January 21 – April 29, 2020

Instructor: Renee Ciulla Bio Contact: rciulla@umass.edu

Course Overview and Objectives: Where are the diverse foods of the world grown? How are these crops processed? What does the vast network of food distribution look like and how do local food systems nest inside this complex global system? Concerns about food shortages, energy use, land use, climate change and biodiversity have created an urgent need for interdisciplinary researchers, policy-makers and citizens engaged in agriculture.

This course covers social aspects of the agri-food systems as well as the political economy of food, agriculture and sustainability. Students are also encouraged to examine the cultural, ecological and economic implications of the ways food is perceived, produced and consumed. From rural development to the controversy of GMOs, from land conservation to the politics of globalization, from local food systems to global food justice, students use interdisciplinary perspectives to comprehend, analyze and visualize improved global and local food systems.

As a final project, the challenges and opportunities presented throughout the course provide student’s with kindling for a self-designed research paper.

Course Structure:

At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a weekly summary list of all the work to be completed during each respective week of class. There will also be Discussion Questions which students will post responses to in the “discussion forum” section of Blackboard. These responses are due by 11:59pm on the Sunday of that module’s week. Required Readings are also listed with weekly required Homework questions that assist students to prepare for Quizzes. Two scheduled exams will be given during the semester. The Final Research Project will be created from the vast array of topic covered throughout the semester and determined by the student’s personal interests.


  • Class Participation & Discussion Assignments: 50%
  • Homework Assignments: 25%
  • Final Project: 25%

Outline of Content

Week One – Introduction

  • History of Food (development of agriculture)
  • Sustainable vs Conventional Agriculture
  • Farming Systems Trial
  • Overview of local, regional and global food descriptions
  • Food Economics
  • The 10 Major Food Companies
  • Consolidation in Seed Industry
  • Open pollinated, heirloom seeds

Week Two – American food system (history, policies and production) and how it fits into the worldwide food web…

  • Overview of US crops grown, including maps
  • Dairy and Beef Production in USA
  • Rice in USA
  • Peanuts
  • Overview of U.S. Agricultural Trade
  • The Farm Bill and Commodity Policy
  • Regulation of the U.S. Food Processing Sector
  • Grocery Distribution Network in USA

Week Three – Global Food Production

  • The Future of Food. How to Feed our Growing Planet
  • Overview of Worldwide Food Production (what is produced where and why)
  • Emphasis on Commodity Crops (sugar beets, corn, soybeans, rice)
  • Climate change and future food production
  • Water footprint of various crops and countries
  • World fertilizer trends
  • Global fisheries and grain production

Week Four


  • History of Milk
  • US Dairy Exports
  • Milk markets and trade
  • Status and Trends
  • Raw Milk Laws by States

Food Animal Production

  • Fodder, antibiotics, energy inputs, slaughter, transport, global risks, greenhouse gas emissions
  • Factory Farm Map of USA
  • Recent trends, future prospects of Animal Production
  • The film, Out to Pasture: The Future of Farming?
  • Water footprint of farm animal products
  • Beef, Pork and Poultry Industries in USA

Week Five – Food Processing

  • The global food processing industry
  • Export Development Authorities
  • Widespread use of palm oil, palm plantations, processing mills and sustainability issues
  • Supply Chains and Distribution Infrastructure
  • American food processing (FDAs regulatory info)
  • Major global processing firms headquartered in the USA
  • Shipping Routes and environmental costs
  • World Trade Ports

Week Six – Food Systems Policy and FTAs

  • American Food Policy
    • Overview, Farm Bill and associated readings
  • Subsidies
  • Influence of corporations/agribusiness on food policy
  • USDA policy initiatives to support local agriculture
  • International Food Policy
  • International free trade agreements (Canadas, EU, Australia, NAFTA and WTO)

Week Seven – Food Justice: Ethical Production and Distribution

  • Insight into how to improve environmental quality, nutrition and farmers’ incomes through sustainable agricultural practices in developing countries
  • GMOs and Ethics
  • Biotech crops and superweeds
  • Examples of food justice organizations throughout USA)
  • Food Justice video
  • Labor and the Global Food System
    • Several examples with various crops
  • Food Safety
    • Foodborne pathogens, chemical contaminants in food, etc
    • FSMA, laws, regulations, global partnerships, etc

Week Eight – Urban Agriculture (spatial inequality or opportunity for change?)

  • Vertical farming pros and cons
    • Examples of successful urban and vertical farms around the world
    • Top cities leading the way with urban ag ordinances
  • Numerous examples of effective urban ag organizations
  • USDA’s NRCS People’s Garden Program and garden examples
  • Issues of feeding the “masses” in a sustainable manner
  • Video about worlds first rooftop farm

Week Nine – Food Culture

  • Video about the Meaning of Food
  • Role of Slow Food and similar organizations
  • Food and Technology
  • Eating habits/cultures around the world
  • Food Expenditures by Country
  • Diet and Influences on Food Choice
  • Dietary Guidelines
  • Food Marketing and Labeling
    • Targets on youth
    • How labels try to fool you
  • Food Fraud

Week Ten – Food Shortages and the Future of Food

  • Population Growth and the Food Crisis (causes)
  • World Food Programme (humanitarian agency)
  • Hunger in America
  • Recent and historic food shortages
  • Water availability for global food production
  • Phosphorus and Food
  • Climate Change and Food Security
    • Effects on crop pollination
    • Risks to food supply (examples)

Week Eleven – Imagining sustainable food systems

There have been some grim statistics presented throughout this course. Now we take a breath of rejuvenating air reading about innovative projects and ideas across our nation. There is hope for the future of our food system!

  • Conceptualizing and creating sustainable food systems
  • Sustainability: a tool for food system reform?
  • What is a food shed, a food hub and food cooperatives (several thriving examples of each provided)
  • Public institutions joining local food systems (schools, hospitals, restaurants and the movements behind each)
  • Case studies of sustainable local food systems and institutions creating change (statewide food system plans are included)
  • Importance of land conservation efforts: agroforestry, conservation easements, land trusts, USDA Rural Development Programs

Week Twelve – Research

  • Begin research, interview questions and finalize topic for Final Research Project (topic of your choice)

Week Thirteen – Final Project

Please choose a topic covered over the course of the semester and complete an 8-10 page research paper (double-spaced, font-size 12 point) with at least 15 sources (not all web-based but also several academic, peer-reviewed articles). All topics must be approved at least 2 weeks in advance by instructor.

Please submit a .doc file type named lastname_finalassignment

Academic Honesty

No form of cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or facilitating of dishonesty will be condoned in the University community. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to:

  • Cheating – intentional use or attempted use of trickery, artifice, deception, breach of confidence, fraud and/or misrepresentation of one’s academic work
  • Fabrication – intentional and unauthorized falsification and/or invention of any information or citation in any academic exercise
  • Plagiarism – knowingly representing the words or ideas of another as one’s own work in any academic exercise. This includes submitting without citation, in whole or in part, prewritten term papers of another or the research of another, including but not limited to commercial vendors who sell or distribute such materials
  • Facilitating dishonesty – knowingly helping or attempting to help another commit an act of academic dishonesty, including substituting for another in an examination, or allowing others to represent as their own one’s papers, reports, or academic works

Sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the course instructor as soon as possible. Formal definitions of academic dishonesty, examples of various forms of dishonesty, and the procedures which faculty must follow to penalize dishonesty are contained in the Academic Honesty Policy.


This class fulfills requirements for all three of the online programs offered by the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture in Sustainable Food and Farming: