‘Give us some water and sunshine and usually everything will be fine’
In UMass’ research and education greenhouses, student farmers gathered to seed flower beds, transfer seedlings to pots, and talk about sustainable farming practices.
“What needs more space to stay happy?” Farm manager Jason Dragon asked the student farmers. He showed how to pot newly grown tomato plants and provided some inspiration along the way. “They’re going to look a bit unhappy during the process because like all of us when we’re uprooted it’s stressful. But give us some water and sunshine and usually we’ll be fine.
Dragon graduated from UMass with a degree in creative writing and Latin American studies, but found his calling in sustainable agriculture. “I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I went to work on a farm and never looked back. I really fell in love with the work and the community aspect of farming.
Now Dragon works with the UMass Student Farm teach students about sustainable agriculture. “It’s a great program and I’m lucky that every year new people come in, we make new friends and do great work.”
As a senior in the program, Amber Gray, a student in Sustainable Food and Agriculture, plans to share her work with the campus community through an upcoming Farmer’s Market Community Workshop on April 22.
“It’s a natural tie-dye workshop! We’ll be bringing in homemade dyes and having people practice making clothes with natural materials,” Gray said. “Natural dyes protect the body against UV rays better than synthetic dyes.” A recent post from the International Journal of Applied Home Science confirms that natural dyes can help block 80% of harmful UV rays.
In addition to natural dye-producing plants, student farms pride themselves on producing a wide range of produce, herbs, and flowers.
Recently, the student farm started planting more edible and medicinal flowers, such as coneflowers.
“Echinacea are powerful immune-supporting herbs,” Gray said. Often they are used in tea and have been found in quarantine dorms in 2021 in echinacea tea bags.
The student farm aims to plant medicinal flowers in no-till fields, which are considered to have a high level of sustainability.
“When you plow and put a tractor on the ground, you create a layer called the plow bed, which is soil that’s so compacted that the roots can’t get through it,” explained Lauren Duhr, a second-grade farmer, who specializes in psychology and sustainable development. food and agriculture. “With direct seeding, you allow the soil to regenerate and stay as it is naturally meant to be.”
Specifically, perennials, or flowers that return naturally over multiple growing seasons, are the ideal plant types for no-till fields. “There’s a big push in the sustainability community for perennials, you don’t have to plow them,” Gray said.
Members of the UMass community who would like to support the student farm and receive a weekly bundle of products can sign up to share the Community Supported Agriculture Program.
“CSA program members come to the ALC barn and get 25 to 35 pounds of fresh produce each week,” Duhr said. Plus, those who register before May 1 get a free chicken through the Stockbridge meat CSA program, $25 off their order, and free produce from Student Farm.
The student farm also sells produce to UMass restaurants and four Big Y locations, but they try to limit competition with other local farms.
“We only sell to the campus community so we don’t take their business away from them,” Gray explained. “Healthy competition isn’t even competition, it’s working together and fighting together.”
Ultimately, those who work for the student farm are dedicated to sustainable agriculture and promoting regenerative agriculture regardless of the conditions.
“You don’t do it to make money, you do it because you care,” Gray said.
Lucas Ruud can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LukeRuud.