Over the summer, environmental studies major Matthew Ham '13 of Sherborn, Mass., worked at Square Roots farm in Clarksburg, Mass., where he learned more about food security, and how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life.
"Farming is really important, especially in the Northern Berkshires because food security here is a very serious issue for a lot of the community," Ham said. "By learning and growing we can more effectively encourage others to understand the issues and take the time to become more self-sufficient and sustainable."
The best thing about growing your own food, Ham said, is how good it feels after spending a day outside with your hands in the dirt, caring for other living things. In addition, "the food itself is more nutritional than your everyday grocery store food, and it encourages you to try new things."
When planting a vegetable garden, according to Ham, the plants do most of the work. "We just have to create the environment to help them grow healthier. Organic fertilizers are safer and more nutritious to the plants. Miracle Grow and other chemical fertilizers lack a lot of the essential minerals and compounds essential to a healthy plant."
Michael Gallagher and Ashley Amsden, who run Square Roots, made working at the farm fun, Ham said.
"They taught me so much about what it actually takes to run a farm in terms of the business side of things, as well as the techniques and tools needed. I thought I wanted to be a farmer before meeting them, and my desire has only been enhanced," he explained. "I know that growing food will continue to be a big part of my life."
Back at MCLA, Ham is an intern in the College's garden, along with Jenna Johnston '13.
"The campus garden has been an amazing experience," he said. "We are responsible for taking care of the garden, organizing volunteers and donating food to the Friendship Food Pantry. I wanted to do this to develop my gardening skills and understanding of the different techniques and tricks which help the plants grow healthier."
Located next to the Office of Admission in Smith House, the College's garden often is a gathering place where MCLA employees can enjoy a free snack. "And, lunch in the garden always helps when they're having a stressful day of work," Ham said. "That is exactly the kind of environment we hoped to provide when designing the layout.
"I enjoy our work days in many ways, meeting new people and connecting and learning are so important to me," he continued. "I love the way I've grown from this experience and all the people who participate in it. ... College isn't all about the academic; it's about trying all sorts of new things and experiencing as much of the world as you possibly can."
What interests him most about environmental studies?
"Every other science is so specified to one field, like biology, chemistry or ecology," Ham said. "Environmental studies encompasses all that and more, sort of like the Jack-of-all-trades of college majors."
Ham said he would "absolutely" recommend MCLA to prospective students.
"It's a very relaxed and stress-free environment here, all things that are hard to find in a college environment. MCLA has lots of quiet places to get work done," he said. "Also, the students that I've met have been really nice and respectful."