Amherst Zero Waste Program – Thursday 10/19 at 7 PM at the Hitchcock Center for The Environment

Please join folks from the Amherst Recycling & Refuse Management Committee, the Amherst League of Women Voters, Sustaining Amherst and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment to learn about Amherst’s Zero Waste initiative!

Agenda –

6-7 PM  – Arrive early for a tour of the Hitchcock Center’s Living Building!

7-9 PM – Zero Waste Program


Light refreshments will be available.  The event is free and open to the public!


Grow Food Amherst Meeting Wednesday, October 18th at noon!

Please join me for our next Grow Food Amherst meeting this Wednesday (10/18) at noon in the Town Room of Town Hall.  The agenda will primarily focus on a discussion regarding the Sharing Garden and its potential use as the town’s Community Garden space.

Agenda as follows:


  • Sharing Garden
  • Sustainability Festival
  • Bee Week
  • Miscellaneous

Hope to see you soon! – Stephanie

Amherst Block Party Needs Volunteers – Can You Help?

Hello GFA members –

The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) is holding their 6th Annual Block Party downtown (North Pleasant Street) on October 4th from 5-9 PM.  They are in need of recycling coaches to help direct people to properly dispose of their waste in the appropriate recycling, waste or compost container.  People would be stationed at receptacles in shifts, so you would not be at a location for too long!  If you are able to give even an hour of your time, please contact Ann Tweedy at:

Ann Tweedy

Amherst BID, Marketing & Communication

413-345-2945 (o)

413-530-3129 (c)


Thank you!

Canceled Meeting -July 5th

Hello Grow Food Amherst Members-

Apologies for the ever changing schedule, but I need to cancel tomorrow’s meeting (July 5th) as my father is having a major medical procedure and I will be in Boston. I am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause and will re-schedule.

I hope you are all having a fun, safe and happy July 4th holiday -Stephanie


Grow Food Northampton helps feed local residents

Clem Clay, left, who is the executive director of Grow Food Northampton, and Ashley Hackett, who is a program manager for Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation, carry vegetables from Giving Garden, at Grow Food, into the Northampton Survival Center, Tuesday.

Clem Clay, left, who is the executive director of Grow Food Northampton, and Ashley Hackett, who is a program manager for Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation, carry vegetables from Giving Garden, at Grow Food to the Northampton Survival Center, Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 – Daily Hampshire Gazette

Grow Food Northampton is still growing, with no signs of stopping.

For the past few years, the nonprofit that provides fresh, local produce to low-income community members has seen a steady rise in participation for its programs, and a recent $50,000 grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation has allowed for even more room to grow.

Tuesday afternoon, a program officer from Harvard Pilgrim went on a whirlwind tour of some of Continue reading

Why I support labeling genetically modified food products

This blog presents the viewpoint of the author, not necessarily the members of Grow Food Amherst nor the GFA Steering Committee (which voted unanimously on April 15, 2014 to support the bill requiring GMO products to be labeled in Massachusetts).  GFA asks you to contact your legislators to ask them to support the Right to Know Legislation.  I write about why I am personally in favor of this legislation below.   Warning: if you are looking for “bumper sticker” solutions don’t bother reading further…. its complicated!

John M. Gerber


Many of the advocates of labeling genetically modified products cite potential health and environmental risks as the reasons for labeling GMO products.  Personally, I’m not convinced by these arguments.  I believe there are cases where genetic modification has value, such with cotton where the incorporation of a gene to use the Bacillus thuringeinsis protein to ward off bollworms has reduced insecticide use in growing of cotton.  In other cases, genetic modification has increased the use of herbicides such as for glyphosate resistant soybeans and corn.  I’d like to know that we can continue to use this technology to produce low cost insulin for diabetics for example, and hopefully someday to clean up toxic waste spills with modified microorganisms.  I believe there are appropriate uses for GMO products.  And I think they should be labeled as a product created through genetic modification.  This makes me unpopular with both sides of this very divisive issue.

GMO-TomatoFrankly, I’m not attracted by the “Chicken Little” cry that the sky is falling whenever GMO’s are discussed.  Nor am I convinced by graphic images of tomatoes being shot up with a syringe (although I’m not above incorporating such images into my blog posts for a little color).  As a technique, genetic modification is not evil or immoral – in my opinion.  Nevertheless I do understand and respect the viewpoint that incorporating genes from one species of higher (complex) organisms into another is bit of “playing God” and something that would not happen in the world without human intervention.  I’m much more comfortable when genetic modification happens at the microbial level (bacteria pretty much share genes indiscriminately in nature – they are promiscuous little creatures).

There are indeed many shrill voices ranting about the evils of GMO’s.  It seems to me that many who are the most vocal don’t seem to be very well informed about the science of genetic modification.  We are told that consumers have a right to know “what is in their food” and that “food additives” should all be labeled.  This oft repeated claim suggests that the claimant thinks that a GMO is an ingredient rather than a process.

To help inform the local public, Grow Food Amherst sponsored an educational forum featuring UMass Professor Elizabeth Vierling who tried to help Amherst residents learn more about the science of genetic modification.  Dr. Vierling has expressed her own opinion on labeling in a thoughtful editorial in the local paper. I’d encourage you to read the article.

There are also some pretty smart people who have specific concerns about the widespread adoption of GMO crops and livestock.  Among the concerns are:

gmo-23-638 I think these concerns need to be evaluated by independent (non-industry funded) science panels and debated in a public forum. I don’t believe there is adequate regulatory control or review of products created through genetic modification.  At present, I do not trust that either industry or government scientific panels can be objective.  There is simply too much money involved in politics and government today to trust the agencies that are meant to protect the public interest.

While the criticisms listed above should be discussed, they are not my primary concern……

So why Label? 

frankMy primary motivation for supporting the labeling law is to make sure that consumers have the information needed to support either a world in which multi-national corporations own patents which allow them to control the food supply – or one in which there is more balance in power and control of food.  I’ve been told by some of my “organic advocate” friends that this reason is boring – a real yawner!  They would rather talk about “frankenfoods”!  Sorry…. until, I see scientific evidence to change my mind, I remain more concerned about the erosion of the economic vitality of local communities and social justice than potential health or environmental threats from GMO’s.

I believe in giving citizens the opportunity to choose the kind of world we want to live in and “vote with their dollar”.  Every time we purchase food produced through genetic modification, we “say yes” to an industry that is controlled by multi-nationals more interested in profit than community.  I’d prefer to invest in the wisdom of my neighborhood farmer and her ability to manage her farm using ecological principles than in a technology for which the return on investment goes to a corporation. We have a choice when it comes to food.  We can buy local…..

On the other hand, since there are few alternatives in clothing manufacturing today I support the use of GMO cotton as a means of reducing insecticide use.  If my Boston Red Sox tee shirt (go Sox) was labeled “made with GMO cotton”…. well, I’m (mostly) okay with that.  I don’t like it, but frankly I don’t see many reasonable alternatives.

gmotomatoOn the other hand, if I have a choice between a genetically modified fresh tomato and one that was not, I’m choosing to buy the non-GMO tomato.  It seems that most consumers would agree with me on this, as the transgenic tomato (FlavrSavr) which had a long shelf-life was not very popular when it was available in the market.  Again…. the point is that I want enough information to make a choice.  We need labeling to be able to choose.


So…. if you have read this far, perhaps you are open to another viewpoint?  This will require some thinking……  that said, I can’t help myself… here is a possible bumper sticker that expresses the next section of this blog;

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us…

Marshal McLuhan



While I was drawing up the courage to begin to express my thoughts on this subject, I read Derrick Jensen’s new book “The Myth of Human Supremacy.”  While I don’t agree with all of Jensen’s thinking, his chapter on “authoritarian technologies” will be used here to help explain my own perspective.  Jensen reminds us of an idea first expressed by Louis Mumford (historian, philosopher, literary critic and all around genius) that technologies emerge from and reinforce certain ways of thinking.  Jensen writes…

“Technologies emerge from and then give rise to certain social forms…. which can be democratic or they can be authoritarian.” 

He claimed that you could determine which social form (way of thinking) was supported by the technology by asking the simple questions “does the technology require a large-scale hierarchical structure?  Does it reinforce this structure?  Does it lend itself to the monopolization of the technology, and therefore to control of those who fabricate the technology over those who use it?”

I can say that I have a personal preference for technologies, products and practices that emerge from and reinforce egalitarian and democratic social forms.  I’m on record (lots of blog posts here) in support of local farmers and local farmers markets as a means of building community and resilience.  Genetic modification on the other hand surely requires a large-scale hierarchical structure, and has resulted in the monopolization (wide-spread adoption) of the technology.  Frankly, this scares the hell out of me……


So, yes…. I think we need the option of making a choice.  I’d like to be able to choose to purchase a Red Sox tee shirt with the label “made from GMO cotton”…. and I’d like to be able to choose to buy a tomato for my salad that was not genetically modified.  I prefer to support technologies in which the return on investment in the practice or technology went to farmers rather than corporations.  Labeling food products manufactured with plants or animals that have been genetically modified (that is incorporating genes from one species into another species) is much like Country of Origin labels.  It will allow us to choose how we want to spend our money.

But that’s just me……

How about you?  I’d love to hear what you think about this issue.  Please share your thoughts in the comments box below!

Fort River Sharing Garden Update

Amherst Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello, convened the monthly meeting of the Grow Food Amherst Steering Committee at the Fort River Farm Conservation Area.

Mark your calendars for the next meeting – Wednesday, June 15 at 12:00noon.

Here are the meeting notes…

Grow Food Amherst Steering Committee Notes

May 18, 2016

Attending:  Stephanie Ciccarello (chairperson), Michelle Nikfarjam, David Lovler, Jen Morrow, Mary Jo Maffei, Phyllis Keenan, Juliet Carvajal, and John Gerber (recorder).

The only item of business was weeding and mulching the perennial plants at the Sharing Garden!  Here are some pictures….

weeding1 weeding2 weeding3 weeding4

Here are some pictures from the planting last fall.  The following plants donated by the Hadley Garden Center survived the winter: hops, raspberries, blackberries, sea berries, honey berries and horseradish.  Much of the garden is still covered in winter rye which will be mown soon. volunteersTo get involved with the Sharing Garden Project, contact Stephanie Ciccarello at  And for more information, see:

Fort River Farm Conservation Area

Massachusetts Officials Kick-Off “Plant Something for Pollinators” Campaign


bees3NOTE:  Grow Food Amherst recommends that you insist that any bee friendly plants you purchase at local garden centers are free of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides.  Be sure to ask! Here is why!

But then….. we ask you to…

Take the Pledge!

BOSTON – May 13, 2016 – Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) Commissioner John Lebeaux today were joined by members of the agricultural community today to kick off the Plant Something for Pollinators campaign by planting flowers and shrubs in Boston’s Beacon Hill.

Plant Something for Pollinators recognizes the contributions Massachusetts’ flower and nursery growers make to the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “I urge everyone to get outside and plant a tree, flower or shrub this spring and make the Commonwealth a healthier and more beautiful place.”

“Planting something at your home will not only make it more beautiful, it can also lower your energy costs and clean the air you breathe, while providing necessary environmental benefits,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “By purchasing a plant from your local nursery, you can support your local agricultural economy and make a contribution to the environment.”

The Plant Something for Pollinators campaign, which officially starts on May 15, 2016, is a joint program organized by the Massachusetts Flower Growers Association (MFGA) and the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA). This year’s campaign encourages residents to plant at least one pollinator-friendly plant to improve pollinator populations across the Commonwealth.

Take the Pledge!

“Planting is a great way to spend time in nature, help the environment and support Massachusetts agriculture,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Matthew Beaton. “Vegetation also helps our vital pollinator populations, reduces storm water runoff and removes carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air.”

There are approximately 1,039 Massachusetts farms in floriculture, nursery, greenhouse and sod, employing more than 4,000 workers. The industry generated $158 million in sales in 2012.

“Many residents are already growing vegetables and planting flowers,” said DAR Commissioner John Lebeaux. “We are pleased to support our flower and nursery professionals to inspire even more people to give it a try. Planting something is good for you, the pollinators, your community and the local economy.”

“Most people realize that plants and trees provide shade, increase property value, and are good for the environment, but they may not realize that plants can also reduce stress and improve your health,” said MFGA Executive Secretary Bob Luczai. “Gardening can burn up to 600 calories an hour!”


DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Conservation & Technical Assistance, Agricultural Markets, Animal Health, and Crop and Pest Services – DAR strives to support, regulate and enhance the rich diversity of the Commonwealth’s agricultural community to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture’s role in energy conservation and production.


NOTE:  The Town of Amherst is developing a pollinator project at the new Fort River Conservation Area Farm.  To get involved, contact Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello.

For more on Grow Food Amherst’s work to provide pollinator habitat, see:

Pollinator Garden

Or….just LEAVE 10% FOR THE BEES in your own backyard!