by Sydney Johnson · November 1, 2014
UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff met Wednesday night in an open dialogue about the proposed Food Systems Minor. The Town Hall meeting, as it was called, centered primarily around audience input and invited those interested in the minor to come and share opinions, concerns and thoughts regarding what they hope to see included in the proposal.
The event was hosted by SERC education associate Jeff Noven and Student Organic Gardening Association (SOGA) leader Kate Kaplan, two undergraduate representatives on the proposal committee. The students started the event by providing a history of the minor, which has been in progress for nearly six years.
Originally proposed in 2008 by Albie Miles and Nathan McClintock, two PhD students studying at UC Berkeley, the minor was first submitted to the Bears Breaking Boundaries Contest as a Curricular Innovation Proposal under the title of “Food Systems & Sustainability.” Despite a favorable response by students and faculty however, the initial idea was never formally implemented.
Since then, “the minor has been in progress in many forms for several years,” said Noven, “and what did not initially go through has provided us a strong ideological basis for what we are doing here today.”
What Noven is referring to is the current revisioning of Miles and McClintock’s original minor proposal, which has resurfaced and is now in the drafting stage once again.
The writers of this proposal draw from all areas on campus. “The proposal committee has included several faculty members as well as students and staff, and in the future, the proposal will engage additional faculty who will be teaching the courses too,” said executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI), Ann Thrupp.
One of the key players in realizing the minor, “the BFI has taken an active role in facilitating the Food Systems Minor committee and proposal process over the last several months, which includes the community engagement aspects and curriculum,” said Thrupp.
“In the future, BFI would probably continue to be engaged with the community outreach component, and the faculty and college would be mainly responsible for the other aspects of the curriculum.”
Kaplan and Noven presented the Town Hall attendees with the most recent draft of the proposal, which they emphasized is subject to change. The goals of the current proposal are described as the following:
The purpose of the proposed minor is to provide comprehensive interdisciplinary education about food and agriculture systems, and to foster integrated learning to address major challenges and opportunities in this field. The proposed minor aims to integrate theoretical and experimental modes to educate students about the social, political, economic, environmental, cultural, and public health issues of contemporary food and agriculture systems both domestically and internationally.
The minor encompases three main components: two core courses, three elective courses and one community engagement project. Within these subsets are what Noven referred to as “the three big education outcomes,” which divide up the minor into specific subject areas of natural sciences, social sciences, and food and community health.
The courses within these elective forms draw from several different departments on campus, including Environmental Science Policy and Management, Geography, Nutritional Science, Sociology, Public Health and Plant Biology. There is also an option for students to petition a course if they find it to be appropriate but not officially written into the minor.
Unlike most major and minor programs on campus, the proposed Food Systems Minor would allow students to use two-unit, upper division DeCal courses for fulfilling the minor requirements.
By incorporating the student-led courses into the curriculum, Kaplan explained, “we are hoping to facilitate more democratic learning on campus.”
“Many DeCals offered here fall directly inline with the mission of the proposed minor, such as the SOGA DeCals, classes offered through the Berkeley Student Food Collective and even some chemistry DeCals could work,” she said.
The floor was then opened up to those attending the meeting, and many students shared what they liked, as well as what they felt could be added to the proposal. Critiques included requests for more critical sociology courses, as well as adding several integrative biology classes to course list.
“I think having another component more focusing on the community engagement portion would be good, maybe a preliminary seminar to prepare students for their outreach,” said graduating senior Asia Tallino.
It was later clarified that the community engagement component does currently include a supplemental seminar, however, students nevertheless expressed interest in expanding this portion of the minor.
In response to the comments, Thrupp shared her insight on what is already being done to address students’ concerns. “We have compiled a list of community engagement opportunities and have surveyed many organizations in the area, to identify needs and opportunities for students to be involved,” she said. “We hope that [the community engagement project] will be mutually beneficial for the student and the organizations involved.”
“The community engagement project will establish relationships and partnerships between the community and the university,” said Kaplan. “We want students to graduate with a hands-on education and these community connections already in place.”
When asked about the delays in its approval, those present who have been involved with its development said that because this is a new process, passing the minor has been a learning experience in itself, and satisfying each corner of the minor, including faculty, students and community organizations, has not been an easy task.
Noven pointed out that although navigating the bureaucracy has proven difficult, “many students are already taking the courses outlined here.”
“This minor will serve to provide students with a structured package they can get academic credit for,” he said. “Right now, there are options if you want to study food and agriculture, but there is nothing formal for us. We want to provide students with that structured disciple.”
Aside from student interest, “there is a greater demand for a Food Systems Minor because there are less and less farmers today,” said Kaplan. “We should give anyone with an interest in agriculture the opportunity to study it.”
It seemed as though many of the students in attendance wanted exactly that: a formal agricultural curriculum at UC Berkeley. Many in the group also identified as interdisciplinary majors who had formulated their studies to focus on the issues that the proposed Food Systems Minor aims to address.
“I wish I had this [class] list when I was choosing my major!” said Tallino, and after the back and forth discussions regarding what changes could or might made to the draft, it seemed many of the Town Hall attendees were pleased with the overall progress and trajectory of the minor proposal thus far.
Members of the proposal committee hope the minor proposal will be submitted for approval within the next two months, and available for students by 2015. More thoughts and opinions on the current draft are still being welcomed.