NSF Grant Funds Sustainable Agriculture, Clean Energy Partnership with HCC, Hampshire

The National Science Foundation has awarded an $810,000 grant to Holyoke Community College, in partnership with UMass Amherst and Hampshire College, to create collaborative programs combining clean energy studies with sustainable agriculture and share new resources that will benefit students at all three schools.

“The main purpose of the grant is to marry what has for the most part historically been two separate sides of sustainability education – clean energy and agriculture,” said Kate Maiolatesi, coordinator of HCC’s sustainability studies program, who wrote the grant proposal.

A large piece will pay for the development of cross-campus courses that combine the strengths of existing programs at each of the three schools: clean energy at HCC and sustainable agriculture at Hampshire College and the university.

The first of these joint courses is expected to begin in the summer of 2015, Maiolatesi said.  

“Students from all three campuses will come here to HCC to learn about clean energy and then our students and their students will go to UMass and Hampshire for the agriculture piece,” she said.

The joint programs are expected to create stronger pathways for transfer from HCC to Hampshire and the university for students who want to continue their studies in clean energy and sustainable agriculture after completeing their associate degrees.

Another large portion of the grant will pay for new clean energy and agriculture equipment that will be used by students from all three schools, including a micro-farm greenhouse demonstration and training facility at the Agricultural Learning Center on North Pleasant Street, according to John M. Gerber, professor of sustainable food and farming in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The micro-farm greenhouse demonstration and training facility will be managed by Amanda Brown and the UMass student farmers, who will use it to grow vegetables for sale at the Student Farmers Market on Friday afternoons in front of Goodell each fall The student farmers will also grow leafy green vegetables for the dining commons during the winter months. “The facility will give our students an opportunity to practice and learn energy-efficient technologies while producing fresh, local vegetables for the campus community,” said Gerber.

The greenhouse will also be used to train agricultural students from HCC, UMass and Hampshire College during the summer months, said Gerber. “It will also be used year- round as an outdoor learning laboratory for Stockbridge School of Agriculture students majoring in sustainable food and farming.”

Other funds from the grant will be used by Hampshire College to construct a moveable greenhouse and mobile refrigeration unit, both of which will be solar-powered. Students will build the greenhouses and also convert an old diesel tractor to be powered by solar energy.

HCC will be getting a solar-powered electric fence, composting and irrigation equipment for its sustainability and permaculture gardens and a small wind turbine.

Money from the grant will also be used to pay stipends to students who want to do summer internships with clean energy businesses or local farms.