Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2019

The students listed below took STOCKSCH 485 – Capstone in Sustainable Food and Farming. This class is a senior capstone class in the Sustainable Food and Farming major at UMass.  These students presented the results of their work at the:



Emily Bennett 

Building an Eco-Friendly Greenhouse

New England agriculture depends on greenhouses to extend the growing season and expand the food supply. Conventional greenhouses rely heavily on non-renewable resources for their construction and functionality. In addition, these materials and practices produce large amounts of waste and pollutants that negatively impact the surrounding ecosystems. This is especially true of current heating, electric, and water systems. In an era where climate change is an immediate threat, it is imperative that these effects be negated by any and all means possible. This study investigates renewable, eco-friendly alternatives to the conventional materials and systems used in greenhouses without inhibiting their productivity. Interviews with greenhouse managers and experts as well as research from reliable text and online sources will be reviewed to gather relevant information and data on this topic. It is expected that this study will find that renewable, eco-friendly systems and materials can be used in the construction and development of new greenhouses that will not only mimic the functionality and yield of conventional greenhouses, but will also dramatically reduce their environmentally toxic outputs. Because of the increasing scale of the current agricultural industry, it is critical that changes be made to the  existing systems to prevent further damage to the global ecosystem.



Kate Brodsky

Planning for Self-Sufficient Agricultural Recovery After Natural Disasters

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that on average, damage to agricultural infrastructure accounts for 22 percent of all losses from natural disasters. If agriculture is not rebuilt sustainably and effectively after natural disaster, the result can be economically and environmentally devastating, and potentially even result in further loss of life. This study will examine major disasters in the last 10 years such as the Port-au-Prince earthquake and the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010, and the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and their subsequent impact on farmers and local food systems. Through conducting case studies examining past natural disasters, this study will identify the impact of natural disasters on agricultural infrastructure in different contexts and create theoretical plans for rebuilding local food systems more sustainably and preventing future loss of resources and life.

Kate Brodsky


Jenna Carellini

Grow Where You’re Planted: Increasing Food Awareness

Human nutrition and agriculture both have one thing in common: food. However, in academia, the two primary activities of teaching and research, do not always work together to explore complex areas of study. Nevertheless, both can contribute to increased awareness of where one’s food comes from and enhance one’s ability to make conscious and sustainable food choices. This project examines the benefits of increasing awareness of food in children and families in the local community with respect to confidence, sense of community and personal wellbeing through educational interventions. An additional purpose of this project is to increase engagement between the areas of nutritional and agricultural studies not only at UMass, but also within research and teaching nationwide.These benefits will be examined through academic research, feedback from hands-on educational learning, and personal experience in nutrition and agricultural studies. The research for this project comes primarily from a community-based service learning project implemented at Crocker Farm Elementary in Amherst,MA and was done in conjunction with Stockbridge School of Agriculture, the Department of Nutritional Sciences, and the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst. Agricultural and nutritional based education in children and families will not only increase awareness of food and food sources, but also increase the willingness in these groups to expand their knowledge, confidence and sense of community.



Ellie Marguerite Card

Celiac’s Guide to Surviving a Gluten Filled World Using Herbs

From breads to spices, and lotions to toothpaste, gluten can be found in almost everything we put into or onto our bodies! Today, nearly 18 million Americans are reportedly suffering from Celiac disease and other gluten-oriented sensitivities. Although gluten free (GF) products have become more popular, completely avoiding the culprit can be rather difficult for some. Both culinary and medicinal herbs are available as holistic approaches to aiding in both prevention and relief of these gluten triggered symptoms. For this project, research will be conducted by examining case studies and consulting with certified herbalists and holistic medicinal practitioners. Subsequent research will explore specific herbs and their properties to determine the healing benefits they can provide for Celiac patients and those with similar gluten intolerances. Individuals can use these natural remedies to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by the inevitable exposure to gluten in the modern world. Unveiling these results and creating a comprehensive guide will help improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from these conditions and their families or caregivers.



Sofia Rae Cincotta

Public Food Forests for Food Access in the Pioneer Valley

The purpose of this project is to explore the potential for food forests in public spaces as community hubs, educational spaces and food access points. This research will include an in-depth case study of existing food forests and food access organizations in the Pioneer Valley, and an examination of how they affect surrounding communities particularly with respect to community vitality and food access. The first study will observe Paradise Lot, a 1/10th of an acre food forest privately owned in Holyoke, MA. The second study will observe Gardening the Community, a youth leadership and food access organization based out of Springfield, MA. Establishment of  publicly accessible food forests will work to meet the needs of those who in food apartheid regions, by providing nutritious locally grown produce to community members while offering practical education and enhancing community vitality. Research will be conducted through scholarly sources as well as interviews with Gardening the Community staff and appropriate agencies. This work will highlight the intersection between public space in community and food forest design, and demonstrate how this unique partnership can affect those who face food insecurity.  Public spaces must be better utilized to serve the needs of people within surrounding communities, and for this, public food forests are a revolutionary option.



Merav Dale

Training Teachers to Bring Their Classrooms Outside: A Manual for Early Elementary Educators

According to a study done by the World Health Organization of Europe in 2014, people spend an average of 90% of their time indoors. However, there have been many studies done that prove outdoor learning reduces stress levels, helps students with ADHD, improves academic achievement, and even strongly supports emotional and social development of students. This project focuses on students in younger elementary schools and explores how teachers might go about bringing classrooms outdoors to optimize learning. A training manual will be  compiled based upon; 1) personal experience and observations from the Amherst School system, 2) academic literature, and 3) interviews with teachers. The manual will include sample activities for students and instructions on ways to adjust curriculum based upon the learning styles of students. It will also consider state curricular standards and provide instructions on how to integrate these requirements into lessons. Lastly, the manual will provide suggestions on how teachers might respond effectively to possible negative backlash from the school or district administrators. Upon completion, the manual will serve as a model for other school systems that are attempting to integrate garden programs into their schools.



William J. Davis 

Holistic Farm-Based Education

A future privately-owned farm property will host educational classes and consultations relating to regenerative agriculture, nutrition, and healing. The classes will promote food access, land stewardship, and personal sovereignty by providing education on growing a variety of food crops, managing animals, maintaining woodlots, and processing herbal medicines. Personal consultations for nutritional and holistic medicine advice will also be offered. Possessing practical survival and community-building skills is rare in the modern world. Through education and counseling, people will be equipped with knowledge that can be used to benefit the mental, physical, and spiritual health of the individual, the well-being of the family, and the greater community. Interviews with local farmers, agricultural educators, herbalists, and others will be conducted to garner a sense of real world-applications of the different directives at the core of the project’s mission. Also, case studies of past and current models that resemble certain projected aspects of the project will be examined. Finally, academic journals will be examined for relevant past research into, and literary resources on, the therapeutic potential of farm-based education. A model for a farm-based educational center and homestead property will be designed based on the findings of the proposed research initiatives. The homestead’s structured learning environment will provide therapeutic, lasting experiences to those who visit the property.



Hannah Farnham

Can Genetic Engineering Contribute to Sustainable Agricultural Production?

This research project explores the viability of genetic engineering in sustainable farming systems. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic matter has been synthetically altered through genetic engineering in a laboratory. From a societal standpoint, genetic engineering is sometimes viewed as problematic because of the limited regulations on large corporations creating these modified organisms for large-scale conventional farming, and potentially unethical because of the practice of sharing genetic materials among different species. If the distribution of knowledge and power surrounding GMOs was more transparent, genetic engineering could possibly contribute to the effective management of pests and disease, food waste, land and water use, soil health, reduction of pesticides and herbicides, and other practices in sustainable food production.  Looking at these questions from multiple viewpoints, this research examines whether or not GMOs can be used to effectively contribute to a more sustainable farming system that is able to feed the growing human population while addressing societal objections.



Braden Leinhart

Forest Gardening for Carbon Sequestration and Food Production

Amidst the shifts in the global environment due to climate change, humans have been forced to seek innovative ways to combat and remediate rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. One common way of intentionally sequestering carbon is planting trees and other plants which establish themselves and pull CO2 from the atmosphere, storing it in the humus fraction of the soil. Conventional farming practices are detrimental to the accumulation of soil organic matter and its natural carbon sequestration properties. Forest gardening as an innovative agricultural practice holds the potential to nourish our land and environment while sequestering carbon and providing food for people. This practice requires minimal resources, and once a forest garden is established, can provide a favorable yield in comparison to its inputs. This study will examine the hypothesis that forest gardening is a more sustainable model of agricultural production and is more conscious of our environment than current conventional tillage systems. Findings will likely confirm the benefits of this holistic land use approach to be applied to agricultural systems across the globe.  A real-life application of forest gardening will be shown to remediate climate change by lowering CO2 levels and regenerating topsoil, while simultaneously providing a diverse source of zone-pertinent sustainable food crops for people both locally and globally.




Antonia Morini

The Positive Effects of Sustainable Urban Farming on Local Economics

Urban farming and community gardens can greatly improve local economies, build community, and provide fresh, local food, especially in low-income and inner city areas. It is important to study these potential effects and learn how urban farms can be established to  help in the growth of struggling local economies. In order to conduct this research, several low-income inner city communities were examined. Each of these communities have urban farms or gardens integrated into the city landscape. Overall, the implementation of farms and gardens both for food and aesthetics have been shown to spur growth and sustainability in struggling urban economies. Not only do these green spaces provide platforms for small businesses and growth of high quality jobs, but they also improve education, healthy diets, and food access for city dwellers. Furthermore, urban farms and community gardens can aid in reducing the large carbon footprint of urban life by providing a local food source and thus reducing fossil fuel used for transportation. Urban farming can be an integral part of strengthening communities by creating a center for healthy food and economic growth.



Evans Slepian

Designing Farm-Scale Water Solutions

Efficient management of freshwater resources is a concern for any agricultural operation, especially in an era characterized by unpredictable weather fluctuations. Through mindful ecological design, farmers can harness the power of water flowing through the land while reducing water loss, topsoil runoff, and the need for supplemental irrigation. This project focuses on soil management and production practices that work with the natural flow of water through land, highlighting regenerative techniques that foster resilience for farms in the face of climate change. Such practices are already employed across New England but are not widely adopted. This project aims to explore and consolidate regional knowledge through farmer interviews and case studies to create a comprehensive design guide for local farmers to consult when planning production for the upcoming season and beyond. An emphasis is placed on emergent patterns of design that have potential for broad scale application. The ultimate goal is to encourage the design of farm systems that operate with minimal stress during both wet seasons and drought.



Liz St Pierre

The Effects of Globalization on Traditional Foods

Around the world, culinary traditions are being lost due to the globalization of the food market, which is homogenizing a formerly diverse cuisine. While it may seem like the global market would allow culinary traditions to thrive, instead, cuisines are being simplified as the industrial food system spreads further around the globe. Like the rapid loss of languages worldwide, the loss of local cuisines can be addressed with awareness and education. Food is slowly becoming homogenized as knowledge is lost, generations are passed, and the capitalist global economy thrives. Research will be done by comparing historical culinary practices to food consumed today and analyzing the effect that globalization has on food authenticity. The research will investigate non-profit organizations aimed at preserving culinary heritage and the reasons that globalized food is replacing local cuisines. One of the main reasons for homogenization of food is the spread of unregulated capitalism in which only the cheapest and most profitable items are produced and sold, thus eliminating diverse indigenous and more authentic ingredients. Capitalism also allows the proliferation of homogenized American fast-food across the globe. In addition, cultural whitewashing takes places when people open restaurants of ethnicities other than their own simply to turn a profit rather than to provide authentic cuisine. Diversity within food around the globe is something to be cherished and passed down, so preservation of culinary tradition should be prioritized. This project will increase awareness of this problem and provide education regarding both the impact of globalization and potential solutions.



John Stambaugh

Gardens for the Future: Affective Climate Change Education

Living during a period of human-caused climate change necessitates an immediate and radical response to preserve a livable planet for future generations. Small-scale gardens serve as important educational spaces to catalyze the transition into sustainable lifestyles. Gardens are useful as spaces for education in formal and non-formal contexts, thus reaching a diverse audience. This diversity is needed to affect the wide-scale cultural change required to effectively respond to the current climate crisis. Several pedagogical theories will be explored that enhance the utility of gardens in schools and advance the cultural transition towards sustainable living. Research will include autoethnographic reflection and interviews with school garden participants in conjunction with academic publications and case studies on formal and non-formal garden education. Data will be gathered to explore (1) key themes across personal experiences in educational garden contexts and (2) self-reported changes in lifestyle following experiences with garden-based education. Research will be used to corroborate key findings from the interviews with wider social, cultural, and educational trends. The anticipated results will indicate that garden-based education is a critical strategy for climate change adaptation. In conclusion, given the extremity of our current global environmental situation creative and innovative solutions are needed to aid the rapid transition into a sustainable lifestyle for future generations. Garden-based education has an important role to play in this transition given its wide audience and highly affective learning outcomes.



Gregory Winn

Therapeutic Farming: Healing With Food

Farming is a practice that can support and heal people who have been neglected or marginalized by mainstream society. Therapeutic farming has been used to support people who are homeless, to help veterans return to a state of good mental health, and for many to create a life that exhibits human dignity. Members of society that have been cast out or excluded from opportunities may suffer from the adverse effects of the lack of basic needs and require a supportive environment that allows them to heal and integrate back into the world. To better understand how farming can be used as a means of healing, research into how working in agriculture affects the mind and body will be done. In addition, interviews will be conducted on existing farms which have the goal of healing marginalized individuals. The results of this project will illustrate how farming and a life which offers of structure and community can lead to better mental and physical health as well as bring a person back into the mainstream of society. The project will result in an outline of how a Therapeutic Farm might be managed. With Therapeutic Farming, those formerly marginalized by society will experience a restoration of personal dignity, better mental health, and find a place to live where they may contribute to their community while providing for their own basic needs.



Michael Zatek

Improving Honeybee Health through Sustainable Beekeeping

Improving honeybee health is paramount to global food security because honeybees pollinate over two thirds of the plants that contribute to the human food supply. Sustainable beekeeping in New England involves research and cooperation to implement sustainable strategies for improving honeybee health. Strategies include mite control, improvement of genetic stock, queen rearing, overwintering, and overall hive survival. This can be achieved by educating beekeepers and the public about the latest IPM (integrated pest management) methods and how to make genetic improvements to rear better queens. Queen rearing is crucial to make genetic improvements because colony genetics are stored within the queen. Improving the genetic vitality of honey bees will help with control of varroa mites, reduce overwintering losses, and will make the honeybees healthier overall. Varroa mites are honeybee pests that vector many honeybee diseases which stress honeybee colonies to the point of collapse and death. Methods used to gather research will be interviews with beekeepers who are successfully improving honeybee health using sustainable methods. Results of the interviews will be shared to help educate beekeepers throughout New England.  Improving honeybee health through sustainable methods will lead to more bountiful yields, enhance environmental quality and increase food security.



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