Growing food for a growing campus

By Vickie Palmatier

In the fall of 2007, two students growing kale and broccoli for Earthfoods Café sparked a two-semester, five-credit per semester class – University of Massachusetts Student Farming Enterprise for the Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences department.
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Now the class has risen to 15 students, and they grow onions, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes in addition to kale and broccoli, said junior Megan Whiteford – a PSIS minor and member of the Student Farming Enterprise.

The class – as well as the garden – is still growing, according to Whiteford.

“We just gained two more acres of land, so we’re expanding,” she said. “We’re trying to make the class more mainstream and spark more interest in sustainable agriculture. We provide vegetables to Earthfoods, student businesses, auxiliary services and Community Shared Agriculture [CSA].”

Student Farming Enterprise offered 35 CSA shares of locally grown vegetables to the UMass community last year. Customers who buy a share will be able to pick up approximately 18 pounds of vegetables every Friday for 10 weeks in the fall, according to the pamphlet produced by the UMass Student Farming Enterprise.

“Last year we had between 20 and 30 shares. This year we’re opening up closer to 50,” said Whiteford.

The farm is located on River Road North in South Deerfield, where students frequently visit in the fall to help with the harvest. Students have yet to go there this spring, according to Whiteford.

The course is broken into three sections, according to the pamphlet. The spring semester is used for planning and goal setting. Summer months are spent planting, cultivating and irrigation. And the fall semester is for harvesting, distribution of crops and analysis of the past season.

“We just started transplanting seeds and are going to be extremely involved in Earth Day on campus,” said Whiteford.

In the spring semester, students spend less time on the farm and more time on campus with instructors. According to the pamphlet, students have three-hour weekly meetings with the instructors, educators Ruth Hazzard and Amanda Brown, “to discuss market goals, crop scheduling and tale part in some hands-on production practices at the farm.”

During the summer, students work for 15 hours a week in the fields.

The goal of the 300-level course is to provide the campus with nutritious locally grown vegetables, educate students through direct application of agriculture and teach other students about the importance of eating healthier, according to Whiteford.

The class has no prerequisites, Whiteford said. Students in the class learn marketing needs and yield goals, vegetable crop plans, rotating crops, greenhouse management, how to use farm machines, teamwork and experience from the planning and growing process from seed to harvest, according to the pamphlet.

The UMass Earth Day Committee is having a concert called UMass Student Farm Aid at the Haigis Mall. Student Farming Enterprise hopes to raise awareness about the farm at this event, according to Whiteford.

To enroll in the class you must fill out an application and be approved. Most students currently enrolled as PSIS majors with a concentration in sustainable agriculture. Anyone who is passionate about farming and agriculture is strongly encouraged to apply, according to Whiteford.

Vickie Palmatier can be reached at [email protected].