Students, faculty spearhead new possible food systems and sustainability minor

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Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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In an effort to bring more attention to sustainability issues and reinvigorate the campus’s approach to food systems education, students and faculty are spearheading what they hope to be a new minor on campus.

The Berkeley Food Institute, which has been in conversation with various departments and student groups on campus, hopes to form a committee of faculty and students to develop plans for a minor in food systems and sustainability by the beginning of March. Next week, BFI Executive Director Ann Thrupp is meeting with administrators to discuss the procedure for developing a minor.

“Administration is open and willing and ready to make this happen as soon as possible,” said Magnolia Barrett, education director at the Student Environmental Resource Center. “They understand there’s a lot of interest for students, and now all the doors are open for us.”

Thrupp said that the idea was brought up at a BFI strategic planning session in November but that this process could take several months.

Coincidentally, UC Berkeley senior Ellie Lum also realized the need for a minor after discovering last fall that one of her former classes, Urban Agriculture and Food Justice, was no longer offered. The class, she said, was the only one, other than DeCals, that used the student garden to provide hands-on experience to students.

“It became obvious to me then that if this class didn’t continue, then hands-on sustainable agriculture education was not being offered to the capacity it could be,” Lum said.

When Lum talked to Albie Miles, her former graduate student instructor for the class, about her concerns, he introduced her to a proposal he developed in 2008 with colleague Nathan McClintock on a food systems and sustainability minor that highlighted the importance of experiential education. Miles, a doctoral candidate in the department of environmental science, policy and management, said it didn’t come to fruition in partbecause of funding concerns at the time.

“We really don’t have the luxury to be engaging in a purely theoretical education,” Miles said. “We need to be equipping people to move an agenda based on the knowledge they have.”

Groups such as the Student Organic Garden Association as well as members of the Occupy the Farm movement also support the potential minor. Representatives said the UC Berkeley Student Organic Garden and the Gill Tract — a plot of university-owned land in Albany — could be ideal resources for students seeking hands-on experience in the minor.

“Although the greater Berkeley community sets a standard for local, organic and sustainable ‘slow’ food, this is not reflected academically in Cal’s curricula,” said SOGA member Anika Rice, who is also a UC Berkeley student.

Thrupp said the department or school that would house the minor is still up for discussion. Campus professor Claire Kremen, in the department of environmental science, policy and management, said because the study of food systems is so interdisciplinary, it doesn’t fit neatly into an existing major.

Kremen explained that several different factors, such as political and economic situations, influence food systems. In light of this, the original proposal’s curriculum included classes on a range of issues, such as rural development in Latin America and environmental justice.

“When we think of food systems, it’s a lot more than agriculture,” Kremen said. “There are a lot more components to it — we’re talking about all the way from the farm to the fork.”