Should we resurrect the American chestnut tree with genetic engineering?

Should we resurrect the American chestnut tree with genetic engineering?
These “sibling” pairs of trees only differ in whether they have the blight-tolerant gene. These are grown at the Lafayette Road Experiment Station in Syracuse, N.Y. TNS

Original Post in the LA Times – June 25, 2019

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The wild chestnuts around this leafy college town used to grow in such great numbers that locals collected the nuts by the bushel and shipped them off to New York City for a small fortune.

These days, though, it can be hard to find a single tree thanks to a devastating blight imported from Asia in the late 1800s.

“Every fall, I look for the burs,” said Neil Patterson of the Tuscarora Nation, a Native American tribe that has lived in the region for centuries. His ancestors depended on the trees for food and medicine. But in 10 years of searching, he’s never found the spiny pods that hold the chestnut’s prized fruit.

Soon, scientists at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry here could change that. They say they’ve found a way to resurrect the chestnut by giving it a gene Continue reading Should we resurrect the American chestnut tree with genetic engineering?

Sustainable Farming Grant Opportunities

Original Post – May 2, 2019


Grant funding announcements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been log jammed due to a series of government delays over the course of the last six months: passage of the 2018 Farm Bill was delayed by roughly three months, the last several appropriations and budget bills have been delayed, and the government shutdown earlier this year put USDA behind schedule on their farm bill implementation work. Now that Congress and the government are fully back in action with a new farm bill and a fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget in place, USDA is finally releasing stalled funding opportunities for the coming fiscal year.

Open RFAs are listed below in order of the application deadline (soonest to farthest out).

For more detailed information on these and other USDA grant programs, see

Continue reading Sustainable Farming Grant Opportunities

The Healing Power of Gardens

This is an excerpt from “Everything in Its Place,” a posthumous collection of writings by Dr. Sacks.

As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.

The wonder of gardens was introduced to me very early, before the war, when my mother or Auntie Len would take me to the great botanical garden at Kew. We had common ferns in our garden, but not the gold and silver ferns, the water ferns, the filmy ferns, the tree ferns I first saw at Kew. It was at Kew that I saw the gigantic leaf of the great Amazon water lily, Victoria regia, and like many children of my era, I was sat upon one of these giant lily pads as a baby.

The Palm House at Kew Gardens in London.  CreditMike Kemp/in PIctures, via Getty Images

As a student at Oxford, I discovered with delight a very different garden — the Oxford Botanic Garden, one of the first walled gardens established in Europe. It pleased me to think that Boyle, Hooke, Willis and other Oxford figures might have walked and meditated there in the 17th century.

Continue reading The Healing Power of Gardens

Online Summer Classes in Sustainable Food and Farming

Its not too soon to check out our summer online classes at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture! 

We are offering this summer….

Term I (May 20 – June 28, 2019)

Term II (July 8 – August 16, 2019)

Full Summer (May 20 – August 16)

These classes may be taken individually or as part of a degree program.  For a preview of all of  all of our courses, see: Annual Online Class Schedule


Registration for summer is now open! 

How to Enroll in an Online Class

And to request more information, see:


Other Options: If you are not interested in earning college credit, there are many non-credited workshops and short courses you can take outside of the university.  For a list see: non-university workshops and courses.


The Largest Organic Farming Conference


Feb. 21-23, 2019 – La Crosse, WI

What is the MOSES Conference?

It’s the largest event in the U.S. about organic and sustainable farming, offering 60 workshops over 6 sessions, inspiring keynotes, engaging roundtables, and a resource-packed exhibit hall with over 170 vendors. Organic University, day 1 of the conference, provides full-day classes that dig deeper into specific farming topics.

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) is a nonprofit organization based in Spring Valley, Wis.  They promote organic and sustainable agriculture by providing education, resources and expertise farmers need to succeed.

The cornerstone of this foundation is the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference, the country’s largest conference on organic and sustainable farming. The MOSES Conference draws around 4,000 people each February to La Crosse, Wis. for more than 60 workshops, inspiring speakers, a two-floor Exhibit Hall, and organically grown food. You can find details about the MOSES Conference here:

They also educate farmers about specific farming practices through MOSES Organic Field Days. These on-farm events give farmers the chance to see firsthand how successful organic farmers manage their operations.”

Renee Ciulla represented UMass at the conference in 2019!

Sustainable Site Planning and Design

STOCKSCH 386 – 3 credits


September 3 – December 11, 2019

To Enroll – Start Here

The most fundamental role of the Designer is to inspire and solve problems creatively and practically. Site design is both an art and science. Landscape designers are place-makers and space-shapers. Sustainable site design considers the impacts to future generations of the design solutions we choose to solve today’s problems. By thoughtfully synthesizing site information, namely the natural and human factors that affect a site, we can create forward-looking design solutions that well serve both our human constituents and the natural world well into the future.

Course Description: This course will be an exploration into the fundamentals of landscape design with particular attention to integrating both existing and new buildings sustainably into their landscapes and with a view to reducing maintenance needs.
Students investigate sustainable design strategies that address the ecological, water, energy and food system links between buildings and their supporting sites, as exemplified by the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). Topics include: design principles and process, natural factors (e.g. topography, soils, vegetation), green roofs, green walls/vertical gardens, rainwater collection systems, native planting, edible landscapes and permaculture, sustainable forestry practices, post-industrial landscapes, and the
human use of outdoor spaces. Emphasis will be placed on cost saving techniques for creating self-sustaining, low maintenance sites. Many real world examples will be discussed.

This will be an introductory course focusing on the theory and practice of sustainable landscape design and planning. It is assumed that students have little or no background/professional experience in design or planning. The first half of the
course will rely primarily upon readings, videos, lecture and discussion. A five minute long mid-term student briefing presentation will be assigned and presented online. In the second half of the course students will delve more deeply into applying the design process culminating in a focused 10 minute long final design project to be presented online.

Course Objectives:

  • Gain understanding of sustainable landscape design principles and practices including natural and human factors
  • Relate sustainable landscape/site design to energy, food and natural resource issues and the built environment
  • Promote understanding of and hone communication skills related to, professional-client relations
  • Gain experience preparing a coherent sustainable landscape plan and plan set or related project

Instructor: Professor Thomas S. Benjamin, RLA, LEED-AP BD+C

For more information, see these resources:

Technology: According to UMass Online, in order to take this course you must:

  • have access to a personal computer (Mac or Windows)
  • be familiar with basic computer skills
  • be connected to the internet
  • have an e-mail program and account
  • have at least a 56 kbps modem
  • have a Java capable browser (Netscape or Internet Explorer)

NOTE: If you have any problems with technology, please contact the UMass Online Tech Support office for help.


This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program and will count toward the Associate of Scienceprogram.   Online classes cost $472/credit.  If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here.

More Online Classes

NOTE: The UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate has been declared eligible for Veterans Educational Benefits. For instructions see: Veterans Benefits.

If you are not interested in earning college credit, there are many non-credited workshops and short courses you can take outside of the university.  For a list see: non-university workshops and courses.

Small Farms Build Local Economy

JAFSCD Weekly Heads-up


Local food advocates promote direct-to-consumer food sales, arguing that these sales yield a variety of positive effects, including that smaller, direct-to-consumer producers have a greater economic impact compared to larger producers selling via wholesale channels.

NOTE: if you want to get started in farming on a small to mid-size scale, here is an online class offered by the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  STOCKSCH 266 – Farm Management Planning and Marketing ONLINE starts on January 22, 2019. 

In a new JAFSCD article, Ryan Pesch and Brigid Tuck examine this claim by exploring the relative economic contribution of small-scale, direct-to-consumer vegetable operations versus larger-scale, direct-to-wholesale vegetable operations in Central Minnesota. They detail the methods used to define the project, gather primary data, and construct the two production functions following the methods developed for the Economics of Local Foods Systems Toolkit.

This paper was published in the special issue of JAFSCD, Economics of Local Food Systems: Utilization of USDA AMS Toolkit Principles, co-sponsored by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and Colorado State University Local and Regional Food Systems.


  • The study participants grossed an average of US$9,335 per acre in vegetable sales and retained an average of US$4,192 after deducting annual cash expenses.
  • The authors’ economic impact model estimates that US$1 million in sales by sample farmers would generate US$1.6 million in the regional economy. In comparison, the default model from IMPLAN would generate US$1.4 million.
  • Sample farm operations spent more per dollar of input with other farm operators than the default economic impact model.
  • Researchers collaborating with community partners is paramount for successful implementation of methods outlined in the Economics of Local Foods Systems Toolkit (


  • As a study implementing best practices from the Economics of Local Foods Systems Toolkit, this article provides an example of how researchers, farm organizations, and businesses collaborated to collect primary data and model an economic contribution study.
  • The authors emphasize the importance of quality farm financial data, which the research team collected via in-person interviews. The primary challenge for collecting sensitive farm finance data is recruitment, and any research team should have a solid plan to increase participation.
  • Those involved with business and economic development should not overlook the collective impacts of small, local food farms that primarily market direct-to-consumer. Economic development officials often focus on firms that have the greatest footprint in terms of jobs or tax base. This research shows that small farms source a greater portion of their inputs locally than indicated by national benchmarks and may be deserving of greater development resources.


The findings are based on the farm financial records and spending patterns of 11 commercial vegetable growers in a 13-county study area that is primarily rural (only six of 13 counties contain a municipality of more than 5,000 people). Because of their distance from the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area (where half the state’s population lives), all growers in this study serve local, rural markets, primarily through direct marketing channels.


Full article: “Developing a Production Function for Small-Scale Farm Operations in Central Minnesota” in JAFSCD volume 8, supplement 3, pp. 1–10.

Date published: January 11, 2019

Authors and affiliations: Ryan Pesch and Brigid Tuck (both with University of Minnesota Extension)

Author contact: Ryan Pesch,

Permanent link to abstract and PDF:

Publisher: Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems in Ithaca, New York

Original Post


STOCKSCH 266 is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program and will count toward the Associate of Science degree as well as the Online B.S. degree.  Online classes cost $482/credit.

To begin planning for the future, see….

Annual Class Schedule

NOTE: The UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate has been declared eligible for Veterans Educational Benefits. For instructions see: Veterans Benefits.

If you are not interested in earning college credit, there are many non-credited workshops and short courses you can take outside of the university.  For a list see: non-university workshops and courses.

Grants for small sustainable farms

Small farms and agricultural nonprofits looking to fund environmental sustainability projects that reduce water and power use, increase pollinators, improve soil health, promote natural pest control, or extend their growing season can apply at no cost for a 2019 grant from The FruitGuys Community Fund beginning Monday, December 10, 2018.

Grants ranging in amounts from $2,000–$5,000 will be awarded to 10–20 farms in spring 2019. Interested farmers should read the eligibility requirements and submit a letter of intent describing their farm and proposed project before midnight on Friday, January 11, 2019. Twenty finalists will be notified by February 5, 2019, and provided with a Continue reading Grants for small sustainable farms

US farmers are increasingly terrified by climate change

Research forecasts Iowa corn yields could drop in half within the next half-century thanks to extreme weather – yet it’s not part of the political conversation

A US and Iowa state flags are seen next to a corn field in Grand Mound, Iowa, United States,
 US and Iowa state flags are seen next to a corn field in Grand Mound, Iowa. Photograph: Jim Young/Reuters

Farmers around here are itching to go after that amber wave of soya beans, but there was that 5in rain a couple of weeks ago and then a 7in rain, and it drives even the retired guys batty.

Those beans aren’t worth much at the elevator thanks to a Trump trade war with China, but they’re worth even less getting wet feet in a pond that was a field which the glacier made a prairie bog some 14,000 years ago – until we came along and drained it.

This year, crops in north-west Iowa are looking spotty. Up into Minnesota they were battered by spring storms and late planting, and then inundated again in late summer. Where they aren’t washed out, they’re weedy or punky. If you go south in Buena Vista county, where I live in Storm Lake, the corn stands tall and firm.

Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style.

Continue reading US farmers are increasingly terrified by climate change

Wendell Berry’s Right Kind of Farming

Wendell Berry                       Credit Steve Hebert for The New York Times

Agricultural choices must be made by these inescapable standards: the ecological health of the farm and the economic health of the farmer.

By Gracy Olmstead

How we farm matters. For the past two centuries, America’s farms have expanded and homogenized, and farming equipment and chemicals have replaced personnel. Farmers have grown older and more isolated and are retiring without successors.

Our embrace of industrialization and “factory farming” has not resulted in greater economic security for most American farmers. The nation has suffered a historic slump in prices for corn, soybeans, milk, wheat and other commodities. It has lost half its dairy farmers in the past 18 years. And The Wall Street Journal warned in early 2017 that “the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.”

The farmer, essayist and poet Wendell Berry has long argued that today’s agricultural practices are detrimental to ecology, community and the local economies that farms once served. A native Kentuckian, Mr. Berry has written over 40 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and has received a Guggenheim fellowship, the National Humanities Medal and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.

Mr. Berry argues that healthy forms of agriculture require intentional cultivation on the part of both consumers and farmers. Americans presume there will always be enough — money, clean soil, healthy water — to fulfill our desires. But our ravenous economic disposition goes against the very nature of our world and its finite resources. Advocates for sustainable agriculture argue that we ought to recognize the limits of our world and, as Mr. Berry writes, “live in it on its terms, not ours.”

Continue reading Wendell Berry’s Right Kind of Farming