Starting in January, the University of Maine will offer a minor in sustainable food systems, enabling students to learn about farms and production of food.
The country’s first sustainable agriculture university program started at UMaine in 1986. The program, which is run by the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture, now supports environmental, economical and social education of sustainability.
Until recently, the sustainable agriculture program focused solely on food production and on targeting students interested in principles and practices of environmentally sound, profitable farming.
According to Eric Gallandt, professor of weed ecology and management, the new minor will concentrate more on food after it leaves a farm while focusing on the aspects of food as they relate to sustainability in communities.
Students will learn about United States and global food systems, including production, processing, safety, distribution and consumption.
Increasing national awareness and “societal interest of where food is coming from” got the ball rolling on this program, Gallandt said.
New terms are even emerging from this national trend, such as “locavore,” a word coined to describe people who base their diet on whether foods are produced locally.
“There is an increasing number of students with interest in local and regional food systems,” Gallandt said. Becoming a farmer is “now broader,” he added. “There is an emerging interest to get local foods to schools, hospitals and towns.”
A minor in sustainable food systems “will get students to a broader breadth of sustainability with a common ground in food,” Gallandt said.
Classes for the minor range widely throughout disciplines including food science, anthropology and peace studies. According to the expected learning outcomes of the minor on UMaine’s website, students will be able to “propose scenarios that will increase the sustainability of local, regional, national and global food systems.”
With such a variety of classes and disciplines coming together to teach about food systems, Gallandt thinks the benefits will be endless.
“Getting people to realize food is a foundational part of life, it bridges a lot of different disciplines,” he said.
With people becoming better educated on factory farming, many are finding more conventional methods of food production disagreeable. Factory farming has become “our motivation,” according to Gallandt.
Farmers markets are growing in popularity nationwide by 15 percent and “you can even see that in Orono,” Gallandt said. People are learning they can “vote with their food dollar,” he added.
“It’s not just the tree huggers,” he said. “People want to support local farms.”
Shopping locally or at farmers markets, in Gallandt’s opinion, is more personally satisfying because local food is produced in a way people believe in, and many feel more confident knowing their money goes back into the community.
Gallandt believes the minor will also be beneficial to students beyond the sustainable agriculture program.
“There will be something for everyone, creating a diverse audience around common themes of food,” he said.