Published on February 18th, 2009 | by Gina Munsey2
University Launches Sustainable Food Degree Program
“I’m going to engage in hands-on organic gardening and culinary studies while immersed in the world of local and sustainable food systems.” If a college student told me this, I would assume that he or she planned to step away from the classroom and take a hiatus from secondary education.
But for Montana State University students, this seemingly implausible scenario is the real deal. Last month at the launch of the spring semester, MSU unveiled the brand-new Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems undergraduate degree program.
Students in this inaugural field of study have the freedom to choose among three different concentrations; sustainable food systems, sustainable crop production, or agroecology, which emphasizes agriculture’s role as a global player.
While other similar programs do exist in the United States, MSU’s degree is unique because it embraces market garden production. Market gardening, in which high-yield crops are cultivated from just a few acres, is often overlooked in commercial agriculture studies, but is a huge aspect of sustainable food systems. The small plot sizes of market gardens lend themselves well to less-mechanized methods of cultivation, and the produce is generally sold locally to those within the community.
Do local food systems have the potential to revolutionize the agricultural system as we currently know it? Professors in the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems track at MSU offer students the opportunity to find out for themselves under the open sky of the university’s three-acre CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable plot. By literally bring sustainability methods to life, students gain knowledge far beyond what any classroom lecture could offer.
True to its wholistic approach, each of the degree’s three concentrations also tackles the question of energy. Rather than ignore the natural resources consumed through agriculture, instructors directly address the strain that food production causes to local ecosystems. Through focusing on biologically-derived, renewable energy sources, students are taught to resolve these challenges in socially responsible ways.
The program espouses “a way of thinking and addressing issues that takes into account not just isolated parts of food, agriculture, and energy industries, but the whole system,” explains Kate Malone, one of the program’s developers.
This wholistic mindset, after all, will live on long after the students’ years in the classroom have finished. And what is more sustainable than that?