Land Grant revitalization at UMass

On May 3, 2012, the University of Massachusetts Faculty Senate unanimously passed a motion to create a new academic unit, The Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Faculty currently in other units in the College of Natural Sciences will move to the new School to help revitalize and refocus agricultural teaching, research and outreach programs in service to the people, businesses and communities of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This landmark decision will merge the popular UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program, the Bachelor of Sciences degree in Turfgrass Management and Science, and the newly restructured Sustainable Horticulture fB.S. program, with the 92-year old Stockbridge School which currently offers a 2-year associates degrees in the areas of Arboriculture, Equine, Landscape Contracting, Turf, and two new programs in Sustainable Horticulture and Sustainable Food and Farming.  The “new” Stockbridge School will allow the University of Massachusetts to celebrate its roots as “Mass Aggie” and thus affirm its commitment to the land grant mission.

Few people remember that the Land Grant Act of 1862 was an act of Congress signed by Abraham Lincoln that established the world’s largest public university system.  Public universities in each state of the U.S., serve the people of the nation.  This blog looks at the evolution of the land grant university system.

Americans have long valued public education. Early settlers built schools as cornerstones of their new communities, and leading farmers of the 18th and 19th centuries were known for their interest in public speeches and pamphlets (the blogs of that era) introducing and debating new ideas. Although the value of education has been recognized since the tablet writers of Mesopotamia almost 5000 years ago, public education is truly an American ideal.

Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner, native of Templeton, Massachusetts championed the idea of a public university to serve “the working classes” in speeches and pamphlets in the 1830s.  Support for Turner’s ideas grew among farmer groups, newspaper editors, industrial societies, and state and federal legislators. Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont introduced the legislation which would provide grants of public land (land grants) to be sold to finance a university in each state to “teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanical arts in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.”

This legislation represented a major shift in thinking about the purpose of higher education, which previously had been available only to the wealthy classes. The second Morrill Act (1890) further broadened the availability of higher education by providing federal appropriations to support “separate but equal” colleges for African Americans living in the Southern states. In 1994, Congress gave land grant status to twenty-nine Native American tribal colleges, thus continuing the tradition of extending the land grant ideal to marginalized peoples of the nation.

Although the need for a national system of agricultural research was identified by President George Washington, it took nearly 100 years for Congress to pass legislation creating the agricultural experiment station system with the Hatch Act of 1887. This legislation represented the second evolutionary step in the growth of the land grants. It provided federal funding “to promote scientific investigations and experiments respecting the principles and applications of agricultural science.” The research function was thus added to the evolving land grant ideal.

The third stage in the evolutionary growth of the land grants was accomplished with the passage of the Smith Lever Act in 1914, establishing the national Cooperative Extension Service “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics and to encourage the application of the same.”

President of the University of Massachusetts Kenyon L. Butterfield was an early champion of the land grant ideal. In a 1904 speech, President Butterfield made a case for the three land grant functions when he called for each college to support ” its threefold function as an organ of research, as an educator of students, and as a distributor of information to those who cannot come to the college.”

The UMass College of Natural Sciences remains committed to Butterfield’s vision of an integrated program of teaching, research and outreach.

Under the leadership of Dean Steve Goodwin, the College of Natural Sciences has created the new UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture which administers the agricultural research and extension functions of the college – and now adds the expanded Stockbridge School of Agriculture to continue its commitment to the land grant mission.

This mission is particularly relevant today as the world experiences the “perfect storm” of climate disruption, peak oil, and economic stress.  Scientists from the diverse fields of entomology, plant pathology, animal science, soil science and plant science have come together in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to address these major global issues, which are of such importance to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Students have recognized this as an opportunity and are gravitating to the study of sustainable farming working toward careers in local food and green businesses, urban agriculture, ecological landscape and turf care, and Permaculture.  The time is right for the re-emergence of “Mass Aggie” built upon its historical and timeless mission of research-based public service and teaching – but manifested in this cutting edge and future focused partnership between the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Its surely a good time to be an “Aggie.”  


Please share this post with friends.  For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more posts.  You may be interested in the 2-year programs in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major or other 4-year majors.  The UMass Extension program provides access to university resources to the citizens of the Commonwealth.



7 thoughts on “Land Grant revitalization at UMass”

  1. The “land grant ideal” of making useful knowledge available to all Americans through affordable undergraduate education, extension and interrelated research, has been tarnished by a limited view of scholarship which values research over the other two core university functions. Increasing criticism and declining financial support for public universities offer us the opportunity to initiate a radical transformation of the institution.

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