Farming is already an extremely difficult profession to be successful without 100% turnover each year and many first-time farmers running the operation. However, the Student Farm always manages to persevere and come out on top of whatever challenges they face. Kyle Zegel speaks to this, explaining, "This year was a really tough year. We had several intense heat waves, an incredibly wet late summer and fall, and several periods of labor shortage. We were hit hard with diseases ... and a lot of plants never made it into the ground, which made us short for our markets.
The UMass Student Farm is a student-run farm on campus that manages 14 acres of land and grows 35 different crops using ecologically sound practices. They supplied UMass Dining with over 10,000 lbs of local, fresh, organic vegetables in the past year. Produce from the Student Farm is featured in all four Dining Commons, at the weekly Student Farmers’ Market on Goodell Lawn, and at four Big Y locations. The Student Farm also offers Fall CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares to the campus community every year, enabling students, faculty, and staff to purchase a share in the farm and pick up over 25 pounds of fresh organic produce every week for ten weeks (September through November).
decisions about how to run the farm and spend their time. "We have a lot of trust put in us and carry a lot of responsibility, which may be intimidating, but it feels very refreshing when in most of our classes our biggest responsibility is turning in a paper," says Kyle Zegel, a Sustainable Food and Farming major from UMass in the 2018 Student Farm Crew.
This decision making power allows students to shape the program to their own learning objectives. For example, the 2018 crew made a lot of efforts on the farm to increase its environmental and social sustainability. This year the crew piloted inter-row cover cropping to reduce the amount of tillage, bare soil, and weeding that they had to do. Additionally, in 2019 the Student Farm provided 25 free CSA shares to campus community members that would not have otherwise been able to afford them using grant money from the Sustainability Initiative and Engagement Fund. In partnership with the Food For All Program, they also worked to donate all of the excess produce, flowers, and fresh herbs from the farm to Not Bread Alone in Amherst and the Amherst Survival Center.
Throughout the season they donated over 5 tons of produce to these community partners. Carly Brand, a BDIC major and a member of the 2018 crew remarked, "I'm proud of the donations we were able to give to Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center on top of all the markets we have; the volunteers always received our deliveries with such gratitude. I don't think many people have full clarity on the issue of local food insecurity or the impact that we can have with a small redistribution." The farmers made small deliveries every week and often biweekly to Not Bread Alone for over six months this season.
Sometimes we work in torrential downpours or near 100 degree heat. People get burnt out, sick and injured. We also have to constantly deal with the stress of crop failure and anxiety about finances, but what keeps me going on the toughest days is knowing that this work that we do is providing fresh, nutritious food to our community." Carly Brand add, "Even when it was painfully early or too cold to feel our toes, it felt worth it to be part of a strong, supportive community and to interact with our 'consumers' directly after. Working on the farm constantly reminds us to recognize the full value of the food we grow, and to do everything we can to prevent it from going to waste."
Kyle's advice to readers that care about where your food comes from is to "learn about agriculture and see if you can help farmers make their systems more sustainable. Go volunteer for food waste recovery and food equity organizations in your area and understand the extent of food insecurity in your area. The more involved you get with the growing, processing, and distribution of food, the more you'll be able to understand about what work needs to be done in our food system."
Thanks so much to Carly Brand, Kyle Zegel, and the rest of the Student Farm program at UMass for all of the hard work you do to provide our campus community with affordable organic produce every year! For more information about the Student Farm, visit their website. Sign ups for the 2020 CSA program will begin in March- be sure to catch their Early Bird discount! Consider making a donation to the Student Farm to fund free CSA shares for our campus community in 2019.
Joe Czajkowski Farm, located in Hadley, MA, has been supplying food to UMass Dining since 2015 and is owned by Joe Czajkowski, a third generation farmer. Joe's 400 acre farm grows a wide variety of crops including corn, winter squash, summer squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, strawberries and many more. UMass Dining purchases from Joe year round and in the last fiscal year they purchased over 2 million lbs of produce from him which is over $500,000 of food.
UMass Dining especially values their partnership with Joe Czajkowski because of his relationships with many other farmers in the Valley. Joe acts as a central point or aggregate for many of the farms in the area that need a buyer for their produce but cannot afford the insurance required to be able to work with some buyers like UMass Dining. Joe's involvement enables UMass Dining to purchase more local food than they would otherwise. Farmers who work with Joe will drop their products off at his farm and Joe will drive them to UMass each week with his own produce deliveries. Some farms Joe works with include Jekanowski Farms, Pine Hill Orchard, Szawlowski Potato Farms, and Smiarowski Farm.
Joe also shares land with other farms. After spending over a hundred years in the Valley, farmers know each other's operations well. Neighboring farms will rotate their crops on each others' land to avoid disease and pest pressure that is unavoidable when you grow large amounts of anything in the same fields year after year. This year nearly a third of the squash crop in the valley was lost to disease. Partnerships like these allow farmers to share resources, knowledge, and connections and support each other in our local food community.
"Being able to supply UMass and the Chickopee and Amherst schools with healthier, fresher, locally grown produce keeps money, jobs, open space, and a diverse local economy in the Valley." - Joe Czajkowski
A huge thanks to Joe for supplying our campus with local food! For more information about his operation or to visit the farm, check out their website.
Cold Spring Orchard is a research and education facility of UMass Amherst located in Belchertown, MA. The Cold Spring Orchard farm store has different varieties of apples to choose from every couple of weeks and also sells honey, maple products, jams, jellies, apple cider, and more. At Cold Spring, they offer pick your own apples, school tours, and resources for apple growers in New England from their research. They grows over 100 varieties of apples on over 50 acres of land. UMass Dining serves Cold Spring Orchard Apples from September until December each year and has been working with Cold Spring for years now.
If you have the money to spend, it is worthwhile to invest in local farms that you know care for the earth, their community, and their workers. For small farmers to survive when they have to compete with industrial agriculture, they need support.
Thanks so much to Shawn and the rest of the Cold Spring team for working with UMass Dining and providing local apples to our campus community. To visit Cold Spring Orchard, check out their Pick Your Own and retail store hours on their website. To learn more about them, visit our 2017 blog and our 2016 blog about the Orchard!
The North Hadley Sugar Shack, owned by Joe and Shelly Boisvert, is located less than four miles from campus and supplies UMass Dining with high quality, pure maple syrup. The North Hadley Sugar Shack is a family-owned business that was started about twenty years ago in Hadley, Massachusetts. Last year in 2017, the sugar shack produced 2,300 gallons of maple syrup. Each year they collect sap from over 80 acres of trees and have 4,000 taps in use. They sell their finished products to Big Y, local co-ops, and UMass Dining. Their maple syrup provides a local, sustainably-made, natural sweetener for their local community that is a healthier alternative to bleached sugar.
It takes 40 gallons of sap from a maple tree to make one gallon of maple syrup. The sap is boiled down so the water can evaporate out creating the thick, rich syrup we all love. Reverse osmosis is used because it reduces energy use and halves the amount of wood needed to heat their equipment during the boiling and evaporation process. Additionally, North Hadley Sugar Shack collects all of the excess water that the reverse osmosis machine produces as a by-product and uses it to clean their machine.
The final step is to put the sap through an evaporator to boil off the remainder of the excess water. The maple syrup is ready once the temperature of the liquid reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit. If the syrup was to be boiled to a higher temperature, more water would be removed, creating maple candy or granulated sugar. Throughout the entire season, about ½ gallon of maple syrup is produced from each tap.
The sugar shack has a wide variety of fun events coming up ranging from local food samplings and maple soft serve to a pancake breakfast and a tractor pull. Check out their events page for more information. Be sure to stop by for some fresh maple syrup, beautiful mums, exciting activities, and delicious foods from other local businesses! For more information about North Hadley Sugar Shack, visit their website.
Thanks so much to the North Hadley Sugar Shack for working with UMass Dining and to Mark, Tucker, and Kevin for helping to create this blog post. UMass Dining appreciates our partnership and all of the hard work you do for our community.
Photo and video credit: Keith Toffling Photography.
Martin's Farm has been a leader in the composting industry since they were established in 1987. The farm grew vegetables and had a food waste collection program to feed their farm animals. Martin's Farm decided to start processing compost because they became overwhelmed by the vast amount of food waste that was being produced in their local community. Today, Martin's Farm converts all of the food waste UMass Amherst collects into rich, dark compost that is then sold to local farmers and gardeners in the Connecticut River Valley. Adam Martin and his family own Martin's Farm, which was passed down from his father. Martin's Farm diverted 8,000 tons of waste last year.
To make their final product, Martin's Farm first mixes together all of the ingredients they need for nutrient rich compost: food waste, cardboard, hay, and manure. They grind it all up through a piece of equipment Adam calls "The Beast." The mixture is laid into long rows to aerobically break down and is turned every couple of weeks by another piece of equipment to aerate and water the soil. In 3-4 months the compost is ready and is then dried, screened, and sorted again for any contaminants.
Until recently, Martin's Farm sold certified organic compost to local farmers and gardeners in the Connecticut River Valley. However, because of the contamination of plastics in the food waste they receive from UMass, that organic certification has been revoked. Contamination is a huge problem for Adam's operation, and when materials are not composted correctly by the UMass community, it has a big impact on the integrity of his business and his compost.
Last year Martin's Farm spent $4,000 repairing trucks on their equipment after they had been ruined by metal forks that are incorrectly composted at UMass. Other main contamination problems come from plastic bottles, bags, and containers, and when these contaminants are shredded by "The Beast," they are broken down into pieces that are so small that they slip through all of Adam's methods of screening. "When you look at the rows of compost on the farm you can see the plastics peppered throughout the piles," Adam explained. Adam and his team spend about 10 hours a week sorting the loads they receive of compost from UMass by hand, but it is impossible to open every bag and remove every contaminant. "No one understands the extent I am going through to get as clean of a product as possible," Adam explained. "I'm just trying to make a difference. I am a million and a half dollars in debt. I don't just care about waste diversion; I care about the final product. I want to make the best compost around."
The UMass community has the power to improve this situation by composting and recycling correctly and educating and encouraging others to do the same. Not only would it make a huge difference for Martin's Farm, it would improve the environmental benefit of composting if the final product was free of contaminants. When we asked what students can do, Adam said, "If you want to make a difference, sort your compost." It's really quite simple! Below is a list of composting guidelines:
Adam points out that we only have 7 years before all of the landfills in Massachusetts will be at full capacity. However, 20-40% of the food that reaches consumers is thrown away. When it comes to compost, Adam remarks that it is really the folks at UMass that are "on the front lines for making a difference."
Thank you so much, Adam, for working with UMass Dining and for taking the time to speak with us. We are so impressed and inspired by your passion and hard work to make our community more sustainable. To learn more about Martin's Farm, please visit their website.
Sean Dimin is the founder and CEO of Sea to Table and explains that the company "started with a love of fishing." Sean says that it was clear to him that there was a need for fishermen and commercial docks to get a better market as well as a need for chefs to have access to high-quality, sustainable seafood. Sean founded Sea to Table to "deliver a high-quality product and tell the story behind it.” The company works hard to make their operation as transparent as possible to allow traceability, accountability, and honesty between fishermen, sellers, and consumers.
In addition to restaurants, universities, colleges, and businesses, Sea to Table provides fresh seafood to Americans through their new home delivery service. "To be able to reach right into people's homes and connect with them at the dinner table and give them a better option of fish is key to what we do," Sean shared. In February of 2017, Sea to Table provided about 1 million portions of seafood for their customers and diners. Sean explained that "over 90% of the seafood that is consumed in this country is imported," making it the company’s goal to improve the value and quality behind the fish that we eat by providing customers with sustainable, traceable, and local options.
While there is a growing awareness and shared sentiment among consumers that we want to know where our food comes from, we often overestimate the ability of the earth’s ecosystems to keep up with our demand. Fisheries involve complex interactions between species and their environment, and just like any resource, there are limits to how much we can take. In order to become more conscientious as consumers, it is essential to develop an awareness of seasonality and locality for everything we eat, including seafood.
Sea to Table incorporates this consumer education into its practices in order to help people understand what fishermen are catching (which are often not the same species of fish that Americans are used to eating). Tuna, shrimp, cod, and salmon are the most popular fish in the U.S., yet these are also some of the most unsustainable species due to the vast quantities in which they are harvested. "We are doing a lot of education to bring the diner right to the dock to see what it is like... and to see how the fish were caught, who caught them, and what fish they were catching," Sean explains.
Sean shares that his favorite part of the job is when he gets to be on the water. "It is where I have a connection and it is not every day that we get to connect with nature. I think it brings us back to an elemental root of where our food comes from." Sean believes that something anyone can do to protect fish stocks and contribute to ocean health is just to care. "If you care about the fish that you eat and buy, you want to know where it came from," he explains. By demanding transparency about where our food is coming from, we as consumers have the power to change the way that food is produced and sold on the market.
Thank you so much Sean for all of your hard work to make our food system more sustainable. UMass Dining appreciates all of the knowledge and resources you are able to share with our customers and we look forward to continuing to collaborate in the future to educate and empower!
For more information about Sea to Table, or to get high quality seafood delivered right to your door, visit their website.
Fort River Farm, located less than four miles from campus in Hadley, MA provides UMass Dining with high quality, pasture-raised Black Angus beef. All of the beef produced from Fort River Farm is processed in Vermont and is both certified prime and certified humane. Beef cattle can be found grazing on Fort River Farm’s 60 acres of land, 365 days a year. Bruce says that the cows prefer to be outside in the fields all year round even through snowy New England winters.
Fort River Farm is also home to upwards of 25 Swiss cows of all ages that are raised for their raw milk. This is such a small, select group that, unlike on most dairy farms, Bruce knows all of them by name. They bottle fresh raw milk every day and any milk that is too old to be sold is fed to their pigs to minimize their food waste. The beef cattle are tended to by other farmers on their team, but Bruce takes sole responsibility for caring for his five Swiss cows.
Aside from raising cows for beef and raw milk, Bruce also owns and operates Maple Valley Creamery and the Mill Valley Milk Store. Maple Valley Creamery has been making ice cream for nine years, and source Jersey milk from other farms to make their product. Every year, Maple Valley Creamery collaborates with the UMass Amherst Food Science department to hold a competition where students compete in groups to make the best flavor to add to Maple Valley Creamery's wide selection. Their newest flavor – root beer float – won this year’s competition.
Thank you so much to Bruce Jenks for the hard work that you do to care for your animals while supplying conscientiously-raised beef and dairy products to the local community!
To purchase Fort River Farm’s grass-fed meat, raw milk, and Maple Valley Creamery ice cream,
check out their farm store located in Hadley. Here, you can also find an abundance of other local products from farmers and vendors in the area. For more information about their farm visit their website!
Photo Credit: Keith Toffling
Swaz Potato Farms was founded in 1910 by John Rupert Szawlowski and grows 3,000 acres of White, Red, Yukon Gold, and Russet potatoes in the Connecticut River Valley. The Szawlowski family business is based in Hatfield, MA and has been in operation for over 100 years. They are now one of the largest potato farms in New England. The provide potatoes to UMass Dining and many other businesses, including grocery stores and restaurants across the region.
At Swaz Potato Farms, they harvest their crops until late November but operate throughout the winter by storing, packing, and distributing potatoes grown on 2,000 acres by farmers across the country. This enables them to run a full-time farm in New England and to provide a variety of products for their customers 365 days a year. During their peak season in August, they harvest 500,000 pounds of potatoes every day and package 80 bags a minute at their facility.
Additionally, the Food Bank of Western MA works hard to increase food security in the Pioneer Valley by supplying local community meal programs with fresh, nutritious food.
UMass Hydroponics Farm is a student-run hydroponics business located on campus that grows leafy greens, culinary herbs, tomatoes, bok choy, leeks, and strawberries for Franklin Dining Commons and the UMass community as a whole. UMass Hydro was founded about a year ago by Evan Chakrin, studying Horticulture, and Sustainable Food and Farming student Dana Lucas. "We wanted to have a chance while in school at Stockbridge to have hands on hydroponic experience using common production systems and growing actual food," says Evan Chakrin.
Right now, UMass Hydro is supplying greens to on-campus student-run business Greeno Sub Shop and will begin regular deliveries to Franklin Dining Commons and the Belly of the Beast in Northampton this semester. They will also be launching a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share around March 1st and will be selling their produce at the returning UMass Student Farmers' Market this Spring. Because of their small scale, UMass Hydro cannot provide all of the calories that people need, "but we can supplement what they are eating with the highest quality produce that is possible to be grown," says Evan.
Hydroponics is a very important innovation for farming because it is extremely portable, resource efficient, and customizable for any location. UMass Hydro has eliminated pest pressure, the need to weed their crops, and the need to attend to soil fertility and health. The adaptability of the technology also allows hydroponics to potentially increase food security. "You can set it up in a desert, in a city, on a rooftop, or in a shipping container without the need to deal with tons of soil. It is a very portable and efficient way to grow food," Evan shares. Hydroponics uses only 10% of the water that traditional farming requires to grow the same types of crops. Evan explains that, "hydroponics will never replace field agriculture for root or grain crops, but for delicate crops and small fruit crops it is perfect." Dana Lucas shares that "Massachusetts grows only 4% of their food and 80% of the cost of produce is transportation." Dana explains that to run one freight container of hydroponics for one year takes the same amount of energy to drive one truck load of produce from California to Massachusetts. Hydroponics may become an essential part of the solution to food insecurity and the increasing pressures of climate change on food production.
Another unique and sustainable benefit of UMass Hydro and other indoor farms is their capability to grow food year-round. "We have been growing lettuce, basil, and tomatoes all winter," says Evan. Even in the middle of January, students can look out the windows of Franklin Dining Commons to see the food they are eating being grown in the purple-lit greenhouses of UMass Hydro. Evan shares that he loves "being with the plants in the winter under the light and in the heat of the greenhouse. When it's cold and the ground is frozen and nothing is growing outside we can come in here with lights that have the orange glow of the sun."
This spring, UMass Hydro is expanding using a grant that they received from the Sustainability, Innovation and Engagement Fund (SIEF). They are building four new lettuce raft tables to double their growing space and will also begin experimenting with aquaponics. This is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, and they will be raising koi fish and growing plants together in an integrated system. The only inputs to the system will be fish food and water. The UMass Hydro project was started using a grant from the University as well, and Evan shares that "if you’re really ambitious, do a lot of work, and write decent grant proposals, there are a lot of opportunities at UMass that are not advertised."
Arguably the most impactful and important aspect of UMass Hydro is the educational opportunity that it provides UMass students. In fact, UMass Hydro is the only year-round indoor food production system that they can be a part of on campus. Mia Cogliano, a Sustainable Food and Farming senior at UMass, works in the UMass Hydro greenhouse. She shared that she has learned about growing and identifying vegetables, cloning plants, managing pests, and building hydroponic equipment. Mia explains, "I didn’t even know what hydroponics was when I started. I was with Evan all of the time and that is one of the reasons I stayed. He taught me so much and any question I could ask he would answer it.” Mia describes the UMass Hydro greenhouse as her "happy place" and points out that "you can get really cheap lettuce here and it is really fresh. You can literally come by any time and choose which one you want. I don’t think it gets fresher than that.” UMass Hydro takes pride in its unique and exceptional ability to provide an unparalleled opportunity for students to gain access to fresh produce and hands-on experience with hydroponic growing systems.
A huge thanks to Evan, Mia and Dana for speaking with us for this interview, and to the entire UMass Hydro team for all of their hard work to provide fresh food and unique educational opportunities to the students of UMass Amherst. Follow their Facebook Page for information and updates or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in purchasing a CSA share, getting credit for working in the greenhouse, or buying their produce!
Photo credit: Keith Toffling Photography
Sidehill Farm is a small, family run dairy farm that produces delicious, organic yogurt in Hawley, MA. Sidehill farm is owned by Amy Klippenstein and Paul Lacinski. They decided to start making yogurt because it is a healthy food “that your average person could afford to eat every day.” They started the farm nearly 20 years ago in Ashfield with only one cow and a small garden. They moved to their land in Hawley in 2012, which was previously an organic potato farm. Today, Sidehil Farm is the highest elevation operating farm in the state, and has a gorgeous view of rolling hills in every direction. They produce nearly 1,000 gallons of yogurt each day and have 225 acres of pasture and hay fields in the Berkshire Hills.
Their great care extends to their customers as well. Sidehill Farm raises Normandes and Jersey cows because their milk has a much higher protein content than traditional Holstein cow’s milk. This high protein content and natural cultures of their milk is essential for making firm yogurt naturally. Many companies use Holstein milk because the cows are a lot larger and produce much more milk per day, but have to add artificial ingredients to make their yogurt firm. Amy and Paul sell their raw milk at their small farm shop. They also sell their sour cream, yogurt, grass-fed beef, pastured pork, and cheddar cheese. Additionally, they carry many products from other nearby farms including cheese, eggs, ice cream, and even pickles.
Paul and Amy both love the “moments in farming of breathtaking beauty” and the ability to spend so much time with nature and animals. They love contributing good, healthy food to their community and love when customers stop through to visit the farm. Sidehill Farm's yogurt is available at Harvest Market in the Campus center and other retail dining locations on campus. Be sure to check out their farm stand in Hawley if you are ever in the area!
Thank you so much, Amy and Paul, for all of the hard work you do to care that you have for the earth and to provide such delicious, healthy, unique yogurt to our community.
Photo credits: Keith Toffling
Entries are submitted by project staff and UMass students.