One of the grounding principles of the Sustainable Food and Farming program is that hands-on experience is one of the best ways to learn. Students are encouraged to seek out internships and practicums, and are able to work with faculty members to earn UMass credit while interning! Read about the experiences of some current SFF students below below.
Hussein’s Practicum at Sunset Farm
I’ve been working on Sunset Farm since September 2019, and I’ve loved every moment of it. It is a 10-acre plot, run mostly by elderly volunteers, and I am the only paid help, which means I do most of the lifting and physically-taxing jobs, but I don’t mind. The beauty of working here is that it is low stakes- it is a hobby farm- but I’ve learnt a lot. We grow over 40 vegetables, and countless cut flowers, and I am involved in every part of the process of farming. From sprouting seedlings in trays in a greenhouse, to plowing and tilling with a tractor, to transplanting, cultivating and hand weeding, to harvest and marketing. I was able to approach my job more critically through a practicum, getting even more from my fruitful relationship with Bill (the owner).
The practicum pushed me to detail and succinctly present my arguments about how we should change/alter certain things at the farm- and being prepared like that helped me convince Bill to implement my suggestions (whether that was wise or not is a different story). Bill is also flexible with working hours, he always tells me “I don’t care if you come with headlights at 1 am, just do what I’ve asked.” So to sum it all up, I learn a multitude of techniques, work hard whenever I want, and I can make mistakes along the way without too much of a consequence (as long as I don’t do them again!) He also allows UMASS students to run experiments on his farm, and is open (somewhat) to trying things differently… it is probably the best job I’ll ever have.
Nicole’s Independent Study at Common Share Food Co-op
My name is Nicole Hayduk, and I am a junior in sustainable food and farming with a minor in business and most recently have had the opportunity to intern with the Common Share Food Co-op. Last summer after bouncing around between different ideas of what exactly to do with my degree for the last two years, I decided to focus on finding an internship for the upcoming fall 2020 semester that could give me an idea of what the business side of agriculture and food looks like. Sarah Berquist assisted me with narrowing down some options that would fit in this field of interest and I was immediately interested in Common Share.
Common Share Food Co-op is a developing community and employee owned grocery store that will specialize in providing the Amherst community an attainable way to find local, fresh and affordable food. Currently, the co-op is still working on gaining member-owners, or people who have purchased shares to essentially invest in the business before opening an official storefront that will be located here in Amherst.
Since working with Common Share, I have been able to tie together the skills learned in my agricultural courses as well as those from business. Many of my tasks at the co-op such as generating activity on our social media pages or creating spreadsheets to document survey responses from member-owners have gone hand in hand with the material learned in my business classes. To be honest, the real life examples and uses of the material I am covering in my business textbooks definitely gives it more meaning, especially for someone who never considered themselves interested in “business”. Classes in Stockbridge have allowed me to understand the mindsets of many of the producers we are looking to work with, especially financially. Sometimes we look for partnerships in the area, and it is useful to have a basic understanding of who you are working with.
Overall, getting into an internship was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Before this, I always felt very lost with what I wanted to do with my degree, or even what I was even interested in. This experience has allowed me to try new things within the organization that I never even considered before. Most importantly, I have really enjoyed getting to meet people within our community (even if only over Zoom for now!) and working for something that benefits that community.
Theo’s Practicum at Astarte Farm
After declaring a major in Sustainable Food and Farming only a couple semesters ago, I was eager to get some hands-on experience working on a farm over this past summer. In July, I landed a job working at Astarte Farm, a no-till/no-spray vegetable production farm right on the Hadley Common. I was absolutely thrilled to get my hands in the soil and to work alongside such a wonderful, supportive crew. With their guidance, I slowly started to gain confidence in the rigorous every-day tasks related to no-till farming, i.e. laying occultation tarps, attentive bed and soil upkeep, and careful efficient harvests. It was so exciting to constantly draw on and apply the knowledge I had learned during the previous semester in my Stockbridge soil science and permaculture courses to the farmwork.
Faced with the upcoming fall semester, I dreaded having to abandon my work on the farm for a full course-load of zoom classes. Luckily, I was able to continue my work at Astarte as an Intern, receiving credit for my increased involvement in behind-the-scenes work on the farm. I worked with my managers and the farm-owners to devise a strategy aimed at converting compacted path space into productive no-till beds. After a fair amount of research into the best “layer-cake” mulch formula, we concluded that the best method would be to rely on a base-layer of cardboard, topped with a mixture of home-grown compost and leaf mulch to turn path space into rich, productive beds. Throughout this process, as a final project for my internship, I put together a short film outlining our mission and aspirations at Astarte. It was such an invaluable experience to interview and learn from the incredible farmers whom I look up to each day to become a better grower myself. I can’t wait to get back to get back to work on the farm this spring!
WATCH Theo’s VIDEO about Astarte HERE!
You can see how students in Sustainable Food & Farming are engaging in their communities and gaining valuable hands-on professional experience. And having fun while doing it! There are many directions our students can pursue internships based on their interests within sustainable agriculture and food systems. If you’re a current student, talk to your advisor about how to set up an internship! Happy Spring!
-Sarah Berquist Program Coordinator &
Isadora Harper SFF Peer Advisor