Tag Archives: umass

An open letter to graduating seniors

bannergradsThe end of Spring Semester is the time of year when “change is in the air.”  Days are getting warmer.  We have lots of daylight and we’ve even been threatened by a few late afternoon thunderclouds.  Of course, the annual change of seasons is dwarfed by the significant life change those of you who are graduating college are experiencing.  Leaving college is a big deal – right up there with going to college, getting married, having children, changing jobs or careers, retirement – you know, the big changes.  Continue reading An open letter to graduating seniors

Our Seed Saving Workshop

By Hannah Helfner

On the first day of my junior year writing class for Sustainable Food and Farming majors at UMass, we were presented with the choice to work on a project either partnering with the League of Women Voters on a Sustainable Agriculture Expo or with Grow Food Amherst on a Seed Saving Workshop. Going into the class with basically zero familiarity on saving seeds, I decided to join that group in hopes to expand my knowledge. What I did not expect was that working on this project resulted in a meaningful experience for me, helping to develop my skills as a team-member, organizer, and also as a seed saver.

The 11 students in our group began our project by meeting with Phyllis Keenan, an Amherst community member and an experienced seed saver. We decided to organize a free workshop for community members at Amherst Town Hall about basic seed saving. Choosing March 31st as the date for the event gave us plenty of time to prepare our research and make arrangements for the event to be a success. Because many of us began this project with little to no knowledge of the subject, we spent time in the first few weeks of the semester researching and compiling information on what is seed saving, how to do it, and other topics associated with saving seeds.

Emilee Herrick and Emily Goonan preparing research in class
Emilee Herrick and Emily Goonan preparing research in class

As we progressed further along in the semester, we continued to meet with Phyllis and began choosing specific topics for each individual to concentrate on and present at the workshop.  I was assigned to the topic of saving pepper seeds with my classmate Joe Cecchi. We also spent a good amount of time on conceptualizing the actual structure of the event, which I found to be the most difficult part of the whole process. Because each member of our team had different ideas of what the event would be, we worked to negotiate and decide on a vision that was agreed on my all members.

In order to attract attendees and enrich the workshop, we decided to feature Oona Coy, an experience seed saver as our guest speaker. Additionally, I was responsible for making the arrangement to reserve the room at town hall for our event from 7-9 pm on March 31st. To do this, I contacted Stephanie Ciccarello, the sustainability coordinator at the town hall, who was very helpful in securing the room for us and arranging other logistics such as table and chair setup and projector use.

Now that we created a framework and plan for our event, we concentrated on advertising the workshop to the Amherst community. As another homework assignment for our class, we all created press releases for our event. Because of this, we were able to select the best one and send it out to a variety of different media sources. Emilee, another member of the group, created a flyer that was printed and hung up on campus and in town. Other ways of advertising our event were through emails and word-of-mouth.

seedAs the event drew closer, we began to organize specific details such as props and posters. Meeting every week in class was a useful way for us all to check in and help someone if they were having difficulties with their research, poster, or handouts. Before we knew it, the day of the workshop was upon us and we all arrived at town hall a bit early to help set up.

Setting up in Town Hall

Not knowing exactly what to expect going into the seed saving workshop, I was very pleasantly surprised. We had a great turnout- basically every chair set up was filled with community members and students. Oona presented an informational and engaging talk on seed saving background and basic skills. Afterwards, attendees were invited to walk around to the different stations set up all over the room. Each station had a different topic from tomatoes to storage to a kid’s table. There were many materials to be taken home such as seeds, pamphlets, and catalogues. Also, each member signed a contact list that will be compiled into Grow Food Amherst’s database so the connections and community built at this event will continue. The event only lasted for 1.5 hours but it felt like much longer. So much information was exchanged, questions were answered, connections were made, and smiles were brightened.

Oona Coy presenting a talk on seed saving

Oona Coy presenting a talk on seed saving

Being at this event was exciting for me for two main reasons. First, after working all semester on this project and experiencing all the effort that was put into making the event a success, it felt great to have such a positive turnout and response from the public. While standing at my booth, I was able to engage in conversations with people I normally wouldn’t and spread information that is useful and people seemed to really want to know. Second, it seemed like everyone there was having a nice time and many people expressed gratitude to us for putting on this event for the community. Often times school work does not go beyond the classroom but by engaging in this project I was able to connect my studies with a greater community and share my passions with others, for which I am very grateful to have this experience.

Friends having fun at the workshop

Friends having fun at the workshop

After the event was over, we all packed up, said goodbye, and went home. Although almost a week has gone by since the workshop, the positive feelings I am writing about still resonate with me. I know that the skills I gained from this experience will help me work in groups to organize events in the future, and also to save many many seeds!

Here is a short video about the workshop.

For more events sponsored by my class, see: Writing for Sustainability Projects 2015

$1.7M in federal grants to bolster food-related research at UMass

Congressman James McGovern visits with Stockbridge School of Agriculture students
Congressman James McGovern visits with Stockbridge School of Agriculture students

The money will be directed to programs detecting harmful bacteria and minerals on food, developing a new safer type of food packaging and working with Massachusetts farmers to produce different crops popular with immigrant groups in the state.

“I’m proud to be a strong supporter of science and research and of this incredible university,” McGovern said. “I’m excited about the positive impact your research can have in our society.”

Dr. Frank Mangan

(In addition to support for the Food Science Department)….  the final grant is $250,000 from the USDA’s Food Insecurity Incentive program that will support Frank Mangan and Zoraia Barros of the ethnic crops program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass. That program teaches local farmers to grow healthy foods popular with some low-income, immigrant groups in the state.

McGovern expressed a personal commitment to the grant supporting crop development for immigrants, which is a part of a larger $3.4 million grant supporting the state’s low-income food program and other issues addressed by the state Department of Transitional Assistance.

“I sit on the agriculture committee because I am very concerned about the issue of hunger and food insecurity in this country,” McGovern said. “I believe hunger is a solvable problem.”

Barros, an urban agriculture specialist at the Stockbridge School, said the supported program would promote “weird-looking” vegetables among local farmers.

“In immigrant communities, they want what they want — they want the vegetables they are used to and that they used to eat in their country,” Barros said.

urbanagStockbridge does research on those vegetables, including red and green Brazilian eggplants, and passes advice on to growers so they can do it themselves and then sell the produce at farmers markets where immigrants shop. That way, they have access to fresh fruits and vegetables with which they are familiar, Barros said.

Different growers are near different immigrant populations, and the Stockbridge School works to connect those growers with foods in demand by those immigrant communities, she said.

Mangan, also of the Stockbridge School, said $1.25 million of the $3.4 million Food Insecurity Incentive grant will go toward the state’s SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, and will help low-income people buy food at places like farmers’ markets.

Latinos make up 62 percent of the public school population in Springfield and 80 percent in Holyoke, Mangan said. Finding nutritious foods that are popular with these populations is important work, he said.

Lili He, the project leader on the programs to detect pathogens and harmful chemicals in food, said the grants announced Wednesday would go toward buying equipment and hiring student researchers to complete her research.

“This is the first time we have people here to broadcast our work,” she said. “It feels very great, very honorable.”

Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, said the UMass food science department is the best in the world, and that its research touched on food production, distribution, safety and security.

“All are issues becoming increasingly important on our campus,” he said. “The future of food science at the university is really bright.”

Original Post.  Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.