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UMass Student Farm kicks off season

Flickr/A. Golden

Flickr/A. Golden

As the spring semester comes to a close, most classes begin to wind down and prepare for finals. For students enrolled in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture’s Farm Enterprise Practicum course, however, this is far from the case.

With a 1 to 6 credit course in which students plan the farming process for a 6 acre organic farm located in South Deerfield, the students enrolled in Farm Enterprise Practicum are just beginning the implementation of their work.

During the spring semester course, students partake in the planning process for the farm work that will take place over the summer. Following the summer, students enroll in Stockbridge 498E, the second half of the Farm Enterprise Practicum.

“About half of the class stays in the summer to work on the farm,” said Amanda Brown, the instructor of the Farm Enterprise Practicum.

“Not only are students planning for the crops; they also each take on an area of interest and they create a research project about how they can implement this on the farm,” explained Jason Silverman, assistant manager of the University of Massachusetts Student Farm.

Among the 12 students enrolled in the course, projects covered topics such as seed saving, record keeping and farm planning, organic disease management, animal rotation, flea beetle management and draft horse husbandry.

Chris Raabe, a student enrolled in the Farm Enterprise Practicum, completed his project on the use of biodiesel. After completing research on biodiesel use at Kansas State University, Raabe was inspired to complete further work on the topic at UMass.

Raabe proposed an implementation plan that would convert cooking oil from the dining halls to biodiesel that could be used for tractors on the University farms and other resource-fueling needs across campus, such as the Physical Plant.

“It’s a compelling project with a lot of hoops you have to jump through,” Raabe explained of his implementation plan. “I’m hoping to build a task force working with different departments in order to get this project going.”

On Wednesday, students in the Farm Enterprise Practicum course showcased the projects they had completed and their plans for implementation at the Special Topics Fair, which took place in room 165 in the Campus Center basement.

“This is great because it is sort of like a big kick-off and allows students to talk to the farmers,” Brown explained.

In the fall, the students will work on marketing the crops that are being produced during the summer. In addition, students will share their research on their special topics and implementation in a student handbook that is published each year and given to the next semester’s students to serve as guidance.

“They sort of write their own textbook,” Brown said. “This is our third year doing this.”

Brown hopes to see a large collection of these handbooks for students to use as resources in the future.

The crops produced over the summer are sold through the Campus Supported Agriculture program, where students at the University can pay ahead and receive weekly shares of produce from the Student Farm.

In addition to the farm located in South Deerfield, students will also be working at the Agricultural Learning Center in North Amherst this summer, located just off of the UMass campus.

“Hopefully, this will increase visibility to other students,” said James Silverman, who graduated with a degree in Sustainable Food and Farming from the University and continues to work with the program today.

Members of the UMass Student Farm recognize the benefits of working with this program. Most specifically, Brown noted the business experience and knowledge that students gain from taking these two courses and participating on the farm.

“Each year’s success keeps it going,” Brown explained. “Half the money we make goes towards supplies and production, while half goes towards labor costs. It’s sort of like a non-profit organization.”

“Everything that we do is applicable to real life,” she said.

“This really was the capstone of my education,” added Silverman, who hopes to see a larger awareness of student farming on campus.

Katrina Borofski can be reached at kborofski@umass.edu.

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