UMass Extension Fruit Team and Stockbridge School of Agriculture Awarded USDA/NIFA Grant

UMass Amherst has been awarded a five-year, $708,000 grant within the Education and Workforce Development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA). The award will fund a research project titled “Engaging Undergraduates in Research and Extension Training using Technology and Experiential Learning to Enhance the Sustainability of Food Production Systems,” which represents a collaboration between the UMass extension fruit team and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. 

According to UMass extension fruit educator and award co-recipient, Elizabeth Garofalo, “A main goal of this project is to increase access to the university’s educational, extension, and research resources to students from historically-underrepresented groups both at UMass and other institutions of higher education. Further, these students’ experience with local high schools focusing on historically underrepresented communities will be facilitated.” 

By creating focused agricultural research, extension and education modules that take place in labs, on campus, and at university farm facilities, the project aims to provide training for successful academic and professional futures for participating students. Eight undergraduate student interns will participate each year and local high school students will be engaged through collaborative educational experiences.  

A driving motivation behind seeking this grant was to create diverse representation in agricultural, educational, and academic arenas for historically underrepresented students, with the hope of inspiring interest in – and fostering a passion for – the systems and institutions that nourish local communities. 

Educational modules will focus on nine topics including: (1) healthy soil: a living ecosystem and foundation of sustainable agriculture; (2) applied research: sustainable fruit production and ecologically-based pest management as model systems; (3) plant disease diagnostic training; (4) sustainable cold-hardy viticulture; (5) orchard watch; (6) carbon farming and agroforestry; (7) professional student development; (8) extension real-world experience; and (9) educational student engagement experience. 

Co-awardees are Stockbridge School of Agriculture extension professor Jaime Piñero and extension fruit team educator Elizabeth Garofalo.