Category Archives: UMass SFF News

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

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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! 

Original Post

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.”

UMass Researchers Run Hydroponic Farm

Evan Chakrin, harvests leeks from a hydroponic raft bed Aug. 4, 2017 at the new UMass Hydrofarm he co-founded at the university with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming. Overhead, LED strip lights supplement daylight for the plants.

AMHERST — Evan Chakrin, 33, spends his summer afternoons harvesting plants, mostly lettuce, at a hydroponic food farm.

He worked Friday afternoon, harvesting 10 pounds of lettuce that he was planning to donate to the Amherst Survival Center. He picked a head, doused it in insect soap and packaged it in a clam-shaped container.

Evan Chakrin harvests butterhead bibb lettuce

The hydroponic farm grows food without using soil. Started in the winter of last year, it is the first of its kind on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The farm provides food for on-campus restaurants such as Earthfoods Cafe.

Chakrin, a junior studying horticulture, co-leads the farm with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming, using techniques that they say will revolutionize the future of farming.

“It’s basically just using science to grow plants,” Chakrin said.  The farm grows everything from strawberries and tomatoes to lettuce and kale. It is housed in an underutilized greenhouse on the UMass Amherst campus. Chakrin and Lucas use the most common hydroponic techniques to grow their plants: raft systems and nutrient film technique channels.

Evan Chakrin displays the roots of strawberries growing in watertight channels using the nutrient film technique

The basic idea behind hydroponic farming is growing plants without soil, Chakrin said. Nutrients get dissolved into water surrounding the plants’ roots. This allows the system to be up to 90 percent more water- and nutrient-efficient than other types of farming. The system uses less water than an irrigated field. There is also no nutrient runoff into local water sources.

“We can totally control whatever we waste,” Chakrin said.

Lucas started working on the idea of creating a hydroponic farm in 2015, but she and Chakrin were not able to secure a grant until last December. The two received $5,000 and a previously underused greenhouse from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

“We were expecting a little space on campus, basically just a closet,” Chakrin said. “Then they surprised us with this.”

As soon as they got the space, they started working right away. They started germinating seeds, and by the middle of February, all of the systems were up and running. They then started selling their food to places on campus. The money from the sales goes into a fund that they can use to purchase more equipment or seeds.

Chakrin said selling the products allows them to be financially stable and gives the business a fresh, locally produced food option.

The farm will continue to grow in the years to come. In the fall, the two are teaching 12 undergraduate students in a one-credit practicum course about hydroponic farming.

The university offers many courses on the theories and science behind farming but not many on hydroponic techniques. Allowing other students to work in the farm gives them hands-on experience, Chakrin said.

“The techniques we use here are the main hydroponic techniques used,” Chakrin said. “This work is directly applicable to any of their food production goals.”

Chakrin said he hopes any students who are involved in urban food production get involved, even those not involved in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The two also want to scale up their sales. Chakrin said he is hoping to start selling to bigger dining halls and other places on campus.

One of the benefits of hydroponic farms is that they can be used to grow food locally, even in urban areas. The lettuce grown at the UMass farm doesn’t come from some giant farm in California, Chakrin said. This reduces shipping costs and carbon costs for interstate shipping.

“I think it is a major loss that the average bite of food travels extremely far to get to our plates, and this is the solution to the problem,” Lucas said.

Lucas and Chakrin have started a consulting service for the future of farming, called Farmable. Lucas said the idea behind it is that any space, even small urban areas, can be made into a green space.

“Anywhere is farmable and this concept will revolutionize how urbanites are able to access food,” Lucas said.

Student Ag Projects

Wysocki Sign 1 edt_0Yesterday, I took a tour of the UMass Agricultural Learning Center with our summer class, Clean Energy and Sustainable Agriculture, taught by Sarah Berquist and Amanda Brown.  The Ag Learning Center is something of a “student playground” where Stockbridge School of Agriculture students get practice farming and gardening.

You are welcome to visit the facility and if you bump into any students be sure and ask them about their projects!  Here is a Map to the farm and here are a few photos from the tour….

  1. The Pollinator Garden

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2. The Food for All Garden

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3. Our Apiary

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4. More Food Gardens

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5. The Apples

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6. The Herb Spiral

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7. The Food Forest

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9. The Student Farm

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10.  The Solar Greenhouse

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11.  The Mushroom Logs

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12. The Chickens

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These projects were supported by the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture….

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