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!


The Lost Gardens of Emily Dickinson


Fritillaria meleagris, left, a perennial, in bloom at the Homestead, the property that belonged to the family of Emily Dickinson, right. Credit Michael Medeiros/Emily Dickinson Museum

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome
Emily Dickinson

That orchard was real: a medley of apple, pear, plum and cherry trees tended by the Dickinson family during their lifetimes. Over the decades, subsequent owners of the Dickinson house, known as the Homestead, removed the orchard, replaced extensive flower and vegetable gardens with lawn, and even installed a tennis court; and a devastating hurricane in 1938 damaged the grounds.

This spring, however, the Emily Dickinson Museum has brought the poet’s beloved orchard back to life, planting a small grove of heirloom apples and pears grown by the Dickinsons — Baldwins, Westfield Seek-No-Furthers, Winter Nelis — on a sunny corner of the property near Triangle Street in Amherst, Mass.

The resurrected orchard is the latest development in a longstanding effort to return the Dickinson estate to its 19th-century splendor. Excavations of the grounds surrounding the house have been conducted for several years and will resume this summer.

Last summer, as the purple-tipped spears of irises unsheathed themselves and nasturtiums flaunted trumpets of fire, a team of archaeologists excavated another one of Dickinson’s gardens near the southeastern corner of the house. They used neon pink string to mark out squares and rectangles the size of coffee tables. Then, shovels and trowels in hand, they began to remove layers of grass and dirt within the outlined spaces.

Slide Show

Click on the photo for a slideshow from the Harvard Library

Over the past two years, the team has uncovered and analyzed the foundation of what was once a small conservatory. As the researchers dug, they encountered a narrow trench that had been filled with large flat, fieldstones, said the team leader, Kerry Lynch of Archaeological Services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Beside the trench were a few patches of rubble and fragments of granite. The granite crumbs matched larger slabs stored in a nearby garage, the purpose of which had long been a mystery: It turns out the stored granite once formed a handsome pedestal that kept the conservatory level with the main house. Granite was also likely to have been used to make a series of steps leading to the lawn and an adjacent patio for airing plants in warm weather.

Records show that Edward Dickinson built the greenhouse in 1855 for his daughters Emily and Lavinia. Emily transformed the long-windowed room into a year-round garden where ferns unfurled their feathers, the perfumes of gardenias and jasmine sweetened the air, and fuchsia, carnations and “inland buttercups” bloomed alongside “heliotropes by the aprons full.”

Later homeowners tore it down in 1916 — 30 years after the poet died. (Sunday will mark the 130th anniversary of her death.) Now, the Emily Dickinson Museum, which consists primarily of the Homestead and the Evergreens, the neighboring home of Emily’s brother and sister-in-law, is preparing to completely restore the conservatory, plants and all. If all goes as planned, the museum will finish rebuilding the greenhouse, using as many of the original materials as possible, by the end of the year.


Dan Zoto, an archaeologist, at an excavation at the former home of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Mass. Credit F. Timothy Barker/Archeological Services at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

“It’s about trying to understand what her personal, physical world was like, juxtaposed to her immense universe of thought and imagination,” said Jane Wald, executive director of the museum. “All that creativity and keen observation happened right here. Her home and gardens — these places were her poetic laboratory.”

Dickinson adored the plant kingdom from a young age. She recalled going on “rambles” through the woods in her teenage years and finding many “beautiful children of spring,” her epithet for wildflowers like trailing arbutus, adder’s tongue and yellow violets. In her youth, she began composing a book — not of poems, but of plants. She meticulously dried and flattened a wide range of species — chestnut, dogwood, poppies, lilac, nasturtiums, even a couple of algae — and artfully fixed them to paper, christening many with the appropriate Latin names.

“Have you made an herbarium yet?” she wrote to her friend Abiah Root. “I hope you will if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you.” Eventually, her collection contained more than 400 plants. Around the same time, while at Amherst Academy, Dickinson studied botany.

From her 30s on, Dickinson spent most of her time in and around her family’s sizable property, where she could wander over several acres of meadow, admire pines, oaks and elms, and help tend the orchard. Martha Dickinson Bianchi, the poet’s niece, recalled grape trellises, honeysuckle arbors, a summer house thatched with roses, and long flower beds with “a mass of meandering blooms” — daffodils, hyacinths, chrysanthemums, marigolds, peonies, bleeding heart and lilies, depending on the season. The Dickinsons also grew Greville roses, which open with a shout of purple and fade to a whisper of pink, and cinnamon or love-for-a-day roses, which “flare and fall between sunrise and sunset,” according to Bianchi. When autumn’s final flowers and showers of spicy foliage disappeared beneath a cloak of snow, Dickinson continued gardening in her glass bubble of perpetual summer.

Dickinson’s expertise in botany and gardening profoundly shaped her poetry. As Farr wrote, her gardens “often provided her with the narratives, tropes, and imagery she required.” In her 1,789 poems, Dickinson refers to plants nearly 600 times and names more than 80 varieties, sometimes by genus or species. In her more than 350 references to flowers, the rose is most frequent, but Dickinson was also fond of humble plants like dandelions, clover and daisies. She used the latter two as symbols for herself in letters and poems. “The career of flowers differs from ours only in inaudibleness,” she wrote. “I feel more reverence as I grow for these mute creatures whose suspense or transport may surpass our own.”

Many of Dickinson’s poems refer directly to the idiosyncrasies of her gardens. She wrote of struggling to raise grapes and maize “on the Bleakness of my Lot.” These are not just metaphors; the Dickinsons grew grapes and corn in sometimes unyielding New England soil. In other poems and letters, she refers to “my little damask maid” and “Sweet Sultans,” which were not servants and royalty, but the intoxicatingly pungent Damask rose and a pomponlike relative of the sunflower. Scholars who do not share Dickinson’s intimacy with plants and garden phenomena have occasionally misinterpreted her poems, conflating her lyrical depictions of frost and dew, or mistaking a butterfly for snow.

By age 38, Dickinson stopped attending church, in part because she had already found her personal Eden in her gardens. The resurgence of her garden each spring seemed to have buoyed her belief in the possibility of eternal life. “Those not live yet / Who doubt to live again—” she wrote seven years before her death.

In the following decades, the Homestead’s flower and vegetable gardens were reduced to about a third of their original size. Last year, however, Dr. Lynch and her fellow archaeologists used long, spiked metal rods to locate buried sections of a pathway that once connected the east side of the Homestead to the rose-entwined summer house and larger 19th-century flower and vegetable beds.

“If we can follow out the historic path to its end, then theoretically we would find the location of past gardens,” Dr. Lynch said. She and her colleagues plan to excavate nearby regions of the lawn, searching for indications of old planting beds, like soil that is markedly darker and looser than its surroundings.

“There may even be leftover seeds or other botanical evidence,” Dr. Lynch said. Studies have shown that some seeds are highly resilient; researchers have been able to coax sprouts from seeds buried for tens of thousands of years.

And that raises an exciting possibility: that, much like the fascicles of poetry Dickinson secreted away in her room, organic fragments of the poet’s gardens have survived this whole time, just waiting for someone to find them and give them new life.

Original Post

The Garden Club of Amherst’s journey from high heels to sneakers

Members of the Amherst Garden Club view an exhibition of photos for the 100th anniversary of the club Thursday at Jones Library in Amherst. For the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Friday, March 18, 2016

The words “garden club” may conjure thoughts of dainty flower arrangements and cucumber sandwiches. But that’s not the Garden Club of Amherst at all.

“We are a dirt garden club, not a white-glove garden club,” said GCA member Denise Gagnon. Fellow club member Susie Lowenstein, agreed: “People always ask me how I get my hands clean, and I tell them, ‘By washing my hair.’ ”

Club member Wendy Larson noted that some of the Boston area garden clubs are primarily interested in flower arrangements. “Our club did some of that back in the 1940s and ’50s,” she said. “At our monthly meeting, when an announcement is made about an invitation to participate in a flower show, our response is to laugh.” Continue reading

Celebrate Public Shade Tree Planting in Amherst 2016

The Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee (APSTC) invites you and your neighborhood to apply to become this year’s Neighborhood Tree Steward Project. We’re seeking one Amherst neighborhood in need of public shade trees with several interested households to work with us to select, plant, water, mulch etc. and learn how to care for newly planted trees. Last October, we worked with neighbors on Potwine Lane and planted 18 new public shade trees. Interested? Contact Nancy Higgins at and/or meet with some of us at The Sustainability Festival on the Amherst Town Common, April 16, 2016.