Senior Capstone Presentations 2016

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Elin Dahal

No Lot Left Behind - Elin Dahal (2)Many urban communities in the United States suffer from lack of access to fresh, healthy, sustainably grown food. Urban agriculture is an important and growing field of sustainable agriculture. Many large cities have thousands of acres of farmable land in the form of vacant lots. However, one of the main obstacles to urban agricultural movements is the perception that this land is unusable because of the bad health of the soil and potential lead and other chemical contamination. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate methods that rejuvenate soil, re-establish healthy ecosystems, and clean the land of chemical pollutants. Research is done by examining literature on regenerative techniques and a case study of an ongoing land regeneration project in Amherst, MA. Promising methods include Fukuoka style no-till natural farming, rotational pasturing with small livestock, and the use of certain plants such as mustard and sunflower which can extract chemical contaminants from the soil. This project will show how “ruined” land can be brought back to a state of health, and how there is great promise within every vacant lot and abandoned park. These urban lands can be transformed into thriving, productive ecosystems which will create healthy and sustainable communities.

Ruth diBuono

New England culture, dining and medicine have deep historical ties to European settlers, Native traditions, and the ecosystems of this region. Exploration of indigenous and European medicinal systems lends clues to the significant ethnobotanical relationships that exist in New England. These relationships are crucial to understanding the history of Western Massachusetts, and in protecting local flora and fauna as ecosystems change due to poor stewardship and degradation. Buffam Falls and Old Sturbridge Village provide clues to the historical, geological and ecological factors that have influenced the culture of the Pioneer Valley. This project creates maps and identifies wild edible flora at Buffam Falls to help reconnect people with common useful plants of the Pioneer Valley while enabling their protection and cultivation. In addition, the project adds to the understanding and sharing of the cultural uses of local plants, allowing for a deeper connection to this region’s history and fostering self sufficiency. This project will culminate in a guided walk of Buffam Falls, giving interested participants the opportunity to identify plants carrying cultural and historical significance in Western Massachusetts.

Hannah Hausman

Hausman Capstone

Resourceful humans can find food everywhere.  However due to a lack of knowledge about the natural world, most people do not know that in every season food can be attained from the wild plants one passes by every day. Through referencing foraging guide books and consulting with experts on the topic, one can learn how to identify edible parts of wild plants, sustainably harvest them, and create delicious meals. This project will investigate and present information on how to identify, harvest, and cook with wild plants, thus lowering a reliance on unsustainable food sources. In addition, the connection with the natural world will be examined as a means of feeling a part of rather than apart from ones surroundings. This research project demonstrates this connection by offering identification clues and recipes for plants that can be foraged in New England’s late winter and early spring.

Brent Holiday

The Barking Tractor Project- Brent Holiday 2016

As interest in designing farms around living systems and managing resource loops increases, so does a commitment to utilizing animal power. The age of mechanization has resulted in the majority of society having little familiarity with the nature of animals. Those who still have experience working with animals are now few in number and often disconnected from the rising generations. The purpose of this project is to explore the working relationships that humans and animals have maintained for thousands of years. Sources of information will consist of historical accounts including personal memoirs, mythological accounts, artwork and educational documents. First-hand sources will include interviews with people currently working with animals, such as Team Snazzy Goat in Vermont.  The results will provide an overview of ways animals have performed work throughout the world, as well as interpretations of how we can apply such traditional practices to modern society. The focus will be on working with smaller animals in order to cope with common limiting factors in New England such as limited space for housing and exercising animals, inexperience working with animals, and general high cost of animal ownership. The examples of animal power explored in the study provide accessible ways for both children and adults to begin relearning the methods of working with animals, in addition to rediscovering the spiritual and psychological benefits of these relationships.

Mithra Kulatunga


Every year 1000’s of migrant workers come to the United States looking for a decent wage for farm work. Increasingly farmers in the United States are depending on this labor to harvest their crops so they do not rot in the fields. The purpose of this research is to impart Massachusetts farmers with information on how to recruit and work with migrant workers and to offer migrant and seasonal farm workers information on their rights as seasonal workers. Information was compiled from migrant farm worker regulations and worker programs in the United States. The agricultural recruitment system (ARS) and H-2A are two programs that allow farm employers to take proper prior steps toward accepting migrant farm work. This results in  better working conditions for the workers and qualified workers for the employer. Migrant farm work provides many farmers in neighboring countries with the opportunity to find a decent income to provide for their families.  It also allows employers to have access to seasonal workers.  This system can benefit both parties as long as they each have access to good information regarding their rights and responsibilities.  This project is designed to provide such information.

Leonard R. Bruso

The Ecofarm: Designing a Closed-Loop Holistic Farming System


This project will research and design a permaculture agroecosystem that enhances interrelationships and synergies among living organisms. The closed-loop holistic farming system uses ecological principles and systems thinking to design and manage many factors at play within the farm. It will be used to build soil, promote life, and create a functional business model. The farming operation is defined as a permaculture market garden that provides a whole diet and nutrient dense food for the community. The focus will be on planning how to grow, annuals, perennials, fruit and nutrients. In addition, it will illustrate how to raise and integrate animals such as chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, or cows in the farming system. Different infrastructure projects such as hexagonal bed systems, permanent bed systems, cold frames, hoop house, and rain water storage will be analyzed, and the production capacity of a specific site will be illustrated. To create this project, research will be done by interviewing people involved in small scale agriculture & permaculture design, relevant texts will be used, and models from other permaculture gardens will be used to create a site design.

Luke Lepine


Hops are one of the four main ingredients used in the production of beer, and at one time represented a significant part of the agricultural economy of New England. Due to disease pressure and the opening of the western frontier, the majority of hop production in America moved to Washington and Oregon. In the last decade the rise of the microbrew industry and the high demand for locally grown products has once again returned the art of hop growing to New England.  However, a lack of knowledge and resources available to these new growers have made it difficult to create a product that both satisfies the needs of the brewing industry, as well as leaves a positive impact on the local environment and surrounding communities. A hop research division at UMass Amherst would combine the needs of both local brewers and hop growers with a research-based curriculum that would greatly expand the current knowledge of sustainably grown hops in New England, as well as serve the increasing demand for this rather unusual crop.  Research topics would include all aspects of hop growing such as; trellising systems, pruning techniques, disease and pest control, harvesting techniques, and post harvest activities such as quality testing and drying.  This new knowledge would allow local hop growers to create a product highly desired by local brewers that would ultimately be distributed among local communities in the form of delicious high quality local beer.

Christopher Lundgren


The purpose of this study is to show how different crops and/or plant species work symbiotically to achieve multiple functions through various pairings and formational arrangements.  Depending on site analysis of the land (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, etc.), certain plant combinations can improve the health and regenerate the land while providing other functions for humans and the environment.  Discussed in this study will be combinations of plant species, often called plant “guilds”, that attract native pollinators and/or predatory insects, grow food (such as in a food forest), provide biodiversity and food/habitat for local animals, remediate soil, and provide mulch and gather nutrients.  Permaculture guilds are usually designed around a “centerpiece”, then add supporting plants that add value and functionality to the guild.  These may be ground cover or weed suppressor, vine or climber for added food production, roots to break up soil or dynamic accumulators to circulate nutrients from deep in the soil, plants that attract beneficial insects (insectaries) or other small shrubs or dwarf trees that can serve as shelter for birds or food other animals. These polycultures also have implications for bringing back native pollinator populations and increasing food security in New England.  Regenerative farming can improve the health of the soil and ecosystems, as well as the aesthetics of the land, while simultaneously creating a more resilient food system for future generations.

Jessica L. Maeder

Empowering Students through Mindful Food Education


Increased numbers of school gardens and improved nutritional guidelines have helped perpetuate good health for students in America, but having a garden or infiltrating lunchrooms with produce is not enough to get nutritional benefits to kids. As a link between the school garden or the lunch program and the students, food education plays an integral role in translating nutritional outlines on paper to actual understanding and activity for the students to take advantage of for the entirety of their lives. By surveying elementary school students in Amherst Public Schools before and after a lesson on food sourcing and preparation, the interest in school gardens will be accessed. It is expected that students will show more interest in hands on activities to be done in the garden than lectures about nutrition. Making their own snacks is likely to be more exciting for students than picking from the cafeteria. Students generally show interest in bringing home what they learn in the garden.  A stated objective of the National School Lunch Program is to “help children understand” their food.  This research will investigate how giving children their own agency to interact with their food through growing in gardens and preparing food in the kitchen will result in a stronger connection with food and by extension, more mindful individuals with better understanding of the earth’s cycles and the role of humans within those cycles.

Michelle C. Nikfarjam

A Sacred Earth

The Earth is suffering and is crying out for help. The signs of the ecological crisis are growing as humans face ecological degradation, climate change, crippling poverty, mass-extinction, and social inequality on a global scale. The ultimate cause is human forgetfulness – forgetting the sacredness of people and the Earth, and viewing nature and indigenous wisdom as things that can be objectified, commodified, and consumed. The world is not a problem to be solved, rather it is a living-breathing being to which all humans belong.  Exploring the connection between the Divine, the Self, and Nature through cross-cultural, cross-generational perspectives, this project is not offering a particular solution, but rather a spiritual response to the ecological crisis and a call to action to reclaim the ancient heritage of humans as guardians of the Earth. To find reverence in the sacredness of all life, and to move forward to a society that values peace, balance, and harmony with Mother Earth is paramount to solving environmental problems. The meaning of Love is to be at One.  Human evolution depends  on a willingness to remember interconnection and interdependence, and assume a shared fate. This project explores the expression of the awakening journey to answer the call to re-connect, re-discover, and re-envision a conscious relationship with Mother Earth.  By merging indigenous wisdom and science for innovation, working to heal the Earth and humans alike, the compost of these current societal problems may feed new solutions in the garden of the future.

John O’Leary

Final Carrots For Cancer PP

In today’s world, with human made substances taking on the rise, rates of cancer are an ever growing problem not just in the United States, but throughout the World. Many cancer treatment facilities require patients to sign a waiver recognizing that the treatment for cancer may in fact cause cancer. When the solution to a problem create a strikingly similar problem, there is a larger dilemma at hand. There are numerous homeopathic remedies for many diseases today. These remedies, however, have little to no scientific research and may be administered by doctors that have been ignored by the medical establishment. Perhaps there is a hybrid system that includes both science and creative new solutions.  The use of anthocyanins may provide such a solution. Anthocyanins are chemical compounds within many plants that have numerous roles, including the establishment of both color and taste in plants. Increasing research studies suggest that a major role this flavonoid may play in human health may be as a treatment for cancer. Ultimately, the goal of this project is to review and compile existing studies to investigate the medical benefits of utilizing plant based anthocycanins for treatment of cancer.

Marcus Smith

Amherst Public Market & MakerSpace (1)

Public markets involving local farmers, crafters, and food entrepreneurs play an important role in feeding, educating, and providing services to the citizens of Amherst, MA in healthy and unique ways that promote resilience. The proposed Amherst Public Market and Makerspace will enable the local community to address key issues related to food accessibility and food education.  Major concerns, such as fresh-food deserts and lack of access to food preparation and storage techniques, which increases the likelihood of malnutrition as well as many other life-altering complications, will be addressed. This project improves the current system by providing an education-based community space for communicating ideas to solve problems of food and social justice in Amherst as well as educating and facilitating food-based childhood and young adult education. The Amherst Public Market and Makerspace will be a center for sustainably-minded and community-based thinking and action directed towards food. It will provide the communities of students, children and adults of Amherst resources and a safe space to come together to celebrate food and work to grow  the local food economy. The Amherst Public Market and Makerspace is an opportunity for the Five Colleges, the Amherst farmer’s markets, local cooperatives & non-profits, and the Town of Amherst to create a cooperative program that enables students and citizens to think together about food and work with the local institutions to create sustainable solutions for community resilience.


 Posters and Abstracts from Previous Conferences

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2015

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2014

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2013

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2012

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2011

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