Category Archives: Research

Food Waste and Food Access

The University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture has accepted SUSTAINABILITY as one of the core principles guiding our programs.  Toward this end, we help students learn to grow and sell food in a manner more consistent with the multiple, interconnecting objectives of economic vitality, environmental integrity and social justice.

One of the areas we have identified as needing more attention however relates to food waste and food access, which are two sides of the same coin.  To help us think about these issues, the following visuals were contributed by Mary Bell.

bell-research-poster

Click here to see a pdf (expandable) version of the poster above

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For details on how Massachusetts will approach this issue, see:

Massachusetts Food Action Plan

According to ME Food Systems Innovation Challenge program….

Several reports indicated that locally, nationally and globally, 30–40% of food produced for consumption is wasted every year. Food waste has significant implications for the economy, the environment and growing problem of food insecurity.

Economically, food loss and waste in US costs $165 billion per year. Globally, Forbes estimates the loss at $1 trillion per year.  Environmentally, the impact globally of approximately 130 billion tonnes of food waste is a massive resource drain, using 45 trillion gallons of fresh water and generating about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Globally over 800 million suffer from hunger and food insecurity and of that 48 million are in the US.

Reducing food waste could create economic opportunity and growth, conserve water, reduce greenhouse gases and eradicate the problem food insecurity and hunger.

UMass prof says farmland, solar arrays can co-exist

Phaedra Ghazi, research assistant, and Stephan Herbert, a Umass professor at the Stockbridge school of Agriculture, bags vegetable samples part of a dual use of land study for agriculture and solar PV.
Phaedra Ghazi, research assistant, and Stephan Herbert, a Umass professor at the Stockbridge school of Agriculture, bags vegetable samples part of a dual use of land study for agriculture and solar PV.  Photo by Carol Lollis.

ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER –  Daily Hampshire Gazette  – July 15, 2014

Stephen Herbert, a professor of agronomy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture, says this is more than a pipedream.

A demonstration plot at a research station in South Deerfield is doing just that.

“We have shown that we can get 90 percent of the yield of a pasture with solar panels compared with not having them as long as we leave enough space between clusters of panels,” he said.

Cattle and sheep graze beneath them. The animals also benefit from the shady spots the panels create.

The initial installation was 70 panels, which generate 26 kilowatts of electricity on less than a quarter acre. They are seven feet off the ground and are mounted on individual posts. The wiring connecting them is above ground.

Herbert said the demonstration plot experiments with spacing and configuration to find the sweet spot that allows maximum sun to reach the ground so the vegetation gets what it needs while the rest is captured for generating electricity. He also experiments with ways of driving poles into the ground to support the panels while minimally disturbing the soil.

“It’s a simple thing, but nobody is doing it,” according to Herbert, who said the demonstration plot, which has been up for almost four years, is the only one of its kind in the country.

Herbert believes that ideas like this one will get more attention in the years ahead as dilemmas around the balance between using land to grow food while generating significant amounts of alternative energy become more acute.

“My position is that we should make solar panels compatible with agriculture,” said Herbert. He thinks that in the future we will see dual use solar installations that can also be used for growing vegetables.

According to a description of this work on Herbert’s website, “only solar has the potential to substantially power the state while only using a reasonable amount of the state’s landmass.”

Herbert said he understands the benefits to farmers of leasing out land for a couple of decades to host solar arrays on fields they might otherwise sell to developers.

But he doesn’t think growing crops and generating electricity should be mutually exclusive.

“We don’t have 20 years to waste,” he said.

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