In Our Spotlight
From Humble Seeds to Fruit Trees: Matthew Bley's Journey at UMass
In the heart of UMass Extension, a new researcher and educator has emerged—Matthew Bley. Bley joined the university five years ago as an undergraduate engineering student, but quickly realized that to have the impact and connection he desired, he needed to be involved in agriculture.
Bley completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Plant and Soil Sciences at UMass Amherst last year and after graduating, jumped upon an opportunity to earn a Master's Degree. He became a full-time Fruit Educator in August, cultivating his years of expertise and passion for fruit while working toward his graduate degree part-time.
Embarking on this journey just months ago, Bley readily admits he's on a quest to educate himself as much as he educates others. His love for fruit has led him to delve into research, as well as into the world of Extension.
Bley is laying the groundwork for research that contributes to the field of agricultural science and simultaneously offers valuable insights directly to growers. Working as a member of the Extension Fruit team, Bley is not only an educator—he is closely connected to the Massachusetts fruit-growing community.
Reflecting on his childhood, Bley's interest in agriculture was sparked by his father's backyard garden. “I was pretty removed” from any direct experience working in agriculture, he said, and like many kids growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, Bley saw food as something that just showed up in the grocery store.
But Bley’s dad, who was raised in a small farm town in Germany, always had a connection to the land. He would tell stories of his childhood, scaling trees for a few ripe cherries and wandering the forest in search of sweet wild strawberries.
However, the New Jersey suburb where the family settled down did not offer the same awareness of where food came from. According to Matthew, “My dad liked to say he had a green thumb, but I can see now how that wasn't exactly the case,” he jokes, but he does realize that his dad helped him to appreciate nature and where food comes from.
“The garden was small but mighty” and it sparked a curiosity as Matthew witnessed the magic of a few meager seeds transforming into food on the table. Even in the suburbs, his father’s backyard garden gave him a taste of the wonder of growing.
During his undergraduate experience, Bley credits a diverse range of experiences, including his involvement in the Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates (REEU) program. Working with Dr. Jaime Pinero in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Bley learned the skill of conveying research through effective communication with growers.
Before beginning the REEU internship, Bley found himself “wrapped up in classes” and stuck behind his laptop. Getting out into the field reminded him why he wanted to study in Stockbridge. He recalls the moment he realized: “oh, I can actually have an impact on the food system!”
Bley credits much of what he knows to instructors in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. “I owe a lot to everyone in Stockbridge… my professors really influenced my career path,” Bley describes.
Bley aspires to be a grower himself someday, specifically acknowledging the wisdom of former professor, Duane Greene, who emphasized the value of learning by doing. “The best way to learn is to do it yourself,” Greene would say. Bley is grateful for the guidance and motivation he received from his instructors that shaped his understanding of agriculture.
Bley continues to sow the seeds of knowledge that define UMass' commitment to science and education as a Fruit Educator and graduate student.