Senior Capstone Presentations 2013

Senior Capstone Presentations – 2013

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference 


The following students took STOCKSCH 590B – Project Development in Sustainable Food and Farming, a senior capstone class in the Sustainable Food and Farming major at UMass during the spring of 2013.  The following abstracts present their project ideas.


Amber Halkiotis

Homesteading Guide for the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts

Families in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts might learn to become more self-sufficient if they had guidance on how to get started. This project will produce a guide on how to create an easy homesteading life style, geared toward busy families with children. It is important for the continued health of the planet and our local communities that children learn how to live more sustainably. People need to start feeding and supporting themselves using their own resources in order to reduce consumption of over-processed foods and diminish the harmful effects of industrial agriculture. As easily extractable fossil fuel becomes less available, future generations must learn how to become more food and energy self-sufficient. This guide will include homesteading practices such as; gardening, livestock management and care, food preservation, and composting. It will be created using existing sources including books, articles, and websites. It will also contain information from interviews with local households explaining the challenges they have faced while learning to homestead in the Pioneer Valley. Active engagement in homesteading may be a key to building stronger communities and healthy lifestyles in the region.



Astrid O’Connor

Developing Season Extension Strategies for the UMass Student Farming Enterprise

The UMass Student Farming Enterprise class offers training to aspiring farmers while providing the campus community with fresh, organically grown vegetables. Currently, the students harvest and sell produce only during the fall semester. This project will install the necessary infrastructure, experiment with winter growing, and make suggestions for how to extend the harvest season into the winter and spring. A winter growing experiment looking at planting dates for four different varieties of greens in an unheated hoop house will provide useful data. This project will analyze the experimental data along with other models for season extension in the Northeast and make suggestions and plans for the Student Farm’s next season. Not only will the student farmers gain additional practical farming skills, but on-campus wholesale customers will have a fresh, sustainable source of vegetables through the winter. Expanding the UMass Student Farm growing season will not only benefit the students, but the campus at large.



Rose Boyko

Enhancing Pollinator Systems for Growers in New England

This project will investigate how to enhance pollinator systems for fruit and vegetable growers in New England. Attracting pollinators to a farm is an ecological way to increase fruit and vegetable production. A perennial garden will be constructed using farming methods which attract and support pollinator species to bring attention to the accessibility and affordability of such systems. A field study will evaluate and record activities and results in a new perennial garden at the University of Massachusetts Student Farm in South Deerfield, MA. Based on this study, an assessment guide will be developed to help farmers create and support enhanced pollinator environments.



Max Carbone

Designing a Clean Water Aquaponics System

The objective of this project is to design an aquaponic system that can be adapted to any scale production, produce virtually zero unusable waste and collect rain for water change and system top-off. This will promote the preservation of healthy seas and rivers that currently are over-fished to feed a growing human population. Many people are starting to realize they need to support sustainable fisheries that produce less contaminants and waste products than conventional and open water fisheries. Instead of using wild caught species, this system will be designed to promote the natural breeding or spawning habits of a captive raised specie. This system can be housed indoors or in greenhouses, grows two sources of food (the fish and the vegetables that obtain nutrients from fish waste), yields usable waste, and requires less input to produce high energy products. This revamped design will reduce the numbers of wild caught fish for food, reduce the carbon footprint and pollutant discharge of the fishing industry, and open areas for new business opportunities. These low input, highly efficient systems are designed to produce food products in unconventional spaces and will help people start thinking about where their food comes from.



Charlotte Wilson

School Gardens and their Effects on Academic Performance of Children

This project will investigate the relationship between the presence of gardens in schools and student improvement in behavior, grades and nutrition. The youth of today are spending increasing amounts of time indoors, whether due to leisure activities or simply too much homework, and could benefit from interacting more with nature. There is much to be gained from integrating a gardening project into a school curriculum, including the promotion of better eating habits and a broader knowledge of the current food system. Using published studies, scientific journals and other academic references, this project will evaluate differences between schools that have gardens and those that do not. Criteria will include consumption of healthier food and changes in student behavior and academic performance. Considering the many problems society faces relating to the industrial food system and public health, children who use these gardens as a learning tool will have increased awareness surrounding food issues, and hopefully make better and more informed decisions for the future.



Liz Altieri

Bridging the Gap Between English and Sustainable Food Studies

This project will explore a much-needed bridge between two seemingly disparate subject areas: English and Sustainable Food and Farming. The two “fields” seem to exist within their own respective bubbles, and to be interested in both is, very often, to be two separate people. Interviews and discussion with individuals who have successfully bridged these two areas of interest in their own lives will be shared with others on a blog as the project takes shape. This exploration will ultimately form the basis for piercing together a larger picture of how to utilize one’s passions in a personal and socially holistic way.



Edgar Foudray

Orchard Ecology: Herbs and Apples

This project will plan a field study to evaluate holistic management strategies for commercial apple orchards. Following a thorough review of the academic literature, a research design will be implemented at the University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Research and Education Center. Strips of weeds sown beneath an apple orchard canopy will be intercropped with medicinal herbs as an alternative to herbicide control of noxious weeds. Two treatments will be randomly assigned in a split-plot design. One treatment will be an application of glyphosate herbicide to bare soil. A second treatment will be the planting of a sixty-species herbaceous plant matrix. Over three growing seasons, population data for herb plants and noxious weeds will be recorded. The expected results will reveal the efficacy of understory management in sown weed strips compared to conventional herbicide management. Cultivating a polyculture of herbaceous plants in apple orchards may be a more ecologically conscious strategy for managing agricultural weeds in commercial fruit orchards. The adoption of the sown weed strip system would result in decreased chemical use in commercial fruit production operations.



Liz LaBrocca

Sustaining UMass GardenShare: A Cooperative Business Model

GardenShare is a one-credit, student-facilitated course at UMass Amherst that introduces participants to gardening and homesteading basics. The group’s one-acre garden on campus allows students to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables while practicing the skills they learn in class. GardenShare also provides students with a meaningful social experience that teaches consensus-based decision-making skills in a positive, welcoming environment. What is lacking from GardenShare is a sustainable foundation for maintaining the space over the summer – a period of time when the garden is most productive and students are the least available. A sustainable business model will help current GardenShare facilitators develop avenues of profit so that students can be compensated for their work, thereby making it more feasible for them to remain involved over the summer. This project will create a business plan for a revenue-generating summer day camp and workshop series for community-members. It will also provide suggestions about avenues GardenShare can use to sell produce and secondary products both during the summer and the academic year.



Jordan Teboldi

Equine Pasture Rotation and Forage Management

Equine pasture rotation and forage management is a project that combines traditional equine management with the economic and ecological benefits of sustainable practices. Poor equine nutrition and nutrition management have resulted from the industrialization and increased processing of feed. While supplemental nutrition is important for working horses, proper forage is essential to maintaining good digestive health and the overall well-being of the animal. Through the practice of rotational grazing, this project aims to devise a system that works specifically for an equine facility to improve pasture management and allow for the maximization of pasture growth and health. With this, an equine facility would be able to reduce the cost of imported hay and bulk grain while improving the overall health of the horse by allowing it to process food that its body is designed to digest. Research will consist of scholarly articles and journals relating to rotational grazing and forage management as well as specific dietary needs of the horse. This project will assist a modern equine facility with little to no prior knowledge on the subject matter transition toward a more sustainable business.



Nora Seymour

Weed ‘em and reap: how to identify, harvest, and cook foraged food in the Northeastern US

The Northeast woodlands could be grocery stores just waiting to be shopped at, however not many people have a shopping list. Today most people believe that the supermarket feeds us and do not recognize that our food all comes from the Earth. Foraging and eating directly from nature is an example of the original source of nourishment. Wild food is healthy. Studies have shown that wild species have more vitamins and minerals than their closest cultivated relatives. Wild food is also free. This is an important consideration, especially for low income families. However, before people can successfully use food from the woods they must learn what is edible and how to prepare it properly. The goal of this project is to create a web-based resource to teach beginners how to identify, harvest and cook the wide variety of underutilized plants and fungi that grow in the Northeastern U.S. The website will be a simple, accessible resource for anyone to use with information collected from credible sources. With this knowledge, people will be motivated to eat from the untapped resource that is our Northeast wilderness.



Natan Theise

Garden Helper: An Online Resource for Designing a Garden for Everyone’s Needs

The proposed garden guide website will result in more gardens in more places by making the knowledge of how to grow gardens easily accessible online. There are simply not enough people growing their own food and that needs to change. There needs to be more self-sufficiency when it comes to people and food, meaning more gardens. Either people think gardens are too time consuming or they don’t know how to get started. This project will result in a web-based guide to help show people how they can create a garden to fit their own needs. The website will feature an extensive database of plants, as well as present relevant characteristics of each plant. The site can be searched using keywords, correlating to plant needs and yields. A suitable plant for every garden space can be found by typing in the characteristics of the plant (such as edible, medicinal, tree, or vine) against the environment it needs or tolerates (such as acidic or moist soil). This will lead to an increased knowledge of plants (especially those frequently used in permaculture gardens), more gardens and increased self-sufficiency. This website intends to empower and educate people on how to grow their own food by creating a garden that suits their needs.



Neev Blume

Connecting Auxiliary Services With the Amherst Survival Center

The dinning commons managed by UMass Auxiliary Services generates a large portion of food waste on the UMass campus. This research project will connect the dinning commons with the Amherst Survival Center so that food can be rescued and shared with those who need it, rather than composted or discarded. Food waste is one of America’s most pressing issues and needs to be addressed in light of dwindling resources and rising food prices. Between 40-50% of all produce grown in the U.S. is not consumed. At the same time, 1 in 6 Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The Amherst Survival Center for example, has seen a 41% spike in people using their services over the past few years. These two problems present an opportunity because they can solve one another. There is enough food for people to eat, but there isn’t a system to make the food available. This project will investigate the problem and create an opportunity for direct communication and collaboration between dinning commons staff and the Amherst Survival Center team, including volunteers. This collaboration has the potential to reduce waste produced by the UMass dinning commons while simultaneously helping those who need it most in the local community.



Ashley Barrett

Wellness Farm: An Education Center for Self-Sustainability

There is a growing demand for places that provide stress relief and education on holistic and sustainable living. This project will investigate and outline a plan to develop a new business where people can go for resources and education focused on personal sustainability. The objective of the proposed Wellness Farm will be to empower visitors to gain an understanding of self-sustainability and to help them integrate healing practices into their daily lives. It is to be a place where people from all walks of life may learn about farming, homesteading, health and wellness. Some techniques offered will include; horticulture and farming lessons, medicinal plant classes, yoga and dance, wellness treatments and a variety of wellness lectures. The Wellness Farm will encompass all aspects of sustainability to help people achieve a light carbon footprint. Attaining these skills is a crucial step in creating a truly sustainable world for ourselves and future generations.



Rebecca Drew and Brooke Dillon

Compost and Curriculum: Promoting Sustainability and Reducing Waste at GHS

This project is designed to investigate and propose a means to utilize food waste produced by the Greenfield Massachusetts High School cafeteria through collection and composting. By mimicking programs which have been successful in other school districts, this project will help to create a healthy system which produces minimum waste, while encouraging students to become more enthusiastic about personal sustainability. The project will include volunteers, students, faculty, and parents. As the school building is currently being remodeled, a new composting program can be integrated into the cafeteria based on a creative well-researched design. This project will result in less waste going to the landfill and more engaged students in the school.



Robert Skalbite

Managed Intensive Grazing and Winter Forage Reserves in Western Massachusetts

The purpose of this project is to develop an effective Managed Intensive Grazing (MIG) and Winter Forage Reserve (WFR) system template for farms raising beef or dairy cattle in Western Massachusetts. Cattle production is highly adaptable to Western Massachusetts, especially on those farms situated upon soils not well suited for vegetable or fruit production. Many Western Massachusetts dairy farms have closed in recent years and young farmers are looking to take these operations in new directions. MIG/WFR systems allow farmers to be highly efficient and profitable. By managing the daily grazing of cattle using portable electric fencing, farmers are able to reduce overgrazing of their fields while at the same time ensuring that areas normally overlooked by cattle are fully utilized. Such a reduction in overgrazing and efficient use of land allows farmers to stock many times more cattle onto a given farm without sacrificing animal welfare or farm ecology. Development of a WFR allows farms to forego much of the expensive forage equipment previously deemed necessary to run a dairy or beef operation. Cattle are able to exhibit their natural instincts, grazing nearly year round on pasture while reducing the overall operational costs to the farm. In comparison to standard range grazing or feedlot systems MIG/WFR systems offer New England farmers an opportunity to develop an ecologically sustainable and economically profitable business model.


%d bloggers like this: