Ecological Agriculture: The Science, Justice, and Policy of Food Systems

Fall 2018
Winter 2019
Spring 2019
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

food justice, social movements, urban agriculture, social inequalities
agricultural ecology, food systems

There are many competing visions for the future of our current food system. On one side is the global, industrial-based system that provides large quantities of inexpensive food with significant environmental and social impacts. A competing vision is a local, community-based system that produces higher quality, more expensive food while seeking to minimize environmental and social impacts. Other visions include ones that challenge systemic injustices in the food system by prioritizing equitable access to land, farmworker justice, and fresh food for historically marginalized communities while working in harmony with the earth. We will explore these visions from a critical perspective of social and ecological sustainability asking: How can a humane, socially just agricultural system that minimizes environmental degradation meet the food needs of the world? In what ways can farmers be stewards of the soil, biodiversity, and landscape? In what ways have poor people and people of color been historically dispossessed and marginalized in the food system?

This program will provide a broad, interdisciplinary study of agriculture that explores these competing visions from a critical perspective of social and ecological sustainability, grounded in a food justice framework. We will develop systems thinking and skills associated with community work, expository writing, and laboratory and library research. Lectures will focus on ecological principles applied to agroecosystems, soil science and fertility management, crop and livestock management, inequitable food access for low-income communities, as well as local to global food systems and political economy, and agricultural history. Labs will provide a hands-on introduction to soil ecology and fertility, with weekly seminars to support our inquiries. Multi-day field trips will allow students to visit farms working toward sustainability, meet key players in food system change, and attend meetings such as the Eco-Farm conference in California.

Fall: The agroecology portion will emphasize energy flow and biodiversity as applied to agricultural systems. A social science approach will focus on the role that ideas and institutions have played in shaping U.S. agriculture as well as the intersections of environmental and food justice issues by examining topics like food waste and environmental racism.

Winter: The agroecology focus will be soil science, soil ecology, and nutrient cycling. We will work with civic engagement as a way to move us toward our vision. A policy workshop focusing both on local and national policy such as the 2019 Farm Bill is planned. We will delve further into pertinent topics in the area of food justice such as farmworker struggles, historical dispossession of farmers of color, urban agriculture, and global issues in food sovereignty. Emphasis will be on lab exercises, critical analysis, library research, and expository writing.

Spring: We will study agroecology, traditional agriculture, and permaculture in a tropical context. The policy portion will study international agriculture and trade policy. We will pursue in-depth studies on food sovereignty movements at the grassroots level that are transforming the food system in a more just and equitable manner. Students will also have the opportunity to intern with organizations in the community working.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

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


Credits per quarter


High school general biology and chemistry course.

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.
Special expenses:

$200 in winter for food expenses during conference.


$370 in fall and $860 in winter for overnight field trips and conference registration. $250 in spring for an overnight field trip.

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.

Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 - 9:00 am
SEM 2 D1105 - Lecture

Located in: Olympia

May be offered again in:


2019-02-19New York trip has been removed from option and special fee section for Spring