UMass and local farms: a flourishing relationship

Every week Joe Czajkowski travels two miles down the road with a truck full of apples, potatoes, and carrots to deliver to the University of Massachusetts. The high-rises of the Southwest residential area appear in the distance, just beyond his 300-acre farm in Hadley.  The vast greens of Joe Czajkowski’s farm and the many Dining Halls at UMass continue to benefit from each other.

Joe Czajkowski’s Farm is one of the three local farms that distribute to the university. Along with Czajkowski’s farm, Jiang Farm and the Student Run Farm in Deerfield also distribute weekly to UMass.

“Whenever possible we source locally, the colder months makes this challenging, but we continue to increase our percentage each year,” said Christopher Howland, interim purchasing manager.

The UMass Dining Halls receive 28 percent of local produce from the several farms in the area. In 2004 the percentage of produce used in the meals in the campus Dining Halls purchased from local farms has increased by about 8 percent. Czajkowski says nine – 10 percent of his total sales come directly from UMass.

“It’s been good,” said Czajkowski. “There has been some hard times but it really has made a difference in the valley.”

Buying locally has decreased the costs of transportation. The amount of fuel burned on campus has also decreased, promoting a cleaner environment.

As UMass increases business for local farms, owners, like Czajkowski provide the university with constant distribution. Whatever Czajkowski cannot supply to UMass from his farming operation, he’ll procure from another local farmer, said Howland. This cuts down the number of deliveries, but UMass still receives what they want from a single local vendor, he said.

Along with UMass, Czajkowski Farm also supplies to Hampshire College as well as many schools in Worcester and even in Boston. The farm supplies to businesses, farm stands, and local residents as well.

Czajkowski Farm was founded by Joe’s grandfather, John Czajkowski. The family farm originally grew tobacco, potatoes, and cucumbers but changes have been made since then. Czajkowski now specializes in fruits and organic produce. 100 acres of the 300 acre farm are certified organic.

Along with buying locally, UMass has made other initiatives to support sustainability. In 2011 UMass decided to dedicate the Franklin DC Permaculture Garden for growing food sustainably on campus. Run by 500 volunteers, the Permaculture Garden is about a quarter-acre directly next to the Franklin Dining Commons. UMass is one of the first public universities to have a Permaculture Garden that supplies food to its students. The garden was created to decrease the campus greenhouse gas emissions and help the university reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Over the years, UMass Dining has been looking to local farmers to produce the produce needed in the Dining Commons. By utilizing the local farms and the Permaculture Garden, we are supporting sustainability and promoting the local economy,” said Dianne Sutherland, umass dining services dietitian.

As local farms distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to the university, the Dining Services then renew their waste. In 2007, the Dining Services collected 475 tons of food wastes and shipped it to three local farms.  The wastes were turned into useable food compost.

UMass continues to buy locally, recycle, and promote a healthy environment.

UMass’s strong partnerships with local farms, support small businesses and provide the UMass community with healthy choices and a cleaner environment

“It helps a lot of business in the area,” said Czajkowski.  “It helps keep money in the local economy.”

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Hunger close to UMass? how to help

Kitchens prepare this week as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Many Americans stuff their bellies, but imagine being hungry? Students at the University of Massachusetts will have the chance to learn about the effects of hunger in western Massachusetts at an unusual workshop on Monday, November 21.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts will offer a Hunger Simulation Workshop: Food For Today in 620 Thompson Hall from 5:30 – 6:30 pm. The workshop will explain the effects of hunger in the region, and offer ways to stop it.

“We are hoping that this workshop will help students to better understand the root causes of hunger and the difficult experiences food insecure families have in trying to obtain healthy food,” said Margaret Hersey, a senior STPEC major, event organizer.

The Food Bank distributes 7.6 million pounds of food to over 400 food pantries, meal sites, shelters, residential programs, and youth and elder care centers.

One of four in the state, it serves the four western Massachusetts counties. The food comes from donations and government programs. Last year it provided food for more than 108,000 people, including the working poor, seniors and children.

A 60-acre farm in Hadley also provides 100,000 to 200,000 pounds of produce for the bank each year. Along with food distribution, the Food Bank works with many agencies and local school systems to educate residents about hunger in the region.

The workshop will incorporate a hunger simulation role play game, said Hersey. Participants get assigned a character and a character description. They are told what their job is, how many people are in their family, whether or not they have a car, etc, she said.

They then use the resources that they are given in the character descriptions in order to provide food for their families over the course of three days (each day is ten minutes in the simulation).

The point is to show that those people given very limited resources have a much more difficult time with this, and may not be able to access what they need, sometimes even when they have the help of the social service agencies that are part of the game, said Hersey.

Students may live day-to-day unaware of how many of their neighbors struggle to eat each week.  Because it is a current concern in the Western Massachusetts area, The Food Bank provides ways in which students can get involved, including internships.

“Through my time interning at the Food Bank I have seen that they have a lot of really cool programs going on,” said Hersey.  “I think that when other students learn about these programs will be interested in getting involved with them too.”

Along with many scheduled events each month, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts provides security to those who struggle daily. The Food Bank assists those who may want to sign up for The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program.

If you would like to help alleviate hunger in the Western Massachusetts area, The Food Bank welcomes donations.  Monthly donations as well as one-time donations are welcome over the phone or via email.

Advocating can also help reduce hunger. The Food Bank suggests signing up for their Food Bank Advocacy Action Alerts.

Volunteers are also welcomed at the Food Bank. After attending a volunteer orientation, you are eligible to participate in the many processes performed at the Food Bank. Volunteers can help plan special events, support the Food Bank’s specific food distribution programs, work in the office, and sort food.

If you would like to attend the workshop on Monday, register online at http://www.foodbankwma.org/take-action/foodfortoday/ or call (413) 247-9738

“We are hoping that after this workshop students who attend will understand that food insecurity is a major issue that exists in their own community, as well as across the country,” said Hersey.

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