Sarah Berquist is a lecturer in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst. She focuses on sustainable agriculture and food systems, and will share her incredible knowledge and experiences outdoors with select high school students this summer in her one-week Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program through UMass Summer Pre-College!
Sarah Berquist grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where she was not a character on The Office but instead spent all of her time there outside, as she "just loved working with plants" and had a job at a greenhouse in high school. Driven by a desire to "keep deepening her relationship with nature", Berquist moved to the Pioneer Valley almost ten years ago, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences right here at UMass, followed by a Master of Science in Sustainability Science with a focus on Agricultural Education. Berquist was captivated by the "combination of theory and practice" in the Stockbridge Sustainable Food and Farming undergraduate program at UMass, where she was able to "get [her] hands dirty" and "gain experience … working on local community farms" while also learning in the classroom. Berquist told me that she is "always wanting to address bigger and better ways to grow food that are more in harmony with the rhythms of nature."
The Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program is certainly one way to engage with this task of finding better ways to grow food, as students "will have an opportunity to explore the social justice elements of the food system." I asked Berquist what this social justice component was, and she broke it down in terms of accessibility. "It's about creating accessibility to healthy and local food," Berquist told me. "And challening the systems that prevent people in our community from gaining access to food that nourishes them." Berquist went on to talk about a specific project that she is particularly excited about, and that students will be working with this summer: the Food For All Garden, "a community research project" or "living laboratory" where food is being grown on campus by students to be donated to local relief programs, such as the Amherst Survival Center and Not Bread Alone!
Berquist added that the program "offers a great glimpse of college life" where students will see that "college is more than simply taking classes - it's about learning to ask big questions and engage with the world in a deeper way." Students will take much away more than a sneak-peek at college life from the program, though. Berquist told me that "whether or not they choose to be farmers, students will leave the program being stronger advocates for a better food system, being more articulate in the problems that we are facing with the way we produce food in this country, and they will understand that food is a vehicle to understand sustainability."
And even on a smaller scale, students leave the program ready to "inspire their households and families and communities to start small, whether it be gardening at home, composting at home, or making any number of small steps that can really make a big change." This work is so important, down to the smallest of details, because "there is an urgency with climate change for us to step up and improve our food system." Want to learn how you can truly make a change in the world while spending a week outside in the beautiful Pioneer Valley? The Sustainable Farming and Food Systems Pre-College Program at UMass Amherst might just be for you...
Berquist concluded our interview with a message to prospective students (that's you!): "I would want prospective students to know that sustainability is important, no matter what career path you choose, and I think you'll have fun getting your hands dirty for the week and forming deep connections with the earth and also other students from all around the country who care about the things you do."
I couldn't agree more! For more information about Berquist's program and the rest of our pre-college offerings, visit our website: