Category Archives: Education

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

Farm-Based Education Updates

Farm-Based Education Association Events and Updates


UMass Permaculture Project receives national recognition

The UMass Permaculture Project is one of 15 finalists (from 1000+ nominees) for the White House Campus Champions of  Change Challenge.  The top five vote getters will be invited to an event at the White House. They will also be featured by mtvU and MTV Act and be given the opportunity to host an episode of mtvU’s signature program, “The Dean’s List.” Please vote here to make UMass one of the 5 selected to visit the White House. 

“All Across America, college and university students are helping our country out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” said President Obama. “I hope this challenge shines a light on their efforts, and inspires Americans of all ages to get involved in their communities.”

The deadline to cast your vote is Saturday, March 3rd at 11:59 p.m.

Please join me in supporting local farming, education and community at NACF

TO:  Friends of local farming

FROM:  John Gerber

I love local farms and community farming, and although I have a huge garden that provides my family with much of our produce, chicken and eggs, I still volunteer to support the North Amherst Community Farm.  I’m asking you to join me in helping to promote local farming by making a financial contribution to NACF today.

Please show your support for local farms and community farming!

The North Amherst Community Farm is a community based non-profit organization which saved the land from development that is currently farmed by Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst, MA.  Part of the NACF annual operating budget is based on gifts from our supporters and we are now at 72% of our fundraising goal for the year which ends June 30th, 2011.

Here are a few highlights of our recent activities:

  •  Amherst Town Meeting voted to give us $25,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to begin repair of the historic barn – future home of workshops, farm camp, community dances, music and more.
  • We hosted a fun day at the farm last Saturday – kids got to dig in the dirt, play with worms, and plant seeds for the new Children’s Garden and then hop aboard a hayride around the farm to meet the farm animals.
  • In July and August, we will partner with the Amherst Survival Center and Simple Gifts Farm to provide more fresh veggies and teach cooking classes at ASC.
  • And we are planning a full line up of educational programs again this summer, culminating with our annual Harvest Festival on September 18!

To help us continue this good work, please consider making a donation of $5.00, $50, or $500.oo to NACF online through Network for Good – just click on the button above – or use our mail in donation form.


A Brief History of North Amherst Community Farm

In 2006, the North Amherst Community Farm (NACF) was created when the Dziekanowski farm, one of the last working farms in North Amherst, was purchased and saved from development. Funds were raised through a combination of private donations and town and state funding.

NACF, run by a local volunteer board of directors, worked out a long-term lease with Simple Gifts Farm (SGF) to run a community supported agricultural operation on the land. By combining their efforts, these two organizations have formed a successful public-private partnership that promotes sustainable, organic farming methods, provides healthy farm products to the region, educates the community on food and farming issues, and helps preserve the agricultural heritage and character of the North Amherst Village Center Historic District.

What Do We Mean by a Community Farm?

NACF’s mission is to promote and support sustainable agriculture in the heart of North Amherst. The primary objective of North Amherst Community Farm is to preserve and develop its 35 acre farm site into a productive and educational agricultural resource for the community.

The vision of NACF is to cultivate the farm as a unique community and natural resource. NACF will be a hub of community life and home to a working, organic and sustainable farm operation while maintaining the integrity of the wildlife corridor, natural landscape, and the public walking trails through and around the farm.

NACF will create more equitable access to fresh, organic food for the 10,000 people living within a 1-1/2 mile radius of the farm by leasing the land to a Community Supported Agriculture farm operation and by finding ways to make the food and the farm experience accessible to all. NACF’s educational and cultural programming will strengthen the bonds within our diverse community; engage a wide diversity of adults and children in the culture of farming and raising farm animals, and raise awareness of the connection between sustainable food production and distribution and the health of the environment.

Please join me in supporting this terrific community activity!  A donation of $25 will make you a member of the North Amherst Community Farm.

Organic Conference at UMass

If you live anywhere near Western Massachusetts, plan on attending the 36th annual summer conference of NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, at the Universityof Massachusetts to be held August 13 to 15 in Amherst, MA.  The conference will kick off with a Raw Milk Symposium, and continue with hundreds of workshops geared to farmers and gardeners, consumers, home cooks or anyone with an interest in topics such as sustainability, local agriculture and nutrition.   For more information click here.