UMass Hydro begins to feed campus

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If you look out of the campus-side windows in Franklin Dining Commons after the sun has gone down, you can see a mix of white, blue and magenta lights illuminating the inside of the Clark Hall Greenhouse.

These lights mark the home of the UMass Hydroponics Farm Plan, where Dana Lucas, a junior sustainable food and farming major, and Evan Chakrin, a nontraditional student in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, have been working throughout the winter growing fresh leafy greens.

Back in December, the duo received a $5,000 grant from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to grow produce year-round on an on-campus hydroponic farm. Hydroponics, a method of farming with water and nutrients in place of soil, allows for a continual harvesting cycle.

hydroAlong with limited pesticide use and saving 90 percent more water than a traditional farm, the farm will produce approximately 70 heads of lettuce a week, every week of the year. Lucas and Chakrin emphasize the importance of this perpetual cycle in meeting the University’s sustainability efforts.

On the University of Massachusetts website, it states, “The University recognizes its responsibility to be a leader in sustainable development and education for the community, state and nation.”

“I don’t know how we can say our food is sustainable at UMass if it’s only grown 10 weeks of the year in New England,” Lucas said.

The location allows UMass Hydro to get their greens across campus by either walking, biking or driving short distances, leaving almost no carbon footprint.

“I think this is something that really excites me and Evan because we really see a demand for fresh, local food and this is a way to actually fulfill it,” Lucas said.

Although the farm’s production capacity cannot currently meet the needs of the dining halls, Lucas and Chakrin are looking into alternative options to get their greens on the plates of students.

hydro2“We’re kind of just centering on student businesses right now because they’re smaller and they’re run by our friends, so we can easily get into the market,” Lucas said.

Their first official account is with Greeno Sub Shop in Central Residential Area.

Last week, Greeno’s hosted a special where UMass Hydro’s microgreens were free to add to any menu item.

In a statement posted to their Facebook page, they stated, “One of the goals of our mission statement is to source locally whenever possible, with UMass Hydro right down the hill, this is almost as fresh as it can get.”

Chakrin and Lucas are currently working on getting their greens served at other on-campus eateries.

In addition to adding more accounts, there is a strong focus on getting other students interested in the emerging field of hydroponics.

“We can use this as a teaching facility for students. The techniques we’re using are used in multi-acre industrial greenhouses for lettuce, so we could scale right up potentially,” Chakrin said.

The two are hoping to work UMass Hydro into the curriculum in Stockbridge, allowing students to work hands-on with the systems while also earning credits.

“Maybe we can do a one credit, half semester thing or something,” said Chakrin.

sprout“There has been some discussion about having an accredited course for next fall where we can teach what I’m assuming are mostly going to be Stockbridge students, but we’re open to anybody and everyone who’s interested in getting involved with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

The grant covered the cost of seeds, equipment and other miscellaneous items like scissors, but the responsibility of building the farm fell entirely on Lucas and Chakrin.

“It felt really cool that we were given this much responsibility I feel like, to just buy the stuff and then build it,” Lucas said.

Chakrin noted how one of the biggest obstacles faced in getting the project off the ground was finding an available space on campus.

“Initially we were just asking for a 10-by-10 closet somewhere, then Stockbridge professor , Dr. Dan Cooley, was like ‘Do you think this greenhouse will work?’ and we were like ‘Of course!’” Chakrin said.

“He kind of posed it as a bummer that we weren’t going to be in a closet and we were like ‘No, no, no that’s fine!’” Lucas said, laughing.

“Without the space, none of it would be possible, so being allowed to use this space is just huge and we’re so lucky to have that,” Chakrin said.

The students also expressed appreciation to Dr. Daniel Cooley, who sponsored the project and Dr. Stephen Herbert for his support and donation of supplies.

Out of the entire space granted to UMass Hydro, only a portion of it is currently being used. In order to make use of the underutilized space, Chakrin and Lucas are hoping the future of UMass Hydro involves more funding.

“We want to see Dutch buckets and a vertical system in here so we can show students the breadth of what you can do with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

Visitors are encouraged to stop by at the Clark Hall Greenhouse on Tuesdays between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.  And you can follow the project on Facebook at UMass Hydro!

Callie Hansson can be reached at chansson@umass.edu.

Original Post


Is it time to change your major?

SFFSeed

We know that many UMass students find themselves dissatisfied with their major in their first or second year of college.  If this is true for you…. it is not too late to change!

If you like:

  • working outdoors
  • working with people
  • doing something real and of value

If you care about:

  • good food
  • the environment
  • global hunger

If you want to join:

  • the original UMass degree program going back to “Mass Aggie”
  • the university ranked 3rd best global agricultural university in the nation
  • the home of the UMass Student Farm, the birthplace of UMass Permaculture, and the place to get a true hands-on education by working on real work projects

Or maybe you are not having fun and just want to try something different…. if so:

You are invited to join us in the Sustainable Food and Farming major at UMass!

Okay…. so we know this will be difficult to explain to your family.  You can hear them saying “WHAT…. you want to become a farmer?”

Well… yes, we do help students prepare for a career managing small organic farms, working in community supported agriculture or with local and regionally focused farms.

AND we do much more!

The Sustainable Food and Farming students are also working toward careers in local food and green businesses, urban agriculture, permaculture, herbal medicine, and related jobs in farm-based education, public policy, community development and advocacy.  You can see what some of our grads are up to here.

If you are curious and would like more information, please check out our web site…

B.S. degree in Sustainable Food and Farming

… or make an appointment to talk with one of our advisers to chat:

…or explore more about what our students are up to at our student Facebook Group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/sustfoodfarm

Maybe our little community within the larger UMass system is the place for you….

Seeds of Time: Film and Discussion

UMass Sustainable Food and Farming (SFF) is hosting a three part PUBLIC and FREE film series to provide a community space where students can critically engage in issues surrounding the food system.  Each film is followed by a panel discussion featuring local individuals within the field.

seedsOn March 9th, 6-8pm in the W.E.B Dubois Library, Floor 19 Room 1920, SFF will be screening the documentary “Seeds of Time” followed by a panelist discussion at 7:30pm featuring professor of Economics, James Boyce, along with other individuals from the community.

Film Synopsis
A perfect storm is brewing as agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler races against time to protect the future of our food. Seed banks around the world are crumbling, crop failures are producing starvation and rioting, and the accelerating effects of climate change are affecting farmers globally. Communities of indigenous Peruvian farmers are already suffering those effects, as they try desperately to save over 1,500 varieties of native potato in their fields. But with little time to waste, both Fowler and the farmers embark on passionate and personal journeys that may save the one resource we cannot live without: our seeds.


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10,000 years ago the biggest revolution in human history occurred: we became agrarians. We ceased hunting and gathering and began to farm, breeding and domesticating plants that have resulted in the crops we eat today. But the genetic diversity of these domesticated crops, which were developed over millennia, is vanishing today. And the consequences of this loss could be dire.

As the production of high yielding, uniform varieties has increased, diversity has declined. For example, in U.S. vegetable crops we now have less than seven percent of the diversity that existed just a century ago. We are confronted with the global pressures of feeding a growing population, in a time when staple crops face new threats from disease and changing climates.

Crop diversity pioneer Cary Fowler travels the world, educating the public about the dire consequences of our inaction. Along with his team at The Global Crop Diversity Trust in Rome, Cary struggles to re-invent a global food system so that it can, in his words: “last forever.” Cary aims to safeguard the last place that much of our diversity is left in tact: in the world’s vulnerable gene banks.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, a group of indigenous Peruvian farmers work to preserve over 1,500 native varieties of potato in their fields. Through the guidance of activist Alejandro Argumedo and the help of the International Potato Center gene bank in Lima, several communities join forces to create a new conservation grounds called “The Potato Park.”

But not all is well in this haven for diversity. The Andes Mountains, our planet’s most diverse region for potatoes, is already seeing the crippling effects of climate change. Potato production has risen more than 500 feet in altitude over the last 30 years, leaving varieties at lower elevations unable to produce. With erratic weather patterns already eroding biodiversity, what is to be done when these farmers can no longer continue moving “up”?

With a passion few possess, Cary set out to build the world’s first global seed vault – a seed collection on a scale larger than any other. The vault, located in Norway, is an unprecedented insurance policy for the crop diversity of the world. In an extraordinary gesture of support, the farmers of the Potato Park become the first indigenous community to send samples of their potato diversity to the vault for safekeeping.

But as the stakes of maintaining a secure global food system continue to rise, adaptation will become a requisite for our own survival. How can we best maintain the diversity that still exists for our food crops? How do we create new diversity to adapt our fields to a changing climate? The answers are as complex as the system they intend to fix. And it will require a combination of efforts: from scientists, plant breeders, researchers, farmers, politicians, and even gardeners.

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS/REFLECTIONS IN THE COMMENTS BOX BELOW

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The decline of industrial agriculture

The following excerpt was taken from conservative blogger, Gracy Olmstead, writing about how a “bust” in the farm economy might open up opportunities for a more sustainable food system.  The full article is published here.

The negative impact of industrial agriculture on environmental quality and social justice is well recognized.  Industrial agriculture however has been justified by an assumed positive impact on the economy.  This article questions that assumption.


The History Of American Agriculture’s Decline

How did we get to this point? The Wall Street Journal gives a mini history lesson:

From the early 1800s until the Great Depression, the number of U.S. farms grew steadily as pioneers spread west of the Mississippi River. Families typically raised a mix of crops and livestock on a few hundred acres of land at most. After World War II, high-horsepower tractors and combines enabled farmers to cover more ground. Two decades ago, genetically engineered seeds helped farmers grow more.

Farms grew bigger and more specialized. Large-scale operations now account for half of U.S. agricultural production. Most farms, even some of the biggest, are still run by families. As farm sizes jumped, their numbers fell, from six million in 1945 to just over two million in 2015, nearing a threshold last seen in the mid-1800s. Total acres farmed in the U.S. have dropped 24% to 912 million acres.

 This short account of the jump from subsistence-style farming to today’s industrialized farming could easily fill thousands of pages (and indeed has—from John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” to Wendell Berry’s novels).

Today’s Farms Still Follow an ‘Industrial Paradigm’

The Industrial Revolution shaped and transformed farming in seismic ways. As I wrote for Comment Magazine last year, “farming in the new, industrialized era began to favor quantity and specialization—because new machines worked most efficiently when farmers chose to harvest large, homogenous acreages instead of the small, diversified crops of the past. Farmers sought bigger and bigger swaths of land, seeing in them the promise of greater funds in the bank.”

American farms are still stuck in this “industrial paradigm,” says sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms. “Just like the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial, and the industrial to the information, and now the information is giving way to the regenerative economy, agriculture is changing. Because farmers tend to be conservative, agriculture is the slowest of all economic sectors to embrace the new economy.”

When Salatin’s father bought their family-operated farm in Swoope, Virginia, the land was severely eroded, and soil health was poor. “When my dad, in the early 1960s, asked agricultural advisors to tell him how to make a living on this farm, they all encouraged him to abuse the land more aggressively,” remembers Salatin. “He eschewed that counsel and did the opposite of everything they said. Today, we are healthy and profitable. Every person must decide whose advice to follow.”

Incentivizing Farmers to Destroy Neighbors’ Businesses

The WSJ piece goes on, “For some, the slump is an opportunity. Farmers with low debts and enough scale to profit from last year’s record harvests could be in a position to rent or buy up land from struggling neighbors.” In other words, large (most likely government-subsidized) farms can use this opportunity to buy out their smaller counterparts. Sounds like a great thing for the economy long-term, doesn’t it?

One chilly afternoon in October, Mr. Scheufler steered his combine across the first field he bought. The machine’s giant claw spun through rows of golden soybeans. A hawk circled the combine’s wake, hunting for exposed field mice. He recalled farmers whose land he has taken over: Ted Hartwick ’s, the Matthews’, the Profits’, his father’s.

Yes, building a large and profitable business is usually seen as an integral part of free market economics. We don’t want to prevent successful farms from getting larger. But it’s crucial to ask a few questions here: first, are these farms growing via their own merits—or via the support of the federal government? (Often, the answer is the latter.) Is their business model truly sustainable (and therefore, “successful” long term)?

Too often, the growth of a commodity farm means taking diversity, sustainability, and community, and turning these goods into homogeneity, depreciation, and solitude. This may not be Scheufler’s story. But it is, increasingly, the story of America’s heartland.  As another interviewee tells the WSJ,

There were 28 students in Mr. Scott’s graduating class at Ransom’s high school nearly four decades ago. Most were farmers’ children. This year there are nine students in the school’s senior class. ‘Farms got bigger to be more efficient, but it’s caused these towns to die a slow death,’ Mr. Scott said.

It’s not just farm towns that are ill-served by the way agriculture currently works. Land erosion, water contamination, and soil pollution are just a few of the ecological consequences of bad farming practices. “The current debacle has been coming for a long time,” says Salatin. And, he adds, “It will not end quickly. Rectifying our decades of abuse will not be easy. Healing will be disturbing.”

Farmers Aren’t Encouraged to Diversify Their Operations

Part of the problem here is that farmers, rather than diversifying their farms to protect against commodity price drops, have been encouraged (largely by subsidies, sometimes by the market) to always produce more of the same.

“Rather than studying how nature works, the informational component of the agriculture sector tends to throw out historic templates and remake life in a mechanical hubris of fatter, faster, bigger, cheaper,” says Salatin.

Many farmers who’ve expanded their enterprises have continued to grow the same exact crops on all that land. Now, writes Newman and McGroarty, “Corn and wheat output has never been higher, and never has so much grain been bunkered away.” So when the price of corn, soybeans, and wheat drops—as it is now—farmers don’t have another crop to fall back on.

In the short term, diversifying your farm operation can be more expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding. But it also creates job security. Long-term, it protects both your farm and soil health.

When we focus on producing a few commodity crops, any country can beat us at our own game. We produce a glut of grain that global markets are no longer buying. Meanwhile, Americans living in the heartland of Iowa buy their tomatoes and peppers from South America. It seems strange, doesn’t it?


For more on industrial agriculture and the sustainable alternative, see this list of books used in classes offered by the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

SFF Film Showing and Poster Contest

The following is a note from SFF student Sierra Torres….

I am reaching out to you all today with a really awesome opportunity to help plan some events for SFF community and beyond this semester.  Currently I am organizing a three part film series surrounding issues within the food system or related to climate justice in general. 
 
Because this event is being designed for your enjoyment, I wanted to get feedback on which films you would like to see this semester. The following link is a brief poll where you can vote on which film you would like to see. There will also be links to the trailers if you have not heard of the films.

 Click to Vote Here

The top two films will be shown in March (dates to be determined). This poll will close on February 20th.
 
Based on what movies you all choose, we hope to also host a panel of local speakers in the field of study related to the films after the showings. If you have someone in mind who might be a perfect speaker for one of the films, feel free to leave a comment on the last question on the survey or feel free to email me personally. 
easelThere will also be a contest for you all to submit designs for the poster. So if you love drawing or working with digital art, we will be running a contest for you all to submit designs of your original art work for the posters. The person with the best poster will win a Stockbridge Sweatshirt. Attached below is a PDF with the contest details.  Feel free to email me with questions.
 
Thank you all so much and I look forward to your help,
Sierra Torres
University of Massachusetts Amherst, ’20
College of Natural Sciences
Sustainable Food and Farming Major
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The Rise of Women Farmers – a few readings

Did you know that over 65% of the recent graduates of the Sustainable Food and Farming major in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture are women? 

Here are a few books & websites from the Women’s Agricultural Network which showcase how women farmers are changing the food system:

The Female Farmer Project Through photographs, blog posts, podcasts and now coloring books, author and photographer Audra Mulkern and her team are working to “accurately portray a group of people who” Mulkern believes have been “invisible for far too long: The female farmer . . . This group of women who had been doing amazing things.”

Drawing on 10 years of research and work with women farmers, the Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture, published in 2016, explores the societal changes that have empowered women to claim the farmer identity, describes barriers that are broadly encountered by women farmers, and offers a framework to shift the US food system to one that better supports women farmers.

Soil Sistersalso published in 2016, provides a blue-print for women who want to farm. Author Lisa Kivirist, founding coordinator of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, synthesizes key information and advice from seasoned women farmers committed to sustainable agriculture.


Original Source  – Women’s Agricultural Network

Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….

sarahtower
Sara Tower at Nutwood Farm in Cummington, MA

or the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Monday, February 06, 2017

CUMMINGTON — When Sara Tower began farming about eight years ago, she worked mostly with vegetables, which is typical of many farmers in the area. Next fall, though, she and her partner will harvest a crop that is new to western Massachusetts — nuts.

Last year, Tower and Kalyan Uprichard, co-owners of Nutwood Farm in Cummington, planted 350 nut trees on their 8-acre farm. By 2026, they expect to harvest 10,000 pounds of nuts, including chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts.

“We’re changing the food system,” Tower said. Continue reading Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….