Category Archives: Stockbridge School of Ag

Ag College Students Contribute to Local Community

One of the most exciting programs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today is an undergraduate major with a tradition that goes back 150 years and yet still serves the citizens of the local region by growing food, growing community and “growing” new farmers.

As local and regional food production in New England grows, so does enrollment in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture’s Sustainable Food and Farming program.  UMass graduates are engaged in creating ventures to relocalize the food system, build community, and reduce the carbon cost of shipping food long distances.

UMass began as the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863 and recently the former “Mass Aggie” was recognized as having the eighth best global agricultural science program and 3rd best in the U.S.  Levi Stockbridge, Hadley farmer and the first teacher at Mass Aggie, would be proud.

Building on its historic mission of practical research, outreach to the community and hands-on education, today’s Stockbridge School helps educate young women and men in ecological landscape management and sustainable food systems — crucial training in an era threatened by the impact of radical climate change.

Many Stockbridge students and grads believe that global trends and the need for enhanced food security will make the Food Solutions New England vision of producing at least 50% of New England’s food by 2060 a realistic objective.  Students and graduates both contribute to this goal by working toward careers in local food and farming, urban agriculture, permaculture, herbal medicine, community education and advocacy for a more sustainable and just world.  Most “Stockies” choose to complement their classroom work with real world experience, often in the local community, earning academic credit for this work as part of their undergraduate studies.

An example of a local business providing students with valuable real world experience is the All Things Local Cooperative Market in downtown Amherst, started by area people committed to the relocalization vision. Stockbridge students and graduates volunteer at this year-round farmers’ market, some selling products they produced themselves, such as organic eggs, milk, artisan tea, blueberries, fermented kombucha, mushrooms and other vegetables.

Other Stockbridge students volunteer with Grow Food Amherst, a network of neighbors and students uniting town and gown.  The vibrant local food economy of the Pioneer Valley provides a supportive environment for food entrepreneurs, and this project  engages over 450 local residents helping to move the region towards greater food-resiliency through education and action.

Building on Levi Stockbridge’s commitment to experiential learning, students in the Sustainable Food and Farming major are actively engaged in hands-on learning projects that contribute both to their own education as well as the local community. For example:

  • The UMass Student Farm is a year-round class where students manage a small organic farm and sell their produce through food service and retail markets — including a popular on-campus farmers’ market.

  • The UMass Permaculture Initiative has converted underused grass lawns on campus into edible, low-maintenance food gardens, winning the White House Champions of Change competition in 2012.
  • The Student Food Advocacy group and the UMass Chancellor signed the Real Food Commitment, which ensures that by 2020, at least 20 percent of the food purchased for the dining halls will be local, organic, fair trade and/or animal-friendly.
  • The Massachusetts Renaissance Center Garden is a demonstration garden open to the public, featuring the herbs and vegetables grown during Shakespeare’s time.

  • The School Garden Project helps K-6 teachers at nearby elementary schools create vegetable and herb gardens as living classrooms.
  • The Food for All Garden at the new Undergraduate Agricultural Learning Center is a student-led project that grows food with the help of Amherst community members, and distributes the food through Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center.

Stockbridge students and alums are committed to building a more sustainable food system focused on environmental quality, social justice and economic vitality. These young visionaries imagine a world where the bulk of one’s food comes from local and regional farms, and production and marketing costs don’t exploit either people or the land. Stockies and thousands like them around the world need help from consumers who are committed to creating a more vibrant, peaceful and sustainable world.  Americans on average spend less than 10% of our income on food.  Many of us can afford to invest in our children’s future by spending a little more on local and regional food, and by doing so improve our personal heath, community health and the long term health of earth.

Dr. John M. Gerber is a professor in the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture and founding member of Grow Food Amherst.  You may find more essays and commentaries on his regular blog at  This article was adapted from the original which appeared in the In Close Proximity column of the Amherst Bulletin and was sponsored by the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project.

Adapted from the Original:

Western Massachusetts colleges focus on clean energy and sustainable agriculture

energyagThe National Science Foundation has awarded 3 western Massachusetts higher education institutions a grant to create a collaborative program combining clean energy studies with sustainable agriculture.  This project will help introduce students to new technologies and sustainable practices at Holyoke Community College (HCC), Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The application of clean energy technology to sustainable agriculture is “a natural” for the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, where several colleges and organizations are available to assist residents grow healthy food and promote a culture less dependent on fossil fuels. Concern about climate change and food security are driving these changes nationwide, but western Mass is a “hotspot” for this sort of work.

One of the unique features of this project is the collaboration among three higher education institutions.  Holyoke Community College offers a unique 2-year Sustainability Studies program and maintains the highest transfer rate of community colleges in  Massachusetts. Hampshire College was established to focus on interdisciplinary and self-directed learning, and is particularly strong in agriculture and the life sciences. And the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the state’s flagship land grant university, originally founded as Massachusetts Agricultural College.  It is the home for the Stockbridge School of Agriculture Sustainable Food and Farming program.

threelogosIn addition to three educational institutions, the project has a wide array of industry partners to draw upon, both in clean energy and agriculture. The local, sustainable food movement has taken solid root in the Pioneer Valley. Those involved in this movement are predisposed to know how important it is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Over 220 farms are members of our regional Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) organization (which was initiated by a collaboration among Hampshire College, UMass, and several local non-profit organizations).  Many of the CISA members are already utilizing clean energy in their agricultural enterprises and hire college graduates.  Of these, 27 of local business have already joined the Advisory Board for the project.

sustagThe culture of agriculture is changing across the nation from large industrialized corporate farms to smaller, more ecologically friendly farms. Farming is developing as one of the most interesting career paths in New England, offering opportunities for young people to start their own business.  Many of these new more sustainable farms are utilizing clean energy technologies in their farming practice. Their desire to be more sustainable includes using less fossil fuel, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Training future employees in the use of new clean energy technologies will create a viable workforce for these farm enterprises.

logo-NSF-CMYKThe NSF grant will help support a new multi-campus 6-week summer class that combines the strengths of existing programs at each of the three schools: clean energy at HCC;  efficient heating and cooling technologies at the Hampshire College Farm Center focused on sustainable practices; and sustainable agriculture at UMass. This class will run from May 26 through July 2, 2015.  Tuition is free for qualified students from the three colleges.  This class is expected to create a pathway for those students who want to continue their studies in clean energy and sustainable agriculture to transfer easily from HCC to Hampshire College and UMass.

inStoreAnother large portion of the grant will pay for new clean energy and agriculture equipment that will be used by students from all three schools, including a micro-farm greenhouse demonstration and training facility at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center.  The micro-farm greenhouse demonstration and training facility will be managed by the UMass Student Farming Project, which grows vegetables for sale throughout the fall and winter.  The new facility will give students an opportunity to practice and learn energy-efficient technologies while producing fresh, local vegetables for the campus community.

Other funds from the grant will be used by Hampshire College to construct a moveable greenhouse and mobile refrigeration unit, both of which will be solar-powered. Students will build the greenhouses and also convert an old diesel tractor to be powered by solar energy.  HCC will be getting a solar-powered electric fence, composting and irrigation equipment for its sustainability and permaculture gardens and a small wind turbine.

Money from the grant will also be used to pay stipends to students who want to do summer internships with clean energy businesses or local farms.  This project will allow students to gain practical experience while earning college credit and preparing for work in the emerging field of clean energy and sustainable agriculture.


A Class will be offered during the summer:

Clean Energy & Sustainable Agriculture

Holyoke Community College SUS 220 – 6 credits

May 26 – July 2, 2015

Monday to Wednesday from 9:00am – 1:00pm and Thursdays from 9:00am – 3:00pm

Clean energy is becoming a priority as our global community faces the challenge of climate change. At the same time agriculture is changing to meet the needs of a more environmentally aware consuming public. In this intercollegiate and collaborative course students will learn how to apply clean energy technologies to sustainable agriculture practices. This class brings together students at Holyoke Community College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to learn a variety of emerging technologies. Topics will include solar, wind and geothermal technologies, ecological farming, greenhouse management, rainwater collection, root zone heating and considerations of social justice.

Tuition is free for qualified students from:

  1. Holyoke Community College
  2. Hampshire College, Amherst MA
  3. University of Massachusetts Amherst
  4. Greenfield Community College

For more information contact one of the project leaders:,, or

This course is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation


This article was co-authored by Kathleen Maiolatesi (HCC), Beth Hooker (Hampshire College) and John Gerber (UMass).

Science vs. Practice in the University Culture – the Stockbridge Legacy

From time to time, questions are raised about the value of classes which offer students the opportunity to engage in  “professional practice” within a university curriculum.  Some science faculty recognize the value of experiential emmalearning but question the worth of any experience that is done outside of a science laboratory.

Classes such as Draft Horse Husbandry for example, which is offered at the University of Massachusetts as part of the Sustainable Food and Farming curriculum are questioned as being appropriate for a major research university.

This blog was adapted from some writing I shared with my own university colleagues as Continue reading Science vs. Practice in the University Culture – the Stockbridge Legacy

A Renaisance Garden Grows in Massachusetts

AMHERST, Mass. – Visitors to the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst, MA this summer can enjoy the sense of traveling back in time to experience sights, smells and tastes of an authentic 16th-century kitchen garden, now open for tours.  UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture Sustainable Food and Farming students raised historic fruit and vegetable varieties to create the full-scale replica on the center’s grounds.

Many plants chosen for the 1500’s-era garden are based on research by recent Mt. Holyoke environmental studies and nature culture history graduate Jennie Bergeron, who steeped herself in Renaissance herbal lore at the center’s library to help plan the project, which was first envisioned by Center Director, UMass Professor Arthur Kinney.

“This garden is what we are calling a ‘pottage’ or kitchen garden,” says Bergeron. “It represents the utilitarian garden of the common family of 400 years ago and contains both herbs and vegetables, with a couple kinds of flowers, but mainly herbs that were used in the daily pottage food stuff of commoners.”

“Pottage” was thin, onion- or garlic-based broth made with whatever was available from the garden or farmyard to provide the staple meal of working families. People in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and other northern European lands grew such crops as garlic, onions, turnips, beets, cabbage, fava beans, leeks and carrots in “pottage gardens” in medieval and Renaissance times.

Bergeron, who also serves as the head gardener for the project, says most homes also had an herb garden. In addition, wealthier people could afford more than one garden for different purposes, such as a flower garden or “herber” for sweet-smelling blooms and plants. Herbs were categorized by their use: pot, cup, floor or distillery. Hops were grown for beer; fragrant plants such as angelica, anise, tansy, yarrow, evening primrose, coriander, mugwort, hyssop, horehound and vervain for flavoring food or for “strewing” on the dirt floor because they smell good or have anti-microbial properties.  The Center’s new garden has 49 different fruits and vegetables.

A special feature of the project was arranged by UMass Extension berry specialist Sonia Schloemann, who obtained small amounts of authentic heirloom beer hops and strawberry cuttings from the 16th and 17th century to come to the Renaissance Center garden from the USDA Germplasm Collection in Corvallis, Ore.

It will take a couple of years, but these small cuttings will be propagated by Stockbridge students in UMass greenhouses for use in the Renaissance Center gardens.  Strawberries in medieval times were much smaller and sweeter than the cultivars we are used to eating. But many other plants, for example herbs such as hyssop and anise have not changed much at all in 1,000 years. Many herb varieties we have today would be familiar to medieval gardeners.

Renaissance Center Librarian Jeff Goodhind has set up a display of books that Bergeron and her classmates used for her research, including a gardener’s almanac published in London in 1632 that lists garden chores by the month, a Latin “Dictionarium rusticum” or Rustic Dictionary from 1717 and a 1564 “Creuterbuch,” in German with hand-painted color plates, plus John Gerard’s famous folio of 1632.

The new garden, the adjacent Renaissance Apple Orchard and grounds are free and open to the public for tours and picnics from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Renaissance Center staff are planning an…

Open House on Saturday, August 17 from 10:00am – 3:00pm,

…as well, for those who can’t visit during the week. A plant list and map of the pottage garden will be available for visitors.

Be sure and watch this 3 minute video describing the project.

For more background on this project, see:

Special thanks to Janet Lathrop and Elizabeth Wilda from the UMass News Office for the press release from which this post was developed and the excellent video.

For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more posts.  If you like this project, you may be interested in the 15-credit Certificate, the 2-year Associate of Sciences degrees or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major in the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

UMass to sign the Real Food Challenge!

The Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA has agreed to sign the Real Food Challenge.  This will make UMass the largest university in America (serving about 40,000 meals per day) to sign the agreement committing the institution to assuring that 20% of the universities’ food purchases come from socially responsible farms and food businesses–what they call ‘real food.’

The Challenge was introduced to UMass in January 2012 with a presentation by the Real Food Challenge regional team in our Sustainable Living class.

Following this presentation a small group of students began to meet with university faculty and the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee to begin to explore the possibility of making this commitment.

The Executive Director of Auxiliary Services and the person responsible for managing food services on campus, Ken Toong (left in the photo), has made a major commitment to high quality, sustainable food, and was an immediate and vocal supporter of the effort.

Students mounted a petition drive, collecting names of other students, faculty and staff who were in favor of the university making a commitment to the Challenge and on May 1, met with University Chancellor Subbaswamy.  According to Sustainable Food and Farming major Molly Bajgot, “the Chancellor was enthusiastic about the proposal and we expect to host a public signing in the fall.”  The actual text of the commitment is linked here

The UMass Student Food Advocacy team of (left to right in the picture below) Rachel Dutton, Ezra Small, Lila Grallert, Molly Bajgot, and Hannah Weinrock, should be congratulated for their hard work and perseverance.

Students in the project earn credit from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to review invoices from hundreds of food vendors, investigating their commitment to Real Food.

According to Real Food Challenge leaders, “despite a growing interest in local, organic and sustainable food on campuses, little consensus exists on what makes food truly “good”…”  Further, they write…. “the youngest generation of Americans today will be the first in our nation’s history with a shorter lifespan than their parents, thanks in part to the food they eat.  Our food system is driving an epidemic of diabetes and diet-related disease, while also fueling climate change and the loss of our nation’s family farmers. The challenge is there’s just not enough ‘real food’ out there – it’s less than two percent of our national food economy. Fortunately our nation’s colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to address these 21st century challenges and help build a truly healthy food economy. With a combined annual purchasing power of almost $5 billion, U.S. colleges and universities have the capacity to significantly impact our nation’s food system through their decisions. Further, by educating students—our future CEOs,politicians, parents, and (yes!) farmers — we can cultivate the leadership and the ingenuity needed to successfully transition to a healthier, more sustainable food system.”

This student-led campaign is an example of how the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is leading the nation in creating opportunities for small, local farmers and encouraging change in the industrial food system.  Other projects and activities at UMass along these lines are:

  1. The UMass Student Farming Enterprise is a yearround class that gives students the opportunity to manage a small organic university-owned farm and sell their produce through a CSA, farmers market, and to university and private food service and retail markets.  See the video!
  2. The UMass Permaculture Initiative is a unique class and program that has converted underused grass lawns on the campus into edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable food gardens. See on of the program videos!
  3. Permaculture in the Pioneer Valley is a class, sponsored by the UMass Dining Services UMass Permaculture Initiative that designs and installs permaculture gardens off-campus in local elementary schools.
  4. A celebration of local food cooperatives was sponsored by Sustainable Food and Farming students introducing the UMass campus and students to work opportunities in local foods!
  5. There has been an “explosion” of interest in the Sustainable Food and Farming major, growing from only 5 students in 2003 to over 85 students today.

One of the most important aspects of student education is the emphasis on getting practical experience either with local farms and markets, or non-profit public policy and advocacy groups, and farm-based education collaboratives.  Practical education built on a solid foundation of biological and ecological sciences prepare students to explore creative options and good work Its surely a good time to be an “Aggie.”


Anyone interested in discussing this new major should contact Dr. John M. Gerber, Program Coordinator and Professor.  Many students have found the flexibility of the Sustainable Food and Farming major attractive.  Contact us or check out the major here and some videos presenting courses and topics of interest.

Renaissance gardens included more than food plants

My last post shared the results of research by six UMass and Mt. Holyoke College students who hit the libraries to learn about English cottage gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries.  What they learned was fascinating and is being used to design a Renaissance Era garden at the UMass Renaissance Center.

According to Mt. Holyoke College student Paula;

….gardens first became common after the ‘Black Death’ from 1347 to 1351 that killed an estimated 25-50% of the European population.  The plague left vast tracks of previously peasant-owned land untended after centuries of escalating food prices, famine and intensive food production whose abrupt halt due to the plague resulted in personal garden plots to be constructed near houses.  In addition to vegetables, these gardens would host an array of flowers and herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes.”

This post looks at a few of the non-food plants which are so much part of the story of the period.  While colewort (cabbage), leeks, peas, and broad beans were important in the English cottage garden, herbs, flowers and even strawberries were well-represented as well.

Abby wrote;

“Wild strawberries in Europe were very plentiful and grew like grass. They could be seen on lawns or in gardens between the flowers.  The flavor of the wild strawberries were much sweeter than today’s strawberries.  Strawberries also had a religious symbolism.  Celia Fisher wrote in Flowers of the Renaissancethe white flowers and red fruit stood for purity and for Christ’s redeeming blood. The three parts of a strawberry leaf reflected the doctrine of the Trinity, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were distinct entities joined in one God.”

Notice the bowl of strawberries in Allegory of Summer by Lucas van Valckenborch, c.1595. Flowers were also part of the English cottage garden, as Madeline wrote;

“The rose is widely recognized as the national flower of England. It was likely introduced to England in the 13th century in the form of Rosa gallica – or the “apothecary rose” which earned its title from its many medicinal properties. Preparations of the apothecary rose include rose hip jam, candied rose petals, essential oil, teas, and rose water.”

Madeline continued;

“…the symbolism of the rose has a rich history… medieval Christians cherished the five-petal geometry of the rose – a symbol of the five wounds Jesus received during crucifixion. The red color of the rose also symbolized the blood of Christian martyrs.”

The rose also had important political symbolism;

“The most famous example of rose symbolism was the Wars of Roses (1455-1485), which were a series of struggles between the House of Lancaster (symbolized by the red rose) and the House of York (whose emblem was the white rose). Both houses groups claimed lineage to the royal British crown.

Following the death Henry V (the House of Lancaster) in 1422 (and respective crowning of the psychotic Henry VI), England was in a state of chaos. This period was characterized by heavy taxes, lawlessness, and massive private armies dominating the countryside.

After Henry VI (of Lancaster) was eventually deemed insane, Edward IV of the House of York assumed the crown in 1461.  Edward IV died in 1483 leaving his 12-year old son Edward V in control. The regent (temporary ruler) for Edward V was Richard III of York who locked the young king in the Tower of London.  He was never seen again.

Richard III became king in 1483, but was defeated in 1485 by the Lancaster army and their leader – Henry Tudor of Wales who claimed blood relation to John Gaunt, the First Duke of Lancaster. Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII and married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. This marriage united the feuding Lancasters and Yorks and brought peace to England. Thus was born the Tudor Rose (sometimes called the union rose) which represented both houses and incorporated both red and white in their emblem.

The Tudor (or Union) Rose

Roses had a more pedestrian use as well during the Renaissance, as rose petals were used for strewing (that is spreading fragrant herbs about the house to release pleasant odors as they were walked upon).  Remember, people didn’t bathe much during this period and became quite smelly!

Please be sure and take a look at my first post on this project, Creating a Renaissance Era Cottage Garden in New England.

These stories about the gardens of the Renaissance and others will be shared at our new UMass Renaissance Garden.  If you would like to follow the development of the garden and/or be kept informed when we are planning events at the University of Massachusetts Renaissance Center, please join our “friends and fans” mailing list:

Join the Renaissance Garden Friends and Fans mailing list

We also encourage those of you who are knowledgeable about English kitchen gardens during the Renaissance and related subjects to share your own thoughts in the comments box below.  We would appreciate your ideas and may include them in the garden design.


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  If you are interested in sustainable food and farming, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And please check out more of my posts or my personal webpage.

Creating a Renaissance Era Cottage Garden in New England

Have you ever wondered what the garden of an English commoner might look like during William Shakespeare’s time?   Well, a group of University of Massachusetts and Mt. Holyoke College students did – and they learned quite a lot – often not what they expected!


This project, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Interdisciplinary Center for Renaissance Studies and the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, asked six undergraduate students to investigate what an English commoner’s garden might look like pre- and post-1492. Once the research was completed, we planned to design and build demonstration gardens at the Renaissance Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.

wh18_columbianexchangeWe began this project with a hypothesis.  We believed that the Columbian Exchange would have changed the way common people grew their food during this period.

Our original plan was to create two gardens, representing pre- and post-1492 northern European cottage gardens to demonstrate the impact of the Columbian Exchange.

However the students learned early in the project that New World plants coming to Europe after 1492 did not have a dramatic impact on cottage gardens in northern Europe until after the period we think of as the Renaissance.  Most New World plants were better adapted to the Mediterranean climate and those that did find their way into northern Europe were found mostly in the gardens of the nobility.  Aaron wrote in her research blog;

“…about 127 new plants came across the Atlantic from the Americas during the first hundred years after Columbus. These plants diffused through the Old World at different rates, mostly from the port city of Seville, where the plants initially arrived.”

Corn (maize) which is native to the Americas became well-established in the Mediterranean region within 20 years of being brought to Europe by Columbus.  Other warm-season vegetables such as squash, sweet potato and various types of beans, also spread through the region but did not find their way into northern Europe quickly.  Aaron continues:

“…other crops were not such an easy sell to Europeans. The sixteenth century tomato was little like the delicious, juicy red fruit we know today. It was small and hard, and very bitter.  The tomato and other Solanaceae plants (peppers and potatoes) were outright rejected by most of Europe because they were recognized, by their flowers and leaves, as being members of the poisonous group called the nightshades.”

Although plants from the Americas did arrive in Europe following the explorations of the 16th century, they did not become a significant part of the common people’s diet for some 200 years.

The nobility, on the ohenryfoodther hand, seem to have benefited from the Columbian Exchange.  Jennie writes in one of her blog posts, Henry VIII reined in England from 1509-1525 and according to John Harvey in Vegetables in the Middle Ages, “…there was a very marked enrichment of diet during the reign of Henry VIII and royal and noble tables first saw delicacies such as asparagus, globe artichokes, melons and apricots.”

labyrinthOne of the difficulties in learning about commoner’s gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries is that most resources focused on gardens of the nobility.  Clearly, most common people weren’t writing books at this time. Thomas Hill’s classic, The Gardener’s Labyrinth, was printed in 1570 and is still available today.  Hill’s book recommends gardeners employ a labyrinth garden design for aesthetic reasons.  He writes “it much availeth in a Garden to frame seemelye walkes and Alleys, for the delight of the owner, by which hee maye the freelier walke hither and thither in them…” 

Its not very likely that the kitchen garden of commoners were designed to “freelier walke hither and thither….”  Nevertheless, the student research (which may be found here) discovered quite a bit about the diet and the gardening habits for commoners during the Renaissance.  This and my next few blogs will share some of what they have uncovered.

One of the most interesting stories that emerged from the research focused on the common food called pottage (sometimes confused in the literature with porriage).  Jennie continues in her blog post:

“Andrew Boorde, Dyetary of 1542, states that pottage, NOT porridge, was most defiantly a primary food staple of England. Pottage has been commonly confused with the word and food porridge, but it is quite different. Oat based Porridge was not a primary food staple in England.”


“Pottage, also called Porray or Sewe, is the what we might think of as a watered down savory/herbal soup, consisting of different herbs/plants, grown specifically for pottage.  Pottage was cooked over a fire in a metal pot, water or stock from meat, fish or poultry was added and then the ‘good pottagersthat is, leaves of colewort (Brassica oleracea), leeks (Allium porrum), peas (Pisum sativum), and broad beans (Vicia faba) were added.

bavariaThe student’s research brought forth some really interesting ideas that we will include in our garden at the Renaissance Center.  We plan on designing a vegetable/herb/flower garden typical of the period.  We believe we can use the garden to tell some interesting stories about how common people lived (and ate) during the 14th to 17th centuries.

Of course, pottage plants will make up a good part of our garden at the Massachusetts Renaissance Center, as it represents a major part of the diet for English commoners.  Other typical plants to be included are garlic, leeks, onions, turnips, hops, and even roses along with many common medicinal and savory herbs.


To see part two of this series on the garden, see: Renaissance gardens include more than food plants.  And if you would like to follow the development of the garden and/or be kept informed when we are planning events at the Renaissance Center, please join our “friends and fans” mailing list here:

Join the Renaissance Garden “Friends and Fans” mailing list

We also encourage those of you who are knowledgeable about English kitchen gardens during the Renaissance and related subjects to share your own thoughts in the comments box below.  We would appreciate your ideas and may include them in the garden design.


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  If you are interested in sustainable food and farming, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And please check out more of my posts or my personal webpage.




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.