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Commentary: The 21st Century Global Food System: This Summer, Vermont is its Classroom

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2015-03-26

For nearly a half century, Sterling College has emphasized a "working hands-working minds" approach to education that views agriculture through the lens of environmental stewardship. This college, and its program of study refined over many decades, is deeply tied to Vermont as both its inspiration and as its classroom.

Of course, Sterling shares Vermont as a classroom with a larger group of higher education institutions that look at the critical challenges facing the natural world and humanity through a diverse set of curricular lenses. Yet, because of our differences and our sense of place, these institutions collectively represent the most significant array of food systems educational resources in the world.

Yes, the world. At Sterling, we believe that we have a civic obligation, a mission, and a strategic vision that address the crisis facing the health of our soil, water, food, and climate. But, in Vermont, we are not alone. As a member of the Vermont Higher Education Food Systems Consortium, Sterling College is part of a seven-school constellation of institutions focused on these issues. No other state in the nation has a college of environmental stewardship, public colleges, a Land Grant university, a law school, a technical college, liberal arts colleges, and a culinary college with both the focus and breadth of offerings in food systems education.

Vermont is unique. This summer, the Consortium will launch an inaugural Summer Study Tour, inviting undergraduate and graduate students to take part in a “movable feast” of study at six of Vermont’s leading schools, including Sterling College, this June. The 21-day tour allows participants to sample diverse food systems programming for credit, advancing from the classroom to the fields, forests, businesses, and offices that make the Vermont food system one of the most unique in the nation.

The concept is synergistic; the course of study, revolutionary. Graduates will gain a unique insider’s perspective on what it takes to create a just, sustainable, and resilient food system. They will become empowered with invaluable tools for helping communities reconstruct the way in which they source, grow, process, purchase, and contemplate food. Students will transform into stewards of our food systems' future.

The Food Systems Study Tour kicks off at the University of Vermont with three days on building an urban food system. Next, students head to Sterling for an in-depth look at artisan cheese and rural revitalization. Vermont Tech will follow with an intensive on dairy and the carbon economy, after which students proceed to Vermont Law School to study food system advocacy in the context of GMOs. Conservation is the theme at Green Mountain College, and then the course of study returns to the University of Vermont for the Food Systems Summit on food justice. The Tour concludes at Middlebury with an immersion in climate change and global food systems.

Through this collaborative, Sterling College is working with other innovators to tap Vermont’s agricultural traditions, unrivaled educational opportunities, and entrepreneurism. We are introducing students to new ways of thinking and earning school credit in agriculture, science, community development, law, and policy. Through innovation, we are creating momentum for a quiet renaissance, which stirs to life through working hands and working minds in Craftsbury, Vermont.

About the initiative: The Vermont Higher Education Food Systems Consortium (VermontFoodEducation.org) is comprised of eight schools: Green Mountain College, Middlebury College, New England Culinary Institute, The School for International Training, Sterling College, University of Vermont, Vermont Law School, and Vermont Technical College. The initiative is facilitated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Inquiries specific to the Summer Study Tour, a project of the Consortium, should be addressed to the tour program coordinators at Green Mountain College (VTFoodFarmEd@greenmtn.edu or 802-287-8000).