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Women take the field of agriculture at UMass

(Benno Kraehe / Daily Collegian)

(Translated: 농업에 진출하는 매사추세츠 대학교 여학생 수 증가 , Las mujeres toman el campo de la agricultura en UMass)

Farming is a male-dominated field, although at the University of Massachusetts, women dominate agriculture. In response to a tremendous influx of women into the Sustainable Food and Farming major, the Stockbridge School of Agriculture created a lecture series on different aspects of agriculture. Throughout the fall semester, the school will host speakers that focus on both niche markets and regional food systems.

At the lecture, hosted in Paige Laboratory, snacks, including fresh fruits and vegetables from the UMass Student Farm, were served as the room quickly filled up with both women and men, as they eagerly awaited the topic of the lecture: production of crops.

The two speakers were Amanda Brown, Director of the UMass Student Farm and Maida Ives, farm manager for Book and Plow Farm, the Amherst College Student Farm.

The lecture began with Ives, who discussed both her personal history and the background of the farm. She talked in-depth about the struggle to create the Amherst College Student Farm since the 1970s, which eventually became successful in 2013. She also spoke of her unique history on a Northern Virginia farm under the tutelage of three women. The women owned the farm and fostered her interest in agriculture.

She finished her speech by telling us the overall message of the farm.

“[We] want Book and Plow to be a student-centered farm that grows vegetables well,” Ives said. She clarified that the expectation of the farm is to “try your best.”

Brown immediately dived into the infrastructure of the UMass Student Farm, telling the attendants of the list of the farm’s sponsors, which include UMass dining commons and three local Big-Y stores. She has been at the helm of the Student Farm program for 11 years and has watched it grow exponentially. Under Brown’s direction, the Student Farm runs a farm stand on the Goodell Lawn every Friday from noon to 4 p.m.

Brown fondly talked about how her mentor, a woman who helmed the creation of the UMass student farm, taught her an incredible amount about farming.

Brown iterated the farm’s mission statement.

 As UMass student farmers, we commit to providing our campus community with nutritious, organically grown, local produce. We cultivate student empowerment through hands-on agricultural production and by educating our peers about the importance of creating a healthier food system,” Brown said.

In 2016, the UMass Student Farm produced approximately 85,000 pounds of produce. They have also provided the three Big-Y stores in Amherst, Northampton and Greenfield with approximately 20,000 pounds of produce.

Natalia Morales, a UMass graduate  and former student farmer, is currently working at the Book and Plow farm as a full-time employee. A native of Puerto Rico, Morales described her upbringing in a metropolitan area and how there was very little agriculture.

“When I came here and moved to the valley, this is when my interest in farming and the outdoors began. I think from the beginning, because of where we are, I’ve mostly been surrounded by women who are interested in farming. It’s almost like it makes me oblivious to the fact that this is in fact a male-dominated field because I’m just constantly surrounded by women,” Morales said.

She fondly remembered her time at the student farm growing her two designated crops, beets and peppers, which are still crops grown on the farm today.

The organizer of the lectures and current instructor for Stockbridge, Angela Roell hoped that through these lectures, woman will become more inspired by agriculture.

“Women being caretakers and emotional laborers are aware of community needs at a local level…communities need food, they need education, and they need service; and women are responding to that and thinking about how they can be in service to their communities. So [women] are holding the emotional labor of something and the physical labor of farming and agriculture,” Roell said.

She continued to talk about how this field, while still male-dominated, has already shifted at UMass.

“There are more women pursuing higher education degrees…so as we’re doing that we’re able to pick farming and really just rock these new fields and shift them, and I think it’s great and it’s really empowering to see peers and young women engaged in agriculture in this incredible way,” she said.

To work at the UMass Student Farm, you must send in an application and sign up for the year-long class. According to Brown, working on the farm takes a lot of time and demonstrates enormous dedication from the students.

“We can offer students a very unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else,” Roell said.

Miranda Emily Eden Senft can be reached at msenft@umass.edu.

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