Molly Anderson

molly andersonMolly Anderson
Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems
(207) 801-5729 | manderson@coa.edu

Dr. Molly Anderson has focused her career on food systems, studying science and policy from the perspectives of farmers, consumers and citizen activists. She is especially interested in effective multi-stakeholder collaborations for sustainability, food security, food politics, food rights, food sovereignty and sustainability metrics. Before coming to COA, Molly consulted for domestic and international organizations on social justice, ecological integrity, strategic planning and food system metrics. Prior to that, she held two interim positions at Oxfam America 2002-2005 and a faculty position at Tufts University, where she taught, administered programs, built partnerships and conducted research for 14 years. She was the founding director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Graduate Degree Program in the School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts. She also directed Tufts Institute of the Environment for two years. She was a national Food & Society Policy Fellow 2002-2004 and a Senior Wallace Fellow at Winrock International.

Molly serves on several advisory boards and committees related to sustainable agriculture and food systems. She is on the Standards Committee for the ANSI Sustainable Agriculture Standards initiative and various committees for the Maine Food Plan, Farm to Institution New England, and Food Solutions New England. She is also on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. She served as a Coordinating Lead Author on the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Molly earned a Ph.D. in Systems Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (with emphases in agroecology and anthropology) and a M.S. in Range Science, a B.S. in Range Ecology and a Certificate in Latin American Studies from Colorado State University.

Molly is the inaugural holder of the Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems. Feeding the world's 7+ billion people imposes enormous impacts through the production, distribution, preparation, and consumption of food. The study of sustainable food systems at COA engages students in examining the myriad social, cultural, political, ecological and economic implications of the ways our food systems work and how they can be transformed to work better. From rural development to the politics of globalization, students are encouraged to use interdisciplinary perspectives to understand, critique, and work to improve global and local food systems. The Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems has been fully funded by the Partridge Foundation.

Courses Taught

HS5032Advanced Food Policy

This course will encompass contemporary and historical strategies for addressing hunger, food insecurity and control over food system decision-making at an advanced level.  It will help to prepare students to participate in the 2014 Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome by exploring in depth the topics and issues that will be on the agenda this year:  food waste and the role of fisheries and aquaculture in food security.  Students also will be expected to track communications, monitoring, multi-year program of work, principles for responsible agricultural investment or another of the CFS process workstreams, and to attend related sessions and side-events at the CFS.  

The CFS is the premier place where various actors from civil society, business, and governmental and intergovernmental agencies come together to discuss practices and policies that affect access to food and water, diets and livelihoods of millions of people.  Students will gain a deeper understanding of this contested space and its context within historical and contemporary disputes over food system decision-making.  While the course will be oriented to this year's CFS, students may enroll even if they do not plan to attend the CFS in Rome to learn more about food policy and decision-making.

Students will be evaluated based on regular essays through the term, contributions to class discussion and exercises, and participation either in the CFS OR close reading and reporting on related ethnographies or supplemental reading.  This course will be integrated with and requires co-enrollment in Cities:  Past, Present & Future for students who plan to travel to Rome. Enrollment in  Power & Governance is STRONGLY ADVISED for students who plan to attend the CFS; students not planning to travel to Rome should enroll in an Independent Study as their third credit.  

Level: Advanced.  Prerequisites: Sophomore standing or higher at pre-registration AND at least one course dealing with food policy (e.g., Food Power & Justice; Hunger, Food Security & Food Sovereignty; Fixing Food Systems; Global Politics of Food - Camden Conference Course) OR previous attendance at the CFS. Permission of instructor.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $500 if attending the CFS.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS866Call of the Land: Agrarian Arts & Words

In a recent video produced for Maine Farmland Trust, a young farmer comments:  "Deep down, everybody wants to be a farmer."  Many COA students would agree... but why is it that farming is so appealing to us?  What does is mean to have a connection with land?  What has US society lost, as people have lost their agricultural roots and connections with how and where food is produced?  Call of the Land: Agrarian Arts & Words is about the influences that agrarian thinking and arts have had on US society and our current views of farming and land.  We will trace the rise of agrarianism from the Tao and Virgil's Georgics through modern agrarians, such as Wendell Berry, Norman Wirzba, Barbara Kingsolver and Vandana Shiva.   We will be looking closely at the intersection between the agrarian ideal and sustainability, and how agrarian ideals have fed political protest movements such as the Grange Movement and Farmers Alliances since the late 1800s.  Although the main focus of the course will be on agrarian essays and other prose, we will incorporate ways that visual arts, fiction and music have both reflected and shaped the ways that perceptions of land and agriculture have developed.   Guest lectures by several COA faculty members and people outside COA will complement class discussion and activities.  The class may take a weekend field trip to visit art museums in New England with good collections of farm landscape paintings (such as the Farnsworth in Rockland, Maine; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford).  Students will be evaluated based on participation in class discussion and activities, required essays spaced through the term, and regular journal entries.  Each student will select a medium and theme to explore in more depth for a final presentation to the rest of class.

Level: Introductory/Intermediate. Prerequisites: None. Class limit: 16. Lab Fee: $35. *HS*

HS825COA's Foodprint: Our Local Food System

The food supply for most cities and small towns in the US depends on foods raised as efficiently as possible, manufactured into forms that are less perishable, and shipped long distances from centralized warehouses. This food system is largely responsible for some of the nation?s largest and most troubling environmental and social challenges, from water pollution to obesity to climate change. This course is designed to provide students with the background and skills to analyze local food systems by examining the "backstory" and impacts of food system choices at COA. Where does COA's food come from? Can we produce more of our own food? Should we? What are the impacts of the food purchasing and consumption decisions we make at COA, and what is the rationale and regulations behind purchasing decisions? How do impacts differ when foods are sourced from COA's farms, locally, within the state, or internationally? Students in this class will work with dining hall and farm managers to analyze current practices and examine alternatives. The particular emphasis of this course will vary from year to year, and students will build on analyses done in previous years. Topics and issues addressed may include: life-cycle analysis to compare environmental and social impacts of different production and consumption options; basic nutrition principles; food standards and regulations, especially as they apply to campus dining facilities; motivations for food choices and how people acquire them; social marketing; and local supply and demand for food grown with environmentally- or socially-responsible methods (including foods grown on COA's farms). In carrying out research projects, students will learn skills such as: descriptive statistics and data analysis, life-cycle analysis, survey design and interpretation, and qualitative research methods. Surveys and exploration of social marketing will provide opportunities to consider ethical research guidelines and apply for institutional review.

HS919Farm and Food Project Planning

How does a farmer decide what to grow or raise?  How will COA use the Peggy Rockefeller Farms (PRFs) and integrate it with Beech Hill Farm?  How can students help to improve COA's food system?  In this class, students will study the information available about our farms and food system from maps, historical data and previous student work.  We will learn from specialists around the state who work with farmers to plan new enterprises and investigate potential markets, from COA faculty who have expertise in business planning, and from our farm managers.  We will work through data on one farm enterprise together to understand what is needed to plan, implement and evaluate a food enterprise.  In the second half of class, students will design independent or team projects for production enterprises, changes in food consumption practices or research related to production practices and our entire food system.  Students will be evaluated based on their participation in class activities, the quality of their final projects, and the level of effort they put into developing their final projects.  Projects that prove to be feasible and cost-effective using student labor and staff oversight will be continued, allowing COA to build up a portfolio of farm enterprises and ongoing research projects that are thoroughly vetted and documented and have student and staff or faculty support.  This course is designed to follow the introductory course, COA's Foodprint:  Our Local Food System.  Students who have studied food systems through other means are also welcome.  

Course level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites:  Basic knowledge of the components of food systems and the economic, social and environmental impacts of industrialized food systems.  Relevant farming or processing experience if the student wants to design and implement a farm production or value-adding enterprise.  For research projects, the student will be expected to have already acquired many of the necessary research skills. Instructor permission required.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: none.  *HS*

HS891Farm Planning

How does a farmer decide what to grow or raise?  How will COA use the Peggy Rockefeller Farms (PRFs)?   In this class, students will study the information available about the PRFs environment and its past use from maps, historical data and oral histories.  We will learn from specialists around the state who work with farmers to plan new enterprises and investigate potential markets, from COA faculty who have expertise in land use management and business planning, and from our farm manager.  We will work through data on one farm enterprise together to understand what is needed to plan, implement and evaluate a business.  In the second half of class, students will design independent or team projects to begin during the next growing season, and present them to a jury at the end of the term to select the best ones for seed funding.  This class will be followed by a "Farm Projects" tutorial (or possible incorporation of winning projects into the Hatchery), which will implement the selected projects and evaluate their success.  Senior projects are welcome, and a student may take the Farm Planning course even if s/he does not want to carry through with implementation of an independent project.  Students will be evaluated based on their participation in class activities, the quality of their final projects, and the level of effort they put into developing their final projects.  Projects that prove to be feasible and cost-effective using student labor and the farm manager's oversight will be continued, allowing COA to build up a portfolio of farm enterprises and ongoing research projects that are thoroughly vetted and documented and have student and staff or faculty support. 

Course level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites:  Relevant farming or processing experience if the student wants to design and implement a farm production or value-adding enterprise.  For research projects, the student will be expected to have acquired many of the necessary research skills already.  Instructors' permission required;  please schedule a time to speak with Molly and C.J. if interested in the course.  Class limit:  12.  Lab fee: none.  *HS*

HS779Fixing Food Systems: Sustainable Production & Consumption

This course will examine food systems and efforts to make them more sustainable by increasing their health, environmental and social impacts. Students will be introduced to different approaches to food system reform including voluntary corporate social responsibility; rights-based approaches; boycotts and other resistance strategies; and building alternatives such as food coops, farmers? markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs). They will also study several different methodologies for understanding the full impacts of food systems (life-cycle analysis, ecological and social footprinting, contextual analysis, social return on investment, indicator reports). Students will work in teams to investigate a reform strategy that especially interests them, applying an analytical frame and critiquing its usefulness. The course will include at least one Saturday field trip to visit sites that are implementing food system reforms. Level: Intermediate. Class limit 20. Lab fee $20. *HS*

HS794Food, Power and Justice

This course will examine power and politics in the food system: which actors hold power over resources, decision-making and markets, which actors want to hold more power, and how they are contesting or defending their respective positions. We will study the role of social movements, as well as governmental and non-governmental actors, in domestic and international food systems. Students will learn to identify the main actors in food politics and discover how to track their actions and agendas. They will also gain experience in conference organizing, teamwork, and public speaking. Students will be evaluated on demonstrated ability (and growth or deepening of ability) in thoughtful and respectful classroom participation, small group interaction, writing and public speaking. Level: Introductory/Intermediate Class Limit: 15

HS811Hunger, Food Security and Food Sovereignty

Meeting future food needs has risen to the top of the global agenda since 2008, when sudden surges in the cost of staple foods led to riots in many countries and an increase to over one billion people worldwide who could not access enough food for a healthy diet. This course will examine food crises and famines in history and today: what caused historical famines, and what is causing more recent price volatility? What is different about today's food crises? What measures have been proposed to reduce the number of hungry and feed insecure people, and how effective are they? How do we know? This will be a service learning class, in which each student will choose an organization that is trying to tackle hunger and food insecurity with which to serve. We will be working carefully with host organizations to ensure that students are able to contribute meaningfully and learn from their contributions. Evaluation will be based on class participation, a service-learning project, and regular reflection papers. Level: Intermediate. Prerequisites: None. Lab fee: $50. Class limit: 16. *HS*

HS855Introduction to Sustainability

Introduction to Sustainability is a gateway into current thinking and practice on sustainability in multiple fields. It will use examples of people and organizations trying to move toward more sustainable practices in city planning, transportation, food systems, energy, business operations, housing design, consumption, waste disposal and other areas. Guest speakers who are working to implement more sustainable practices in their businesses and society will help introduce students to the most current thinking and practice in their fields. Although most of the class will be grounded in specific examples, we will begin with controversies over the meaning of sustainability and address how it can be measured and evaluated. The last part of the class will deal with socio-cultural changes needed to move individuals and societies toward more sustainable practices and how these can become part of the warp and woof of the way we live. Students will be evaluated based on participation in class discussion, regular journal entries, completion of individual and group assignments, and independent projects and presentations that explore and share practices in a specific field of particular interest to each student. Level: Introductory/Intermediate. Prerequisites: none. Class limit: 18. Lab fee: $25. *HS*

HS845Redefining Food Systems Efficiency

"Efficiency" has been the driver and justification for agricultural innovation in industrialized societies, including the United States, over the past 60 years. Efficiency has meant in practice the replacement of human labor with synthetic chemicals, petroleum and mechanization. The results have been dramatic increases in production and productivity, but also massive displacement of the rural population to cities, the death of rural communities, environmental degradation, scale changes in agriculture, and growing contributions from agriculture to global environmental change. Thinking about "efficiency" in the long term, rather than with its common short-term meaning, would incorporate the full costs of agricultural practices, such as their impacts on the environment, animal welfare, rural communities, and the possibility of making a decent living as a farmer or wage worker in agriculture. This course will examine the most innovative practices in the Northeast that point toward long-term food system efficiency and sustainability. Participating students in Maine will examine the Northeastern food system and its current issues in depth through films, research and interviews with practicioners. Students will document what they learn and combine their interviews and documentation into the story of food system innovation in the Northeast. Course lectures will be videotaped for students in England and Germany who take the course through distance learning. COA students will interact with British and Germany students to allow comparisons of how young people in different industrialized countries think about sustainability and long-term efficiency in the food system, as well as comparisons of the actual practices and the level of innovation across countries and across food system sectors. Evaluation will be based on class participation, essays and assignments, and participation with students in England and Germany. Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: some expe

HS803Resilience in Social and Ecological Systems

Resilience, or the ability to regain critical structure and functions after disturbance, has become widely recognized as an important attribute of sustainable social and ecological systems. This course will examine the concept of resilience from system dynamics and the related concepts of vulnerability, thresholds, adaptive capacity, and societal learning. Students will learn the consequences of lack of resilience and explore how to enhance resilience in food systems, global environmental change, and social experiments such as transition towns. Evaluation will be based on class participation and self-selected projects.

Level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites: at least one QR course; additional courses in agriculture or food systems would be useful.  Lab fee: None. Class limit: 16.  *HS*

HS838Systems Dynamics

We hear regularly about "ecosystems", the "health care system", the "public educational system", the "food system" and the "global financial system". But what is a system, and what is "systems thinking"? The latter has become a buzz-word in many fields, put forward as a way to achieve breakthroughs in dealing with entrenched problems. Certainly systemic problems require systemic solutions; but this does not imply that all problems are best solved with holistic or systems thinking. This course will parse different systems into their generic components, examine when and where systems thinking is useful and appropriate, and explore how this approach can provide insights in various fields. It will begin with general elements of systems thinking, such as stocks; information, energy and material flows; feedback loops; and regulatory mechanisms. It will proceed to examine specific systems, such as those dealing with health care, food, and education, and students will learn first-hand through panel presentation show various actors within a system view barriers and leverage points for systems change differently. Students will experiment with simple computer-aided systems modeling. They will have the opportunity to model a system of their choice, and draft papers about leverage points for changing this system. We will interact with visiting staff from Elm Farm Organic Research Centre (ORC) in England on setting up systems research projects on COA's farms, and take advantage of distance learning resources that ORC provides on the farming systems approach. Evaluation will be based on class participation, final project and reading critiques. Level: Introductory/Intermediate. Prerequisites: none. Class limit: 16. Lab fee: none. *HS*