UMass Amherst announced this week that it’s expanding the school’s agriculture program. It will now offer a Bachelor’s degree in sustainable food and farming. The program was formerly a concentration within the plant and soil sciences major. The program harkens back to the University’s roots as an agricultural college.
UMass has grown considerably since its founding as Massachusetts Agricultural College – or “Mass Aggie” – in 1863. John Gerber, professor of sustainable food and farming, says over the past ten years there’s been growing interest in local food, and that, he says, has brought about a renewal of agriculture programs at the university, specifically in the area of sustainable farming.
“We’ve gone from five students in 2003, to over 75 students today,” Gerber says.
Gerber says in addition to core science classes like botany and chemistry, students in the major will study community-based farming, farm education, as well as public policy and urban farming. He says there are some job prospects for farming students at both for-profit and non-profit farms after graduation.
“But much more than that, people are creating their own work, maybe working with a local city council to create a new urban farm, partly a commercial farm and partly an educational farm center. These are the sort of thing our students are exploring.”
Gerber says sustainable farming does not mean the program exclusively teaches organic methods of farming. Last summer the University established a working farm just north of campus. Two of the other five colleges also have established on-campus farms: Amherst College is opening one this season, and Hampshire College has operated one since the late 1970’s.