The list of instructors for our online Sustainable Food and Farming Program includes UMass faculty, faculty from other universities, and skilled practitioners in their field of expertise. We are a diverse group of folks with a common interest in sustainable food systems and quality online instruction.
Meet our online instructors!
Rachel Armstrong is the founder and Executive Director of Farm Commons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing proactive legal education materials to sustainable farmers. She founded the organization after a career as a farm employee and local food system advocate. Education is the core of Farm Commons’ programming and Rachel is a sought-after instructor who makes the law relevant and interesting to farmers and attorneys alike. Rachel is licensed to practice law in Minnesota and Wisconsin. She earned her law degree from the University of Denver and teaches Introduction to Food and Agricultural Law online. More information.
Allen is a senior member of the faculty in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture who served as Head of the former Department of Plant and Soil Science for more than 8 years. He is a well-known research scientist, focusing on mineral nutrition of vegetable crop plants and has published extensively in this area. He was the Outstanding Teacher in the College of Food and Natural Resources, 1992-1993, and teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses related to plant nutrition and soil fertility. He earned his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University and teaches Organic Gardening and Farming online. More Information.
Tom Benjamin RLA, LEED-AP BD+C has been an innovator in the field of landscape and sustainable design for more than 20 years. His unmatched insights into low-input resilient design, natural habitat and ecosystem restoration as well as the planning, implementation, and maintenance of therapeutic wellness gardens sets him apart from other landscape architects. His collaborative and holistic approach to planning, emphasizing realistic operations and management practices, has produced an extensive list of long-term landscape success stories that have met compliance needs. In fact, Tom’s projects have repeatedly been recognized as leaders in linking exemplary environmental compliance with human use of the quality spaces he’s created. Thomas teaches Sustainable Site Design and Planning, and the Sustainable Site Design Studio online. More information.
Sarah teaches courses in the Sustainable Food and Farming undergraduate program at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture. She offers contemplative and participatory courses in farm-based agriculture education, social justice, food systems, and personal sustainability. She is excited to equip students with practical life skills: the ability to grow their own food, confidence in leading others, community organizing, and critical thinking to solve problems. Experiential learning is at the heart of her teaching philosophy and she loves getting her hands dirty with her students in the field. She earned her Master of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts and teaches Agricultural Leadership and Community-based Education online.
Renee is a faculty member of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the UMass Amherst where she teaches a few campus courses and helps to manage the robust campus internship program. Renee is also the manager and academic advisor of the online Associate of Science and Bachelor of Sciences degree programs in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Her Master of Science degree is in Agroecology with a strong focus on experiential education. Renee teaches the following online classes: Professional Development in Sustainable Food and Farming, Building a Sustainable Homestead, Global Food Systems, Organic Vegetable Production, and Farm Management, Planning and Marketing.
Emily is a faculty member at Westfield State University. Her research focuses on the complex soil ecosystem and its response to disturbance by anthropogenic means. She is interested in the remediation of contaminated soils, improvement of soil health and overall sustainability in agroecosystems and protecting biodiversity in what is the Earth’s most complicated ecosystem. Emily earned a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts and teaches Agricultural Chemistry online. More information.
Willie is the founding owner of Fungi Ally, an innovative business committed to developing sustainable growing practices that improve the health of their customers, community, and environment. He has been growing mushrooms in a variety of methods since 2014. He is a co-founder of Fungi Ally and is involved with research, education, and mushroom production. Through study and experience Willie hopes to continue learning the diverse methods people can improve themselves and the world through allying with fungi! Willie is a graduate of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and teaches Introduction to Mushroom Culture online. More information.
Abrah Jordan Dresdale
Abrah is certified in Permaculture Design and holds a Master’s degree in Sustainable Landscape Design and Food Systems Planning from the Conway School. She lives in rural and culturally vibrant Western Massachusetts where she spent four years developing and coordinating the nationally recognized, interdisciplinary Farm and Food Systems degree program at Greenfield Community College. She teaches college courses on permaculture design, food systems, and Jewish agricultural traditions at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Greenfield Community College, and Brandeis University Summer High School Programs. Her edible landscape design business, Feeding Landscapes, has developed projects ranging from a Public Food Forest for the Town of Wendell, MA, to the design and implementation of “Edible Pathways” for Sadhana Forest in Auroville, India to providing technical support for the creation of a campus permaculture garden at Wesleyan University. She teaches Introduction to Permaculture, and Social Permaculture for Food Justice online. More at: www.abrahdresdale.com
Roland is a faculty member of the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico. His area of expertise is agroecology and Roland has worked closely with small farmers of indigenous communities in different parts pf Mexico. Currently, his research centers on the impact of climate change on traditional Mesoamerican farming systems. Among his many publications are handbooks for the sustainable production of pitahaya, habanero pepper, and chaya. He earned his Ph.D. in Austria and teaches Agroecology online.
Vahram Elagöz has served as a senior research fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst since 2005. He received his PhD in Plant Biology from UMass Amherst in 2004. His research interests include the impacts of tropospheric ozone pollution on plant development and biodiversity and the socioeconomic impacts of globalized agriculture on rural as well as urban communities with a specific focus on food sovereignty, agro-ecology, and the democratization of food production and supply. Dr Elagöz recently joined the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst, teaching for the online certificate program. He is an enthusiastic supporter of NGOs promoting local agriculture and farming. Most recently, he established a working relationship with Small Planet Institute in Cambridge, MA. Dr Elagöz currently lives in Boston, MA and teaches botany for landscape architecture at The Boston Architectural College. Vahram teaches Plants in Our World online. More information.
John M. Gerber
John teaches courses relating to sustainable food systems at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he provides leadership for the undergraduate program in Sustainable Food and Farming. He continues to investigate ways in which students are encouraged to explore personal growth and community responsibility through service, reflection and dialogue. His greatest professional joy is to watch young people find their calling (especially when it relates to local food and farming). He was instrumental in helping to initiate student projects at UMass such as the Permaculture Initiative, the UMass Student Farm, GardenShare, and the Real Food Challenge. He received the highest honor awarded a teacher at UMass in 2008 with the University Distinguished Teacher Award. John earned his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University. He teaches Botany for Gardeners and Agricultural Systems Thinking online. More Information.
Susan is a master teacher in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, well-recognized for her commitment to student learning. She received the Outstanding Teacher Award from the College of Natural Resources in 2017. Susan earned her Ph.D. from the University of California Davis and teaches Post-harvest Handling of Fruits and Vegetables, and Introduction to Botany online. More information.
Masoud’s activities at the University of Massachusetts include serving as the Crops, Dairy, Livestock, Equine team leader for UMass Extension, state contact person for nutrient and manure management, pasture management, and agronomic crop production. Other major outreach activities include statewide presentations and workshops on various topics, State Coordinator and State Host of New England Green Pastures. His research program is focused on sustainable food and farming systems with special emphasis in using various cover crops to maintain soil health and to enhance environmental quality. He is the author or co-author of four books including, Seed Dormancy and Germination (2000), Postharvest Physiology (1997), Sustainable Agriculture (1996), and Maximizing Crop Yield (1995). Masoud earned his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts and teaches Pasture Management online. More information.
Deborah is Environmental Science Program Manager and Chief Undergraduate Advisor in the Department of Environmental Conservation at UMass. Her disciplinary focus is in wetland science and is a Certified Professional Soil Scientist with research interests in vernal pool hydropedology, hydric soil characterization, and plant-soil interactions in wetland environments. Deborah earned her Ph.D. degree from the University of Massachusets and teaches Soil Science and Management online. More information.
Kristen is a clinical herbalist, yoga therapist, writer, & educator, who first fell in love with plants in the desert southwest. In addition to studying Native American herbal medicine in the Southwest, she has worked in academia and for non-profit organizations in the field of botanical research all over the country. Currently she serves as faculty and clinician for the Vermont Center of Integrative Herbalism, and Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences. She has been researching, writing, and teaching about medicinal plants for over 15 years. Look for her wandering through the woods, kids and dogs in tow. Kristen teaches Topics in Herbalism online. More information.
Christopher is a fourth-generation, internationally renowned herbalist, licensed acupuncturist, author, clinician, botanist, mycologist, and research scientist with over 35 years of experience with herbal medicine. He is an acknowledged expert in the field, lecturing all over the U.S., and internationally about herbs and the immune system; adaptogenic herbs, Native American uses of herbs, the pharmacology and chemistry of herbal medicines, herbs for the liver and the botany and taxonomy of herbs. Christopher has taught or lectured at universities and medical schools such as Stanford Medical School, Yale Medical School, John Bastyr College and the National School of Naturopathic Medicine. He received his acupuncture license in February 1995. He has written 22 books on herbs and health, including the recent Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants of the Western U.S. (with Steven Foster), and the mainstream Herbal Remedies for Dummies, and Vitamins for Dummies (with Elson Haas M.D.). He earned a Ph.D. degree from UC Berkeley in phylogenetics, evolutionary biology and phytochemistry. He teaches Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Plant online. More information.
Deborah Niemann is a homesteader, writer, and a self-sufficiency expert. In 2002, she relocated her family from the suburbs of Chicago to 32-acres on a creek in the middle of nowhere where they built their own home and began growing the majority of their own food. Sheep, pigs, cattle, goats, chickens, and turkeys supply meat, eggs, and dairy products, while an organic garden and orchard provides fruit and vegetables. Deborah speaks across the U.S. and in Canada and is the author of five books, including Homegrown and Handmade and Raising Goats Naturally. She also authors the Thrifty Homesteader blog and website. She has a master’s degree from Illinois State University. Deborah teaches Raising Dairy Goats Sustainably online. More information.
Jonathan T. Parrott
Jonathan is the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Program Coordinator for the Department of Energy Resources. He has extensive experience in managing forested systems. His Ph.D degree is from the University of Masachusetts. He manages Flat Rock Farm in Chesterfield, MA and teaches Forest Incomes for the Small Farm online.
Elsa’s teaching and research revolve around two main interests; viticulture and disease ecology. Her original interest in grapes started in Bordeaux, France. She studied diseases of grapevines at the University of California, Davis where she graduated with a PhD in plant pathology. Elsa’s research focuses on how viticultural practices influence microorganisms and more specifically disease-causing (microorganisms) evolution. She teaches courses in viticulture, plant pathology and disease ecology and is also involved in helping students making the transition from vocational agricultural high schools in Massachusetts to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Elsa teaches Integrated Pest Management online. More information.
Angela is an innovative program designer and evaluator with passions for food justice & community empowerment. Professionally Angela provides curriculum & program development, facilitation, strategic planning, grant writing and participatory evaluation services to organizations and institutions throughout New England. Angela believes education and evaluation hold enormous potential as tools for social justice, within this pedagogical framework Angela advocates for developing audience specific curriculum, experiential & reflective learning models in program development, and action based research methods to evaluate programs.
Angela teaches in sustainable food systems at the University of Massachusetts and the Franklin County House of Corrections, their course load includes explorations in food recovery, beekeeping, cooking and food preservation traditions learned from their own Grandmother. Angela lives and works in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts and manage a small honeybee farm and homestead. Angela earned her M.S. from Wheelock College and teaches Practical Beekeeping online. More information.
Catherine is a front-line community food systems organizer, educator, network facilitator, capacity builder, and evaluator/learning partner living in Western MA. Catherine brings to her work a commitment to social change and a belief in the potential of groups of people coming together to create powerful solutions to entrenched social issues. As director of Fertile Ground, established in 2001, Catherine provides school districts with technical assistance in developing curriculum-integrated teaching gardens, mentoring and evidence tracking programs that unify school communities around growing fresh food and cultivating local knowledge. Since then she has provided technical assistance to the MA Food Planning process, conducting listening sessions with food and justice groups; and is designing evaluation processes for community food projects throughout New England to strengthen the impacts of their programs to improve health and access to good food. Catherine holds a Master’s degree from the University of MA/Amherst Center for Public Policy and Administration, with a focus on food access and social justice. She teaches Community Food Systems, and Food Justice and Policy online. More information.
Jen moved to the Olympic Peninsula in 2014 to start her own farmstead. She’s currently a full-time advisor at Peninsula College and teaches courses in the Sustainable Agriculture Certificate and Service Learning program. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years as an environmental instructor, land and animal conservationist, and local food advocate. Jen graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a BA in Zoology and minor in Anthropology. She completed her Masters in Nonprofit Management with an emphasis in environmental education from Regis University in 2007. As the former Community Programs Director at the High Country Conservation Center in Colorado, Jen spent six years developing sustainable food programs including community gardens, student-run CSAs, and urban farming policies. Jen earned her Masters degree from Regis University and teaches Sustainable Agriculture and Non-profit Management for Community Food Programs online.
Sonia is an expert on commercial and residential production of small fruit—berries and grapes—as well as the use of edible plants in sustainable landscaping practices. Shehas extensive experience educating and consulting with commercial growers throughout Massachusetts and New England, and she also conducts applied research in the growing of table and wine grapes under Massachusetts’ growing conditions. Sonia teaches Pollinator Biology and Habitat and Holistic Fruit Production online. More information.
Robert Wagner has worked in the field of agricultural land use policy and farmland protection since 1981 with over 25 years with the national, nonprofit conservation organization the American Farmland Trust. He is retired as Senior Policy and Program Adviser for American Farmland Trust and continues to serve as chairperson of the the Hatfield, MA Planning Board. He earned a a Masters of Science in Natural Resources Planning from the University of Vermont and teaches Land Use Policy and Sustainable Farming online.