Section 4: Food Systems and Sustainability
Authors in this section: Steven Vanek and Karl Zimmerer, Pennsylvania State University
Summary and Overview
In this section:
This is the final section of the Future of Food course. The purpose of this module is to bring together the natural and human components of food systems described throughout the course and examine them in relation to different social contexts as well as food system resilience and sustainability challenges. Module 10 presents a typology of global food systems and life cycle assessment as a tool for measuring food system impacts on the environment. Module 11 presents resilience, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability of food systems using agrobiodiversity of local seed systems in the Southwest, and food insecurity and famine, as two case studies for examining adaptive capacity and vulnerability. These modules are intended to assist learners in integrating a whole-system viewpoint, as well as concepts of resilience, into their final capstone projects.
Strengths of the SectionThis section addresses key learning goals for the Future of Food course that address geoscience-related grand challenges facing human society and food systems. By integrating the natural system and human system elements presented in the previous sections of the course, we are fostering systems thinking about interdisciplinary systems: for example examining how social factors like regional marketing can spur innovation and environmentally more sustainable management in U.S. "agriculture of the middle" (Module 10.1), or the way that political and climate shocks can reinforce each other to exacerbate the extreme vulnerability of farmers and others who confront famine conditions (Module 11.2). In many places in the modules students make use of real data adapted from published studies and other sources, to examine the way that food systems impact the environment. Specific geoscience-related grand challenges addressed by the module are the relationship of food production to fossil fuel use and climate change (see the summative assessment for Module 11.2); and the ways that indigenous groups use agrobiodiversity as a form of adaptive capacity to drought, which is an important facet of Earth's biodiversity interacting with a human management system.
This course is developed to provide integration and closure of the learning materials at the end of our Future of Food course. It could also be used in a course on sustainability or food security approaches, since many of the examples and cases we employ explicitly address environmental impacts and/or resilience and vulnerability as they relate to culturally important crops and food supply. It is designed for first- and second-year undergraduate students, so that little prior knowledge is assumed. However, students with a background in environmental sciences or agriculture may be at an advantage in the readings and evaluations.
See the overall learning goals and detailed student learning objectives in the instructor pages for each module (links below in the section outline)
- Module 10: Food Systems - Presents a typology of different food systems, contrasting large scale global corporate systems, with smallholder agriculture for example. The second part of the module engages students in measuring food system impacts using a life-cycle assessments.
- Module 11: Human-Environment Interactions - presents concepts of resilience, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability as they relate to food systems. The two cases used to develop these concepts further are the seed systems of the Hopi in the Southwest U.S., and an analysis of vulnerability in the Somali famine of 2012.
- Capstone Project 4 - Students begin to complete their capstone assignments by adding concepts around food systems, resilience, and sustainability.
- Module 12: Capstone Stage 5 -Students summarize and synthesize the information they have been gathering throughout the semester into their final website, which is the culmination of their capstone project.
Assessments in this section are:
- Summative assessment 10.2: students conduct a life-cycle analysis to compare industrial agriculture production of potatoes versus smallholder Andean production of potatoes.
- Formative assessment 11.1: in a required reading, students identify and analyze examples of adaptive capacity and vulnerability in the history of seed systems and agrobiodiversity among the Hopi Indians in the southwest U.S.
- Summative assessment 11.2 students conduct an analysis of the 2012 Somali famine, integrating political and weather shocks with examples of adaptive capacity and vulnerability within Somalia during that time.