The UMass Amherst Student Farm gives agricultural students a first-hand farming and learning experience. For the first time in the program's eight-year history, students harvested summer-grown crops this month.
The six-acre site on River Road in South Deerfield now produces 36 different kinds of certified organic vegetables for the UMass Dining Commons. Since 2012, the students' crops have also been available at Big Y World Class Supermarkets in Northampton and Amherst.
"In our program, I think this is the best way to get real hands-on experience for farming and seeing the whole cycle of how farming works," said Duncan Fuchise, a senior in the UMass agriculture program.
Since the program's humble beginning in 2007, the farm continues to grow and students are eager to continue learning. About 12 to 15 students are accepted into this hands-on farming program each year. Many of the students have never worked on a farm before signing up for this five-credit course.
Students typically start harvesting in September as students return to campus for the fall semester.
"This year this group decided to add this one acre of summer production now that we have a market for it," said Amanda Brown, farm manager and instructor with the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture. "The UMass Dining Commons said, 'sure we'd love to take your produce.' Everyone has just been so supportive of what they're doing."
Two years ago, Big Y World Class Supermarkets stepped in to lend their support, offering their stores to sell their product, and add another dimension to their education. Last year, Big Y added to their commitment with a five-year, $150,000 contribution to the farming program.
"You can plan, plant, cultivate and harvest the crops, but then you need to go to market," said Kevin Barry, produce manager of Big Y World Class Supermarkets. "That's where we provide our retail perspective to the students and what they need to do to actually sell their product."
Last year, an estimated 300 pounds per week for 10 weeks was delivered to Big Y stores in Amherst and Northampton. This year's new summer harvest includes cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and carrots.
"It's been very satisfying," said Fuchise. "It's been a few months since we've planted all this stuff, so it's great to see everything coming in and growing well. It's really awesome to see."
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