Back to top

History

The UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, the University’s central location for research and educational outreach on agriculture, natural resources, and food systems, was founded in 2001 as the "Center for Agriculture." The center is part of the College of Natural Sciences and works in cooperation with the National Institute for Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is home to the Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station, UMass Extension, the Water Resources Research Center and four off-campus farm-based research and education centers. It is also affiliated with the UMass Cranberry Station.

The center is the proud bearer of our national land-grant university tradition of agricultural research and education with which the university began, as Massachusetts Agricultural College, in 1863.  “Mass Aggie,” as it was called, was founded, as were public colleges and universities in other states, with the proceeds from sales of land granted to Massachusetts under the federal Morrill Land Grant Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862. 

In 1882 the Massachusetts Legislature created the Massachusetts State Agricultural Experiment Station on campus (East and West Experiment Stations were its original buildings) and, in 1887, after passage of the federal Hatch Act, the campus created the federally-funded Hatch Experiment Station and the two were merged in 1894. The Experiment Station today receives federal funding under both the Hatch Act and McIntire-Stennis Forestry Research Act of 1962, and in turn funds faculty research in agriculture, food systems, nutrition, forestry, environment and other topics.

Educational outreach to farmers and others went back to the earliest days of Mass. Agricultural College (M.A.C.) and was formalized by the establishment of an Extension Service as a campus department in 1909 during the era of Kenyon Butterfield’s presidency of M.A.C. Butterfield, who went on to become president of Michigan Agricultural College (later Michigan State University), became an active proponent of a national system of Extension and is credited with development of the federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914, providing support for each Land Grant university to establish such a unit, linked through the United States Department of Agriculture.

After Mass. Agricultural College became Mass. State College in 1931, both the Experiment Station and Extension Service continued their work as part of the State College’s College of Agriculture, which has evolved and held different names over the years, including College of Food and Natural Resources, College of Natural Resources and the Environment and, after a merger in 2009, the College of Natural Sciences. During the 1990’s, UMass Extension became a unit of a new university-wide Division of Outreach. This Division was disbanded in 2009 and Extension returned to the College of Natural Sciences, now as part of the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

In 2012, the University’s Water Resources Research Center became the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment’s newest unit. It supports research, education, and outreach on water resources issues of state, regional, and national importance as part of the national system of institutes authorized under the federal Water Resources Research Act of 1964.

Additional Reading:

Cultivating Agricultural Education in Amherst, From Massachusetts Agricultural College to the University of Mass., 1863-1947, a 10-page booklet from historical material developed in 1988 to recognize the 125th anniversary of the University's founding.

The Third Leg of the Stool: Kenyon Butterfield and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, a monograph about Butterfield, president of Mass. Agricultural College from 1906 to 1924 who was instrumental in the development of the federal legislation that created the national Cooperative Extension System.

60 Years of Cooperative Extension Service in Massachusetts, A History, Massachusetts Extension Service, 1963.