In this time of global crises, many universities including UMass Amherst have transitioned to online learning. Making a transition like this is surely difficult for any discipline…but farming remotely?! How does that work? Sustainable Food & Farming also includes a depth of study of theory, plant science, and social dimensions of food systems which our instructors have been hard at work to continue teaching using online Zoom sessions, using forums on course pages like Moodle & Blackboard and designing a blend of live and pre-recorded lectures so that students can keep learning.
Many students have shared that they look forward to our weekly Zoom sessions and we are continuing to learn and have fun together as best we can in these times. To be a farmer, one must be resilient and able to adapt to challenge and change (the weather is constantly surprising us!). What is also becoming more clear in this emerging pandemic is the need for SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE and healthy resilient systems.
Farmers across the globe are responding and organizing efforts to continue to expand and provide community access to local produce. Here in the Pioneer Valley, the newly formed Sunderland Farm Collaborative is providing a delivery service so Western MA residence can get local produce delivered to their homes safely and still support local businesses. Our local paper did a story on this collaborative which employs several alumni from our program. Neighboring Simple Gifts Farm has been offering an online ordering & curbside pickup for our local community. Current SFF students & alumni are working hard and with caution on the frontlines to make our food system more resilient during these times.
We are continuing to advise students remotely and designing our schedules for the fall semester. At a time where so much is uncertain, in many conversations we all seem to agree connecting with nature by going on daily walks, growing seedlings (from just a few in a windowsill or a large backyard garden) helps keep hope alive. Few things offer such simple wonder and awe and remind us that what we’re doing here is important and essential. Now more than ever we must learn to grow food, to organize, to collaborate, to be resilient and adapt. To do what farmers, Indigenous communities, and grassroots organizers have been doing for centuries. Wishing good health and happy spring to all!
-Sarah Berquist, Program Coordinator, Lecturer, & Advisor
The US News & World Report published their 2020 ranking of the top agricultural universities, and UMass Amherst ranked 4th in the World and 2nd best in the United States.
“We are delighted by these rankings,” says Stockbridge School of Agriculture Director, Dr. Wesley Autio, when asked about the QS and US News & World Report rankings. “Of course, we think the 156-year-old University of Massachusetts has always been among the ‘go to’ schools for excellent undergraduate education, but it is wonderful to get this recognition” continued Dr. Autio.
The Stockbridge School of Agriculture offers 5 Associate of Sciences, 4 Bachelor of Sciences, M.S., and Ph.D. degrees. In addition, Stockbridge has an extensive offering of online classes serving working adults all over the world. The Sustainable Food and Farming Program, which allows students to concentrate on farming and marketing, agricultural education and public policy has grown from just 5 students in 2003 to 130 today. Other Associate and Bachelor programs focus on all aspects of agricultural science, important in a rapidly changing world.
Autio believes that the international recognition is long overdue and that “educational programs and our World-class research have really put us on the map.” He concludes “our alums will certainly tell you that Stockbridge is among the top agricultural programs in the world.”
Repost from Civil Eats (great resource!) : Original HERE
After the recent legalization of hemp production, new and beginning farmers are following the green rush, though obstacles abound.
Asaud Frazier enrolled in Tuskegee University with plans to study medicine, but by the time graduation rolled around in 2016, he’d already switched gears. Instead of becoming a physician, Frazier decided to farm hemp.
“I was always interested in cannabis because it had so many different uses,” he said. “It’s a cash crop, so there’s no sense in growing anything else. Cannabis is about to totally take over an array of industries.”
Frazier doesn’t come from an agricultural background, but while he was growing up in Ohio, he watched his father become a master gardener. He also made frequent trips to visit relatives in Alabama, where his family owns a five acres farm. Today, he’s growing hemp on that land as part of a two-year pilot program for small farmers in the state.
“I love getting an opportunity to grow such a beneficial plant,” Frazier said.
In the fragmented ecosystems where we live and work, the importance of diversity in our landscapes cannot be over emphasized. Diversity of native plants, insects, mammals, birds, amphibians…. They all play a crucial role in sustaining a healthy environment.
When we encourage a diversity of native plants in the landscape, we provide just one component of a successful habitat. We all learned the components of sustainable habitats when we were in elementary school – all creatures need food, shelter, and water. But what does this mean in a landscape? We need diversity of food: native plants that supply food for insects that in turn become food for other insects, birds, and animals large and small. We must have plant diversity to feed a diversity of creatures, but we also need structural diversity. Places for butterflies to hide at night and moths to hide during the day. Places for all sorts of creatures to shelter from weather, both summer and winter. Places for cover and nesting sites. We need diversity of form: trees, shrubs, evergreens, Continue reading Landscaping as if ecology mattered→
A cover crop of buckwheat in flower on permanent beds with grass strips between the beds to reduce tillage and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Elizabeth Henderson wonders about how regenerative farmers can help mitigate climate disaster by returning carbon to the soil while trying to stay in business.
“Government programs like the current farm bill pit production against conservation, and doing the right thing for the environment is a considerable drain on a farmer’s bank account, especially when so many of them are losing money to low commodity prices and President Trump’s tariffs.”
Original Gazette article can be found here by Rema Boscov
It doesn’t look like it could save the planet — long grass dotted with 4-foot high chestnut trees, inch-thick trunks with a few broad leaves on short, thin branches, surrounded by plastic mesh tubes to protect them from the sheep not yet here. But it’s what you don’t see on Lisa DePiano’s research plot that gives hope. There’s carbon, lots of it, pulled from CO2 in the atmosphere, now sequestered in the soil — with more to come, explains DePiano, a Sustainable Food and Farming lecturer at the University of Massachusetts’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture.
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.
For generations, America’s family farmers have passed down a tradition of hard work and independence. Today’s family farmers share those same core values, but the economics are more and more tenuous. Last year, farmers got less than 15 cents of every dollar that Americans spent on food — the lowest amount since the Department of Agriculture began tracking that figure in 1993.
Today a farmer can work hard, do everything right — even get great weather — and still not make it. It’s not because farmers today are any less resilient, enterprising, or committed than their parents and grandparents were. It’s because bad decisions in Washington have consistently favored the interests of multinational corporations and big business lobbyists over the interests of family farmers.Continue reading Leveling the playing field for America’s family farmers→
Cuba’s former agricultural system—large-scale, mechanized, and “modern”—relied on a steady flow of resources from the Soviet Union. Before 1989, the Soviet Union sent vast amounts of agricultural supplies, including petroleum, pesticides, fertilizers, and livestock vaccinations, to fuel Cuban production of cash crops such as sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, and bananas. The Cuban government prioritized the export of cash crop products and imported 80 percent of what the country consumed: rice, beans, grains, and vegetables. To the north, the United States enforced el bloqueo, an economic blockade against Cuba first established in 1960, prohibiting the flow of goods, including food and medicine, to and from the socialist island. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, severing the supply of food and farming supplies, Cuba woke up to a major economic crisis. Without food imports to stock the grocery store shelves, how would Cuba feed 11 million people? How would Cubans till the soil without diesel to run the tractors? How could farmers stimulate yields without synthetic fertilizers? Agricultural production plummeted dramatically. State farms and factories shut down. Livestock perished. Precious cash crops rotted in the fields and, as a result, revenue from exports crashed.
UMass Instructor and Program Coordinator of the Sustainable Food and Farming B.S. degree 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 Continue reading Sarah Berquist receives major award→