sciences.




Boston Globe Highlights Stockbridge School of Agriculture

September 18, 2012

UMass steps up to meet the demand

For evidence of farming’s increasing popularity, look no further than Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 2000, when the school launched its sustainable food and farming program, 10 students were enrolled. Today, the program has 75 students, about 25 in the two-year associate’s degree program and 50 pursuing a four-year bachelor of science.

Stockbridge, with a total enrollment of about 329 students, also offers majors in areas such as horticulture and turfgrass management.

Not everyone who goes through the sustainable program ends up in farming. “About a third of our students are looking at small farms,” says John Gerber, a professor at the Stockbridge School. “But a third are looking at public policy and advocacy, and about a third are looking at youth education. Growing things is what we know best, but the students are broadening how we think about agricultural education.”

Keith Boyle, 22, is one recent Stockbridge graduate who started farming before the ink on his diploma was dry. At 14, the East Bridgewater native began working for cranberry grower Peter Oakley, at first reluctantly, and then with great enthusiasm. He attended Norfolk County Agricultural High School and then Stockbridge.

When a small bog came on the market a couple of years ago, Oakley purchased it and held it for Boyle until last spring, when he was able to buy it, thanks to an interest-free loan from UMass’s Lotta Crabtree fund and another loan from Oakley.

“The loan went through in April, so before I graduated, I had the property,” Boyle recounts proudly.

As of this summer, the 94-year-old UMass agriculture program has been elevated to a full academic unit, with its own faculty and education offered up to the doctorate level and a new Undergraduate Agricultural Learning Center in the offing.

“UMass has decided this is a growth area,” says Gerber, “and the Stockbridge School is growing.”



Images added by J. Gerber

The Big Y is selling vegetables grown by UMass students

Today was the kick-off of a long-term commitment from the Big Y grocery store in Hadley, MA to sell produce grown by UMass students in the Student Farming Enterprise class.  UMass instructors, Amanda Brown and Ruth Hazzard, were out in front of the store today with several of their students displaying fresh vegetables grown at the Student Farm.

Please check out this short video about the partnership with the Big Y World Class Market!

2012 Marks the 6th season of the UMass Student Farming Enterprise program at UMass. SFE began in the fall of 2007 with two students growing kale and broccoli through an independent study project to sell to the UMass Earthfoods Cafe.  In spring 2008, the farming enterprise project was established as a year-long university class.  This year the farm will increase production again to allow more students to participate in the course and serve more diverse local markets.

The class is sponsored by the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and currently listed under the title PLSOILIN 498E – Student Farming Enterprise.  The project has received support from the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture, UMass Auxiliary Services, and the Sustainable Food and Farming program.

The Student Farming course is limited to 10 students (there is one opening remaining for this semester), and takes place both on and off campus.  Students are responsible for identifying markets for the produce, planning out in advance for the crops, visiting farms in the immediate area, managing plants in the greenhouse, using market strategies to achieve desired yields, and learning farming methods.  All produce grown is United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic.

In addition to selling to the Big Y, student farmers sell produce to the UMass Dining Services and directly to customers through their Friday afternoon farmers market in the UMass Student Union as well as a membership CSA.  In the fall of 2012, the Student Farming Enterprise will offer 50 shares of local, organic produce to the UMass community. Members include students, faculty, and staff.  Shares include over 15 pounds of fresh weekly organic produce over a 10 week period (September through November). The cost of a share is $325 for the season.  Anyone interested in purchasing a share may contact the student farmers at

For more on the UMass Student Farming Enterprise class, see this short video:

For information on the project, contact Amanda Brown at

Exciting Time at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture

As many of you know, the Stockbridge School of Agriculture has always offered exciting programs.  However, Over the last couple of months, significant changes have occurred which will make it even better than before. These changes are born out of a committee appointed to review agricultural education at UMass and develop approaches to strengthen all agricultural work at UMass. A refocus of agricultural efforts is now the main effort as a result of this review.

The approach that we began about 1.5 years ago was to elevate the Stockbridge School of
Agriculture to a full academic unit with a faculty, education offered at all levels from A.S. to Continue reading Exciting Time at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture

NYT article “Farming on the Campus Quad”

Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst planting tomatoes in a garden on campus.
Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst planting tomatoes in a garden on campus

Picture the archetypal college campus: venerable Gothic stone buildings, maple leaves aflame in autumn colors and students lounging with books on a wide, open lawn.

Grassy quadrangles are staples on most college campuses. But maybe all that soil can be put to a different use: a handful of colleges and universities have planted small student-run farms on formerly grassy areas in recent years. This seems to raise the broader question of whether the quad, which gobbles water and fertilizer but produces very little, is outmoded in an era of sustainable thinking.

Luscious greenery doesn’t grow naturally where I went to school, the University of Colorado, Boulder, which sits on arid plains at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Yet that didn’t stop the wife of the university’s first president from resolving in 1876 to substitute a lawn for the wiry plains grasses surrounding Old Main, at the time the university’s only building.

A historical landscaping document tells how soil was distributed by the wagonful and grass seed was distributed across the campus. Students chased cows away and threw weed-pulling parties to keep the lawns manicured.

In recent years, the university has been focused as much on environmental sustainability as on beautification. The school has at least a dozen LEED-certified buildings and several installations of solar panels. It has yet to plant crops or pull up the grass from campus lawns, as some schools have, however.

Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., for example, has just finished turning the front lawn of one campus building into a garden for its Lawn to Edible Garden project.

“We’re trying to bust open the notion of what a front lawn might look like,” said Philip Ackerman-Leist, an associate professor at the college who directs the project. He said the reason that Americans like grassy lawns so much is the country’s British roots. “The notion of the lawn is an import from the well-grazed areas of the British Isles,” he said, joking that a herd of sheep might be even better suited for a college quadrangle than a garden.

Mr. Ackerman-Leist said 25 students had built their college garden in five days as part of an Edible Landscaping class. They focused on aesthetics and on limiting costs. “It’s difficult to eat local and buy local and do it on a budget,” he said, so the project teaches students and others in the community how local food can be produced right on the lawn.

Similarly, students at Duke University started the Duke Campus Farm in 2010, and much of what the farmers produce is served in Duke’s own dining halls. That same year, students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, began a project that they call permaculture (permanent agriculture), turning a quarter-acre of campus lawn into a vegetable garden.

“We said, ‘Let’s take a look at these areas where we don’t need grass lawns, and let’s grow some food there,’” said Ryan Harb, the sustainability manager for dining services on the Amherst campus. The university now has two permaculture gardens and has begun building a third. Mr. Harb said the gardens had produced over 1,000 pounds of food under the stewardship of 1,200 to 1,300 volunteers. The food has gone to the university’s dining halls and a campus farmers’ market.

This month the university will play host to an international permaculture conference in the hope of introducing successful campus farming to other institutions. “I think we’re at the cusp of building a network of colleges and universities around the country” devoted to sustainable agriculture, Mr. Harb said.

Campus lawns do serve a purpose beyond sunbathing or reading. I remember students filling the quads of the University of Colorado, Boulder, with flags representing Holocaust victims, for instance, and protesting immigration legislation.

Maybe lots of college campuses will start converting their sprawls of grass into more environmentally productive places. Do you, and the college students you know, think they should?



NOTE: UMass will offer a new Permaculture class this fall open to all students.  If you are interested, check out: PLSOILIN 197G – Intro to Permaculture.

Sustainable and Urban Agriculture Summer Classes Online at UMass

Two of the courses offered this summer as part of the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program are:

PLSOILIN 265Sustainable Agriculture

In this course we will study the ethical, practical and scientific aspects of agricultural sustainability including economic, social and environmental impacts of food and farming. We will use systems thinking tools to compare industrial and ecological agriculture, and ultimately each student will develop a holistic management plan for a sustainable farming system. Click here for more.

STOCKSCH 290UUrban Ag: Innovative Farming Systems for the 21st Century

This course explores the subject of Urban Agriculture through the investigation and evaluation of current urban farming systems. Using case studies, students will practice critical research skills including information gathering, analysis, and assessment to learn about contemporary urban farming practices. Click here for more.

These two courses are offered by the University of Massachusetts Sustainable Food and Farming undergraduate major, a Bachelor of Sciences degree in the College of Natural Sciences and part of the recently expanded Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

In addition to the Bachelor of Sciences degree in Sustainable Food and Farming, students not quite ready to commit to 4 years of college may be interested in the Sustainable Food and Farming 15-credit certificate program.  The certificate may be earned on campus or completely online.  More online classes will be offered this summer, winter and spring.

Greenfield Recorder Article on Changes at “Mass Aggie”

Recorder Staff

AMHERST — Students are getting back to the Earth — literally.  When a group of University of Massachusetts students hatched an idea to create a permaculture garden, they convinced administrators to let them convert a quarter-acre parcel near Franklin Dining Commons into a garden that would help produce a half-ton of produce to feed the dining halls.

More than 1,000 students were involved in preparing and managing the new garden, which could be seen as something of a return of UMass to its 149-year roots as Massachusetts Agricultural College (Mass Aggie).

Now, much bigger changes are under way at UMass, as some faculty point to a renewed interest in the earth that rivals the “back to the land movement” they saw in the 1970s. The Stockbridge School of Agriculture is being recast as the home of four-year as well as two-year degrees, in cooperation with a newly created Center for Agriculture that reflects the resurgence of interest among students of all stripes.

“There’s such an incredible interest in agriculture, not so much from students who want to be dairy farmers, but who want to have a house and who want to learn to grow this or that or to have land to milk some goats,” said Stockbridge School Dean William Mitchell, who’s seen the Sustainable Food and Farming program expand from 10 to 15 students when he arrived 3½ years ago to about 70 today. “We’ve got students in political science who want to learn about agriculture. It’s like the ’70s, when I was a student, and it was ‘back to the earth.’ This is almost the same movement; just a different generation.”

Stockbridge, which was authorized by the Legislature to offer a two-year course in practical agriculture in 1918, hasn’t had its own faculty or its own students since other disciplines at what grew to be the university become dominant.  “Even though agriculture has always been here, it’s fluctuated up and down in terms of importance,” said Mitchell, who directs Stockbridge, which he said has an impressive national reputation.

Academic programs at Stockbridge will come under the College of Natural Sciences and partner with the Center for Agriculture. The center will bring together research and Extension Service outreach programs, according to the center’s director, Stephen J. Herbert. But a symbol of its renewed support will be a new “agricultural learning center” being created as a hands-on training laboratory on a roughly 100-acre site within walking distance of the UMass campus.

The center will feature a restored 1894 barn that was once a showplace for Massachusetts Agricultural College, but has been boarded up since its last use as stables for UMass police horses. The barn, which Herbert and others hope to move to the new, undisclosed site with funds pledged by the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation and others, would become a visitors center, with classrooms and meeting space.

“As soon as we can get the barn up there and people realize we’re serious about this, I think you’ll find the community as a whole pitching in,” said Mitchell, who said the hope is to get financial donors from various agricultural sectors in the state to support “learning nodes” at the new center. There might even be a cranberry bog created, a small dairy herd or a golf green where students could try planting or maintaining different kinds of turf.
Coordinating fundraising and clearing hurdles for moving the barn and creating the new learning center — which Herbert said could be as large as 150 to 200 acres if it includes forestry — is Sandra Thomas of Greenfield, who over the past couple of years has helped Greenfield Community College create its Farm and Food Systems Program.

UMass already has agronomy and turf research farms in South Deerfield, but those facilities are strictly for research, not for the kinds of practical experience that will be available to farming and non-farming students alike at the proposed center, said Herbert.
“Students go visit the South Deerfield research farm but they can’t play in it, they can only look at it,” Herbert said. “Here it doesn’t matter if anybody screws something up. Then we try to correct it. It’s real-world agriculture.”

Stockbridge will have a new major — Sustainable Food and Farming — which is being reorganized from the program Plant, Soil and Insect Science professor John Gerber introduced  about 10 years ago, which as grown from five students in 2004 to 60 today.

Gerber’s Sustainable Living course has also grown from just 35 students in 2004 to over 300 today, said Gerber. “There’s a huge student awareness and upsurge in interest in the bigger questions — like how do we live more sustainably? That’s mirrored more in specialized interest in energy, green buildings, food and farming.”

But he added, “If you’re in agriculture, you have to learn with your hands as well as your head.”  A new agricultural learning center, he said, should expand possibilities for students, who now have a 2-acre plot at South Deerfield, where no more than a dozen students can raise vegetables with which they operate a small farmers market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation on campus.

“I hope this will open farming up to a much broader group of students,” said Gerber, who thinks hands-on learning with livestock would also be a valuable experience. “I think a larger percentage of the student body in general is interested learning how to grow their own food.”  The proposed center, he said, could even be made available to the public to learn sustainable farming techniques to practice in their own backyards.

The UMass Faculty Senate is scheduled to take up changing the status of Stockbridge on May 3.  Mitchell said he’s spoken with veteran Stockbridge alumni who have been enthused about the planned changes to create a four-year Stockbridge degree and give the agricultural school a little more control of its programs.

“They comment, ‘It’s about time,’” said Mitchell, who said the school would have 200 students in its two-year and four-year programs when it launches in the fall. The goal is to have 500 students in five years, he added.  And having all of its agricultural-related programs under a single umbrella should help with recruitment.

The surge of renewed interest in farming — and in making the UMass agricultural programs more resilient — comes at a key time, says Mitchell, who entices potential supporting organizations with the direct question, “Who’s the next generation that’s going to take over your farm?”

Herbert adds, “We know that average age of farmers is 56 or 57. We need to train students as we lose older, experienced people from farming operations – as they retire. The world is getting more complex, with more hungry people all the time, so we need to have students well trained.”


Links and photos were added and a few minor corrections (with permission of the author) were made to this article published by The Recorder.  You can reach Richie Davis at:||or 413-772-0261 Ext. 269