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. Sustainable Food and Farming provides students with the opportunity for intensive interdisciplinary study of food systems, hands-on experience growing organic food for low-income people on an urban farm, community-based action research, and active civic engagement.

3 credits

Offered fall

Instructor:  Jason Mandala

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

3 credits

Offered spring 

Instructor: Ethan Smith

This course will begin by examining agricultural ecosystems through principles of general ecology, and will cover such topics as biodiversity, population dynamics, and nutrient cycling. Discourse on these general scientific principles will transition into more complex inter-specific interactions and comprehension of overall agroecosystem structure by mid semester. The course will conclude by focusing on the role of humans in agricultural ecosystems, describing possible management strategies and challenges for complex problems, and discussing the current divide between scientific research and on-farm application. Open to graduate students and upper division undergraduates.

3 credits

Instructor: Neva Hassanein

The contemporary food and agricultural system is contested terrain.  A wide variety of actors are now engaged in the politics of food.  In this case, “politics” refers broadly to the ways various actors (government, businesses, institutions, and organizations) with different beliefs, principles, or interests try to advance or defend their positions in the very complex sphere of food and agriculture.  The purpose of this graduate seminar is to study and analyze some of recent debates – and critical social and ecological concerns – regarding today’s agrifood system.  Through a selection of interdisciplinary scholarship often referred to as “agrifood studies” and through critical reflection and discussion on the readings, this seminar provides participants with a solid grounding that will enable you to pursue academic and civic work on these issues in the future.  In addition to substantive knowledge about selected topics, you will gain critical thinking, research, writing, and presentation skills.

3 credits

Offered intermittently

Instructor: Neva Hassanein

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 (2004); an in-depth study of the economic, social, and transportation-related impacts of the Farm to College program at the UM (2006); and a case study of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative (2013).

2-6 credits

Offered every semester

Instructor: Caroline Stephens

Students will get their hands dirty in every facet of the University of Montana’s 10 acre PEAS farm, sowing seeds, transplanting, irrigating, and harvesting for our 100-member CSA.  We also custom grow tens-of-thousands of pounds of produce for the Missoula Food Bank, the WIC program, and a mobile market for seniors.

PEAS Internship details



UM's Online Beekeeping Certificate program consists of three university-level courses at the apprentice, journeyman and master levels, culminating in a certificate designating the participant as a "Master Beekeeper."

Farm-to-College Program

With help from a group of Environmental Studies students, UM Dining started Farm to College in 2003 —a local procurement program designed to bring more responsibly raised and grown Montana products to campus. Over the years, UM Dining has spent over $10 million supporting Montana farmers and ranchers through the program. UM Dining understands that in order to create a better food system we need to invest in our local agricultural economy and support those producers committed to sustainable practices.

On-Campus Food Production

UM Dining operates two produce gardens on campus. The gardens provide fresh organic produce for our dining operations and function as learning laboratories for students and visitors. Both gardens are working models of sustainable food production systems, incorporating a variety of growing techniques and practices to promote high quality produce and long-term soil health.

Student – Community 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 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, go to the Garden City Harvest website.

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 as part of a course (ENST 594). 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/regional food system and design and implement workable solutions.

In addition to the following examples, many of our graduate students carry out research or other projects that are relevant and useful to organizations, government agencies, and/or the general public.

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.

Tracing the Chain:  An In-Depth Look at the University of Montana's Farm to College Program

In 2006, ten graduate students, under the guidance of Professor 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.

"Local is Delicious," But It's not Always Easy: A Case Study of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative

Food hubs are businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, processing, marketing and/or distribution of local and regional products.  The infusion of cooperative principles into food hubs reinforces the development of values-based supply chains, which generate economic return and advance certain social, economic or environmental values.  Through a graduate course during Autumn 2012, 16 students and Professor Hassanein carried out a multifaceted, descriptive case study of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative (WMGC). We described and analyzed the structure and function of this agricultural marketing cooperative, as well as the values-based supply chain created through collaborative partnerships. We explored how the WMGC directors, members, staff, and partners articulate shared values and collective identity around the meaning of the Cooperative within an emergent regional food system.  Students presented their findings to the Co-op's Board and to key partners, and the full report is available through the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center.

Featured Videos

Video: TEDx: Neva Hassanein and Mark LoParco, on "Cultivating Food Democracy"

Video: Community Farming, It's not about Food: Josh Slotnick at TEDxUMontana