What’s Growin’ On – Amherst Farms?

elenRepresentative Ellen Story and the Town of Amherst invite you to a open discussion on:

  • What’s happening in the Amherst farming community
  • What plans do you have?
  • What are your growing needs and how can the Town, the Sate, and the Amherst Chamber of Commerce help you?

March 14; 7:00pm-9:00pm in the Amherst Town Hall

For more information, contact:

Stephanie Ciccarello at 413-259-3149


Rebecca Fricke at 413-687-8722

Sustaining Amherst logo

Do you have to eat 100% Local, Sustainable, and Organic to make a difference?

localorganicWhen you think about making a switch to a local, sustainable, organic diet, does it seem overwhelming? Do you have a regular routine for shopping, cooking and eating that feels difficult to change? Do you worry about your kids’ meals, your finances, and what it will taste like?

Well, don’t worry! These are common questions and we will help you find answers that work for your family and lifestyle.

First of all, why should you make a change?

There are many reasons to incorporate sustainable food into your household and we are sure that one or more will resonate with you. Here are 10 to think about:

  1. Sustainable foods taste better. It’s true! Because sustainable food is local, it doesn’t travel as far as most conventional food. This means it is picked closer to its peak ripeness, allowing the flavors to be delicious and intense.
  2. Sustainable foods are healthier – see reasons 3 – 6! Continue reading “Do you have to eat 100% Local, Sustainable, and Organic to make a difference?”

Inspiration for our 100 Garden Challenge

Our “100 Garden Challenge project was inspired by the 350 Home and Garden Challenge of Sonoma County, CA.  Here are some of the background resources we used to develop this project in Amherst, MA.

  1. Overview of the Daily Acts Program in Sonoma County, CA
  2. Overview of the Homegrown Challenge (one of their projects)
  3. Summary of their 350 Home and Garden Challenge (a weekend of personal change)
  4. Guide to Community Organizing this project
  5. Project Report on their work

This work was funded partially through grants and business community support.  It is more ambitious than the objectives we have discussed but it provides a model. Participants would register their intent to plant a new garden along with their name and address.  This would be recorded, inventoried and included on a map of participants.  Homeowners would then be invited to a free workshop on gardening.  Here is one of the maps from the Sonoma County project.



Grow Food Amherst activities update

Grow Food Amherst founding member, John White, wrote about GFA;

“Our purpose is to promote the development of more gardens among Amherst citizens and greater awareness of where our food comes from among school children and all residents.  We have named our project The 350 Garden Challenge, and the scope of the endeavor is now available for the public to see at www.growfoodamherst.org.  There are several components to our efforts:

  • To encourage 350 residents, including youth, to participate in the project (join here);
  • To encourage the development of at least 100 new garden endeavors this spring – they can be backyard gardens, raised bed gardens, container gardens on a patio, or renewing an old garden (see link);
  • Expanding the School Gardens Project by planting more fruit trees and establishing gardens and gardening instruction at the elementary schools (see link):
  • The planting of edible crops in downtown locations and other public settings;
  • Offering two spring workshops on gardening, and a fall seed-saving workshop;
  • Offering more Gleaning and Cooking workshops this fall, as we did last fall (see link).

This will be an on-going project that we feel will have a significant effect on the quality of life in Amherst (and communities throughout W. MA as others become inspired to follow our lead) and the relationship between school children and families to the natural world.  It will also promote the concept of food security in our region.”

To help us reach our goal of 350 members this year, please join us!

Join Grow Food Amherst


Supported by:

Sustaining Amherst

Stockbridge School of Agriculture

UMass Permaculture Initiative

Amherst Residents


UMass to plant medieval kitchen garden in North Amherst!

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!

pickngcabbagdeThis 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.

[mappress mapid=”2″]If you would like to follow the development of the garden and/or be kept informed when we plan 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


This medieval garden will be one of the 100 gardens in the 2013 Amherst Garden Challenge sponsored by Grow Food Amherst!

Amherst unveils new Sustainability Website

By SCOTT MERZBACH Staff Writer   –   Thursday, February 14, 2013

AMHERST — Many residents want to pursue solar energy and other energy-saving initiatives for their homes, but aren’t sure what to do.

Many teenagers want to get involved in local and regional environmental efforts, but don’t know how.

Many business owners want to adopt practices that promote sustainability, but need assistance.

Sustaining Amherst logoAmherst Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello said she hopes a new section of the town website, called Sustaining Amherst, will answer such questions and give people direction toward sustainable living.

“We designed this section so that residents can go to one location to find the information and resources they need to live a more environmentally friendly and sustainable lifestyle,” Ciccarello said.

Sustaining Amherst, which can be found at www.amherstma.gov/sustainingamherst, is the result of several months of development by Ciccarello and Sally Miller, an intern from the Land Use and Architecture graduate program at the University of Massachusetts.

The website features nine navigation buttons to connect users to topics such as “Resources for Homes and Businesses,” “Sustainability Stuff for Teens” and “Kids Spot.”

For those interested in pursuing solar projects, the website gives links to getting a home energy assessment and contacting area professionals and technical assistance programs.

Children can pursue links to environmentally friendly games, projects they can undertake and fun facts about energy at EnergyStar Kids.

The external links for teenagers include Coastal Studies for Girls, a semester-long program based in Freeport, Maine, and Earth Force that helps middle and high school students encourage teachers to develop in-school programs that address local environmental problems.

Perhaps the part of Sustaining Amherst for which Ciccarello is most excited is the creation of five videos called a “Sustainable Tour.” Ciccarello worked on this with local videographer Lauren Erwin.

Each video has 10- to 20-minute tours of buildings, including the Lord Jeffery Inn and South Congregational Church, both retrofitted using techniques such as solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling.

Ciccarello said she hopes the videos will be inspiring for those who watch them.

The “Current & Proposed Projects” button links to town endeavors to be green, such as the polystyrene ban enacted by Town Meeting last fall following a recommendation from the Recycling and Refuse Management Committee, and the tree warden’s plan to plant 2,000 new public shade trees over the next three years.

“I hope people will find it useful, interesting and educational,” Ciccarello said.

A formal launch party for the website takes place Feb. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Town Hall.

The unveilinggfalogo comes as the town gets ready for Sustainability Festival, which will be held April 27 on the Town Common. Ciccarello said she is still soliciting vendors for the event, ideally people who have locally made products or items that promote a green lifestyle.

Ciccarello is also involved in the Grow Food Amherst project, which looks to get Amherst residents involved in the planting of 100 new gardens this year.

NOTE: You are invited to join the Grow Food Amherst mailing list simply by signing up here: Grow Food Amherst.  ———————————————————————-

Source URL: http://www.gazettenet.com/home/4433770-95/amherst-ciccarello-town-website

UMass Stockbridge Program and the Amherst Schools Partner to Grow Gardens

An article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette celebrated a new partnership between the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture and the Amherst School system (see below).  This is part of a national trend of teaching children about math, science, sociology (and life) using gardens.  Check out this short video!

And here is the local story…..

AMHERST — Wildwood School kindergarteners and Principal Nick Yaffe, sat in a circle Thursday around a hole in the ground where an apple tree was about to be planted.

Ryan Harb, coordinator of the permaculture program at the University of Massachusetts, who carted in two semidwarf apple trees, asked the children if they had ever eaten apples. Every hand shot up.

“The reason we came here and want to plant this apple tree is that we’re really passionate about growing food, so we wanted to give you an opportunity to grow some food with us,” he explained.

They shook out the dirt from the sod that Harb and his colleague, Tripper O’Mara, had dug up. One child found a large worm, and as his classmates gathered around to look at it, Harb explained that the worm had to go back in the hole to help break down organic matter in the soil.

The two trees, one a Macintosh and the other a Yellow Delicious, were planted 30 feet from each other on the green space between the school building and Strong Street. This is to be the site of a permaculture garden next year.

Thursday’s planting was the inauguration of a partnership between the Amherst public schools and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass.

Today, Harb and O’Mara are bringing apple trees to plant at Amherst’s two other elementary schools. This winter, they plan to help the schools design their gardens, which will be planted in the spring.

Site of the new garden at Wildwood

The ultimate goal is to have the schools grow some of the food that is served in their cafeterias, Harb said. A good model is Leverett Elementary School, where parents have constructed a garden and greenhouse, and each class grows different crops in designated beds and the project is integrated into the curriculum, he said.

“It’s like planting a seed,” Harb said. “We want to start a conversation about what we can do with all the land we have available at schools and in front yards, and whether we could grow food there. It could be something the community will enjoy doing.”

Harb supervises a quarter-acre garden outside Franklin Dining Commons at UMass, and it grows over 1,000 pounds of food a year to serve to students. The program won national recognition this year, including a trip to the White House in March, and about 50 other campuses have contacted him about starting their own permaculture gardens, he said.

He received a grant from UMass to extend his work beyond the campus, and proposed starting school gardens in a meeting with Superintendent Maria Geryk, who supported the idea.

Meg Rosa is a Wildwood parent who is on a committee planning the school’s garden. She said many families have said they’re willing to help weed and water the garden during the summer when school is not in session.

“It’s great to get kids out here and involved,” she said. “They will learn to enjoy food they grow and will learn about new foods they wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to. We’ll start something from seed and see where it goes.”

Wildwood School has children from all over the world, and one option is to use the garden to embrace multiculturalism by planting crops that are popular in their countries of origin, said parent Vivian Liu.

Yaffe said he isn’t sure how viable it is to produce food for the cafeteria, but it would be fun for the children to eat food from the garden.

“This will connect kids to nature,” he said. “Kids will be able to understand where food comes from and how to take care of the earth. Amherst has a strong tradition of farming, and we can connect the garden to the curriculum, science in particular.”

Next winter, Harb and O’Mara will help the schools decide what crops to plant, how big the gardens should be, and how to get water to them. They’ll talk about whether the apple trees can be grown organically, whether to start compost systems, how to get the food into the cafeteria, and what to integrate into the classrooms.

“It seems like a lot of people are really excited about this, and its success will depend on how many people get behind it,” Harb said. “It could be something that grows, just like a garden.”

By Nick Grabbe

Daily Hampshire Gazette

Thursday, October 25, 2012
NOTE: You are invited to join the Grow Food Amherst mailing list simply by signing up here: Grow Food Amherst.