A field of kale
University News

From Mud to Melons: Student Farmers Prep and Plan Now for Fall

Discounted CSA shares available for UMass community members to purchase before May 1
The Student Farm CSA poster

Amanda Brown, senior lecturer in sustainable food and farming, and her student farmers understand why New Englanders may not have the level of enthusiasm that they collectively feel when they gaze across acres of open farmland at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center this time of year.

“It’s a mud pit right now. That’s all you’ll see. We haven’t started production there, it’s total mud so our production is in the greenhouse right now,” said Brown, director of the UMass Student Farm Enterprise Program and the Agricultural Learning Center (ALC), about the 20-acre property at 961 North Pleasant St. in Amherst.

The mud was covered in snow just last week. But climate adjustment is rooted in the curriculum of the UMass Student Farm Enterprise, a spring-fall semester program within the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  In a handful of months, those ALC acres and the barn will be buzzing with student workers who will have transplanted what they learned in the classroom and greenhouse on Natural Resources Road into the earth and the hands of the community.  

Members of the UMass Amherst community can get a taste of the fall harvest excitement by purchasing a Student Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Every week for 10 weeks, from mid-September through mid-November, CSA shareholders receive a 25-pound box of freshly picked, organic vegetables, herbs and flowers straight from the farm. Pickup is every Friday between 12-4 p.m. at the ALC, located just beyond the College of Education. 

Students Ryan Mullen, Mia Gozgit, Shane Penney, Chase Dennie, Lucas Valentine, Elinor Everett, Jason Dragon, Maya Cormier, Amanda Brown (lecturer and program director) and Moshe Skoglund sit on porch steps for a photo at the UMass Student Farm
Back row (l-r): Students Ryan Mullen, Mia Gozgit, Shane Penney, Chase Dennie, and Lucas Valentine. Front row (l-r): Students Elinor Everett, Jason Dragon, Maya Cormier, lecturer and program director Amanda Brown and student Moshe Skoglund.

Purchased before May 1, share membership is $375 for students and $425 for faculty and staff. Shares increase by $25 after May 1.  Those interested can become a “Friend of the Farm” donor and CSA shareholder for $550. All revenue from CSA shares goes back into the program to support farming production and summer labor. To sign up, visit the Student Farm CSA registration form.

“We’re going to have 35 different crops. We’ll have the basics like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, onions and carrots,” said Mia Gozgit, a junior in the program. “And we’ll have the side seasonals—watermelon, whole pumpkins, winter and summer squash and parsnips, to name some of them.” 

“We are growing a unique set of your common vegetables, like the purple carrots,” Brown adds. “But there’s some fun stuff coming too that our students have selected that we don’t normally grow—different kinds of eggplant like a pink-striped eggplant.”

This year, nine students comprise the UMass Student Farm Enterprise. The program grew from two students who managed less than a 10th of an acre in 2007 and started by growing broccoli and kale. Today it has grown to 20 acres, farmed by eight to 15 students, chosen annually via a competitive application process. Students earn up to 12 academic credits and a full-time summer employment opportunity on the farm. 

Students are mainly sustainable food and farming majors, but the program is open to all disciplines. Gozgit is a food science major who became curious about the program through a friend’s lively post on Instagram and thought the experience would complement her studies and career ambitions. 

“I didn’t know something like this existed here. It looked fun and really interesting, so I found out all I could about it,” Gozgit said. 

A harvest of carrots and beets from the student farm

Brown, who is also a UMass Amherst alumna, has been lecturer and program director for UMass Student Farm since 2013. She appreciates the commitment the students make to the program—and farming.  

“The students are ones that are out there doing the hard work of producing these crops, and that’s really how you learn how to do this. I like to think of our class as sort of like a clinical for nursing students, but this is farming,” said Brown. “I’m obviously a little biased, but to me they are some of the most dedicated hardworking students on campus.” 

Produce grown by the UMass student farmers is regularly used by UMass Dining and is also available for purchase at a weekly farmer’s market held outside Goodell Building during the fall semester and at four Big Y grocery stores in Northampton, Amherst, Greenfield and Southampton. 

For more information, visit the UMass Student Farm website and the UMass Farm Community Supported Agricultural Shares website.