Students in the Sustainable Food and Farming major gain practical skills and a strong foundation in ecological, sociological and biological sciences!
The university that began as “Mass Aggie” recently created a new Bachelor of Sciences major in Sustainable Food and Farming. Originally an option within the former Plant and Soil Sciences major, Sustainable Food and Farming grew from just five students in 2003 to almost 100 today. This rapid growth in student interest provided impetus for the elevation of the program to a full-fledged major in 2013.
At the same time that Sustainable Food and Farming was attracting more student attention, the College of Natural Sciences announced plans to re-vitalize the applied agriculture programs by moving faculty and programs from the departments of Plant and Soil Sciences, Plant Pathology, Entomology, and Animal Sciences into a new “super-department” – the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Building on its nearly century old tradition, the newly configured Stockbridge School will help re-energize agricultural teaching, research and outreach programs at UMass.
Under the leadership of Dean Steve Goodwin, the College of Natural Sciences has made several other new investments in agricultural programs including the UMass Center for Agriculture (which administers the agricultural research and extension functions of the college). Progress is also being made on a new Undergraduate Agricultural Learning Center, which will offer hands-on education to students at a location within walking distance of the heart of campus. .
This growth of local food and farming is particularly important today as the world experiences the “perfect storm” of climate disruption, peak oil, and economic stress. Students have recognized this as an opportunity and are gravitating to the study of sustainable farming, working toward careers in local food and green businesses, urban agriculture, permaculture, herbal medicine, and related jobs in farm-based education, public policy, community development and advocacy.
Related Student Projects
Building on the Levi Stockbridge’s commitment to experiential learning, students in the Sustainable Food and Farming major have initiated and actively support several exciting hands-on learning projects at UMass:
- The UMass Student Farm is a year-round class that gives students the opportunity to manage a small organic university-owned farm and sell their produce through a CSA, farmers market, and to university and private food service and retail markets. See the video!
- The UMass Permaculture Initiative is a unique class and program that has converted underused grass lawns on the campus into edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable food gardens. See one of the program videos!
- The Massachusetts Renaissance Center Garden is a demonstration garden open to the public, featuring herbs and vegetables grown during Shakespeare’s time. See the program video here!
- The UMass Student Food Advocacy group supports several projects, including the national Real Food Challenge, which convinced the UMass Amherst Chancellor to make a commitment to purchasing 20% “real food” in all of the UMass Dining Commons by 2020. Students earns academic credit to create supportive networks which promote education, leadership and activism around just and sustainable food systems. See the video!
- A celebration of local food cooperatives was sponsored by Sustainable Food and Farming students introducing the UMass campus and students to work opportunities in local foods! Many students also earn a Certificate in Cooperative Enterprise Management or work in one of our many student-run businesses.
- GardenShare is a student run garden and class taught by SFF majors to students with little or no gardening experience. The one acre garden is within walking distance of campus. This project helps students learn to garden and work together in a collaborative environment.
New Courses Established
In response to the increased student demand, many new classes have been added over the past few years (in addition to traditional agricultural courses in soil science, vegetable production, plant pathology, fruit growing, organic farming etc.), such as:
- Organic Weed Control
- Community Food Systems
- Introduction to Permaculture
- Introduction to Herbalism
- Nuestras Raices: Community Farming & Food Security
- Permaculture Design and Practice
- Agricultural Systems Thinking
- Food Justice and Policy
- Ethnobotany of the Renaissance
- Draft Horse Husbandry
- Teaching Agricultural Education
- and more.
One of the most important aspects of student education is the emphasis on getting practical experience either with local farms and markets, or non-profit public policy and advocacy groups, and farm-based education collaboratives. Practical education built on a solid foundation of biological and ecological sciences prepare students to explore creative options and good work. Its surely a good time to be an “Aggie.”
Anyone interested in discussing this new major should contact Dr. John M. Gerber, Program Coordinator and Professor. Many students have found the flexibility of the Sustainable Food and Farming major attractive. Contact us or check out the major here and some videos presenting courses and topics of interest.