New RSO hopes to grow roots in sustainability awareness

By Chelsie Field

Courtesy of SUMAC

The sustainability movement at the University of Massachusetts is growing.

And it continues to spread its roots on campus and into new student-led groups.

The Sustainable UMass Action Coalition (SUMAC), which started out as a student group last year, has gained status as a Registered Student Organization, along with 10 other new groups this year.

“We found that a lot of people are interested in the agricultural side of sustainability on campus,” said Grant Rocco, president and co-founder of the group.

Rocco and Jim Sowell, vice president of SUMAC, have responses as to what sets SUMAC apart from other sustainability groups at UMass.

“We’re the only (sustainability RSO) focused on the outside community,” Rocco said, emphasizing that SUMAC, a volunteer-based group, focuses on community involvement, outreach and hands-on learning.

Sowell echoed Rocco’s thoughts.

“We work with other sustainability groups, but we also have our own agenda,” he said. “We’re all about learning through doing. … We’re more about being involved on campus but also leaving campus and working on local farms.”

Right now, the group is working on a fossil fuel divestment campaign in which the goal is to increase awareness of where University endowment investments are going.

Rocco and Sowell said brainstorming for this goal, which they said is part of a Five College movement that is part of a larger national movement, is in the works and includes ideas such as peaceful sit-ins and rallies.

Last year, the group held a variety of field trips, speeches and workshops – activities Sowell and Rocco expressed interest in continuing and developing further.

For example, past SUMAC events include a vermicomposting workshop that attracted about 100 attendees and planting a small apple orchard of around 20 trees at Breezy Acres Farm in the neighboring town of Granby.

Sowell said “to actually go do (community sustainability) is great” as compared with just fundraising or learning about it in the classroom.

Rocco said achieving RSO status enabled “some longevity to our years” and give SUMAC a chance to survive after the majority of its members graduate this year.

Another attraction to RSO status, Sowell said, was having the Student Government Association as a promotional resource.

Though there’s no official member count for this year, Rocco said last year there was between 20 and 25 members and that at least 10 people have been attending the bi-weekly meetings this semester.

Sowell said the largest immediate goal of the group is “boosting” membership.

“We have a decent Facebook following,” Sowell said. The SUMAC Facebook group currently stands at 101 members.

SUMAC member and senior communications major Amanda Brewerton joined the group last year because she believes sustainability is “one of the most, if not the most, important issue our generation is going to have to deal with.”

Students looking to sign up for the club don’t have to be an environment-associated major or eco-rep.

“It’s our world, and we need to treat it with respect. We are not the only ones living on it,” Brewerton added.

SUMAC holds meetings in the Bartlett lobby every other Thursday at 7 p.m. and will be meeting tomorrow.

Chelsie Field can be reached at [email protected]