University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Food, Farms, and Community

    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate the importance of making and using mental models of systems we study.
  2. Articulate general relationships between food system inputs, food system outputs and food system outcomes.
  3. Discern what smaller systems make up food systems, and how food systems are part of larger systems within society.
  4. Understand what ‘scale’ is and the many ways that scale can be studied within food systems.
    Questions
  1. British mathematician George E. P. Box is credited with saying “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” If any model of a food system is wrong, why might the process of developing a conceptual model be useful nonetheless?
  2. What is the goal of a food system? Is there only one goal, or are there many? If many, are some goals more important than others, and which seem to be most important? How important are these goals with respect to food system organization?
  3. How do cultural elements of people’s food preferences color their food systems ideals? Would you expect similar food systems to develop in two vastly different cultures that ate different foods? What drives system divergence?
  4. Albert Einstein is credited with saying “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them”. If this is true, what does this mean for our desires to solve problems within food systems?
  5. Where do problems come from within food systems, or really within any system?
    Resources
  1. Jennifer Hodbod, Hallie Eakin. 2015. Adapting a social-ecological resilience framework for food systems. Journal of Environmental Studies and Science 5: 474-484.
  2. Jiangou Liu, Thomas Dietz, Stephen R. Carpenter, et al. 2007. Coupled human and natural systems. Ambio 36: 639-649.
  3. Jeffrey Sobal, Laura Khan, Carole Bisogni. 1998. A conceptual model of the food and nutrition system. Social Science and Medicine 47: 853-863.
    Activities
  1. Drawing a Systems Map (.docx)
  2. Drawing Boundaries Around a Food System (.docx)
  3. The Origins of Food (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate the relationship between ‘local’ food and other qualities of food, such as sustainability, health, etc.
  2. Articulate the benefits and costs that attend increases in local food production and consumption.
    Questions
  1. What is local? What do people want local to mean, and how does that shape their views of what local food actually means?
  2. Who should ultimately have the power to define local? Should federal governments, or even the United Nations, ultimately get to decide what ‘local’ means?
  3. What happens if no one is granted the power to decide what local means? Would it be useful to leave the definition of ‘local’ in the hands of state or local governments? What would the consequences of this be?
  4. Is it always worthwhile to favor local producers over more distant suppliers?
  5. What effect does education have on people’s purchasing habits and their preference for products produced closer to home?
    Resources
  1. Robert Feagan. 2007. The place of food: mapping out the ‘local’ in local food systems. Progress in Human Geography 31: 23-42.
  2. Branden Born & Mark Purcell. 2006. Avoiding the local trap: scale and food systems in planning research. Journal of Planning Education and Research 26: 195-207.
  3. Laura DeLind. 2011. Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars? Agriculture and Human Values 28: 273-283.
  4. Jonathan Murdoch, Terry Marsden, and Jo Banks. 2000. Quality, nature and embeddedness: Some theoretical considerations in the context of the food sector. Economic Geography 76: 107-125.
    Activities
  1. Origins of Local Food (.docx)
  2. Critical Issues in Your Local Foodshed (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate key elements of the business of food and farming, and the constraints this business imposes on entrepreneurs within food systems.
  2. Articulate different business models used within food and farming, and the costs and benefits of each.
  3. Gain a sense of perspective regarding how large a business food and farming is within the broader context of the US economy, and how important different aspects of food and farming are within this sector.
    Questions
  1. What portion of the problems commonly associated with food systems are directly linked to the fact that food production is a commercial activity?
  2. It is noted within this chapter that people in the United States are spending less on food than in the past. Is this because food quality is going down, or is it because food of comparable quality to that consumed 50 years ago is simply cheaper, or are there other reasons?
  3. How would your diet be different if you could eat only locally grown foods? How would your community change if all food had to be produced locally?
  4. What factors contribute to the emergence and persistence of food deserts?
  5. Have you ever engaged anyone in the business of food or farming about their business? If so, did they make what you’d consider to be a decent living? Did they work what you’d consider to be long hours?
  6. Is the food sector an arena you’re drawn to as an entrepreneur? If so, why? If not, why not?
    Resources
  1. Bren Smith. 2014. Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers. New York Times, opinion section.
  2. Jaclyn Moyer. 2015. What Nobody Told Me About Small Farming: I Can’t Make a Living. Salon.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture’s Economics Research Service hosts agricultural and financial data on many aspects of the US food sector.
  4. Visit your state’s University Extension Service and investigate resources they offer exploring farm viability.
    Activities
  1. Visit a Local Farmers’ Market or Grocery Store (.docx)
  2. Calculating a Food Business’s Profit or Loss (.docx)
  3. Farm Viability Systems Map (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate the relationship between food systems and the values that drive them.
  2. Explore the ideas and impacts of externalized costs and full-cost accounting within food systems.
  3. Explore ways to draw a more diverse array of values into food system decision-making processes.
    Questions
  1. What is the role of transparency in food systems and in consumers’ food choices?
  2. What is the relationship between the commodification of food, and producers’ land and food ethics?
  3. Is there an industrial food ethic that runs counter to Wendell Berry’s agrarian ethic?
  4. Is the model articulated in the section on Shepherd’s Grain generalizable? Is it scalable?
    Resources
  1. Paul Rozin. 2005. The meaning of food in our lives: a cross-cultural perspective on eating and well-being. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 37: S107-S112.
  2. Michael Pollan’s four-part Netflix series entitled Cooked, which does a fantastic job exploring food values in the United States.
  3. Michael Pollan’s documentary In Defense of Food, which also explores values associated with food in the United States.
    Activities
  1. Values and Food Choices (.docx)
  2. Have the class develop a list of participants in the food system, from large and small farms to consumers. For each, brainstorm a list of values. Consider whether and to what extent these values can coexist, and how they ought to be prioritized.
  3. The Story of Food (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Understand the composition of the agricultural workforce in the United States.
  2. Discern the types of visas that allow foreign workers to enter the U.S. to work in our agricultural sector, and how those opportunities have changed over time.
  3. Articulate the challenges facing the U.S. agricultural workforce, including those that relate to migrant workers.
    Questions
  1. What role do labor costs play in forcing farmers to adopt less sustainable practices?
  2. What are a few factors that influence the increase in undocumented agricultural workers?
  3. What changes in food systems are needed to alleviate the strain around migrant farm labor, particularly undocumented workers?
    Resources
  1. Migrant Justice website, where you can read about issues facing migrant workers in Vermont’s agricultural system, particularly on its dairy farms.
  2. Hide, a documentary about undocumented migrant workers in Vermont’s dairy industry.
  3. Coalition of Immokalee Workers website, where you can read about issues facing migrant workers in Florida’s fruit and vegetable industry.
  4. Food Chain$, a documentary about migrant workers in Florida’s tomato industry.
    Activities
  1. Interview an Agricultural Laborer (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate the major impacts that farming has on environmental systems.
  2. Articulate the rationale behind practices that cause negative environmental consequences.
  3. Articulate policies and programs intended to mitigate environmental harm.
  4. Outline the chief distinguishing features of organic and sustainable agriculture systems, and agroecology, and how each differs from conventional farming.
    Questions
  1. What factors prevent large-scale investments in sustainable food production?
  2. What does sustainable food production look like? How does one go about answering this question?
  3. What are some of the most challenging impacts associated with modern food production?
    Resources
  1. David Tilman, Kenneth Cassman, Pamela Matson, et al. 2002. Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature 418: 671-677.
  2. David Tilman, Christian Balzer, Jason Hill, et al. 2011. Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science 108: 20260-20264.
  3. Claire Kremen, Neal Williams, Robbin Thorp. 2002. Crop pollination from native bees at risk from agricultural intensification. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science 99: 16812-16816.
  4. Pamela Matson, Peter Vitousek. 2006. Agricultural intensification: will land spared from farming be land spared for nature? Conservation Biology 20: 709-710.
    Activities
  1. Agriculture’s Biggest Impacts (.docx)
  2. Genetically Engineered Foods (.docx)
    Case Study
  1. The Main Street Project in Northfield, Minnesota contributed by Greg Schweser (.pdf)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate different measures of climate change and their implications for agriculture.
  2. Explore how agricultural enterprises can adapt to a changing climate.
  3. Articulate the difference between climate adaptation and climate mitigation.
  4. Explore agriculture’s mitigation options for climate change.
    Questions
  1. How does agriculture influence climate change?
  2. What effects will climate change have on agriculture?
  3. How are these two sets of impacts related? Are any feedback loops apparent?
  4. Will the geographic distribution of impacts on agriculture correspond with with each region’s contributions to climate change? If not, are there institutions that will compensate those who will be disproportionately affected?
  5. What are key factors that actors within food systems must use to balance adaptation versus mitigation?
    Resources
  1. Henning Steinfeld, Pierre Gerber, Tom Wassenaar, et al. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow. United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.
  2. Robert Goodland. 2012. FAO Yields to Meat Industry Pressure on Climate Change. July 11, The New York Times.
  3. Maurice Pitesky, Kimberly Stackhouse, Frank Mitloehner. 2009. Clearing the air: livestock’s contribution to climate change. Advances in Agronomy 103: 1-40.
    Activities
  1. Climate Change Controversy (.docx)
  2. Regional Climate Change Adaptation (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Define primary productivity and articulate how it serves as the driving force behind much energy use on earth.
  2. Articulate how energy is used throughout the United States food system, and how much energy is used overall.
  3. Articulate the value of energy efficiency and conservation measures, and explore particular measures.
    Questions
  1. List energy sources that rely on primary production, and those that do not. What are the key differences between them?
  2. What factors might make production of local food more energy intensive than food produced and distributed on a larger scale?
  3. When a farmer uses renewable energy on their farm, does this reduce their energy use or merely substitute one fuel for another?
  4. What factors might encourage a farmer to invest in on-farm renewable energy? What factors might weigh against it?
  5. Use the resources listed below to discover a) why it might be desirable to have  a food system that produces more edible food energy than it requires as input energy in all of its forms; and b) how that might be achieved.
    Resources
  1. Cutler Cleveland. 1995. The direct and indirect use of fossil fuels and electricity in USA agriculture, 1910 – 1990. Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment 55: 111-121.
  2. Patrick Canning, Ainsley Charles, Sonya Huang, et al. 2010. Energy Use in the U.S. Food System. Report by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economics Research Service.
  3. Nathan Pelletier, Eric Audsley, Sonja Brodt, et al. 2011. Energy intensity of agriculture and food systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 36: 223-246.
  4. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, Marianne Ekstrom, Helena Shanahan. 2003. Food and life cycle energy inputs: consequences of diet and ways to increase efficiency. Ecological Economics 44: 293-307.
  5. David Pimentel, Sean Williamson, Courtney Alexander, et al. 2008. Reducing energy inputs in the US food system. Human Ecology 36: 459-471.
  6. Richard Manning. 2004. The Oil We Eat. Harper’s Magazine V. 308 Issue 1845, p. 37.
    Activities
  1. Embodied Energy in Food (.docx)
  2. Exploring the Energetics of Food (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate the links between hunger and obesity, particularly those relating to socioeconomics and food culture.
  2. Define food security and how it relates to hunger in a developed country like the United States.
  3. Explore the role that locally produced food can play in alleviating hunger and food insecurity.
    Questions
  1. What factors connect food insecurity to hunger and obesity?
  2. What roles can local food play in alleviating food insecurity?
  3. What values hamper efforts to alleviate food insecurity?
    Resources
  1. Marion Nestle. 2016. Corporate funding of food and nutrition research: science or marketing? Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine 176: 13-14.
  2. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture’s Economics Research Service. Food Security in the US website.
    Activities
  1. What is Healthy Food? (.docx)
  2. Barriers to Food Access (.docx)
  3. History of Food Access (.docx)
    Case Study
  1. The Farmlands Trust (Greater Victoria) Society: Agricultural stewardship at Newman Farm (.pdf)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate values supporting the development of farm to school programs.
  2. What goals are farm to school programs seeking to achieve?
  3. Describe the challenges faced by farm to school programs.
    Questions
  1. What are driving forces behind farm-to-school programs? In particular, what values are driving the development and implementation of these programs?
  2. What factors might hinder farm-to-school programs?
    Resources
  1. Patricia Allen, Julie Guthman. 2006. From ‘old school’ to ‘Farm-to-School’: neoliberalization from the ground up. Agriculture and Human Values 23: 401-415.
  2. Jessica Bagdonis, C. Clare Hinrichs, Kia Schaft. 2009. The emergence and framing of farm-to-school initiatives: civic engagement, health and local agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values 26: 107-119.
  3. Betty Izumi, Katherine Alaimo, Michael Hamm. 2010. Farm-to-school programs: perspectives of school food service professionals. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 42: 83-91.
  4. Vermont Farm to School Network’s website on the systems analysis they used to identify key leverage points for action in the state.
    Activities
  1. Farm to School Systems Analysis (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Define agritourism and on-farm marketing.
  2. Discuss geographic trends and impacts.
  3. Discuss the benefits and costs for farms, consumers, and communities.
    Questions
  1. What is agritourism and what value can it add to food systems?
  2. What challenges can agritourism create for farmers and local food systems?
    Resources
  1. Sharon Phillip, Colin Hunter, Kirsty Blackstock. 2010. A typology for defining agritourism. Tourism Management 31: 754-758.
  2. Nancy McGehee, Kyungmi Kim, Gayle Jennings. 2007. Gender and motivation for agritourism entrepreneurship. Tourism Management 28: 280-289.
  3. Christine Tew, Carla Barbieri. 2012. The perceived benefits of agritourism: the provider’s perspective. Tourism Management 33: 215-224.
    Activities
  1. Agritourism (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate the evolution of food safety regulations in the United States and factors that drove that evolution.
  2. Identify federal programs that promote food safety and their particular approaches.
    Questions
  1. What has driven changes in how food safety is undertaken in the United States over the last 200 years?
  2. How might local food and direct marketing change our approach to food safety?
    Resources
  1. Marsha Echols. 1998. Food safety regulation in the European Union and the United States: different cultures, different laws. Columbia Journal of European Law 4: 525-543.
  2. Donna Dosman, Wiktor Adamowicz, Steve Hrudley. 2001. Socioeconomic determinants of health- and food safety-related risk perceptions. Risk Analysis 21: 307-318.
  3. Wim Verbeke, Lynn Frewer, Joachim Scholderer, et al. 2007. Why consumers behave the way that they do with respect to food safety and risk information. Analytica Chimica Acta 586: 2-7.
    Activities
  1. Food Safety Systems Map (.docx)
  2. Food Safety Debate (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate various ways that farmers enter their profession.
  2. Explore challenges associated with farming and how that contributes to the demographic transition in the profession.
    Questions
  1. What are some of the effects of the demographic transition underway in farming?
  2. What things might drive some to get into farming? What might drive people to get out of farming?
  3. What are the biggest barriers to entry for new farmers?
    Resources
  1. M. Lobley, J. Baker, I. Whitehead. 2010. Farm succession and retirement: some international comparisons. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development 1: 49-64.
  2. Margaret Pitts, Craig Fowler, Matthew Kaplan, et al. 2009. Dialectical tensions underpinning family farm succession planning. Journal of Applied Communication Research 37: 59-79.
  3. Ashok Mishra, Hisham El-Osta, Saleem Shaik. 2010. Succession decisions in U.S. family farm businesses. Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 35: 133-152.
  4. Peter and the Farm, Magnolia Pictures 2016.
    Activities
  1. Farm Proprietor Panel (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate trends in farmland use in the United States and factors affecting those trends.
  2. Articulate policies and programs used for farmland preservation.
    Questions
  1. What factors have contributed to the decline in the number of farms over the last 100 years?
  2.  What parties have an interest in the preservation of farmland? What values motivate each?
  3. What policies and programs are commonly used to preserve farmland?
    Resources
  1. Jeffrey Kline, Dennis Wichelns. 1996. Public preferences regarding the goals of farmland preservation programs. Land Economics 72: 538-549.
  2. Rachelle Alterman. 1997. The challenge of farmland preservation: lessons from a six-nation comparison. Journal of the American Planning Association 63: 220-243.
  3. Matthew Mariola. 2005. Losing ground: farmland preservation, economic utilitarianism, and the erosion of the agrarian ideal. Agriculture and Human Values 22: 209-223.
    Activities
  1. Farmland Systems Map (.docx)
    Learning Objectives
  1. Articulate principles of healthy food systems and how to achieve them.
    Questions
  1. Regarding Box 15.1 on pages 234-235, what changes must happen to get there from here?
  2. How do adaptation, mitigation and transformation work together to create food system change?
  3. What key values do you see as important drivers in improving food systems?
    Resources
  1. H. Charles Godfray, John Beddington, Ian Crute, et al. 2010. Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327: 812-818.
  2. David Goodman. 2004. Rural Europe redux? Reflections on alternative agro-food networks and paradigm change. Sociologia Ruralis 44: 3-16.
  3. Anthony McMichael, John Powles, Colin Butler, et al. 2007. Food, livestock production, climate change, and health. The Lancet 370: 1253-1263.
    Activities
  1. What Does a Sustainable Food System Look Like? (.docx)