Category Archives: Stockbridge

CONgratulations, sff class of 2021!

SFF SENIORS, You did it!  What a year…

In my conversations and classes with SFF students this year, I learned so much about resilience, patience, and persistence.  Because the transition to remote learning (for our on-campus students) was so abrupt last year, there was not much time to prepare for what was about to unfold.  Teachers and students and staff had to quickly pivot and somehow still focus and be productive amidst uncertainty, loss, and injustice.  

The capacity to behold complexity, embrace change, and anchor in gratitude amidst challenge are all required to live a balanced  life.  Connection, community, and friendship are also essential in living a fulfilling life.   This pandemic year certainly tested our capacities to live balanced and fulfilling lives.  AND while it is not over, progress and improvements and hope are visible and palpable.  It feels similar to the cycles of hope and trust that unfold when we grow food or plants. It starts with a seed.  While we can follow best practices as growers, we also must remain hopeful and surrender to the plants and their capacity to thrive.

Keeping up with assignments, emails, and performing well on exams is already quite a lot.  Sharing a house with roommates, helping care for family, and navigating complicated conversations about COVID protocols is difficult. Reconciling political and protocol differences amongst family and friends is also difficult.  Add this on top of the already overwhelming demands of being a student… it is so difficult!  Many of you navigated hardships that perhaps went unseen.  While I don’t know the extent of what this past year has been for each of you, I do know it was hard.  I witnessed students showing up for each other in ways that kept me hopeful and clarified how important community is in order for us to thrive.  

Since SFF students are spread out across the globe, and this year’s graduation looks different than what you might have imagined, I’m here to remind you that you did it! AND you did it as a part of a larger community! You always will belong to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture Sustainable Food & Farming family.  On behalf of all of your instructors and advisors in SFF, we are so proud of your accomplishments and wish you the very best in your next steps…whatever they may be.  If you don’t know what your next steps are, that is OK! While financial pressures undoubtedly  persist, I hope you can take some time to celebrate your accomplishments and just be, even if only for seemingly fleeting moments.  Please stay in touch with me and each other.  Happy summer and CONGRATS TO THE CLASS OF 2021! 

-Sarah Berquist (she/her)

Program Coordinator, Lecturer & Advisor for SFF

how did sff students spend their winter break?

What were SFF students up to over winter break 2020/2021? Despite limitations of the continued pandemic, students made time for cooking, planning gardens, and definitely sleeping. Some students engaged in some pretty cool activities directly related to their studies and interests… read more below!

Braiding Sweetgrass Book Club

Over winter break, I formed and led a virtual reading group for the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer. 

I kept hearing about Braiding Sweetgrass in my classes and really wanted to read it. I noticed a similar desire among some of my classmates and figured a book club would be the perfect way to get the most out of it while also staying connected over the long break. It would also be a great way to utilize the skills and knowledge that I gained from my Agricultural Leadership and Community Education class. I put the word out and received a ton of support from my fellow students, teachers, and faculty. My gratitude goes out to librarian Madeleine Charney who was able to secure 15 copies of the book to give out to our group. 

In our 10 weeks together, a wonderful community emerged around the teachings of plants and the messages of love and reciprocity found in the book. One of the greatest strengths of our group was the diversity of ages between our members which allowed for an interesting range of perspectives. This experience taught me a lot about how to organize a group towards a shared goal and what it means to be a strong leader.

-Adam Finke (SFF & BDIC Double major)

Seed Saving Conference

Over winter break I attended the NOFA NY (Northeast Organic Farming Association New York) seed saving conference, which was housed within the general NOFA NY farming conference. The week included sessions such as Seed Saving 101, Seed and Plant Pathology, and Seed Activists and Not-For-Profits in the Northeast. These sessions, while informative on the actual process of seed saving, also emphasized the significance of the stories, history and culture behind seeds. Seed rematriation efforts were discussed, as were stories of growing and stewarding culturally significant crops. (Seed rematriation, put simply, refers to the return of seeds to their Indigenous seedkeepers; the removal of such seeds from Indigenous communities is but one facet of the legacy of colonialism in this country). It was impossible to leave the conference without some fundamental questions about my relationship to seeds rattling around in my brain. What seeds might my ancestors have grown? What plants do I feel pulled towards? The importance of history in the work of seed saving is almost always removed from the seed-as-industry equation. It was exciting to learn about all the people working to reclaim a regional and mindful seed system.

-Isadora Harper (SFF Senior)

Relevant links: Seedshed, Turtle Tree Seeds, Freed Seed Federation, Reclaim Seed NYC, Truelove Seeds

Exploring the Small Farm Dream Course

For my independent study, I took an MDAR (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources) course titled “Exploring the Small Farm Dream: Is Starting an Agricultural Business Right for You?’”. I was mainly interested in taking this course because as a prospective future farmer, I wanted to know more about the business aspect of farming. All of the number crunching, marketing, decision-making, and paperwork for running a farm felt overwhelming and scary. Going into this course, I wanted to work to demystify this aspect of farming and to honestly look at whether or not running a farm business was right for me. 

The class ran mainly over winter break, meeting Tuesdays from 6-8. The coursework was split into four different sections: Assess Yourself, Research the Landscape, Assess Your Resources, and Make A Decision & Plan Next Steps. All of these steps were vital to helping me come out of this class more prepared and ready to take on the next steps of my life in farming. Before, I just had a vague, idealistic vision of a farm that I wanted to have some day. Going through homework, the worksheets, and chatting with my peers, it quickly became apparent that that wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to figure out what I wanted if I wanted to have a shot at farming — and farming well. At the direction of the workbook, and instructor Jennifer Hashley, I was encouraged to create a timeline of steps to help obtain my dream of running a farm. Coming out of the class, I feel more focused and energized on what I want to do — and the prospect of owning a farm business feels less intimidating!

-Annemarie Walsh (SFF Senior)

Alumni Panel: Voices of SFF grads

In November, several Sustainable Food & Farming alumni joined incoming freshmen & transfer students on Zoom to discuss “life after graduation”. These alumni represent the many different directions one can go with this major! The panel discussed their current work and what stepping-stones they took to get there, what their days look like in their current jobs (hint: varied! And hard to pin down!), and what strategies they use to overcome challenges in their field among other things.

Watch the highlights from the conversation here!

Meet the panelists: 

Jordan Lake (she/her): Currently a coordinator with the Student Farmworker Alliance, Jordan works with students/youth who want to organize in solidarity with migrant farmworkers. While in SFF Jordan was particularly interested in agriculture education, permaculture, and food justice. 

Will O’Meara (he/him): Will works with Land for Good, a group working on issues of farmland tenure, as the Connecticut Field Agent and recently co-founded Hungry Reaper Farm. Will’s area of focus in SFF was production.

Rob Carney (he/him): Rob came to SFF interested in holistic health and focused on the human side of farming. He now runs his own health coaching business, hosts a podcast, and writes children’s books on mindfulness. 

Megan Saraceno (she/her): Megan works with Grow Food Northampton as the Administration Manager and a Community Engagement Coordinator for their farm to school effort, though she emphasizes that part of non-profit work is being a little involved with everything. Megan focused on agriculture education and food access while a student in SFF.

I try to be honest with prospective Sustainable Food & Farming students when they ask me about careers in the field. This path isn’t very linear, nor does it guarantee a starting salary of $70,000. From alumni, colleagues, and friends working in food & farming, I know that it is hard but meaningful work. There are many opportunities in sustainable agriculture and food systems. There are jobs that have yet to be created…maybe by you?! The work each of these alumni are doing (and many more alumni not in this video…stay tuned for more!) makes our food system and our world a better place!

Thanks to Isadora Harper and Morgan Reppert (SFF Students) for support with this video & post.

-Sarah Berquist

Program Coordinator & Lecturer, Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Congratulations class of 2020 sff seniors!

YES! You did it! We did it! Likely not the ending any of us were imagining, AND I our you all embracing it with resilience and grace.

Graduating is a threshold. It is a time when you leave one reality and identity (student) and new terrain and new opportunities await you. It can be overwhelming, anticlimactic, emotional, numbing, exciting, relieving and perhaps a combination of all of those things. It isn’t the same but one thing I can liken it to is a birthday, when someone asks “how do you feel?” and I really I feel the same. Yet there is a change in identity in aging from 21 to 22 or from 30 to 31 or from 66 to 67. Graduating seniors, you may not actually feel very different when you wake up tomorrow even though today you just GRADUATED! A big deal!

Maybe you will feel drastically different and/or maybe you will feel a slow trickle of change. However you feel, is exactly how you’re supposed to feel! In reflecting with some students I heard folks saying it felt anticlimactic to graduate. Especially now, seniors can’t get up on stage and be seen, acknowledged and celebrated by family and friends in the way their peers of 2019 did. While I’m amazed, impressed, and grateful for all the ways UMass is striving to celebrate undergraduates despite the circumstances, virtual celebrations are not the same. Yet, rituals of any kind can be an important way to mark a threshold crossing. So in tandem with engaging in these virtual events however you may be, I invite and encourage you to do something for YOU. Plant something, eat something, call someone, walk somewhere, have a fire, whatever that looks like for you, I hope that you are taking a pause to celebrate all you have done. Your instructors and advisors in SFF are SO proud of you!

CNS Virtual Celebration can be found here and Stockbridge BS Sustainable Food & Farm celebration can be found here. On those pages you will find videos (including a video from your SFF student ambassador Rhianna Zadravec!) and some really great photos of you! I hope you take some time to look at them and share with your families & friends. There also is a special video I made for your families here.

Adrienne Maree Brown’s principles of Emergent Strategy continue to anchor me in this turbulence. Sometimes I want an answer now, when is this going to end? When can I hug my friends and family again? And at this time, the principles that anchor me the most are: “Change is constant (be like water)” and “What you pay attention to grows.” It feels important to grieve all of the loss due to COVID-19. AND I believe in the transformative power of paying attention to delight and gratitude. I trust the resilience of each of you and know you will continue to do great work in this world. THANK YOU for all your hard work, for learning so passionately and teaching me. I see you and celebrate you as you cross this threshold to become a graduated human being! Best wishes in your next steps. May you & your loved ones be healthy and happy. Please stay in touch!

UMass students and faculty engage in farm to institution conference

On April 2-4, University of Massachusetts Amherst was the host of the Farm to Institution New England (FINE) Summit. The themes for the summit were “Celebrate, Mobilize, Transform” and the program included field trips to local farms, food processing facilities and, of course, the UMass Agricultural Learning Center. Presenters and attendees gathered from a breadth of sectors: education, culinary, farmers, policy/advocacy, county jails, and government.

Each day, in the presentations and audience, there was a strong presence of UMass Continue reading UMass students and faculty engage in farm to institution conference

Sarah Berquist receives major award

UMass Instructor and Program Coordinator of the Sustainable Food and Farming B.S. sarahbdegree program in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Sarah Berquist, was chosen as the 2019 recipient of the Massachusetts Distinguished Service Award by Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most selective all-discipline honor society.  According to society President, Professor Theresa Y. Austin, the UMass Chapter recognized Ms. Berquist for her outstanding service to the University in ways that are consistent with the Society’s motto of Let the love of learning rule.” 

With a focus on farm-based education and social equity in the food system, Berquist connects her passion for teaching with community engagement through hands-on projects that are actively working toward a more just and sustainable food system.  In collaboration with the UMass Student Farm, she co-founded and manages the Food for All Program that donated 10,000 pounds of recovered “excess” and “seconds” produce in 2018 to the local relief organizations Not Bread Alone and Amherst Survival Center.  She Continue reading Sarah Berquist receives major award