Keep current on gender and international agriculture

20 Oct Sorghum at its peak.

Agriculture is the largest employer of rural women in much of the developing world (FAO 2011). Yet women farmers often face gender-based productive constraints, largely in the form of unequal access to resources. The world’s female farmers own less land, manage less livestock, and use less purchased fertilizer than men; they are less likely to obtain formal education, credit, insurance, membership in groups or collectives, and improved seed and livestock breeds (FAO 2011). In many agricultural communities, female-headed households are less resilient to economic and environmental stressors and more food insecure than their male-headed counterparts (for evidence from Africa, see a recent working paper from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). As should be the case, multilateral agencies and research institutions are increasingly committed to redressing gender inequality through agricultural and rural development.

harvesting wheat (2)
An Ahir tribal woman in Nadapa village, east of Bhuj harvesting wheat.

Through my research on and off campus, I have amassed a collection of favorite agriculture-related blogs. Below are some of the sites that I use to keep current on gender issues on the international ag front. Enjoy.

1. Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health
2. Year of Gender news page of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
3. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI): Gender
4. Gender, Agriculture, & Assets Project of IFPRI and the International Livestock Research Institute
5. Gender & Food Policy News from IFPRI
6. Climate Change, Collective Action, & Women’s Assets from IFPRI
7. On Gender and Restoration: A case study series by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
8. Agroforestry World posts on gender from the World Agroforestry Center

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.

The Solar Panels at MacLeish

17 Oct
The Bechtel Environmental Classroom at Smith’s Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station is an energetically self sustaining building. All energy required to run the building is provided by the 9.4 kW solar array on site. The solar array powers the water heater, the space heater, and the lighting for the building. The U.S. Energy Information Association reports that the average American residential utility customer consumes 10,837 kWh/year. CivicSolar states that a 9.4 kW array generates about 13,600 kWh annually. Therefore this panel could support the average U.S. household. The solar array at the Field Station was designed and installed by the local (PV) solar cooperative. The tilt angle of the array needs to be adjusted monthly to maximize solar radiation. This is because the sun’s position in the sky changes throughout the year. On September 30th we adjusted the solar panels for October, to a tilt angle of 45°.
Working to adjust the solar array for October.
Interested in photovoltaics? Come visit the MacLeish Field Station with CEEDS interns on any Saturday afternoon. Sign up here In addition, the engineering department offers a class in photovoltaic and fuel cell system design that gives a more technical background for these renewable energy systems.

-Emily Dixon ’15

Emily Dixon is majoring in engineering with a minor in landscape studies. She is excited to work at MacLeish as a CEEDS intern. During her first semester at Smith she was introduced to the field station through Paul Wetzel’s lab for BIO 155 Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation.

Agriculture and transboundary infectious diseases – the Ebola crisis

14 Oct

20141010-BABY-slide-MFC3-videoSixteenByNine1050_NYTPhoto: Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

International Food Policy Research Institute Director General Shenggen Fan has authored an opinion piece on the implications of the Ebola crisis for food systems in West Africa. The article, Preventing an Ebola-Related Food Crisis, was posted to IFPRI’s DG Corner blog on October 9th.

Agricultural production, food importation, labor availability, and local trade have been significantly upset in many regions struck with the virus. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 40 percent of farmers in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, have abandoned their farms since the outbreak, while cultivation has ceased on 90 percent of agricultural land. Harvests have been disrupted due to labor shortages as people fall ill, are quarantined, or are prevented from traveling freely. Consequences include decreased food availability and rapid increases in food prices: the cost of rice has increased by up to 30% in Ebola-stricken regions (World Bank 2014), while cassava has jumped in price by up to 150% in Liberia (FAO 2014). See the original World Bank and FAO reports for more information.

Fan offers his own recommendations for moderating what could become a large-scale food crisis. I assume this blog’s readership includes those who share my interest in evidence-based agricultural growth that is responsive to the needs of people – perhaps you also have thoughts on the implications of zoonotic epidemics for agricultural livelihoods, and what can and should be done in times of crisis.

I have more questions than answers.

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human health & nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.

Mountain Day and Maintenance at MacLeish Field Station

13 Oct

View of the Holyoke Range on the approach to MacLeish. (Photo by author)

MacLeish hosted a record number of Smithies for Mountain Day on September 29th and has been taking the past week as a resting period.  Student activities included hiking, enjoying the view of the Holyoke range around the fire pit, eating apple cider donuts, climbing the old apple trees in search of apples, taking on the new challenge course, and biking.

MHrange2View of the Holyoke Range from the fire pit area. (Photo: Julia Graham)

Last Friday afternoon, four CEEDS interns traveled out to Whately to fix a waterlogged section of the red trail with the help the Field Station’s neighbor Peter. We moved rocks from the parking lot using Peter’s great orange tractor and spread them along the section of trail that had been washed out. We enjoyed checking out the forest ecology in between tractor deliveries. It took the five of us about 45 minutes to complete the work, with much help from the tractor.

Anna, Ellen and Shelby, three STRIDE interns, work on regrading the red trail. (Photo by author)

We also did some maintenance of the fruit tree orchard in preparation for fall understory plantings and for building the comfrey utility bed. The comfrey will provide nutrients to trees and will be part of a research project with the Temperate Edible Forest Research Network. Much more work will be done in the coming weeks, including planting of comfrey and understory plants, weeding around the fruit trees, and applying white paint to the side of the trees to prevent harm from winter sun.

 flanigan comfrey
Comfrey plant in bloom.

Julia Graham, ’16 currently works as a CEEDS intern primarily at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station. She is the only student certified to facilitate the use of the challenge course at MacLeish. Julia is a Sustainable Food concentrator and manages to find connections between a lot of different things. We like that she asks a lot of questions and then shares back the connections she finds.

From Apple Orchards to the Big Apple, Smith Students Take to the Streets

23 Sep

Smith students rolled into New York City this weekend for the People’s Climate March, leaving the peaceful country setting of the College to raise our voices and join with communities around the globe demanding climate justice.

The People’s Climate March was slated to turn out just under a quarter of a million marchers in New York; the estimated tally after the fact exceeded 311,000, with hundreds of thousands more marching internationally in solidarity with the local movement. Smith sent a contingent of approximately 60 people–students, faculty, and staff who were ready and willing to take their commitment to sustainability at Smith to a larger stage.


As we stood, packed shoulder to shoulder in the blocks preceeding the start of the route at Columbus circle, I bore witness to dozens of joyful reunions between friends who came from far and wide to converge at the March. All along the route I marched hand-in-hand with close friends who had traveled with Oberlin, Cornell, University of Chicago, and University of Virginia.


Although students made up a massive part of the March, there were parents with strollers in tow, front-line community members, laborers, teachers, politicians, and celebrities to be sighted along the 2-mile route. Children wearing superhero costumes with cape lettering such as “Super Villain for Climate Justice” swayed on their parents shoulders; many laborers lifted signs demanding fair wages and food justice; there were politicians and celebrities who marched along the front-line.

DSCF5053 DSCF5083

This was a landmark event in the Environmental movement. Over the past few years I’ve heard the opinion voiced that effective, long-lasting policy change in terms of the climate will only come in the aftermath of large-scale destruction on a historic level as a result of the rapidly changing environment. I have shared moments working with environmental organizations and with my classmates here at Smith, in which the overall feeling of the group in terms of the movement has been so discouraged that we have just felt lonely, unimportant.

My feelings after the March were that maybe this was the historic event to change everything. I finally felt that we are not alone.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore student at Smith College from Alexandria Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food, and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread.

Summer of Fungi: Looking at Macrofungi Species Richness in Hemlock vs. Birch Forest

1 Sep

My summer research project with fungi began with my interest in the decline of the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) forest because of two exotic invasive insect species: the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae) and Elongate Hemlock Scale (Fiorinia externa). These two insect pests are likely to cause the die-off of evergreen Eastern Hemlock forests in New England in coming years, resulting in a transition of the dominant tree type in many areas to deciduous Black Birch (Betula lenta). With the help of my SURF advisor Jesse Bellemare, I decided to look at macrofungi species richness in Hemlock versus Birch plots at the MacLeish Field Station and a site in Chesterfield MA. Fungi interact very closely with the trees in their habitat either as mycorrhizae (a symbiotic relationship in which fungi help increase trees’ absorption capabilities), parasites or as decomposers of wood debris and leaves. Given these close interactions, the decline of the Eastern Hemlock could have substantial effects on the fungi community of the Hemlock forest and how nutrients are cycled through these ecosystems.

One potential difference between the fungi communities of Hemlock and Birch forests is how dead wood will be decomposed.  There are two major types of wood decomposition that fungi use to extract nutrients from wood.  Brown rot fungi species are typically associated with conifer forests.  While feeding on dead conifer wood, these fungi do not degrade lignin, a key component of plant cell walls, leaving the wood somewhat intact and retaining organic carbon.  In contrast, white rot fungi species do degrade lignin, leaving highly decomposed wood behind. A change in forest type from coniferous Hemlock to deciduous Birch could change the principle form of decomposition carried out by fungi.  This change would have dramatic impacts on the amount of carbon stored in soil and other ecosystem processes.

The learning curve for identifying mushrooms or fungal “fruiting bodies” was steep. The terminology was bizarre, featuring terms like umbo (a central hump) and squamulose (having small scales), and the sheer number of species that I found in the study plots was initially overwhelming. I quickly realized that making spore prints would be a valuable tool for identification. Using a large piece of glass and plastic drinking cups, I left mushroom caps gill or pore side down overnight to shed their spores, yielding some lovely spore “prints” on the glass below them. These ranged in color from pure white to rusty brown. Once I started making spore prints and gaining more familiarity with the common species, identifying species became like a puzzle, putting the various pieces of information together yielded a genus or species. Crumbly flesh, white spores, red cap probably a Russula species. Basal bulb and veil probably an Amanita.

Amanita specimen.

Amanita specimen.

Spore print.

Spore print.

This first part of the summer was fairly quiet in terms of mushroom diversity, but around mid July the tame, small surveys I had been taking suddenly changed. Rain is a major determinant of fungal fruiting and the wet summer contributed to a massive fruiting. Instead of collecting 20 fruiting bodies per survey I was collecting 92, and sometimes they were very wet and slimy. It was around this time that I became familiar with the smell of rotting mushrooms, which is often very similar to the smell of rotting fish. Some of my samples were also infested with small invertebrates, like springtails, maggot-like worms and slugs. I was convinced on more than one occasion that I was going cause a lab infestation!

It was also around this time that I began to find some interesting and beautiful fruiting bodies. It was exciting to find unusual new species yet to occur in my surveys: coral fungi with delicate branches, small brain-like mushrooms, big colorful boletes that turned bright blue when damaged and Lactarius species that gushed latex when cut.

Lactarius specimen.

Lactarius specimen.

Spathularia velutipes.

Spathularia velutipes.

Ultimately my surveys revealed that the Birch and Hemlock did not differ in terms of overall species richness in the early- to mid-summer. This finding does not mean, however, that some macrofungi species are not dependent on Hemlock or Birch. In the fall semester, I plan to examine the frequencies with which abundant fungi species occur in Hemlock and Birch plots.

-Aliza Fassler is a sophomore student considering a major in Biology. She is originally from Greenfield, MA and loves being outside (even in the winter). Aliza is excited to continue working in the Bellemare lab this fall.

Cook Your Own – with Produce from the Smith Garden

29 Aug

[This is one in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

This summer I held farms stand for seven times in front of Chapin House. When people bought the produce I had grown and collected, I asked them to share their names, nationalities (state of origin if they are American) and their email addresses. I tried to collect the ways people cook the produce from the Smith Community Garden and see whether they may have different cooking methods due to their different cultural background or customs. Here are some of the photos they sent me back.

Blueberries from Naomi

Naomi is a Smithie from Pennsylvania. This summer, she is a part-time intern with Polly, a botanic garden faculty. Her way of eating blueberries is to have them fresh.

Raspberries from Michelle

Michelle is a Smith alumna from Singapore. Her way of enjoy raspberries is to mix them fresh into a self-made raspberry yogurt.

Swiss chard from Mrs. S.

Mrs. S. is a Smith faculty member. She first sauteed the chard stems with olive oil and garlic for approximately five minutes, and then added the chard leaves for a few minutes just until they wilted. She also added a little lemon juice and parmesan cheese on top.

Chard dish from Fiona

Fiona is a current Smithie. She cooked the chards with olive oil, garlic, and salt. She enjoyed her chard dish along with quinoa, pinto beans, salsa and corn tortilla for dinner. She also cooked the stem and leaf parts separately.

currant jelly
Red currant cherry jelly from Christine

Christine is a Smith alumna. She is an American but her mother side of the family comes from Germany. She made jelly from the red currant cherries from the Smith community garden, just  one week before all the berries were “stolen” by the hungry birds.

Mustard mix dish from Junzhou

Junzhou is a Smithie from China. She boiled the stem and leaf parts together with hot water. She added salt and garlic after boiling the mustard mix. Her usual way to cook loose greens is to either stir-fry them or boil them.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with them.

Bring on the Bikes!

28 Aug

Smithies have been bicycling for over 100 years, with good reason: it’s fun, convenient, and usually the quickest way door-to-door for trips under two or three miles.

Smith bikes1Photo: Smith College Archives*

Now we know another reason to bike: it’s the most energy-efficient mode of transportation ever invented.  The automobile is the least efficient: driving cars produces some 1/4 of US greenhouse gas emissions, and 2/3 of all US trips one mile or less are currently made by car, so bicycles will play an increasingly important role in combatting climate change.  As an Environmental Fellow of Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability and Director of our new Environmental Concentration on Climate Change, I invite you to visit CEEDS to pick up a regional bike trail map and a “Go By Bike” safety info brochure, and to ride your bike!

SMith bikes2Photo: Smith College Archives*

You can read more in this column I wrote for the Amherst Bulletin and Daily Hampshire Gazette.

-James Lowenthal, Professor, Astronomy

*Used with permission of the Smith College Archives from the Athletics Subject Collection–Bicycles, 1920s–Box 1348.

Trip to MacLeish Station

27 Aug

[This is one in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

A tour in a mountainous region on a nice sunny day can be interesting. Plus, on a hot summer day, working somewhere under tree shade can be enjoyable. This is what I got to experience on a day this summer when the Botanic Garden interns lent some support up at the MacLeish Field Station.

The MacLeish Field Station is a 240 acre property owned by Smith College, used for both academic research and leisure activities. I visited the Station once last fall with the Smith Outdoor Adventure team. Different from the yellow leaves and cool wind weather of fall, the MacLeish Station has a special beauty in summer time.

I went out with the Botanic Garden interns to work at the field station for one day with the interns who normally care for the Station during the summer. We placed cardboard on the beds created for planting new apple trees. This single task took myself and eight other students a whole morning to complete. In the afternoon, we added wood chips on top of the cardboard. I kept thinking that it’s somehow shameful how little help I provided, but after all the work to clear out weeds, I really was astonished to see how much change we had made. This is part of the beauty of gardening – the surprise you get after you’ve been focusing on a small spot of soil for a long time and then lifting up your eyes to see the whole picture.

Here are some photos from the day.

apple treeThe apple orchard we worked on.

Dan Ladd tree graftingArtist in Residence Dan Ladd’s tree grafting installation.

The observatory at the station

view of range
The view to the Holyoke range that we got to enjoy.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with them.

Sustaining Ourselves and our Communities

25 Aug

[This is one in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

I come from China, a country with a large population but limited food supply. Due to the astonishingly rapid progress of urbanization in China, the agricultural lands available for cultivation have decreased significantly, resulting in an increasing number of people who either suffer hunger or eat food with undesirable quality every day. However, some low-quality foods isn’t derived from natural limitations, such as the richness of soil or the humidity of the growing area, but instead is the result of cost cutting measures and use and abuse of chemical herbicides or fertilizers.

The first time that I heard about the term sustainability was when I worked in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Beijing, China. CSA farms have been settled in many countries and regions in the world. Having a CSA farm in your neighborhood infers that you will then have a greater chance to get access to high-quality, fresh, and organic local food. Purchasing a membership in a CSA is an investment in the local farm; the farmer gets your money up front, and, depending on the CSA you are joining, you are guaranteed a weekly “share” of whatever fresh vegetables, fruits, or meat is harvested from the farm. Each CSA is unique, but the ones I am familiar with deliver shares to member houses or drop them off  at neighborhood locations bi-weekly or weekly. Shares usually include 7-10 different types of produce, at least enough for a family of two. You can even request more of one kind of vegetable in place of another.

In order to find a way to produce “green” food in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, I spent a summer living and working on Little Donkey farm, a CSA farm in Beijing, China. There I learned how to recycle the rotten fruits, vegetables and certain types of weeds as components in organic fertilizers, how to use scented herbs instead of bug spray to protect agricultural products from pests, how to manage the farm as a self-sustainable area by saving as many products from the previous procedure to the next steps, and etc. At the CSA farm I worked, members understood that while their membership guaranteed that they would share in all the farm’s successes, it also meant they would share in the failures, too. For example, when the chickens produced fewer eggs but the potato harvest was greater than expected, members accepted that they would receive potatoes in place of eggs in their shares.

Before I worked on the CSA farm I used to believe that sustainability and food security were impossible problems to address. Though both are issues that affect everyone on earth the problems are way too big for me to solve or even worry about. However, now I have come to believe that no matter how big or small, tasks always require team work to be achieved. By helping garden at Smith and becoming a member in a CSA farm, for example, I am able to influence more people to follow my behaviors and spread more awareness of sustainability and food security issues.

Examples of CSA farms near Northampton for a good day tour:

Crimson and Clover Farm
215 Spring St, Florence, MA 01062

Mountain View Farm
393 East St, Easthampton, MA 01027


Enterprise Farm
72 River Rd, South Deerfield, MA 01373

Small Gifts Farm
1089 N Pleasant St, Amherst, MA 01002

Red Fire Farm
7 Carver St, Granby, MA 01033

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with them.


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