Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New course: sustainable food systems

Food production from chili to chocolate (and even pork) will be covered in a new course at UAF.

Students will learn the framework of sustainable food systems in a new course being offered at UAF beginning spring semester 2011.

“Comparative Farming and Sustainable Food Systems,” a three-credit course, came about because of student demand. Professor Craig Gerlach said he has been getting numerous requests to teach the course, which he once offered as a special topics class.

Subsistence farming in Africa, South America, and Mexico will be touched upon, as will small scale farming systems, organic farming, conventional farming, seed banks, and high-latitude agriculture. “We’re going to look at the whole issue of food security,” Gerlach said.

“I hope the students gain an appreciation of all that is being done in sustainable food systems, both the production side and the consumption side,” Gerlach said. “It will be a broad overview of sustainable agriculture. I hope the students will gain the ability to look at problems and analyze them from all different sides, not just to trash conventional systems of farming but to look at the up side and the down side.”

The syllabus describes the study of basic principles of food systems geography, food and nutritional security and insecurity, work with cross cultural perspectives on culinary and dietary traditions, poverty, hunger, equity, access and distribution throughout the global, regional, and local food systems. Farming will be looked at as science, art, and practice through comparison of industrial, organic, natural, and ecological systems, and through the contrast of historically proven crop and livestock production systems with new and innovative strategies for developing strong and resilient sustainable food systems at multiple scales.

Dr. Gerlach grew up on a New Mexico cattle ranch founded by his great-grandfather. He earned a B.A. in anthropology and a B.S. in zoology at the University of Oklahoma, a master’s in anthropology from the University of Oklahoma, and a doctorate in anthropology from Brown University. He is a professor for the UAF Center for Cross Cultural Studies and the Alaska Native Knowledge Network, a senior research scientist for the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, and an affiliate research professor of chemistry and biochemistry. He works closely with SNRAS Professors Milan Shipka and Meriam Karlsson and Associate Professor Joshua Greenberg. His research focuses on: sustainable development, comparative small-scale farming, and sustainable food systems in the Yukon River watershed, and nutritional and food systems ecology emphasizing the recovery and restoration of the wild plant and wild game component of traditional food systems.

The course will be offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Reichardt 203. The course is cross-listed as Geography/Natural Resources Management 493 and Cross Cultural Studies/Natural Resources Management 693. The textbooks will include Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine by Gary Nabhan, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan, Working Wilderness, the Malpais Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range by Nathan Sayre, The Farm as Natural Habitat, Reconnecting Food Systems with Ecosystems by D.L. and L.L. Jackson, Agroecology, the Science of Sustainable Agriculture by Miguel Altieri, The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry.

For more information, contact Gerlach or Cary DeWit, UA Geography Program department chair.

Update 12/2/10: the course syllabus will be available on line at the Center for Cross Cultural Studies spring course offerings page.

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