Currently, UMass purchases 5% of our chicken from New England vendors each year. Other local Colleges, including Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Amherst, also purchase roughly 3-6% of their chicken locally. There is tremendous capacity for large institutions to source more local and sustainable chicken if the poultry industry can increase production to meet the demand.
On July 26, 2017 UMass Dining hosted a Poultry Gathering to facilitate a conversation with our community about how the local poultry industry can be supported, improved, and expanded. More than 45 people from sectors across the poultry industry attended, including local poultry producers, State and Federal agricultural agencies, Nonprofit organizations, and institutional food service operators from the Pioneer Valley. The gathering was created to identify priority actions for growing the region's poultry economy and increasing the production and consumption of humanely and sustainably raised local poultry.
At the beginning of the meeting, UMass Dining set forth an ambitious goal to double the amount of local chicken it purchases annually (principally from Massachusetts poultry farmers), to help other institutions do the same, and to increase of the state’s production of local, humane and sustainable chicken by doing so.
The meeting closed after several small group discussions where participants discussed what it would take to increase poultry production in Massachusetts including attracting new farmers and allied investments, as well as increasing the likelihood of success through processing, storage, and infrastructure improvements.
The next Poultry Gathering will be held on Thursday, November 2nd 2017 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. If you or someone you know would like to attend the upcoming gathering, please email Brittany Florio, Senior Sustainability Coordinator at BFlorio@umass.edu.
This week, the 23rd annual Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference hosted by UMass Dining has returned! The theme of this year’s conference is The Power of Food, which encompass all aspects of food, including nutrition, community, food security, and sustainability. The conference focuses on the unique power and influence that high-volume food service operators and campus chefs have on our flawed food system. Chefs have the power to make our food more fair, healthy, and sustainable through their tremendous purchasing power and their influence on the food choices of young consumers. The annual Chef Conference hopes to empower chefs to question norms and tradition, ask questions about where the food they are serving is coming from, and to push innovations in our food system forward one meal at a time. Hundreds of participants registered for the five day long conference, attending workshops, presentations, and competitions to improve their own culinary skills, waste reduction strategies, and sourcing practices.
Check out Seafood Watch’s Recommendations to see what species of fish you should look for or avoid!
Thanks so much to everyone who attended this year's conference for making it such a success!
Be sure to check out the Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference next year from June 3rd – June 8th, 2018!
Photos by Keith Toffling.
Freshly mulched paths at Berkshire Garden.
We started with our crew last week, and so far a lot has been accomplished. We began with a giant pile of wood chips from a local landscaping company. Every year, the paths in the permaculture gardens must be covered with wood chips. The chips deter weeds from growing, hold in moisture, and keep the gardens looking fresh and new. We spread about 25 cubic yards of wood chips in Franklin garden alone.
Wood chips or an alternative mulch are often utilized in no-till agriculture. All of the UMass permaculture gardens are maintained without tillage or turning of the soil. Tillage is used to prepare beds for planting crops, but it has many down sides. It increases erosion and loss of organic matter. Tilling the soil also disturbs microbes, fungi, and worms until they no longer reside there. No-till is a practice in which farmers do not till their soil and instead keep the soil covered and plant directly into the un-plowed earth. There are some difficulties to doing this, but it is better for the plants, microbes, and environment.
In the permaculture gardens, we spread wood chips in areas where we do not want weeds to go, like in the paths. To plant our crops, we dig right into the soil without any bed preparation or plowing. Once the crops are planted, we cover the surrounding soil with straw to prevent weeds and hold moisture in. This is a perfect environment for plants to grow and microorganisms to thrive. There is never a shortage of worms in a no-till system, and we have plenty in the permaculture gardens. Worms actually will feed on the wood chips and come to the surface to do so. In their travels, they aerate the soil which increases it ability to support life.
We must start with the soil if we are to have healthy ecosystems. In the permaculture gardens, our soil is top priority and always cozy and covered.
Cucumber and lettuce plants cozy warm under a bed of straw.
High Lawn Farm is a family-owned dairy farm located in Lee, MA in their 97th year of operation that produces all natural milk free of artificial hormones. High Lawn Farm is owned by the Wilde family, who have lived on the farm and owned it for three generations. Roberto Laurens, pictured below, is the General Manager at High Lawn Farm and has been in this role for 15 years. Roberto has over 30 years of experience managing farm operations and working with dairy herds, not only in the United States, but Colombia as well. Speaking to Roberto, it was clear that he is an expert at what he does.
The farm owns 3,800 acres of land, 900 of which are protected woodland forest to support local wildlife. High Lawn Farm also has 1,600 acres of open pasture and cropland and grows nearly all the grass, corn, and alfalfa they need to sustain their herd during the winter. For the summer months, this local dairy farm has 200 acres of grass for their cows to graze on. "It is a spectacular environment in which to raise our herd and produce our milk products," Robert shared.
Most dairy farms raise Holstein cows because they produce higher quantities of milk than other breeds. However, High Lawn Farm raises Jersey cows for the quality and taste of milk they produce. Jersey cows are small, friendly, and brown colored, compared to the black and white Holstein cows. Roberto explained that, "compared to other major dairy breeds, Jersey milk contains 20% more Calcium, 17% more protein ... and contains more Vitamins A, B1, and B2." This makes Jersey milk healthier and more flavorful than traditional milk. Humans are also able to digest the proteins in Jersey milk much easier than Holstein milk.
Raising Jersey cows is less resource intensive than Holsteins, making it more environmentally sustainable. Jersey cows produce 30% less milk than Holstein cows, but only weigh about half as much. Therefore, Jerseys eat less food, drink less water, and produce less waste, but produce milk more efficiently. Raising Jersey cows instead of Holstein cows can reduce water and land usage, fuel consumption, waste production, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cattle. Roberto emphasized that High Lawn Farm is proud to “use less resources to produce a higher quality product.”
Most dairy farms in the United States, including High Lawn Farm, are finding it increasingly difficult to find workers to milk their cows. “It is very hard to find people who want to work in farms and want to be here every day at three or four in the morning including Saturday, Sunday, and holidays,” Roberto shared.
In response to this lack of labor, High Lawn Farm installed a robotic milking system that milks two cows at a time with no human labor required at all. “It is a very effective system, and extremely friendly to the cows,” Roberto explained. The cows have been trained to use the robots, and therefore can enter the milking system whenever they please. Additionally, the system monitors the cows health, recording her weight, levels of activity, and food intake. Roberto is notified if any of the cows need special attention.
High Lawn Farm is a beautiful, impressive, and unique operation. Roberto and the rest of the crew at High Lawn take great care to provide the highest quality product possible in a sustainable and ethical way. High Lawn Farm milk is served in Berkshire Dining Commons.
Thank you so much to Roberto Laurens and High Lawn Farm for speaking and working with us. For more information about High Lawn Farm, their history, or their Jersey cows, visit their website.
Warm Colors Apiary, owned by Dan and Bonita Conlon, is located on eighty acres of woodland, open fields and wetlands, in South Deerfield, MA. Dan and Bonita manage about 1,200 colonies of bees, which can provide up to 30,000 pounds of honey a year. UMass Dining purchases about 25% of the honey Warm Colors Apiary produces for use in the UMass Bakeshop and in all the Dining Commons as well.
Dan Conlon has kept bees since he was 14, and at the age of 50, Dan and Bonita quit their jobs, bought 1,000 beehives, and became full time beekeepers. “Now I am 66 and I am really happy with my lifestyle. It fits a philosophy that you are building rather than destroying something,” Dan shared.
There are about 90 commercial crops that require pollination and most of them are fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Honey bees are the only pollinator that can be moved around in large enough numbers to pollinate these crops. For crops like apples and peaches, the window for pollination is very short, and only lasts for a day or two. Dan explained that “in the valley, one beehive on one acre of cucumbers increases production by 40-60%.” Warm Colors Apiary transports bees to different farms all over Western Massachusetts, many of them operations that UMass Dining sources vegetables from to help them increase their yields.
Honey bees also pollinate wildflowers, which provide food for wildlife and birds, purify water, and clean the air. Bees also increase the resilience and biodiversity of the plants they pollinate. “This whole idea of bees and pollination is fundamental to our existence,” said Dan.
Dan and Bonita are part of the Russian Honey Breeders Association and have been working with the USDA to develop disease and mite resistant bees for the last 20 years. “Beekeeping is a lot harder than it used to be. When I started there was only one disease beekeepers worried about- now we have about a dozen.” Additionally, climate change and drought have a huge effect on bee populations. The drought this summer caused the flowers to run out of moisture and stop producing nectar. “This fall was the first time we hadn’t taken honey in 15 or 20 years,” Dan said. Bonita and Dan are worried that they will lose more bees to the persisting cold weather because of the drought and due to a lack of food.
Bee populations are declining rapidly, and one of the main causes is the loss of forage and food sources in the landscape. "I think there is an urgency to all of [these issues] and we have to quit denying that it's true. It is happening as we speak," Dan remarked. Dan suggests that “the best thing we can do is encourage everyone to get out there and plant something.” There are hundreds of plants that benefit bees. Just a few include sunflowers, bulbs, thyme, lavender, maple trees, fruit trees, raspberry and blackberry bushes. Additionally, Dan recommends to allow the dandelions and other flowering weeds to grow in lawns. “It is also important to support bee research, which has given us a whole lot of options that we did not have 20 years ago,” Dan added.
Maple Valley Creamery, located in Hadley, MA is a dairy farm that produces premium ice cream using their own fresh milk and cream. They are dedicated to sustainability, supporting local economies, and treating their dairy cows with the utmost love and respect. Maple Valley Creamery has 45 dairy cows, 400 acres of land, and sells raw milk, aged raw milk cheddar cheese, angus beef, and ice cream. UMass Amherst sources ice cream, milk, and beef from Maple Valley. Maple Valley ice cream is sold at the Mullins Center, Harvest Market and used in the milkshakes sold at Blue Wall on campus. Maple Valley Creamery is owned and operated by Laurie Cuevas and Bruce Jenks.
Maple Valley Creamery is dedicated to sustainability in all aspects of their operation. They have renewable energy initiatives and all of their cows are all grass fed and pasture grazed. They also have a recycling program to allow them to reuse the boxes they distribute their ice cream in. Additionally, Bruce and Laurie do everything they can to support local economies. Maple Valley Creamery works with over 70 different farms and vendors, including the North Hadley Sugar Shack, Esselon Cafe, People’s Pint, and local berry and fruit growers. “Our biggest sustainable initiative is working with other folks who are trying to farm like us,” Bruce explained. Most of the fruits they use for their ice cream are ugly fruits, extras, or leftovers. For example, Maple Valley buys local berries when they are in season, and pumpkins past the October sale that would otherwise be thrown away to make pumpkin ice cream.
Talking to Bruce made it obvious that farming is what they love. Bruce and Laurie view themselves first as farmers, and then as ice cream makers. “When people come to our farm...and see the cows, they see that we are really farming. We are driving used old ford pickups and living in a farmhouse,” Bruce shared. Their passion and energy is moving. “It doesn't get old or tiring. I don't think there is a day that we are not inspired to do better than we did yesterday."
Bruce shared that one of his favorite parts of their work is caring for their animals. “Ultimately if someone is making ice cream, someone is milking a cow. For us it is about the farmer and the people that are milking cows.” Maple Valley Creamery has seen 4-5 generations of their cows live in their barns and has been working with them for 12 years. They have whole families of cows that all have names like Mystical, Magic, and Misty. Once a cow’s milk production has slowed, Bruce and Laurie retire her, giving her a place to live and relax after years of giving so much to them. “We treat our cows better than we treat ourselves,” Bruce laughed.
Kielbasa Orchards is a small apple orchard located in Amherst, MA that has been in the family for four generations. This local farm, with a stunning view of the Holyoke Mountain Range, provides UMass Dining with tasty heirloom apples every year. Kielbasa Orchards is owned and managed by Kyle Kielbasa and his family. Kyle grew up working and playing on the orchards and has always loved farming. “I am happiest when I am out there,” Kyle remarked.
Kyle shared with us that growing apples has been especially tricky in recent years because of the effects of climate change. Fruit trees depend on slow-changing and predictable weather patterns, but climate change creates extreme weather changes that are often difficult for apples to survive through. Kyle explained, “When warm weather arrives, the apple buds start to bloom, leaving the entire crop at risk to freeze and die when the temperatures drop again. You lose the crop to the frost in the spring and that’s it. There is no replanting.” It takes eight years for an apple tree to grow before an orchard can start selling its apples, and if a frost comes after the weather has warmed enough for apple trees to bud, an entire season’s apple crop can be lost. “Working with mother nature is a very humbling experience,” Kyle laughed.
Despite the huge challenges they face, Kyle and his family always find a way to make things work because growing apples is what they love. “I work seven days a week on the farm and it doesn’t feel like work for me. It is just a part of me.”
Thank you so much to the Kielbasa’s for working with UMass Dining, and a special thanks to Kyle for speaking with us! Visit Kielbasa Orchards’ website here to visit their farm, experience their spectacular view, and pick your own apples!
Little Leaf Farms is a three-acre greenhouse operation run by Paul Sellew, Pieter Slaman, and Tim Cunniff in Devens, Massachusetts. Little Leaf Farms grows their greens hydroponically indoors all year round and is dedicated to producing sustainable, nutritious and fresh greens. 95% of the lettuce greens we consumed in Massachusetts are grown in California and Arizona. Not only is all of this produce trucked thousands of miles, California has been suffering from an extreme drought for over five years. Little Leaf Farms is proud to provide New England with sustainable greens that are produced locally and reach their consumer within only a day of being cut.
We spoke to Paul Sellow, the Owner and CEO of Little Leaf Farms for more information about their approach to local food production. Farming has always been a part of Paul’s life. He grew up on a New England farm called Pride Corner Farms and graduated from Cornell with a degree in Horticulture. Paul has created a few farming operations in addition to Little Leaf Farms, and started his first company at only 24 years old.
Paul believes that “technology has an important future in constantly innovating and dealing with issues around sustainability.” Paul argues that controlled systems like greenhouses can increase the capacity of our local food system while withstanding the impacts of climate change. Little Leaf Farms have a rainwater collection system which allows them to utilize 90% less water than field-grown lettuce, making their operation more resistant to drought. Little Leaf is also currently working with Dwayne Breger and the UMass Clean Energy Extension Program to create a plan for their greenhouse to use energy that is normally wasted to heat and cool their greenhouses.
Our thanks to Paul for taking the time to speak with us. For more information about Little Leaf Farms, visit their website.
“Sustainability and a viable business enterprise are not incompatible. We try to use natural systems in a way that is economically efficient and better for the environment.” -Paul Sellew
Queen’s Greens, a charming farm in Amherst, MA, grows certified organic greens, herbs, and vegetables year-round on 30 acres of fields and greenhouses. Although it is rare for farms to grow winter crops, Queen's Greens harvests spinach twice a week through December! Queen’s Greens is owned and operated by Matt Biskup and Danya Teitelbaum, who work hard to incorporate sustainability on the farm every day. In addition to being an organic farm, they use compost, spread manure, and grow cover crops. Matt and Danya are careful to create and protect habitat for the critters that live along the brooks that run through their farm. When I spoke to Matt, he explained that “animals do eat your crops, but for the most part, having great places for animals to live helps the environment. Squirrels and humans alike have to work together to make a healthy and sustainable world.”
Both Matt and Danya feel strong ties to the five colleges and the pioneer valley and love being able to support their community through sustainable, healthy, local food. Danya is a Hampshire College graduate and Matt is a UMass Amherst alum. They have a view of the Du Bois library and Southwest towers from their farm every day while they work.
"Food can get expensive and I don’t know what kind of food we would be eating if we weren’t growing a lot of it ourselves.” When I asked Matt what keeps him and Danya going through the long hours of hard work he said, “We try to work with the community as best we can to keep people eating local and enjoying what we grow. That makes it easy to stay optimistic.”
Thank you so much to Matt and Danya for all of your contributions to UMass and our greater community, and a special thanks to Matt for speaking with us. For more information about Queen’s Greens, visit their website!
“Squirrels and humans alike have to work together to make a healthy and sustainable world.”
MA Atlas Farm is an organic vegetable farm in its thirteenth year of operation, located just eleven miles from UMass in Deerfield, MA, and grows a variety of certified organic plants and produce.
Atlas Farm works hard to extend their growing season as long as possible to provide as much food as they can for their local community. Usually, local greens in the winter time are not easy to come by, but using greenhouses, hoophouses, and fabric grow covers, Atlas Farm grows salad greens, cooking greens, lettuces, and herbs year round. They also store crops that are harvested in the fall like cabbage and root vegetables to be sold in the winter.
Atlas Farm is also dedicated to sustainability, evaluating each decision they make and every step of their operation to make it more efficient, equitable, and environmentally friendly. For example, Atlas Farm plans to eventually be energy independent. They currently produce almost three quarters of their own power, use biomass to heat their greenhouses, and have been using solar power for nearly the last decade.
Thank you so much, Gideon for all of your help and valuable contributions to the UMass Community!
Visit Atlas Farm's website for more information about their farm store, events, and products.
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