STOCKSCH 397 GF – Global Food Systems

coffeereneeGlobal Food Systems

September 8 – December 11, 2015

Register HERE after July 15

Instructor: Renee Ciulla          Contact:

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.

reneegoats2This 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: 25%
  • Homework Assignments: 25%
  • Exams: 25%
  • Final Project: 25%

Outline of Content

Week One – Healthy soil and farming the land is the foundation for all food produced on our planet. Therefore, an understanding and appreciation for the ways of growing food is a logical first step to take…

  • History of Food (development of agriculture)
  • Sustainable vs Conventional Agriculture (for those of you new to agriculture, these are a great general overview of the definitions or differences for each)
  • Overview of local, regional and global food descriptions
  • Food Economics
  • The 10 Major Food Companies
  • Consolidation in Seed Industry

Week Two – Before we go global, let’s spend a week studying out own country’s food system (history, policies and production) and how it fits into the worldwide food web…

  • Excellent overview of where US crops are grown, including maps
  • Dairy  and  Beef Production in USA
  • 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 (scroll down to table)

Week ThreeGlobal Food Production

  • National Geographic’s 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
  • Global fisheries and grain production

Week Four


  • US Dairy Exports (ex US exported 14% of its dairy in 2014. $131million just to Mexico! 32,000 tons of milk total only in Jan 2014)

Food Animal Production

  • Fodder, antibiotics, energy inputs, slaughter, transport, global risks
  • Factory Farm Map of USA:
  • Animal Production (John Hopkins)
  • Watch the film, Out to Pasture: The Future of Farming? (34 mins)

 Week Five

  • Supply Chains, Distribution Infrastructure, Processing and Trade Ports
  • Students choose one food item (ex. chocolate bar, chicken nuggets, orange juice, vanilla soy milk, strawberry yogurt, hotdogs, etc) and trace its life from soil to grocery store shelf (thinking about natural resources needed)

Week Six – Food Systems Policy and Trends (global and national)

  • Farm Bill
  • Subsidies
  • Influence of corporations/agribusiness on food policy
  • USDA support for local agriculture/hoop houses
  • Global trade and policies
  • International free trade agreements (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
  • Labor in food systems
  • Food Safety
  • Foodborne pathogens, chemical contaminants in food, etc
  • Laws, regulations, etc (FSMA discussed in Week 2)

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

  • Vertical farming
  • Issues of feeding the “masses” in a sustainable manner

Week Nine – Food Culture

  • 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
  • Food Marketing and Labeling

Week Ten – Food Shortages and the Future of Food

  • Climate Change and Global Food Production
  • Recent and historic food shortages

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?
  • Public institutions and food service corporations into the local sustainable food systems
  • Case studies of sustainable food systems and institutions creating change
  • Toronto Food Policy Council, Hardwick, VT, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (farm-to-plate 10-year strategic plan for food system), Third World countries-agroforestry, etc
  • Assessing the Economic Impacts of Regional Food Hubs: the Case of Regional Access
  • Land conservation efforts; review importance of easements; land trusts, etc

Week Twelve – Research

  • Begin research, interview questions and finalize topic for Final Project (see Week 13)

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



Register HERE after July 15

This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program.   To register for upcoming classes, see UMass Online.  Most classes cost $371/credit.  If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here.

Other Online Fall Classes in the Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate Program

STOCKSCH 105 – Soils (GenEd; BS – 4 credits Full

STOCKSCH 109 S – Plants in Our World (GenEd; BS & G – 4 credits) Full

STOCKSCH 297R – Raising Dairy Goats Sustainably (3 credits) Full

STOCKSCH 297V – Organic Vegetable Production (3 credits)


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