Monday, 10 September 2012

Stockbridge eyes new agriculture center


The University of Massachusetts will have a whole new group of residents moving on campus in 2014 – cows, sheep, goats and pigs.

The Stockbridge School plans to build the University’s first on-campus Undergraduate Agricultural Learning Center, which will house livestock as well as a variety of crops, grasses and learning spaces.

The center will be the first on-campus agricultural learning area since the school’s opening in 1863 and will commemorate the school’s beginning as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, or “Mass Aggie.”

“(Students) can actually do their work right here on-campus, which they used to do 150 years ago, when it was Mass Aggie,” said Project Manager Sandra Thomas. “So we’re really going back to the future.”

The center will be located on the former 40-acre site of Wysocki Field on North Pleasant Street, past the North Residential Area. It will provide students with a hands-on experience at growing crops, raising animals and studying turf management by growing golf greens.

“The students have a lot of book learning, but they haven’t had the opportunity to really put that to practical use,” said Thomas.

“We’re planning a lot of labs out there on the field, so they can grow crops and tend animals and know what works from a practical standpoint, not just theoretically,” she added.

The center – which will include vegetable crops, berry plants, fruit trees and oil seed crops – requires the relocation and refurbishment of the old Horse Barn that sits by the Mullins Center. The barn was built in 1894 as a University showpiece; its move to Wysocki Field is estimated to cost about $300,000 to $400,000.

The refurbishment will include a 90-seat meeting room on the ground floor and two 25-person classrooms or laboratories on the second floor, and is estimated to cost about 4 to $5 million.

The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation has pledged $500,000 toward moving the barn, and project managers are working with the University’s development office to find other funding, including private donations. But the University has yet to allocate money for the center.

“They invest in things like Commonwealth College, in a $30 million revamp of the stadium, $30 million revamp on a training center for basketball. How about giving $10 or $15 million to an educational building for agriculture?” said Stephen Herbert, the center’s director.

But Herbert does expect that the University will chip in on the relocation of the Blaisdell House, which will be used as an office building or farm manager’s house.

“It will be much less than the barn, a simple move,” he said.

The center will be home to a variety of animals, including cows, pigs and goats. And students will learn how to properly care for them there.

“They’ll learn about managing them on pasture,” Herbert said. “Feeding, raising young animals, breeding and all of that.”

“It’s going to be very comprehensive,” he added.

Permaculture plots will also be included on the field, as well as bee forages and nursery plants for landscaping classes and horticulture programs.

“We can have plants here that we’ll grow, and then transplant them around campus,” Thomas said.

In an effort to demonstrate the best agricultural techniques, the field will only be partially organic.

“Certainly we’re going to be using best-management practices, and sometimes they’re low-impact, low-chemical, just not totally organic,” Herbert said, citing the practices of Integrated pest management.

Thomas also added that fruit trees are particularly difficult to grow without some kind of chemical application.

“Plants get diseased, and if you don’t have something to stop the diseases, then you won’t have any fruit,” she said.

This year, Herbert hopes to use some of the farmland for agricultural projects with current classes. He plans to have the horse barn in place by the summer of 2013, and the center completed by fall 2014.

“That next generation of farmers is going to be trained right here,” Thomas added.“They will know so much about fruits, vegetables, sunflowers, cellulose projects and landscaping. When they walk away from here, they’ll actually be ready to work on a farm.”
Original Article Here

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