Students taking a class in the department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences are planning to create a Campus Shared Agriculture (CSA) program at the University of Massachusetts Extension Farm in South Deerfield.
Lisa Millette, a senior with an independent concentration, is helping the course and its instructors operate the CSA as her honors capstone thesis.
“The way [a CSA] works is that the risk is shared between the CSA shareholders and the farmers,” she said. “Farmers grow an X amount of produce, and they decide how many shares that works into.”
“For example, we are going to try and do 30 shares,” Millette continued. “Each share is going to total about 200 pounds of food, but that will be spread out between 10 weeks. So a single shareholder will come and pick up an X amount of pounds every week for 10 weeks.”
The shares are purchased in the spring so that the farmer will be able to use the money to buy seed, equipment, labor, and other necessities in preparation for the shareholder’s crop yield, said Millette.
With that comes a certain risk for the shareholders, Millette said.
“We’re trying to guarantee them a certain amount of produce, but there’s a chance that it may not always come through,” she said. “There’s also a chance that they get more produce than what they bought.”
The idea of putting together a CSA first came about last semester, when the UMass Farm’s crop yield far exceeded orders. Earthfoods Café, which is supplied largely by the farm, did not wish to buy the full surplus, nor did Dining Services, which “could only buy so much.” With so much excess, the decision was made to form a CSA, which turned out to be so popular that it is being continued now.
Millette explained that what sets this particular CSA apart from others is the fact that this will only be operated within the UMass network.
“CISA [Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, a local-farming advocate organization] is trying to get local areas to support local farmers,” she said. “But this is just going to be the UMass farm supported by UMass students, faculty, grad students and staff. So it’s very UMass-to-UMass based.”
The course itself that the CSA is a part of is listed under the title PLSOILIN 398E – Student Farming Enterprise. It is partially funded by the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture. The course is limited to 10 students, and takes place both on campus and off campus. An information brochure on the class lists the main focuses as finding markets for the produce, planning out in advance for the crops, visiting farms in the immediate area, managing greenhouses, using market strategies to achieve desired yields, and learning farming methods. All produce grown is United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic.
According to Millette, interest in the class is growing rapidly.
“I participated last year; there were five of us. But [this] semester, there’s been 10. So interest has already doubled,” she said. “But the course won’t grow to any more than 10 students, because it is a really tight community and in order for it to work efficiently, there can only be so many members.”
Public awareness is essential to the success of a program of this type, given past scenarios, said Millette.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s there was the first green movement, and unfortunately not enough people picked up on that and were able to get us back to a more sustainable lifestyle,” Milette said. “So we’re having our second green movement right now…We have the option to take up this torch or to do what happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and let things trickle off on their own.”
Millette offered one final bit of advice to the community at large.
“Know your farmer,” she said. “I think that a CSA is an awesome opportunity for students to know their farmers because you’re on the same campus as them. It’s a really cool thing, because I’m a vegetarian and a couple months ago I even ate sausage because I knew the farmer that grew the pigs.”
For more information, students are encouraged to contact Ruth Hazzard at [email protected] or visit www.umassvegetable.org.
Cameron Ford can be reached at [email protected]