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

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Nothing Green about the Green Revolution

This post is one of the reading assignments in my class, STOCKSCH 391A – Dialogue on Agricultural Issues, taught during the Fall semester 2018.

By Dr. Vandana Shiva


The system that drives farmers into a debt trap creates malnutrition. The solution lies in shifting from a toxic, high-cost system to a nutritious, low-cost, sustainable food production model

There is no reason why India should face hunger and malnutrition, and why our farmers should commit suicide. India is blessed with the most fertile soils in the world. Our climate is so generous we can, in places, grow four crops in a year, compared to only one in most of the industrialised West. We have the richest biodiversity in the world, both because of diverse climates and because of the brilliance of our farmers as breeders. They have given us 200,000 varieties of rice, 1,500 varieties of wheat, 1,500 varieties of mangoes and bananas.

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Sir Albert Howard, who was sent to India in 1905 to introduce chemicals in farming, saw how fertile the soils were with no pests in the fields. He decided to make the Indian peasants his professors and wrote An Agricultural Testament, which spread organic farming worldwide on the basis of India’s ecological farming, today recognised as

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How Foodies Can Understand Capitalism and Farm-to-Table Justice

From:  Yes Magazine: Powerful ideas – Practical actions 

Couple preparing food before cooking

NOTE:  If food justice is of interest, you might be interested in our new online class, Food Justice and Policy, being offered this summer at UMass Online! 

A new book aimed at the socially conscious food activist explores how our food system can be a place for transformation through an alliance between the progressive and radical wings of the food movement.

As advocates for a just food system, most of us try to live by our beliefs. Shopping at the farmers markets: Check. Buying local and grass-fed: Check. We rail against Big Food, yet don’t dare, or bother, to look too far beneath the surface when we shop at Whole Foods or order from the organic aisle of Fresh Direct. We are walking, kale-stuffed characters out of Portlandia, better-intentioned than informed. After all, what are we really doing to change the system?

If this undercurrent of low-level guilt is one you’ve experienced, you might be a target of Eric Holt-Gimenez’s new book, A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism: Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat. The book, by and large, delivers on its goal of serving as a political economic toolkit for the food movement. It’s Capitalism 101 for the socially conscious, would-be food activist. Continue reading How Foodies Can Understand Capitalism and Farm-to-Table Justice

2018 Pioneer Valley Grows Forum

We are just one week out from the 2018 PVGrows Forum and we are nearing capacity! Register today to secure yourself a seat on April 7th as we dig deep on the urgent and timely topics facing the Pioneer Valley food system. Join us to broaden and deepen your relationships with others in the field while identifying paths to take collaborative action for a more just, equitable food system!
Catered lunch, Gateway City Arts – Spanish interpretation services available
Keynote from Migrant Justice 
Migrant Justice organizes immigrant farmworkers and allies in the state of Vermont for human rights and economic justice. Founded in 2009 after the death of a young dairy worker, the organization brings the farmworker community together with community assemblies to create a vision and roadmap for advancing human rights through collective action. In the decade since its founding, Migrant Justice has received national accolades for its cutting edge grassroots organizing, winning access to driver’s licenses for immigrant workers and the country’s strongest statewide policy preventing police collaboration with deportation agencies. In 2017, Migrant Justice signed a contract with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to implement the organization’s worker-driven social responsibility program “Milk with Dignity” in the company’s supply chain. This program is now transforming conditions and securing human rights on farms across the state.
Sessions for the Day
Land Access in the Pioneer Valley

Both rural and urban agriculture face challenges related to land access in the Pioneer Valley and beyond. Our region’s long history of enslavement, racial discrimination, and anti-immigrant biases has forged the patterns of land and wealth distribution that exist today. Join us to explore this history, the challenges that exist in the field of land access today, and opportunities for taking action moving forward.
 
Immigration and the Food System
Now is a time of heightened stress and fear for foreign-born residents of the Pioneer Valley and beyond. Foreign-born residents play a substantial role in the food system of our region and now, more than ever, it is essential to support the food system workers of the Pioneer Valley. Join us as we examine the current lay of the land for immigrants working in the food system and explore approaches to taking action moving forward.

Building Political Muscle for Food Resilience

What’s the Farm Bill? Why does it matter? Build your toolbox, and take away actions your communities can do at the State and Federal levels to preserve the programs that ensure healthy food is accessible to all.

The Trump Administration’s 2019 Budget proposed cutting SNAP’s budget by over $200 billion in the coming decade while radically restructuring the entire program. This session will feature updates on the current status of this and other essential programs like Farm to School and FINI, the federal grant program that funded HIP, while offering an opportunity for developing strategies across our communities for protecting current funding levels and new ways of moving forward.

PVGrows Forums bring together food system stakeholders and participants to spend a day deeply exploring the Pioneer Valley food system. Our events are open to all. The 2018 PVGrows Forum is made possible by a volunteer planning committee, our sponsors, and CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.)

For more information, visit the 2018 PVGrows Forum event page or contact Noah Baustin, the 2018 PVGrows Forum Coordinator.

Thanks to the sponsors of the 2018 PVGrows Forum

 

Home is where the hemp is…

New York Times 

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Russians sorting raw hemp fibers in the Kursk region in the 1960s. Hemp has been used as building material for millennia in Europe and elsewhere, but it’s only just starting to get wider recognition as a green construction option.

The Romans have been using it since the days of Julius Caesar, but not to get high. Both Washington and Jefferson grew it.

Now that several states have legalized the use of marijuana for some recreational and medical purposes, one of the biggest untapped markets for the cannabis plant itself — at least one variety — could be as a building tool.

The most sustainable building material isn’t concrete or steel — it’s fast-growing hemp. Hemp structures date to Roman times. A hemp mortar bridge was constructed back in the 6th century, when France was still Gaul.

Now a wave of builders and botanists are working to renew this market. Mixing hemp’s woody fibers with lime produces a natural, light concrete that retains thermal mass and is highly insulating. No pests, no mold, good acoustics, low humidity, no pesticide. It

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Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet

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The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.

The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.

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On our way to a “nation of farmers” in Amherst, MA

Michelle Chandler and one of her backyard meat rabbits

Michelle Chandler made a decision shortly after September 11, 2001 – she was going to be less dependent on fossil fuels and begin to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  The result is 100 rabbits, dozens of laying hens and a couple of milk goats in her suburban yard in South Amherst, MA.  Chandler quotes John 21:17, when Peter was asked by Jesus, “Do you love me?” Upon answering, “Yes,” Peter is instructed to “feed my sheep.”

Chandler’s “sheep” are her four children, ages 8 to 13, as well as neighbors and friends who enjoy the results of her bounty produced at Blessed Acre Farm and Rabbitry, where she raises several rare and heritage rabbit breeds – Cinnamons, Thriantas, Californians, Cremes d’Argent, Palominos, and American Blues.

According to an article in her local newspaper, those interested in raising rabbits should start with three, which would cost about $60 to get started. “For someone who wants rabbit on the table once a week for a family of four, you could realistically get by with one buck and two does,” she said. Then there’s the cost of building or buying hutches, at around $50 to $75 apiece, and providing the feed. A 50-pound bag costs $14.

Although her own property was far enough from the center of town to be exempt, Chandler was instrumental in helping to pass a new bylaw that allows up to 12 chickens or rabbits by right anywhere in Amherst.

“I feel strongly that Amherst will be better served by being able to feed itself,” said Chandler. “People are always going to be hungry, and if people have another food source, that’s a good thing.”

 One of Michelle Chandler’s close friends, Sharon Astyk, has written a book called “A Nation of Farmers” in which she claims raising your own food in the backyard must become a more common feature of the American landscape if we are to adjust to Peak Oil.  Chandler’s backyard has become a living example of this trend.