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College of Humanities & Sciences

Environmental Studies Sustainable Food and Farming Emphasis

Although Environmental Studies does not offer an official degree in Sustainable Food and Farming, many undergraduate and graduate students in our program are doing an emphasis in this area. This emphasis will not appear on your transcript or diploma.

Graduate Students:

In addition to Environmental Studies's requirements for the graduate degree, students can personalize their course of study in consultation with their advisor.

Undergraduate Students:

In addition to satisfying the general requirements for a degree in environmental studies, students desiring an emphasis in food and farming must complete: 6 supervised internship credits in the Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society (PEAS, ENST 396); ENST 430 (2 cr.); and ENST 480 (3 cr.). In addition, students must complete 9 credits of advisor-approved courses or internships. (Could include such courses as: ENSC 245N, ANSC 262, NRSM 424; NUTR 221N; PHAR 324; ANTH 133; GPHY 434).

For more information, contact: Neva Hassanein or Josh Slotnick

Eating, Farming, and Knowing:

The nature of food production and consumption has changed dramatically over the last 200 years. On the one hand, the industrialization and globalization of agriculture have increased production substantially and made it possible, for example, to consume fresh strawberries during a Montana winter. On the other hand, many citizens, farmers, and scholars are deeply concerned about the long-term sustainability of the food system economically, socially, and ecologically. Catapulted onto the public stage during the last 25 years, these questions of sustainability range widely - from debates over genetic engineering to findings of widespread pesticide contamination of water, from high rates of hunger and food insecurity to over-consumption of fast food and obesity, from the impact of urban sprawl on farm lands to the vast distance between farmers and eaters.

If, as Wendell Berry says, eating is an agricultural act, then everyone is involved in the health and quality of our food system. Yet, very few people have a clear understanding of how, where and why their food was produced. The tremendous social and geographic distance between growers and consumers accounts for the common ignorance of social and environmental consequences - as well as acts of courage, vision, and heroism - committed in the name of food production and distribution. This distance means we don't know, so how could we care? Knowledge and experience can span the informational gap between our food and us, as individuals and communities. That's why the University of Montana's Environmental Studies Program (EVST) created an emphasis on Sustainable Food and Farming.

The study of food systems lends itself beautifully to true interdisciplinary learning and problem solving. It also has the capacity to profoundly connect us with nature and the place we live. Students will discover our food system's complexity and vulnerability, and they will be able to ask informed questions. Students often learn a lot about the serious environmental problems confronting society, but they hunger for the opportunity to do something about it, something tangible and real. Accordingly, the Sustainable Food and Farming emphasis will give them the tools to do so. Educated, our graduates will be more to able to exercise the privileges of citizenship, more able to care.

Our vision is to provide students at the graduate and undergraduate level with the opportunity for (1) intensive interdisciplinary study of our food system; (2) hands-on experience growing organic food for low-income people on an urban farm; (3) community-based action research; and (4) active civic engagement.

Current Courses

ENST 396/590 - The PEAS Internship.

Since its inception in 1997, the Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society (PEAS) has combined traditional academics with hands-on work at an urban, organic farm, which produces tens of thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables each season for low-income Missoulians. The internship - available for both undergraduate and graduate credit - is offered fall, summer, and spring. Although the course number remains the same, the internship changes with the seasons. Consequently, the internship is repeatable up to 8 credits. See the PEAS Internship page for more information on the seasonal variations of the program.

ENST 430 - Culture and Agriculture.

Culture and Agriculture surveys the treatment of farmers and farming in the humanities. The course is divided into three parts:1) specific agricultural crops and their effect on social and environmental history, 2) artistic commentary on agricultural life and 3) farmer philosophy. Themes range from the tea and opium wars, to Wendell Berry's poetry to David Orr's Philosophy.

ENST 480 - Food, Agriculture, and Environment.

This course looks at the conditions created by the dominant food and agricultural system, as well as investigates emerging alternatives - such as "sustainable agriculture" and "local food systems." Introduces students to central issues in the study of food and agriculture today, and demonstrates an approach to interdisciplinary study and practice. Students conduct research or engage in action-oriented projects that interest them.

ENST 494.01 Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture Education 2 cr

      Meets August 30 - November 1 at the PEAS Farm, 3010 Duncan Drive

Open to graduate and upper division undergraduate students, offering a practical experience teaching Missoula's school-age youth in a hands-on environment. Students lead two field trips each week for five weeks with school groups visiting the PEAS Farm, teaching fun-filled educational activities focused on social, scientific, and nutritional components of sustainable agriculture and the food system. Class meets Friday mornings at PEAS to practice lessons, share teaching experiences, and discuss readings. Prior experience as a PEAS Farm intern is helpful.

ENST 594 - Assessing the Food System through Action Research (see Community Based Action Research link).

On occasion, ENST offers special graduate workshops in which students and faculty have a unique opportunity to engage in a community-based action research (CBAR) project related to the Montana food system. Examples of these workshops include the production of a community food assessment for Missoula County (2003) and an in-depth study of the economic, social, and transportation-related impacts of the Farm to College program at the UM (2006). For more on CBAR, see below.

ENST 594 - The Politics of Food (Graduate Seminar)

The contemporary food and agricultural system is contested terrain, and a wide variety of actors are now engaged in the politics of food. The purpose of this graduate seminar is to study and analyze some of the recent debates regarding the agrifood system, as well as approaches to improving or changing that system. The course focuses on an interdisciplinary body of scholarship often referred to as "agrifood studies."

Other courses - Environmental Studies intends to develop other relevant courses, such as: Food and Farming in Rural Montana (a field based course) and the History of US Agriculture. Students desiring an emphasis in food and farming may incorporate some or all of the following UM courses into their studies:

  • U NUTR 221N (3 cr) Basic Human Nutrition
  • UG PHAR 324 (2-3 cr) Medicinal Plants
  • UG ANTY 133H (3 cr) Food and Culture
  • UG GPHY 434 (3 cr) Food and Famine
  • U ENSC 245N (3 cr) Introductory Soils
  • U ANSC 262 (3 cr) Range Livestock Production
  • UG NRSM 424 (3 cr.) Community Forestry
  • G  ENST 594 (3 cr) Agroecology. Offered fall.
  • UM's beekeeping courses described here

The PEAS Internship

Growing Healthy Food for the Community
PEAS Farm Instructor: Josh Slotnick

Earning Credit, While Nourishing People and the Land. Students can work for credit on the farm of nearly 10 acres, located just two miles from campus. But their work earns them much more than credit hours. It is a classic internship, in that students learn by doing; yet, there are also frequent breaks in the action for demonstration and explanation. Moreover, the farm has real production obligations to emergency food shelters and to a Community Supported Agriculture program.

Students are involved in all phases of the farm, from greenhouse work in February to selling pumpkins in October. Most students report that the summer season at the Rattlesnake Farm is the most enriching experience they have ever had. After a summer of spending 20 hours a week together working and learning on the farm, PEAS students are bonded to each other and to the place. Farm work is humble hand labor, and this kind of shared experience in a beautiful place melts the barriers that typically separate people. Students feel strongly about the importance of the work they do for the community: they grow food for low-income people, and do it in a way they respects the integrity of the land. The tangible results create a feeling of personal effectiveness many students have never before experienced. The knowledge that their efforts have made a real difference in others' lives and the rich sense of community they experience often sets students on a new path. Many change their goals, and alter the course of their lives.

Spring Semester. Work on the farm begins in late February. We work in the greenhouse until the ground thaws and the soil is tillable. In the greenhouse we make potting mixes, sow seeds, transplant and learning about greenhouse plant maintenance. We will also be building more planting flats and more greenhouse benches as well as taking care of general spring upkeep on the farm. As the weather warms and we work outside, we will learn about springtime biological and horticultural issues pertinent to raising produce, herbs and flowers. We will consider fertility and soil health, weed management, preventative as well as curative pest control, and farm planning. We will share weekend watering responsibilities for the field and the greenhouse.

Summer Session. The summer program is the heart of PEAS. It is a combination of four days of work on the farm from 8:00 - 12:00, with one hour of formal class and a field trip on the fifth day. Each day two students make lunch for the rest of class from the food we have been growing. The lunch portion of the class is optional (but you won't want to miss it!).

The formal portion of Summer PEAS focuses on Agro-ecology. Agro-ecology means considering a production oriented system from the vantage point of ecology. Students will examine crucial biological production issues (i.e., soil fertility, weed management, crop physiology, and pest management in light of the health of the whole system). Each week a different subject will be addressed in lecture. We will attempt to consider the long-term ecological effects of common agricultural practices as they come up within different subject areas.

Monday though Thursday 8:00- 12:00 students do the work necessary to run a diverse and productive four acre vegetable farm. Learning in this situation is akin to a learning a foreign language through immersion. Instead of learning Portugese by living with a non-English speaking family in Portugal for 6 weeks, students are dropped into the middle of the farm and put to work. They are shown what to do and why, but an understanding of the big picture will come as the summer rolls on. Work on the farm with your eyes open, ask lots of questions, and by August you will "get it".

As the season progresses students assume more of the decision making responsibility at the farm. Throughout the season students will manage the irrigation on the weekends. By the end of the season students will be well acquainted with some of the technical issues growers face. The educational aim here is not to provide universal and definitive answers to those issues, rather to gain an understanding of the issues themselves.

By August students will know the major vegetable crop families and understand their culture. They will be familiar with common techniques for building soil, managing weeds and dealing with the pest populations we have here. Students will also gain an appreciation for the tight western Montana growing season and learn some strategies to work within those limits.

Fall Semester. Work on the farm will begin immediately after school starts and continues through Halloween. Until the first frost, much of the student work will focus on harvesting and setting up the food for pick-up by the public at our barn. These harvests supply our Community Supported Agriculture cooperative as well as the Missoula Food Bank. We will share weekend watering responsibilities for the field and the greenhouse (where we are growing tomatoes).

Amazing Community Partnerships through the PEAS program, the UM has created valuable and unique partnerships with the community.

A major partner is Garden City Harvest. GCH works with PEAS to manage the farm and a community supported agriculture program. CSA members buy seasonal shares of the farm's produce, which helps to fund some basic farm operating costs.

Another major partner is the Missoula Food Bank, where most of the farm's production goes to provide high quality food to low-income people.

Local government also plays a role because the farm is sub-leased from the School District, which leases the land from the City of Missoula. Other partners include the Poverello Center (a homeless shelter and soup kitchen), the Salvation Army, the UM Noxious Weed Program, several community youth programs, and some area schools.

Community-Based Action Research

As part of the Sustainable Food and Farming emphasis, graduate students and advanced undergraduates have an opportunity to engage in community-based action research, through enrollment in EVST 594 (see courses). In CBAR, those affected by the problem at hand and those studying it work together to clarify research questions, conduct the inquiry, and craft solutions based on the results.

The study of food and agriculture lends itself beautifully to community-based action research, and fits well with the Environmental Studies Program's long tradition of activism and effective citizen engagement. Students gain valuable research skills and develop knowledge of the process of action research. But their work is far more than academic. Through interaction with people in the community, students help describe and analyze problems in the local food system and design and implement workable solutions.

Examples Include:

Missoula County Community Food Assessment: Students and faculty conducted a comprehensive study of the Missoula County food system. Known as a community food assessment, the study was guided by a 15-member steering committee made up of community members with a range of interests in the local food system. Many students participated in the project generating and releasing three reports in 2004. In response to the recommendations, citizens and local governments formed a food policy council, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition. For more about the research and food policy council, see the CFA website.

Tracing the Chain: An In-depth Look at Farm to College. In 2006, ten graduate students, under the guidance of Neva Hassanein, conducted an in-depth study of the impact of the UM's Farm to College (FTC) program, looking at the social, economic, and transportation-related benefits and challenges. FTC involves purchasing of local and regional foods, and as of 2006, this made up about 13% of the Dining Services' food budget. We interviewed a variety of University Dining Services' staff. We talked with most of the vendors who sell into this institutional market. We compared the distances that FTC food travels with food that is conventionally sourced. And we surveyed hundreds of consumers of FTC food. Our aim was to make recommendations to improve the program, as well as inform state policy makers about the potentials of farm to cafeteria programs. Environmental Studies carried out this community-based action research in partnership with Grow Montana, a coalition working to enable the state's food producers and processors to meet more of our food needs, and to improve all citizens' access to healthy, nutritious local food. For more about the research and Grow Montana, see the Grow Montana website.

Farm to College

Farm to College Logo

Environmental Studies students and the University Dining Services have been at the forefront of the effort to create the UM's Farm-to-College Program, which seeks to increase the University's purchasing of local food. For more information See the UM Farm to College Website.

ASUM Garden

The Associated Students of the University of Montana (ASUM) has a student and community garden located off south Higgins. There are 70 plots, which are distributed on Opening Day, the first Saturday in April. Preference is given to returning gardeners. Rental fees per plot are $25 for students and $30 for community members for a season. A $15 deposit for first-time gardeners is required.

To learn how you can become a gardener at this site, contact the garden manager at: or Garden City Harvest at 406-523-3663 or the Garden City Harvest website.

For more information on the community garden and its history, see this report by Environmental Studies alum Bethann Garramon.

University of Montana

Environmental Studies Program

Phil Condon, Director

Tel: (406) 243-6273 | Fax: (406) 243-6090

Jeannette Rankin Hall 106A

32 Campus Drive | Missoula, MT 59812