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.
We would like to thank NRC 185 students Tyler Weeks, Ryan Martin, Steven Chang, and Kayla Jewett for their time and passion! Check out their beautifully crafted video below to learn more about their experience!
Thank you to Xochi Salazar and Lena Fletcher for all of your hard work and dedication to hands-on student learning!
NRC 185: Sustainable Living in the 21st Century is only offered in the spring. However, NRC 100: Environment and Society is also instructed by Professor Lena Fletcher and is still open for fall enrollment!
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.
Franklin Permaculture Garden
Kyle’s great grandfather was born in Poland and risked everything to come to the United States to farm with his brother and sister at the age of 16. For two generations the Kielbasas worked for other farmers, but in the 1970s, Kyle’s grandfather, Stanley and his great uncle, Frank, each planted five acre orchards behind their homes, and Kielbasa Orchards was born. Kyle explained that this is truly a family operation, and although the woman are often overlooked, the “hard work, foresight, and sacrifice of the women of the family” is essential to the story of Kielbasa Orchards. Kyle’s Grandmother, Lu, is in her 80s and still hand grades the fruit Kielbasa Orchards sells to UMass. Kyle’s sister is a doctor, but helps at the Orchards in all of her spare time and Kyle’s Aunt Sophie kept their orchards running when family passed away. Kyle’s Great Aunt Bunny, “the true hero if there is one,” has supported the family in countless ways. “We would not have a farm if it was not for Aunt Sophie, Aunt Bunny, and Grandma Lu. They deserve a special thanks.”
Most business owners believe that they must choose between protecting the planet and making a profit. Paul, however, has found that “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 explained that Little Leaf’s sustainable initiatives actually save them money.
For example, their captured rainwater system gives them access to water for free has saved them the economical and energy expenditure of drilling a well or installing a pump. Little Leaf also uses biological controls instead of chemical sprays. They release predatory insects into their greenhouses to feed on the pests that disrupt their plants instead of using pesticides.
Speaking to Paul, it was obvious that everyone at Little Leaf Farms loves what they do and really believes in their mission. Paul said to me, “We are doing something that is really important- we are feeding people.” It is clear that they take that responsibility seriously.
“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
Entries are submitted by project staff and UMass students.