There may be patches of snow on the ground still, but UMass Amherst student-farmers are busy planning this year’s crops. Ten students will plant, grow and harvest 33 different crops, from tomatoes to watermelon, garlic to kale. Members of the UMass community will be able to take some of the fall harvest home for themselves by signing up now for a Student Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Every week, for ten weeks, from September through November, CSA shareholders get a 25-pound box of freshly picked, organic vegetables. Members who sign up before May 1 will receive $25 off their $360 membership ($400 for faculty).
The UMass Student Farming Enterprise, which is part of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, began 15 years ago with two students who managed less than a tenth of an acre. Today it has grown to 25 acres, farmed by ten to fifteen students, chosen annually via a competitive application process. The students spend eleven months working closely with senior lecturer Amanda Brown, director of the UMass Farming Enterprise Program and the Agricultural Learning Center. “Farmers are the ultimate polymaths,” says junior student-farmer Nat Ross. “Being a sustainable food and farming major involves a lot of academic theory and reading, and I’m so eager to apply that knowledge in the real world. This program exposes you to a little bit of everything.”
Indeed, student farmers participate in every step of the process of running a farm; from planning what to plant, to weeding, driving the tractor, harvesting the crops, packing the CSA boxes and going over budgets. “We figure it all out together,” says Brown, including wholesaling the veggies to UMass Dining Services and four local grocery stores owned and operated by Big Y Foods, Inc.
Not only have CSAs emerged as a key link in environmental sustainability, open space, and rural community development, they also make good financial sense. Brown estimates that each $360/$400 share delivers what would cost more than $1400 dollars-worth of vegetables if purchased at a retail outlet. It’s also an exciting, hands-on educational opportunity. “I’ve never worked on a farm before,” says Zoe Kaplan, a junior communications major, “and I’m really eager to literally get my hands dirty and learn all the angles of what goes into a farm.”
For more information about the Student Farm CSA, including how to register for shares and the Early Bird Special, visit their website.