Tag Archives: farming

Controlled Rot: Growing Mushrooms at MacLeish

27 Apr

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” goes the proverbial phrase used to encourage making the best of what one has. At the MacLeish Field Station we have lots of forest that provides much shade. So why not grow food that does not require full sun—such as mushrooms? In April, eight students spent an afternoon inoculating logs with both blue oyster and shitake mushroom spawn. Their work was part of an agroforestry demonstration project being established this year at the Field Station.

Alexandra Davis ’18 and Lilly Williams ’18 drill logs in preparation for inoculation.

Inoculating logs is relatively simple. Holes drilled into recently cut logs are filled with mushroom spawn and then sealed with cheese wax.

Tracy Rompich ’21 inoculates logs with shitake spawn.

Tess Abbot ’20 and Molly Peek ’18 seal the spawn in the logs with cheese wax.

After being labeled, the logs are all stacked in the shadiest part of the forest. Over the 12 months the fungi will grow and spread throughout the logs, becoming well established, and hopefully begin fruiting mushrooms that we can harvest next summer!

Preparing hot chocolate for all the volunteers on the beautiful spring day are,
from left, Lily Williams, Molly Peek, Alexandra Davis, and Diana Umana ’19.

Garden Inspiration

27 Jul

Hi everyone!

My name is Danielle and this summer I’m working as the garden manager at the Community Garden on campus. Come fall I’m going to be a senior somehow but I still have a few more months of denial first. As was mentioned in an earlier post, I’m an Economics major (no idea how that happened) and I’m also IMG_2624in the Sustainable Food concentration. My favorite food right now is cereal because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in forever and it’s the perfect way to settle in and cool down after an afternoon of weeding my beloved garden.

I ended up here, covered with an intricate web of tan lines, perpetually aware of the dirt wedged under my fingernails, and eating cold cereal out of a coffee mug at 8 pm, through a long series of fortunate, random circumstances. I proudly come from a family of farmers. Growing up, I thought that, like me, all of my classmates had farms outside of town, that they would visit their farms on the weekends and would be welcomed by the choking aroma of manure that seemed to cloud the atmosphere, followed by warm cookies and milk fresh from the cow. It wasn’t until I was much older, after the farm had shut down, that I realized how special this part of my life was.

Of course, given that I was only a kid at the time, my memories of jumping on hay bales (imagine the lava game but x1000) and kissing calves straight on the mouth (because germs are whatever) are overly romanticized. My grandparents, together with my mom and her five siblings, all worked extremely hard. The cows required milking twice a day every single day of the year. That meant every day before school, every Christmas morning before presents, in blizzards and sweltering New England humidity. And they were extremely poor. As with most families who depend on agriculture, survival of the family was closely tied to the survival of the farm. Yet despite everything that was put into it and despite everything that it produced (probably about 100 million pints of ice cream, and also severe arthritis for some), the farm as a business was not viable in the end.

The story of this farm, though not uncommon in the grand scheme of things, has been extraordinarily influential in many of my endeavors since its closure. Apart from the wonderful memories, the farm gave me a deep respect for one of the most unappreciated professions of all time: the production of the food we eat every day. I had always been a bit obsessed with food (and still am, and I strongly encourage everyone else to be), but it wasn’t until I made the connection that all of the food on my plate, in the pantry, and at the grocery story actually came from somewhere and, more importantly, someone that everything changed. I kid you not, sometimes I look at an ear of corn and see a human face.

Since then, I’ve used food as a sort of lens into a world that may otherwise have been inaccessible. At Smith, this has manifested in incredible discussions about the invisible forces that create our food systems, neoliberalism and international trade policies, the role of agriculture in sustainable development, the effects of climate change on the livelihood of farmers everywhere, slavery and foundations of exploitative agricultural labor practices in the US, systematic racism and issues of food distribution in our cities, the untold stories of women in agriculture, powerful corIMG_2621porations, scarcity, and abundance. The question of food, from sustainable production to equitable distribution, is one of the greatest conundrums of our time, so as far as obsessions go, I don’t think it’s such a bad one to have. Last summer, it brought me to the Dominican Republic, where I had the unspeakable privilege of visiting a number of sugar plantations and seeing for myself the many layers of the controversy that has recently been in the news. This summer, it has brought me to this on-campus position supported by CEEDS and an internship at Grow Food Northampton, where I’ve had the opportunity to learn firsthand about what it takes to grow food.

Anyway, that’s how I got here, and with that I’ll end my first (long-overdue) post as Community Garden Manager. Stick around to hear me talk about something other than me, like the exciting stuff that’s growing in the garden, the people I’ve met, and all the new words I’ve learned! In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak:

Early days- volunteers planting and staking tomato plants.

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Tomatoes in July are starting to show some color!

Red currants ripening on the bushes.

In the area? We are in the garden behind Gillett House each Sunday between 3-6 p.m and would love your company!

NOFA Summer Conference

8 Sep

The morning of August 10th arrived bright and, well, early. It was, after all, a Saturday, and most of the Smithies I know (even those of us who genuinely enjoy getting up early – yes, 9 a.m. spin class, I’m looking at you) are averse to getting up before 7 a.m. on our blessed weekends. But this was no ordinary Saturday; I needed to make my way over to UMASS by 8 a.m. in order to register for the social event of the season: the 2013 NOFA Summer Conference.


And farmers, as you might expect, get to work early.

It was just a few minutes before 8 a.m. by the time I arrived at the Hagis Mall bus stop and made a beeline for the nearest campus map. Luckily, I was soon in good company; a fellow (flannel-clad) passenger was also NOFA-bound, so together we managed to find our way through the huge concrete structures to the registration tents at the Northwest tip of campus.

There we were given our very own NOFA name-tags and workshop booklets. And what variety they had: everything from “GMO Health Dangers & Legislative Initiatives in N.E.” to “Growing Figs in Cold Climates” to “Goat-sniffing: Holistic Herd Management”. There were medical talks on how to care for all of the aches and pains accumulated though farming, foraging walks that pointed out useful wild edibles and fibers, and quite a bit on the business and marketing side of Ag, along the lines of “The Efficient Farm Office” .

How difficult to chose between them all!

Would I miss out by going to a talk with a good presenter versus a more academic lecture. Could I really live with myself if I went exclusively to workshops on goats? Or Fungi?

So instead of traipsing over to the “Wild World of Mushrooms”, I decided that I needed to attend some “school-y” talks that focused on, say, irrigation methods in New England clay soil, and would then reward myself with something silly like “Cheese Tasting and Describing”.

I pegged down “Crop/Cover Crop Rotations and Tillage Reduction” for my 8AM workshop and sped my way down to the Campus Center, already a few minutes late. Most of the workshops were in this vast brutalist building, but a smaller conference was also under way for teens and yet another for kids (involving quite a few more live plants and copious amounts of dirt). There were also some location-specific events that took place on local farms,  in the livestock pens of the UMASS farm, or (as was the case of “Homemade Raw Milk Products”), in the UMASS Worcester Dining Hall.

This first panel was led by a relatively new farmer, who had built her farm in the last few years. She was educated, flannel-wearing, and enthralled with the romance of the farm – part of the new wave of young, middle-class farmers who seemed a marked contrast from the older I’ve-been-hoeing-since-Nixon-was-still-a-respected-politician types.

We got some great info  from the presenter – which cover crops to pair with your veggies; good combinations of mowing, tarping, and cropping to reduce tillage;  even flame-torching to kill weeds – but I felt myself get a bit itchy.  Thankfully, one thing you immediately notice about a NOFA conference is the informality of the events. People just sort of throw in questions, many taking notes in three-ring notebooks, add comments from their own experience, and walk in and out of the talks with some regularity. So I snuck out of the back door to have a look at something goat-related.

“Grazing Basics” detailed all of the management fundamentals of intensive grazing and was led by the knowledgeable Mike Ghia, who is a former Grazing Technical Assistant with UVM. I sat enthralled for the next hour, taking notes on the different strategies of grazing ruminants and talking with the highly-experienced sheep herder next to me, who had quite a lot of amusing things to say about the presentation. She was perhaps 60 years old, with the no-nonsense competence and worn generosity that immediately made you comfortable, and she was willing to answer all of my questions (even the stupid ones) after the workshop ended. So it was with NOFA: again and again I came into contact with the most extraordinary and wonderful people and they all seemed willing to share freely their knowledge and expertise. Farming is awfully hard work, and nobody appreciates this more than the dedicated souls who get out of bed in the dark to do it.

My next workshop – on Green Burials and the natural death movement – was just as fascinating. But getting the opportunity to chat with people from all over the region who do completely different types of work was extraordinary. That, even more than the amazing things I learned at the workshops, that was the best thing about my time at NOFA.


Before I headed home, I got a few minutes to peruse the other tents, both educational and business. I saw farmers’ markets, information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, agricultural and gardening books for sale, a poultry farm with fresh eggs, wooden bowls and pots, a company advertising their cow fences, and more than a few Agricultural Technology companies. I also was able to snag a few free samples of exquisite gluten-free pumpkin bread from a local baker, and the coffee was plentiful.

But my time had come. The PVTA was calling, and I slowly wound my way through the summer college construction back to the bus stop; my day of agricultural education had come to a close.  It would likely be a long time before I got the chance to schmooze with strangers about the best kind of chicken-wire and alternatives to rototilling in small plot farming.

Then again, January’s not such a long way off.

-Amelia Burke, ’15

Amelia hopes to graduate as a Middle Eastern Studies Major, Environmental Science and Policy minor, and Sustainable Food Concentrator (that is, if she resists the urge to run away to a goat farm long enough.) This was her second NOFA conference; she attended the NOFA winter conference this past January with Professor Paul Wetzel and a fellow Sustainable Food Concentrator. She will be spending the coming year working in agriculture in the West Bank. After graduation, she hopes to do field research on both traditional pastoralism and agriculture in arid regions of the Middle East, and the interplay between nationalism and the environmentalist movement in Palestine.

Sustainable Food Systems

21 Jan

This Fall Smith’s Sustainable Food Concentration took six students to the Glynwood Institute for a weekend conference on regional food systems. Glynwood invited students and faculty studying all things food and farming from the Culinary Institute of America, Vassar and Williams College to their farm and estate in Cold Springs NY. The weekend included panels and discussions with farmers, financiers, food entrepreneurs, community leaders and land use consultants working hard in the Hudson River Valley to create a stronger, more sustainable food system. Representatives from Glynwood’s Keep Farming program presented on some of the innovative projects developing in the Hudson River Valley as well as in the Pioneer Valley.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend involved learning more about the Hudson River Valley’s Wild Hive Community Grain Project. Don Lewis is a beekeeper, baker and owner of Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners, NY. Since 1983 Don has been working hard to bring high quality organic wheat back into regional, sustainable production. The Community Grain project has reached out to extension agents, farmers, processors, distributors, bakers, retailers, and restaurants up and down the valley to reconstruct the strong food system linkages necessary to support regional wheat production. This fantastic project has used a model Don calls “Consumer Driven Agriculture” to spur the rebirth (and subsequent growth) of the organic wheat industry in the valley. Now Don’s business processes 130 tons of grain annually, supports 80 acres of land in wheat production, and produces enough flour to make 1,000 loaves of bread a day. To learn more about the Wild Hive Community Grain Project, visit Don’s website at http://www.wildhivefarm.com/tag/wild-hive-community-grain-project/
Many thanks to Joanne Benkley, Paul Wetzel, CEEDS and Glynwood for making this stellar weekend a possibility! I had a fantastic time, ate superbly (thanks to very talented CIA students) and look forward to keeping in touch with both Glynwood and my fellow food and farming students at Vassar, Williams and CIA.
-Julia Jones, ’14, Environmental Concentrator: Sustainable Food