Category Archives: UMass SFF News

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 alumni, current students, and faculty. The Stockbridge School of Agriculture was well represented in all of these areas. One thing this summit did really well was showcase the diversity of opportunities that exist and are required for effective food systems change.

Sustainable Food & Farming students, faculty, alumni and staff presented on a range of topics:

“How We Built This: A Garden Internship Program Created Through Public Primary & Higher Education Collaboration”

“Campus Farms: Food for Thought”

“Permaculture on the Menu: UMass Dining Diet for a Cooler Planet Event”

“Designing Local Food Programs at Jails and Prisons”

These topics represent the rich areas of study AND practice available for students studying Sustainable Food & Farming in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass. It was clear in the programing FINE was emphasizing the inextricable role social equity plays in mobilizing and transforming the food system. Voices from UMass Dining and Dean’s office helped welcome featured speakers Jose Oliva, co-founder and director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance to tell his story and the issues confronting food chain workers throughout the food system and Karen Spiller of Food Solutions New England calling conference participants to action to participate in the currently ongoing 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge The summit also included a career networking event in collaboration with the UMass School of Earth and Sustainability that provided students a chance to connect directly with food systems leaders and professionals across sectors.

UMass Sustainable Food & Farming Senior Jordan Lake reflects on her experience: “Being at the FINE Summit the past two days has been so fun and thought provoking. It was especially exciting to present and be given a voice among all of the great presentations. I am in continued awe as I learn more about how many avenues exist to become involved in work in the food system. I met a lot of great folks engaged in addressing topics such as racial equity, needs assessments in school food security, and supporting refugee farmers in Massachusetts. I am leaving with a greater picture of the work being done to create alternatives in the food system, and along with that I have ideas about where to plug in or where to address gaps in the future. 

While participants agreed there is a lot of work to do, there was a sense of community that felt like a gust of wind in our sails to remind us of how much more effectively we can Celebrate, Mobilize and Transform when we work together.

-Sarah Berquist, Program Coordinator of Sustainable Food & Farming, UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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 also mentors students that design and execute garden-based lessons with K-6 grade students with the School Garden Program at Amherst Regional Public Schools.

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A Food for All project – Melissa Bonaccorso, Braeden Leinhart, Dan Bensonoff, Courtney Spera, and Michi with 500 lbs of gleaned sweet potatoes from Joe Czajkowski Farm.

On a national scale, Sarah serves as Chair of the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association and is currently working with other SAEA members to champion innovative educational approaches for sustainable agriculture through research and teaching practices that are rooted in social equity.

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Berquist is recognized as an outstanding teacher and adviser by the students in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Majors in the program know that her courses help equip them with practical life skills such as the ability to grow their own food, gain confidence in leading others, and become skilled at community organizing and critical thinking.  Her love of learning is contagious as evidenced by this statement from one of the seniors in the program.

“I first met Sarah Berquist the Fall before enrolling at the University of Massachusetts. I was still applying to colleges at the time and had no more interest in Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass than any of the other agriculture programs I had researched. Upon my visit, I decided to opt out of the traditional college tour and instead I emailed Sarah to ask for a meeting. What was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting turned into a four-hour conversation.  That was the day I fell in love with the University of Massachusetts.”

As a former student in the program herself, Sarah Berquist is passionate about providing students with challenges and opportunities that build on the student’s own love of learning.  She draws on a diverse educational theories, pedagogies and frameworks for contemplation, integration and transformation, cultivating patience, presence, and compassion for both herself and others.

Berquist will be honored at the annual Initiation Ceremony for the Massachusetts Chapter of Phi Kappa Phi at the University of Massachusetts Campus Center on March 31, 2019.

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Addressing Food Security and Getting Students Paid: UMass Farmer’s Market Grows

Addressing Food Security and Getting Students Paid: UMass Farmer’s Market Grows UMass Food for All network handed out free vegetables and educated people about food security at UMass while other students sold their original work at UMass’ second to...

UMass Food for All network handed out free vegetables and educated people about food security at UMass while other students sold their original work at UMass’ second to last “Food For All Farmers Market,” a market which has grown this season.

“By eating this, you are reducing food waste,” said Dan Bensonof as he served market-goers paper cups of sweet potato & peanut butter soup– the sweet potatoes in the soup were gleaned by his students at Czajkowski Farm in Hadley. Bensonof, who just started working for UMass this June, helps organize the Farmer’s Market, is teaching the practicum class, Permaculture Gardening, as well as coordinating the Permaculture Continue reading Addressing Food Security and Getting Students Paid: UMass Farmer’s Market Grows

UMass Stockbridge School Launches Student-Run Vineyard on Campus

Grapes
November 7, 2018
Contact: Elsa Petit 413/545-5217

AMHERST, Mass. – Fall may not seem like a good time for planting, but cool temperatures and ample soil moisture can help plants settle in, says viticulture expert Elsa Petit at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where students in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture have been busy this fall planting dozens of cold-tolerant grapes at the campus’s first student-run vineyard.

Continue reading UMass Stockbridge School Launches Student-Run Vineyard on Campus

UMass’s First Carbon Farming Initiative Demonstrates How to Sustainably Grow Food and Mitigate Climate Change

UMass’s First Carbon Farming Initiative Demonstrates How to Sustainably Grow Food and Mitigate Climate Change

By: Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton

The UMass Carbon Farming Initiative is the first temperate climate research silvopasture plot at the University of Massachusetts. Carbon farming is the practice of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into soil carbon stocks and above ground biomass. Silvopasture, a carbon farming practice is the intentional combination of trees and livestock for increased productivity and biosequestration.

The plot is a 1 acre silvopasture system at the Agriculture Learning Center (ALC) that integrates a diverse planting of complex hybrid chestnuts systematically arranged to ensure ease of management for rotational grazing sheep. Establishment of the initiative has been funded by the Sustainable Food and Farming Program (SFF) and a grant from the Sustainability Innovation and Engagement Fund (SEIF) and is managed by Stockbridge School of Agriculture Faculty Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton and SFF students.

According to Project Drawdown, a broad coalition of scientists, policy makers, business leaders, and activists that have compiled a comprehensive plan for reversing climate change, silvopasture is the highest ranked agricultural solution to climate change. Silvopastoral systems contribute to climate change mitigation both through the direct drawdown of atmospheric carbon into soil and biomass and through the reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by industrial livestock systems. With the growing demand for meat and dairy products, and the limited amount of land available it is essential that we identify agricultural practices that are part of the solution rather than exacerbating the problem.

In order to get to down to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2, the safe amount of concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we need to have NET Zero carbon emissions and remove 300+ billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.Research suggests that silvopasture systems are capable of storing as much as 100 tons of Carbon (367 tons of CO2) per acre while adding the yields of tree crops to the existing animal systems, and ecological benefits like reduced nutrient runoff, erosion, and animal stress from heat and wind. Traditional silvopasture systems, such as the dehesa in Spain and forest pastures in Scotland, have existed for centuries but more research and development is needed for cold climate sites in the United States.

Some goals and objectives for this project are:

  1. Establish a concrete example of carbon farming. This example will function as an outdoor classroom for SFF and related courses as well as a demonstration site for farmers and policy makers.
  2. Trial different varieties of complex hybrid chestnuts looking for traits like climate hardiness, nut size and yield, disease resistance, and precociousness
  3. Test market for products such as chestnuts, chestnut flour, nursery scion wood
  4. Track financial implications of these practices such as: cost of establishment, ongoing costs, revenue streams, and CO2 sequestration per acre
  5. Empower students as emerging leaders in the cutting edge fields of Permaculture, carbon farming and sustainable animal husbandry.
  6. Conduct research and development to support regional farmers in adopting carbon farming practices and strategies
  7. Catalog the carcass yields of the pastured livestock
  8. Monitor and test parasitic loads with livestock
  9.  Track rotations of sheep

For more information on the Initiative contact Lisa DePiano at ldepiano@umass.edu or Nicole Burton at ngburton@umass.edu

Accessing land and passing on farmland

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Shemariah Blum-Evitts, Program Director for Land For Good. (Courtesy Photo)

KEENE, N.H. — Shemariah Blum-Evitts, a farmer, regional planner and project manager is now the Program Director for Land For Good, a New England-wide nonprofit that works to ensure the future of farming in the region by putting more farmers more securely on more land. Blum-Evitts will direct all of the organization’s education, consulting, and research, as well as its direct service to New England farmers looking to access land, plan for farm succession, and obtain more secure land tenure.

Supporting farmers and farmland owners around accessing and transferring farmland and farms is critical in the region. Nearly 30% of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10+ years, and 92% of these 10,369 senior farmers do not have another farm operator working alongside them. (Gaining Insights) While this does not mean that these farmers don’t have a succession plan, it does suggest that the future of many of farms is uncertain. The 1.4 million acres they manage and $6.45 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure they own will change hands in one way or another. What these farmers do with their land and other farm assets as they exit farming will shape New England’s agricultural landscape for generations to come.

At the same time, access to land is a top challenge facing new and beginning farmers. Fewer young farm operators are getting securely on land, and they need support to determine their land access strategy, find and assess farm properties, and negotiate good agreements.

A farmer herself, Blum-Evitts was also the founder and Program Manager of New Lands Farm with Ascentria Care Alliance from 2008-2015. The program, which she initiated and built in collaboration with community partners, offered training and land access to New American farmers in Central and Western Massachusetts seeking community gardens, farming enterprises and technical assistance. Blum-Evitts studied land use and agricultural planning while gaining her Masters in Regional Planning from UMass Amherst. Her thesis developed a foodshed assessment model to map current and potential working farmland and farmland capacity. She believes strongly in the importance of working farms. Since 2004, she has been working on and managing farms in GA, TX, CT and MA. She and her husband operate their own small-scale, kosher, pastured poultry operation on their home farm in South Deerfield MA.

”Shema brings the skills, experience and that are a great fit for this position and our team. Her farming and program work on farms with diverse populations will enrich and deepen our work. We’re excited to have her – and another farmer – on our team.,” says Jim Hafner, Executive Director for Land For Good.

Blum-Evitts will work with many organizations and agencies in the region that are already cooperating on land access and farm succession education, technical assistance, and policy. In Massachusetts, for example, these groups include Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), New Entry Sustainable Farming ProjectSoutheastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP), Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) and other buy local programs, Massachusetts Farm Bureau, the land trust community, and the MA Food System Collaborative, among others.

“Land For Good has been a resource for me – both as a beginning farmer and a service provider,” shares Blum-Evitts. “It was through working with LFG that we were confident in our lease arrangements for New Lands Farm and fully understood our options. I am delighted to be part of the organization and extend expertise and support to more farmers.”

Land For Good (LFG), based in Keene NH, is a New England-wide not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the future of farming in the region by putting more farmers more securely on more land. With field agents serving all New England states, LFG educates, consult, innovates and advocates with and for farm seekers, established farmers, farmland owners, and communities. LFG is the only organization of its kind, nationally, with a sole focus on farmland access, transfer, and tenure.

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UMass Sustainable Food and Farming grad, Jason Silverman, is a Field Agent for Land for Good! 

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Congressman James McGovern Will Visit UMass Agricultural Learning Center

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As part of his eighth annual Farm Tour in western Massachusetts, Congressman James McGovern will make a stop at UMass Amherst’s Agricultural Learning Center (ALC), where approximately 30 of its 60 acres are in production this summer. The focus of this season’s tour is farms that produce and sell food and produce to schools and other institutions.

Center director Amanda Brown says 10 active faculty-sponsored projects employing 20 undergraduate student summer workers are currently underway at the ALC, including:

  • a silvo-pasture, combining a woodland nut crop and grazing sheep in a mutually beneficial way
  • a chicken-raising operation as a source of lean local protein
  • the “Food for All” garden, which provides fresh local produce to the Amherst Survival Center and the Amherst-based soup kitchen, Not Bread Alone
  • a native plant demonstration plot, pollinator garden and permaculture garden
  • honey bees
  • an off-grid greenhouse funded by a National Science Foundation grant, now up and running, will allow students to grow produce year-round without fossil fuels
  • an organic vineyard, now staked out, will be planted in the fall
  • an organic apple orchard
  • a demonstration plot of cover crops, grain and pasture management

Continue reading Congressman James McGovern Will Visit UMass Agricultural Learning Center

Jason Silverman on his farming experience

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Jason is a graduate of the Sustainable Food and Farming Program at UMass Amherst

CONWAY — Aging farmers own a collective $1.8 billion in farming infrastructure and land throughout Massachusetts, according to Land For Good, a nonprofit promoting New England agriculture.

That combined with rising property values — which have increased steadily since 2006 based on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics — pose problems for first-generation farmers who don’t already own land or have access to investment capital. Nationally, farm real estate averaged $3,020 per acre in 2015, up about $1,000 over 2006.

Continue reading Jason Silverman on his farming experience

According to SFF grad “farming is cool now”

Farming is growing in popularity among recent college graduates, fed by concerns over nutrition and a weak job market.

The 24-year-old new owner of Full Heart Farm in Ledyard is one of them.

Allyson Angelini, who graduated from the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program, last week took over the 6.25-acre property at 193 Iron St. She plans to get married on the farm in about a year.

“It doesn’t take much to fall in love with farming,” said Angelini, who gave up a desire to be a magazine journalist and instead got an agricultural education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. “And farming is really cool now, and that feeling is growing.”

Erin Pirro, who supervises the Outstanding Young Farmer program in Connecticut, agreed.

“Farming is becoming sexy again,” she said. “Americans have become out of touch with their food supplies. There’s a lot of passion for locally grown food.”

Farming still has a predominately older demographic, according to the U.S. Agriculture Census. For every farmer under 35, there are six over 65, the latest census said.

Angelini’s age enabled her to be considered “disadvantaged” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, making her eligible for the agency’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers loan program.

Angelini has traveled in 5.5 years of researching farming, including working at a Stonington educational facility known as Terra Firma Farm and on a pork farm in Italy. She left her job at Jones Family Farms in Shelton in September to try to secure a farm in New London County.

Encouragement and assistance from elders is encouraging more 20-somethings to go into farming, Angelini said. Bob Burns, owner of Aiki Farms in Ledyard, was recently at Full Heart Farm, using his John Deere tractor to plow and harrow a portion of the land.

“(Angelini) is a delightful person, and Aiki Farms will support them as neighbors and fellow farmers,” said Burns, who is manager of the Ledyard Farmers Market, where Angelini plans to sell some her crops including beans, carrots, potatoes, squash and tomatoes.

Her parents, Greg and Sally Angelini, have been coming to Full Heart to help. Brother Ryan Angelini, who works at Electric Boat Corp., has also been assisting with repair projects. Keith Padin, Allyson Angelini’s fiancé, is a full partner in Full Heart, and his parents recently made their first visit to the farm.

“It’s hard to start a family farm without family around,” Allyson said.

Allyson and Keith are promoting that family feeling by giving names to each of their chickens and pigs.

Locally raised meat and produce strengthens family ties, Angelini said. And — on pure taste alone — local farming competes strongly, she said.

“Once you have farm-fresh eggs and homemade bacon, you never go back,” Angelini said.

Love of animals and land is not enough for a farmer these days, Angelini said.

“Young farmers need a wide skill set,” Angelini said. “There is so much diversity in the farm habitat.”