A growing appetite for food systems

As a CES major, Desire Smith discovered a love for urban ag.

As a CES major, Desire Smith discovered a love for urban ag.

Anyone looking to see exciting growth of a new field should talk with the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. Since changing its name from Rural Sociology in 2009, the number of undergraduate majors has quadrupled. And a big reason for that rapid growth is the increased visibility of environmental issues in general—and food issues in particular.

“Perhaps as many as half of our undergraduates want to work on local food issues,” says professor and department chair Gary Green. “Some would like to start a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, others would like to work for a nonprofit and still others see themselves in food policy positions in the future. In addition, there is growing interest in urban agriculture programs in major cities. We believe we have the potential to make an important contribution to CALS through preparing students to work in this growing field.”

The department is taking a two-pronged approach to meeting this demand. They are raising funds to support one or two graduate student fellowships specifically in the area of food systems research—and they also seek to hire an assistant professor with a focus on food systems. These new positions would serve not only to advance research and outreach in the field, but also to help meet high undergraduate demand for related classes and field opportunities.

“There is a growing interest in CALS in developing a certificate in food systems, and these positions could play a key role in supporting that effort,” notes Green. Three food systems courses now being piloted in CALS, with the participation of five departments, could serve as the core of a future food systems certificate program.

The department is not a new player in the study of local food systems. Indeed, emeritus professor Jack Kloppenburg, who retired last year, is a nationally renowned pioneer in the field. The loss of Kloppenburg and two other professors with local food systems expertise— Jess Gilbert and Jill Harrison—has left the department less able to continue leading the charge.

“It is critical to recruit new faculty to continue to provide teaching, research and outreach in this area,” notes Green. The position would also enable the department to take advantage of numerous funding opportunities for food systems research.

“We foresee no drop-off of interest in food and agriculture, but rather a longrange increased demand in this area,” Green says.

PHOTO – As a CES major, Desire Smith discovered a love for urban ag.