Senior Capstone Presentations 2014

Stockbridge School of Agriculture Students Presenting at the 2014 Conference

Ian Back

Permaculture Anonymous: By Dirt we Live, By Dirt we Die

The purpose of this project is to produce a take-home guide containing seven sustainable agricultural methods that promote soil life. While most home lawns have little diversity, permaculture techniques can be implemented to sequester carbon, improve soil ecology, build organic matter, creating healthy plant interaction with mycorrhiza (fungi) and provide sustainable food production.  The guide will include structures such as ponds and swales for capturing water and creating a microclimate for amphibians and aquatic ecosystems.  Worm composting and mulch composting, bio-char (oxygen deprived coal),and a no-till method of gardening will be described.  The resulting food forest will provide yearly fruits, herbs, rhizomes, and vegetables. Chickens will supply eggs and meat while also helping build soil health. By knowing where their food come from people will be more connected with the Earth.  If all of these techniques are put to use the soil should produce high nutrient-dense crops, plump chickens and protein-rich eggs, all grown organically. The guide will include price ranges, materials needed and basic information on how to implement each technique. Many new structures and systems in sustainable agriculture are becoming available at this time.  This project will help extend the movement with a quick and easy guide for putting some of these practices to work on a personal homestead.ian


Molly Bajgot

Nuestras Raices and UMass Service Learning: a Partnership

The University of Massachusetts involves community partners in student learning through Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) classes. Service Learning is a tool for helping students become more involved with the external community. The goal of the CESL office is to support students to become democratic citizens engaged in lifelong learning through introspection and application of a critical lens on civic work. UMass Amherst is currently partnered with Nuestras Raices, a farm in South Holyoke, through a student-facilitated seminar course, Preserving Food Culture from the Homeland. The purpose of this course is to prepare students to engage in critical dialogue around cultural sovereignty and food justice questions and to examine how this applies to Nuestras Raices, the Holyoke Community  and Puerto Rico. This project works to address the goals of the partnership to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship between the two parties.  The class works closely with Nuestras Raices stakeholders to develop intentional messaging and marketing, a class outreach plan, work day plans that coordinate with classroom curricula, and responsible preparation for students working in a community that is not their own. A second component of the project is working with UMass Alliance for Community Transformation (UACT) to train two student facilitators in critical pedagogical practices to prepare them to facilitate a classroom space. This project will explore and  protect the integrity of the partnership by building supportive structures that outlive the short-term commitment that the current student facilitators have made to the


Kailey Burke

Farm-to-Restaurant: Exploring the Direct Wholesale Market

Farmers and restaurant chefs can develop a more effective working relationship by better understanding the needs of the direct wholesale marketing system and the constraints of local food production. This mutual understanding is particularly important for restaurants looking to locally purchase multiple crops from small farms. Insight into this system will be gathered by a series of personal interviews with growers that direct wholesale to restaurants, beginning farmers with intentions of wholesaling, and chefs that source local produce. Topics such as preseason ordering, planting projection, crop loss, supply needs, ordering process, and delivery protocols will be examined. A more accessible and fluid food production and delivery system will be created by improved understanding of the inner workings of each system. Results of this investigation will be applied directly to the From My Head Tomatoes farm, a startup operation in Lee, New Hampshire.


Aaron Drysdale

The Amherst Sharing Garden: a cooperative and educational community garden space

The Town of Amherst Massachusetts Conservation Department is working in collaboration with Grow Food Amherst and the Kestrel Land Trust to acquire a parcel of land along the Fort River. Among the projects planned for this space is a sharing garden. Instead of renting individual plots to gardeners, the sharing garden will be cared for cooperatively by volunteers and provide a space to engage Amherst residents of all ages in educational agricultural, ecological, and community service programming. Food grown at the Amherst Sharing Garden will be distributed through local hunger relief organizations to benefit community members in need. Proposed partnerships include the Amherst Survival Center, the Amherst Senior Center, Amherst Regional Public Schools (ARPS), Amherst College, University of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Farm to School Network. A plan for infrastructure development, planting, food distribution, volunteer coordination, and educational programming is being developed for a proposed garden ground breaking in spring of 2015. Research will be conducted via interviews with hunger relief groups to evaluate needs and logistics of food storage and distribution. Additional interviews with curriculum coordinators and ARPS teachers will inform educational programming, as will secondary sources such as Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom and the Farm to School Network. The information this research provides will ensure that the Amherst Sharing Garden will be a successful endeavor and invaluable resource to Amherst residents for generations to come.


Catherine Elliott

Food For All: Designing and Maintaining a Community Donation Garden

The Food For All Project brings free, organic produce to the Amherst, Massachusetts community as well as opportunities for agricultural engagement to people without access to land. Food For All is a 1-acre garden, located at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Agricultural Learning Center. The garden produces food for the Amherst Survival Center (ASC) and Not Bread Alone (NBA) in response to a predetermined set of needs described by these agencies. The physical layout of this garden designates it as a community space while the management style promotes agricultural education and engagement of volunteers that use the ASC and NBA. The crop varieties are selected and planted based on the twin goals of diversity and season extension. The manager carries out research for each crop, assessing all aspects of their performance. The manager will also create and lead the UMass Amherst Community Garden Team, an internship where high school and college students work in the garden. Food For All provides a community service for Amherst by supporting two important types of accessibility: access to healthy food and opportunities for personal development.


Leigh-Ellen Figueroa

The Children’s Garden Project: Implementing Sustainability Education  Training for Childcare Professionals

The Children’s Garden Project (CGP) is a grassroots, student-run organization in Western Massachusetts that uses activity-based programming and education gardens to teach concepts of sustainability to urban children. CGP currently offers two services: 1) garden design and 2) installation and sustainability classes for children. The focus of this research is to develop training sessions specifically for childcare professionals who  provide daily instruction for the targeted population of children. Research  and development includes examining current national and international sustainability education initiatives, studying effective models of workshop instruction, and conducting mock-training sessions with a test group. This research project will result in an efficient, useful and compelling training model that imparts information and practical tools for teachers and other childcare professionals to integrate sustainability education in their daily curriculum.


Tabbitha Greenough

Contain Yourself – Found, Repurposed, and Alternative Materials and Methods for Apartment Gardening

The world’s population resides primarily in urban settings. As a result, more people are living in apartments than ever before; mostly without access to the basic components of subsistence agriculture such as tools or land, and without the benefit of natural rainfall or full sunlight. This project will gather, test, and evaluate the production and cost efficacy of various unconventional approaches to indoor apartment-scale gardening.  Tenants can thereby be provided the information necessary to join a growing population of home gardeners working toward self-sufficiency. Educating apartment dwellers on techniques for container gardening and alternative growing methods encourages home food production in their traditionally infertile spaces and addresses the resource gap that exists for apartment gardeners. Repurposing items already in many homes or found for free in most cities allows greater accessibility to the widest demographic range by keeping the apartment gardeners’ financial outlay to a minimum.  This process also keeps material out of landfills. Additional equipment or supplies that must be purchased can be done so cost effectively, sometimes second hand. A full accounting of expenditures gives the potential gardener a baseline cost for such an endeavor. With a comprehensive assessment guide to systems for low cost apartment-based food production, more urban and even rural landless apartment dwellers will be able to achieve some measure of self-sufficiency and increased access to fresh produce.


 Lillian Israel

Breeding for Economic Resilience: Late Blight Resistance in Tomatoes

In the summer of 2009 the Northeastern United States experienced an unprecedented outbreak of late blight, a disease caused by the pathogen Phytophthera infestans. This same disease caused the deaths of approximately one million Irish citizens in the mid-nineteenth century during what is now known as the Irish potato famine. Since 2009 this pathogen has persisted in the Northeast at epidemic levels. This devastating blight affects crops of the family Solanaceae, including potato and tomato. Tomatoes are one of the most lucrative crops for small direct market growers in the Northeast. This project will outline the biological aspects of the disease, its life cycle, and genotypes. It will discuss who is breeding resistance against late blight and how. It will include interviews with local farmers about their experiences with late blight on tomatoes since 2009 and the ways in which it has affected their economic stability and their management practices. The final aspect of the project will be to present the results of an experiment on late blight resistance in tomatoes conducted at the UMass Agronomic Research Farm in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. The objective of this project is to create both an opportunity to publicize the struggles of small farmers, and a resource to help these farmers overcome the negative financial impact of the Phytophthera infestans epidemic.


Eli Kessing

Cultivating Green Minds: Researching and Designing Curricula for Elementary Sustainable Education

This research project explores  three complementary objectives toward creating an effective and working curriculum on sustainable growing and living practices for an elementary school classroom. The first objective is to understand the pedagogy of elementary aged teaching. The second is to find relatable and simple practices that elementary students can understand. And finally, to design activities and lesson plans that incorporate these practices in a way that students will both enjoy and find useful. Sustainable living is a growing trend globally and in order to continue the passion being shown for maintaining a healthy earth, today’s teachers are working to actively push students to have a basic understanding of sustainable living. By combining the pedagogical knowledge of vocational teachers with the hands-on experience of sustainable practitioners, this project will lead and inspire modern teachers to incorporate sustainable lifestyle lesson plans into their curriculum. The curriculum developed by this project can provide an example for teachers on how to approach a subject matter that, until now, has not had a place in the modern day classroom.  In turn, this project will lead to a better educated and more aware group of “greener” students.


Rebecca Larris

Cannabis Sustaining Us: how green can Medicinal Marijuana be?

Currently the Cannabis Industry in the U.S. is transforming Cannabis into a major cash crop and because of this, growing  practices must be evaluated  to determine if they are truly sustainable. It is important to look at growing practices on large monoculture operations as well as small diversified farms. The introduction of cannabis in the legal market can not only can be damaging to the environment, but may also hurt small farmers competing with large monoculture farms. There are many growing methods including indoor and outdoor culture, and some of these methods are more sustainable than others. For a growing industry, it is important to research the potential environmental impact as well as social equity and economic factors associated with various types of production. Interviews with potential growers and people interested in cannabis will be conducted. This includes advocacy groups, professors and students. All practices that are being researched are legal marijuana growing techniques.  Results will help inform the rapidly expanding medical marijuana industry on how to remain sustainable.


Breanna Murphy

Building Your Own Home Apothecary

The first thing that many Americans do when they get sick is call their doctor or take over-the-counter medicine.  Most people don’t realize that there are safe, natural remedies available at their fingertips. There is a growing interest in these natural “alternatives” and a growing demand to create a basic home apothecary or herbal pharmacy. The objective of this project is to create a comprehensive guide for anyone interested in making a home apothecary.  Users will be able to use the guide to begin their journey to more holistic health. The project will be based on several reputable herbal handbooks as well as firsthand information from well-known herbalists in the Pioneer Valley.  This project will provide users with a list of safe herbs, a description of how they can be used,  where to get them, and how to store them. This project is important because Americans have become dependent on synthetic pharmaceuticals.  It is important for people to have access to an alternative which reconnects them with natural methods of health care and medicines.


Elisheva Neffinger

Efficacy of Whole Leaf Artemisia annua Treatment

Malaria is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that affects more than 200 million people every year. One conventional treatment for malaria is to treat the malarial parasites using artemisinin, a chemical component of the Artemisia annua plant. However, the parasites that cause the disease are slowly become resistant to artemisinin therapy. Studies show that instead of using one chemical component of Artemisia annua, whole leaf therapy is actually more effective and malarial parasites take a longer time to develop resistance to this treatment. Research will be conducted using academic literature and by interviewing professors and graduate students who are researching the efficacy of whole leaf therapy at The University of Massachusetts Amherst. This research will gather information about malaria, Artemisia annua, and how whole leaf treatment could affect the future of malaria treatment. This project will educate the public and provide a compendium of information involving malaria and its treatment options.


Hannah Perkins

Fine Dining in the Wilderness

The hunter-gatherer lifestyle is considered to be a primitive way of life by modern society. However, as long as humans need to eat, this method of obtaining food can be just as relevant as agriculture for some people. The goal of this project is to reshape the way food is defined, in an attempt to educate people about many of the wild plants of New England that are edible. This will include how they can be safely, responsibly, and beneficially used as an food source. The focus of the project will be on three aspects of foraged food: 1) how to locate, identify, and harvest wild food, 2) how to prepare and eat safely, and 3) how to create a healthy and balanced diet by consuming wild foods. Research on these three topics will be done by gathering both current and historical uses for wild plants, interviewing local foragers, and experimenting with locating, using, and eating wild edible plants. The results of this research will inform and inspire people to explore the wilderness as a food source.


Alissa Petito

Essential Oils and Their Ethnobotanical Uses: Extraction, Preparation, and Application For Healing

Since ancient times, cultures have used essential oils, highly concentrated oils from large amounts of plant material, for rituals and ceremonies and as medicines to heal ailments. The objective of this project is to provide ethnobotanical insights into several cultures’ intended use, purpose, and application of essential oils. Specific examples of illness and medicinal treatment, through internal and topical use of essential oils, often referred to as the “souls of plants”, will be presented. Plants with aromatic qualities have the ability to effect both the body and the mind simultaneously, creating noticeable changes that some cultures have used for thousands of years. This form of alternative medicine, functioning primarily through olfaction, has become known as aromatherapy. The use of aromatherapy by cultures such as Chinese, Ayurvedic, Amazonian, and European will be explored. The modern-day re-emergence of plant-based therapy will also be studied to identify which plants people use, why they are used, and how they are used. In addition, extraction methods and preparation materials will be examined. The long record of essential oil use will be investigated through the use of historic and religious texts as well as the academic literature. Further insights will be gained through interviews with local herbalists, acupuncturists, professors, and other healers who use essential oils in their own practices.


Walter Poulson

Potential of Student Managed Agriculture at Hampshire College

In 2013, Hampshire College switched food service providers and pledged to work towards sourcing 100% of food for the campus dining hall from within a 150 mile radius of the school. A portion of this food will come straight from the campus farm which employs both full time staff and students. Alongside the school’s local sourcing pledge the school aims to engage students in food and agriculture as both academics and consumers. Student led initiatives such as the Growing Farmers Collective have a central role in introducing students to food production and providing space for them to explore this interest. In this project the Hampshire College food system stakeholders and their interests and values in regards to food will be evaluated. Additionally, curriculum aimed at deepening student engagement and understanding of both the consumption or production ends of the system will be examined. Research will include interviews with individuals in the administration, faculty, student body, and farm management as well as secondary literature on student managed farms. By understanding the ways in which different stakeholder groups perceive and interact with the Hampshire College food system student agricultural initiatives can direct their efforts to meet the interests of the student body.


Hannah Sadosky

For Bee’s sake! Plant a flower garden!

It’s not just flowering plants that please the eye, but the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and wildlife that create the pleasurable aura of a backyard garden. Consumers often ask how they can help improve the environment and one answer is to create flower gardens to support  pollinators. The perennial and annual flowering plants that are recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture for New England are generally cold tolerant, flowering herbaceous plants, which come in many varieties, sizes, and color. These plants are easy to maintain and provide color throughout all seasons. By staggering bloom times with multiple species and color combinations gardeners can utilize flowering plants to enhance their local environment. This project will investigate how flower gardens nurture pollinators and support plant diversity. The benefits of flower gardens and how advocates can attract pollinators to their backyards will be explored. Research will include the academic literature, interviews with professors at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and local garden centers. This project will help build a new and increasingly diverse customer base for perennial plants. With this information, gardeners at any level can customize their own flowering backyards and contribute to the health of the local ecosystem.



Shannon-Marie Scott

The Farm to School Movement

For centuries food has followed a path, beginning as a small seedling and journeying through the steps of harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, sales, and consumption. Unfortunately, the stages of food production often occur behind closed doors.  Food is a necessity for one’s survival and participants in the food system are entitled to know more about how it is grown and handled. Fortunately, the Farm to School Project has provided access to knowledge and educational resources for younger generations. By establishing a connection to food at an elementary level, public awareness will be improved. This project examines the efforts inspired by the farm to school movement.  It will further examine the successes and challenges, and make suggestions for improvements. Finally, it will explore children’s curiosity about food, and allow them to voice their own opinions.


Nicolle Taniuchi

Natural, Holistic and Sustainable Approaches to Beekeeping

Honeybee pollination is critical for successful vegetable, fruit or seed production, but bee populations are sharply declining.  The last eight years have seen a sudden disappearance of domestic honeybees, a syndrome named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which threatens the stability and security of agriculture in the United States.   This project aims to explore the ways in which the natural life cycles of bees have been manipulated by domestication as a contributor to CCD, and investigate practices that allow bees to be productive in a more natural way.  In researching the development of bee keeping practices, particularly in the structure and maintenance of bee boxes, the project will provide insight into the more invasive and artificial elements of current bee operations.  In addition, exploration into natural and sustainable methods of beekeeping and bee box design will provide the grounds for beekeeping based on a partnership with bee populations that facilitates their natural revitalization.  Due to the undefined nature of CCD and the tenuous existence of bees, methods of remedying the system of bee-centered agriculture require a comprehensive, integrated and holistic approach.  By allowing more natural and healthy livelihoods for bees, ultimately these practices may be implemented broadly and integrated into current bee keeping operations with the hopes of strengthening bee populations.


Max Traunstein

Building a partnership between Blue Star Equiculture, the Student Farming Enterprise, and the Agricultural Learning Center at UMass Amherst

Working horses are a vital link between the new era of forward-thinking farmers and the history, heart, and soul of sustainable agriculture in this country.  UMass Amherst is incredibly lucky to be connected to Blue Star Equiculture (BSE), a local draft horse rescue, sanctuary, and transitional environment for younger horses to find work on farms.  BSE teaches a 2-credit course at UMass at the new Agricultural Learning Center (ALC), introducing students to becoming teamsters, people who have the skills to effectively work with draft horses.  In order for students to truly become good teamsters, they need to have access to draft horses so they can develop human-horse relationships.  The lack of proper infrastructure to house draft horses at UMass has prevented BSE from offering advanced courses in draft horse husbandry, beyond the introductory class.  The ALC is a prime venue for draft horse stables.  Additionally, the UMass student farming enterprise will be cultivating crops at the ALC.  The use of draft power on the student farm will enrich it’s commitment to sustainability, and give students a unique opportunity to farm with true horsepower.


 Kyle Vahjen

Rocket Power: A Study in DIY Draft Induction Stoves and Thermal Mass Heaters

The objective of this project is to design, build, and test a highly-efficient wood-stove out of inexpensive and commonly accessible materials, using traditional knowledge as well as modern advances. The need exists for sustainable heat energy, and wood is a renewable fuel that is more accessible to the average home-owner with a much lower harvest cost relative to fossil fuels. The history of the wood-stove in its many forms are summarized for insights into traditional knowledge. Many wood-stoves currently in use are inefficient and the incomplete combustion of fuel leads to health problems associated with inhaling smoke exhaust. Methodical design and testing, coupled with an active open-source community, has led to a more efficient wood-stove that is cheaply and easily incorporated into people’s homes and outdoor spaces. Modifications for a wide-range of applications, from water and space heating to cooking and bio-char production are reviewed. Potential operating constraints are outlined along with proposed solutions. Custom-built stoves that meld traditional knowledge and modern advancements offer higher efficiency, the flexibility of a custom fit, the opportunity for modifications to best suit the user’s needs, and offer heat-energy independence when paired with a wood-lot.kyle


Previous Conferences

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2013

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2012

Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference – 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: