Ecological Agriculture: The Science and Policy of Food Systems


Fall 2013, Winter 2014 and Spring 2014 quarters

Taught by

agricultural ecology, food systems
feminist theory, consciousness studies
Thomas Johnson


High school general biology and chemistry course.

Currently, more than three-quarters of the arable land mass of the planet is influenced by human needs and desires for food and fiber. There are competing visions for the future of our agriculture and food systems. A global, fossil fuel-based system provides large quantities of inexpensive food along with significant environmental and social impacts. Another vision is a local, community-based system that produces higher quality, but more expensive food while seeking to minimize environmental and social impacts. Critical questions that will inform our inquiry include: Can we grow high-quality food that is available to everyone? What kinds of agriculture, as Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson ask, will “meet the expectations of the land”?  Are local, sustainable, alternative food systems best? Can Native American agriculture inform us? What is the role of the small farm and urban agriculture? How did we get into this current agricultural predicament?  What local, state and national policies need to be changed to create a more sustainable food system?  How can an individual make a difference?

This program will provide a broad, interdisciplinary study of agriculture in the context of food systems. We will explore competing ideas from a critical perspective of social and ecological sustainability. We will emphasize the development of ecological and holistic thinking, which will be applied in hands-on laboratory and field exercises, expository and scientific report writing, quantitative reasoning, as well as community engagement. Lectures will focus on ecological principles applied to agroecosystems, soil science and fertility management, crop and livestock management, traditional indigenous agriculture, permaculture and regional to global food systems, as well as an examination of history, policy, and the social, political, and economic context of agriculture.

Fall emphasis: The agroecology portion of fall quarter will emphasize energy flow and biodiversity in agricultural systems. Labs will focus on ecological principles applied to agriculture. The social science and policy portion will emphasize agricultural history, geography and the development of the modern industrial food system and be complemented by seminar readings and discussions.  A multi-day field trip to local farms, livestock producers, Native American resource use system and urban gardens will familiarize us with the reality of farming and the local food system. 

Winter emphasis: The agroecology portion of winter quarter will focus on soil science, particularly soil ecology and nutrient cycling in lecture and lab. The social science and policy portion will examine the impact of current farm and food policy on agriculture and opportunities for pursuing sustainability at the local level. Seminar will critically examine potential futures for agriculture.  Farm visits and an extended field trip to attend the Eco-Farm conference in California are planned.

Spring emphasis: We will study agroecology, traditional agriculture and permaculture in a tropical context. Seminar will focus on international “sustainable development” and its contradictions, successes and challenges. As a final project, students will apply their knowledge of tropical crops and soils to create a farm plan in a geographic area of their choice. This would be excellent preparation for an internship abroad and/or Peace Corps.

In spring this program will be teaming up with Student-Originated Studies: Seeds, Beads, Bees and other Biodynamical Processes to offer students choices for a 6 day Skagit Valley/Lopez Island field trip and joint modules in Tropical Cropping Systems/Permaculture; Seminar on International Development; Organic Gardening Practicum; Biodynamic Culture and Agriculture Seminar; Artist Lecture Series; Critical and Cultural Theory Lecture and Discussion Series; Community-Based Service Learning or Internships in Food and Agriculture.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

farm, nursery and garden management; agriculture, food system and environmental consulting firms; state and county agricultural and natural resource agencies; farming interships abroad, Peace Corps service and agricultural and food justice non-profit organizations. This program can help students prepare for Practice of Sustainable Agriculture beginning in spring quarter.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Required Fees

$200 in fall for overnight field trips, conference registration and produce tastings and $700 in winter for overnight field trips and conference registration.

Special Expenses

$150 in winter for food expenses during conference and $290 in spring for an overnight field trip and food tastings.

Upper Division Science Credit

Upper division science credit may be awarded in agroecology in fall and soil science in winter upon successful completion of all work; upper division credit in spring depends on the foundations established in fall and winter.

May be offered again in



Date Revision
March 3rd, 2014 Spring fees and expenses have been reduced to $290.
February 27th, 2014 Sarah Williams has joined the team in spring.
December 3rd, 2013 $150 special expense added winter quarter.
November 6th, 2013 Winter fees have increased from $690 to $700.
April 1st, 2013 Program title has changed from Ecological Agriculture: Meeting the Expectations of the Land.
April 1st, 2013 TJ Johnson has joined the teaching team; the description has been updated.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50


Course Reference Number

So - Sr (16 credits): 10164

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Signature Required

Previous experience with agriculture or ecology and high school chemistry and biology. Students will also need to review various chapters in Agroecology: the Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems . Contact Martha Rosemeyer (

Course Reference Number

So - Sr (16 credits): 20147

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Signature Required

Previous experience with agriculture or ecology and high school chemistry and biology. Students will also need to review various chapters in Agroecology: the Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems . Contact Martha Rosemeyer (

Course Reference Number

So - Sr (16 credits): 30127

Go to to register for this program.

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