Eliot Coleman’s definition of organic


colemanThe popular press defines organic farming by the toxic chemicals it rejects.

A more accurate portrayal defines organic by the biological systems it embraces.

  1. Real organic farming is based on the creation and maintenance of a biologically active fertile soil.
  2. Organic farming succeeds because of the benefits derived from that fertile soil.

Successful production of pest-free plants and animals with active immune systems is a direct outcome of farming a biologically active fertile soil that has been shown to induce pest and disease resistance in the crops. Pesticides are rejected because they are not needed where # 1 is done correctly.

  1. Extensive modern scientific research into the marvelously complex soil micro-biome is revealing the vital ecological processes that support organic agriculture. This research underscores the intuitive brilliance of the founding organic farmers.
  2. As a bonus, truly fertile soil produces food of the highest nutritional quality. This was the foremost initial aim of the soil care techniques that became organic farming.
  3. Soil fertility does not require inputs from off the farm. It can be endlessly self-renewed with farm-derived compost, crop rotations, green manures, cover crops, grazing livestock, and other time-honored soil-care practices that nurture the boundless energy and logic of the earth. Real organic farming focusses on redesigning agricultural production methods rather than merely substituting organic inputs for chemical inputs.
  4. Deep rooting grass and legume pastures in the rotation help to maintain fertility and make available the almost inexhaustible mineral supply from the lower levels of the soil. Grazing livestock benefit the soil; pasture raising benefits the livestock.
  5. Most significant of all, since the biological systems of the real organic farm are powered by ecologically sound management – rather than by purchased inputs – this food production system is accessible at no cost by farmers everywhere and can thus feed the planet with exceptional food in perpetuity. That clear path to a bounteous well-fed future for mankind will remain neglected if we allow any misunderstandings about – and subversions of – the foundational concepts of real organic farming to go unchallenged. CAFOs for livestock and hydroponic fruit and vegetable production are NOT organic.

Do you agree?

If you want to explore this topic in more depth and learn some practical skills along the way, check out our fall online class,

STOCKSCH 320 – Organic Vegetable Production Online

All of our online classes cost $482/credit…. for more information, click on the class link above.

Do you have a “BS job”? Have you thought about farming?

Excerpts from The Economist interview with David Graeber, author of..


The Economist: What is a “bullshit job” and can you give a few examples?

David Graeber: A bullshit job is one that even the person doing it secretly believes need not, or should not, exist. That if the job, or even the whole industry, were to vanish, either it would make no difference to anyone, or the world might even be a slightly Continue reading Do you have a “BS job”? Have you thought about farming?

Why We Can’t Separate Justice and Sustainability in the Food System



Most of us wish we could eat with the confidence that everything on our plate has a story we can feel good about, a story about taking care of both people and the environment. In the food system (as elsewhere) these twin issues, justice and sustainability, have often been talked about as if they were unrelated, independent problems with separate solutions.

This disconnect has consequences. Our understanding of the connections between justice and sustainability shapes our work in the food system and determines our chances of making real progress toward our goals. We know that industrial agriculture–large-scale, highly mechanized monoculture farming systems making intensive use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers–does not meet these aspirations. We know that the food system with industrial agriculture as its foundation does not protect the environment, does not protect human health, and doesn’t produce enough nutritious food or distribute it equitably. Sustainability and justice are connected, in part, because injustice and Continue reading Why We Can’t Separate Justice and Sustainability in the Food System

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: https://www.umass.edu/online/stockbridge/sustainable-farming-degree


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


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
Email: tsben1@eco.umass.edu 

For more information, see these resources:

Technology: please review the following.

Supported Browsers and Java Versions (Windows PC and Mac)
Please see the Blackboard Help page for the most current supported and unsupported browsers.

System Requirements: PC / Compatible Windows

  • Windows XP (32/64-bit), Windows Vista (32/64-bit), Windows 7, or Windows 8
  • 800 MHz processor (2 GHz or higher recommended)
  • 512MB of RAM (2+ GB recommended)
  • Cable or DSL connection. (dial-up modem is not recommended)
  • 500 MB free hard disk space (2 GB recommended)

System Requirements: Mac

    • Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or higher
    • 867 MHz processor (2 GHz or higher recommended)
    • 512MB of RAM (2+ GB recommended)
    • Cable or DSL connection (dial-up modem is not recommended)
    • 500 MB free hard disk space (2 GB recommended)

NOTE: for more information, see Technical Support.


This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program and will count toward other UMass degree programs.   Online classes cost $482/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 (https://localfoodeconomics.com/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, pesch@umn.edu

Permanent link to abstract and PDF: https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2019.08C.006

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.