STOCKSCH 397GF – Global Food Systems: A Sustainability Analysis

ANNOUNCING  ****NEW***** Online Class added Fall of 2014!

Global Food Systems: A Sustainability Analysis

STOCKSCH 397 GF – 3 credits

 Fall Semester 2014

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.

reneeThis 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: 25%
  • Discussion Assignments: 25%
  • Homework Assignments: 25%
  • Final Project: 25%


Tentative Outline of Content

Week One

  • Local and Global Food Systems: A Comparison and Sustainability Analysis
  • Concentration of agribusinesses
  • Seed Industry Graph
  • Benefits of local food economy
  • Sustainable Farming and Conventional
  • Principles of organic agriculture
  • Health and environmental risks of agricultural chemical applications
  • Hybrid and heirloom seeds, Crop selection and breeding
  • Factory farming

Week Two

  • History and Current Trends of American Food System (policies, production, etc)
  • Farm Bill and how this affects farmers and citizens
  • Farm Commodity Program
  • Main crop productions of each state, where it’s processed and how consumed

Week Three

  • Overview of Global Food Production (what is produced where and why)
  • Emphasis on Commodity Crops (sugar beets, corn, soybeans, rice, etc)
  • Excellent source from the FAO. Select country to see their commodity crops and global ranking

Week Four

  • Food Animal Production
  • Fodder, antibiotics, energy inputs, slaughter, transport, global risks

Week Five

  • Supply Chains, Distribution Infrastructure, Processing and Trade Ports
  • Students choose one food item (ex. chocolate bar, vanilla soy milk, strawberry yogurt, hotdogs, etc) and trace its life from soil to grocery store

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. Labor in food systems
  • Food Safety
  • Foodborne pathogens, chemical contaminants in food, etc
  • Laws, regulations, etc

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 Compare eating habits of cultures around the world Diet and Influences on Food Choice
  • Food Marketing and Labeling

Week Ten

  • Food Shortages and the Future of Food
  • Climate change
  • Recent and historic food shortages

Week Eleven

  • Imagining sustainable food systems
  • 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
  • Land conservation efforts

Week Twelve

  • 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.


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.