Agriculture has been an essential part of the University of Massachusetts since the very beginning. In fact, agricultural studies were the very beginning.
The university started out, in 1863, as Massachusetts Agricultural College, part of a nationwide effort to establish colleges specializing in agriculture and engineering. Mass Aggie, as it was called, became Massachusetts State College in 1931, which in turn became the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1947.
Even as the school began to widen its curriculum, agriculture remained part of its mission.
The Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station began in 1882 to develop the science of agriculture. In 1914, the extension service was launched, offering farming advice and education to the community. The Stockbridge School, founded in 1917, offers associate and bachelor’s degrees in some of the more practical aspects of agriculture.
Today, the university’s agriculture researchers work on as many as 40 diverse projects at any given time, says Steven Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. Current work includes investigations into the qualities of omega fatty acids and analysis of the competing land needs of agriculture and solar energy.
Though Massachusetts may be decidedly less agrarian than it once was, UMass’s agriculture programs, Goodwin says, are in a moment of growth. With so much focus these days on local food and sustainability, the university is seeing a new surge in students eager to study agriculture and food systems, and these programs are hopefully becoming more central to the school’s identity, he adds.
“We’re trying to make it just an integral part of what the university’s all about,” Goodwin says.