Notes from the Field Station: Student Involvement in MacLeish Site Design

1 Dec

This week I will be focusing on Smith student Tia Novak (’13) and her involvement in the permacultre designs that will be implemented in conjuncture with the Bechtel Environmental Classroom.

Students Tia Novak '13 and Brittany Innis '13, caught on film on a hot day in the Botanic Garden flower bed this past summer. (

Having been surrounded by impassioned horticulturists and landscape designers throughout her youth, Tia found it impossible to resist the fascinating world of plants, their innovative evolutionary adaptations, and how we cultivate and interact with them. Now at Smith, Tia is a Biology and Environmental Science & Policy major, who is also pursuing the new Sustainable Food Concentration.

Throughout her undergraduate experience, Tia has become increasingly interested in agriculture, given that it is a fundamental necessity for human existence, yet also one of the largest consumers of natural resources and producers of environmental pollutants. Especially, Tia was struck with the need to supply tangible, grounded solutions for the every growing problems facing big agriculture in the United States, while taking into account economics, social perspectives, and even just the day-to-day challenges facing the modern American farmer.

Trellised Orchard

After receiving some background in botany this summer as an intern at the Smith College Botanic Garden, she decided to take an agriculture class at UMass so she could “get a taste of what growing a crop was like”. Newly enrolled in “Deciduous Orchards” this fall, Tia was presented with the challenge of designing her own hypothetical orchard, including species selection, layout, pest control systems, and pricing out the entire project. Having some knowledge of the construction underway at the MacLeish field station Tia proposed to Reid Bertone-Johnson (the Field Station Manager) that, using this class assignment as a guide, she could design an orchard for the field station. She believed the implementation of an orchard at this site could serve as a learning tool for horticulture or natural science classes and provide the dining halls with produce, in addition to satisfying the productive agriculture requirement of the LBC imperatives.

Tall Spindle Orchard

The proposed orchard will be on a 2.5 acre plot northwest of the Bechtel Environmental Classroom next to the proposed parking lot. The orchard will be organic, using only benign sprays to prevent bacteria, fungal and insect pests. The design will incorporate various aspects of integrated pest management (IPM), such as “trap trees” for Plum Curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar), to expand the horticulture classes IPM experience. Smith alumni Jodi Lew Smith from High Mowing Seeds is advising in organic IPM and in the selection of disease resistant varieties. The planting plan will include disease resistant apple varieties such as Liberty, heirloom English-origin Russet varieties, Honeycrisp, Zestar, and Snowsweet, potentially with the addition of some varieties of peach and asian pears. As this project is geared to education, in addition to sustainability and productivity, Tia plans to combine a variety of rootstock and planting systems (such as the tall spindle and Y-trellis systems). The overall goals for the design are to maximize space and food production while being mindful of the use of water, materials, and energy in creating an education-oriented setting.

Assisting Tia in her research efforts for this project is Stride student Ellena Baum, ‘14, who is also beginning design work on another aspect of the site’s permaculture gardens, located to the north of the classroom.

This is an incredibly exciting project, and I can’t wait to see every Smithie’s favorite Mountain Day tradition become a delicious educational opportunity. Coming up soon we have another construction update- so stay tuned! Things are really starting to take shape out there at the field station.

Just for fun: Below is a UMass archives photo I found- check out the skis and snowshoes!

Winter school class in pomology students pruning apple trees in M.A.C. orchards (

Jessa Finch (’12)

CEEDS MacLeish Intern

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