Sustainable Food Systems

Sustainable Foods

College of the Atlantic's Sustainable Food Systems Program engages students in examining the social, cultural, political, ecological and economic implications of the ways food is perceived, produced and consumed. From rural development to the politics of globalization, from land conservation to local food systems, from the philosophy of agrarian thinking to social justice, students use interdisciplinary perspectives to understand, critique and work to improve global and local food systems.

Professors from disciplines including ecology, political science, history, botany, anthropology, business and chemistry contribute expertise and innovative classes to the curriculum. They encourage and support students’ explorations in topics including the global politics of agricultural biotechnology; the Mayan milpa system on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula; the history, policy and culture of the fishing industry; the ways to plan and start a food business. In addition to studying food systems, students pursue field-based experiences in small-scale farming at our own Beech Hill and Peggy Rockefeller Farms.  Beech Hill Farm cultivates six acres for organic vegetable production and maintains a heritage apple orchard. Peggy Rockefeller Farms has 55 acres for grass-fed livestock production, hay, market gardening and crops, plus another 62 acres of forest. Both farms employ students and allow additional opportunities for hands-on experiences. Classes in organic gardening, farm planning, edible botany, ethnobotany, chemistry of food, and fermentation   provide scientific foundations for understanding agricultural production and use of agricultural products.

COA offers numerous internship, research and graduate-study opportunities for students, and brings international expertise to COA  through guest speakers, visiting lecturers and travel. In addition, our international study programs in Latin America, including Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, offer access to tropical agroecological and food systems studies.

A Sustainable Food Systems focus facilitates the development of skills, useful to students who choose work in the fields of food and agriculture policy, community development, public health, land conservation, community food security, global and local activism, agriculture education, food business and small-scale farming. 

Sustainable Food Systems Partnerships

Healthy Acadia

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)

Maine Farmland Trust

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

New England Farmers Union

Conners Emerson Elementary School

Mt. Desert Elementary School

Island Institute


Sustainable Food Systems   2012 - 2014

Sustainable Food Systems   2013 - 2015


AD3021Cities: Past, Present and Future

This intermediate course focuses on the architecture and physical form of cities through time. Rome has had a profound influence on the design of architecture and cities. In preparation for a 9-12 day field trip to this remarkable city, students will become familiar with its layers of history, the classic orders, the writings of Vitruvius, and the works of Michelangelo, among others. They will experience firsthand the city's famous monuments, ruins, buildings, piazzas, gardens, and neighborhoods, documenting their field observations in sketches, photographs and notes. Upon returning the focus will shift to an examination of the history of several major American and European cities, conditions, policies and technologies that shaped them, and various historic and current urban design movements. We will conclude with examples of recent and emerging international strategies to improve urban public space, transportation, provide local food, reduce emissions, and address impacts of climate change. Students will be evaluated on quality of their field notes and sketches, assignments, class discussions and presentations.

This course will be integrated with and requires co-enrollment in Advanced Food Policy. The third enrollment credit must be either Power and Governance or an Independent Study.

Level: Intermediate. Prerequisites: Permission of instructor.  Class Size Limit: 12.  Lab fee: $800.00.  Meets the following degree requirements: AD

ES1032Chemistry of Foods and Cooking

This course is designed to introduce students to the basic concepts of chemistry in the context of food.  After a brief introduction to biochemistry (why we eat), the course will work through different foods, roughly in the order that humans are thought to have exploited them.  Topics will include their history, cultural significance & how their molecular structure can explain how different methods of preparation affect their nutritional and aesthetic characteristics.  Each class will be based around kitchen experiments that illustrate chemical concepts.  Evaluation will be based on a midterm take-home problem set and each student’s compilation of a cook-book of recipes for 15 different food types, each of which includes a discussion of how the recipe reflects the chemical principles discussed in the class.  

Level:  Introductory.   Class limit: 15.   Lab fee: $50.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES2020Art and Science of Fermented Foods

This course will take an in depth look at the art and science of fermented and cultured foods.  The first half of the class will focus on the microbiology of fermentation with a specific focus on products derived from milk and soybeans.  Each week there will be a laboratory portion in which students will explore how the basic fermentation processes and products change with different milk and soy qualities.  These small-scale experiences and experiments will be complemented with field trips to commercial enterprises in Maine and Massachusetts.  In the second half of the term students will explore the differences in flat, yeast, and sourdough breads.  Final projects will focus on a food way of choice and will culminate in presentations that explore the historical and cultural context in which these different cultured foods were developed and how these microbial-mediated processes enhance preservation, nutritional and economic value, and taste.  Evaluations will be based on class participation, short quizzes, a lab report, journal, and a final project.

Level: Introductory/Intermediate. Prerequisites: Permission of instructor. Class limit: 12. Lab Fee: $75 (to cover use of the community kitchen, one two-day field trip to Massachusetts, to visit commercial soy product companies and supplies.)  Meets the following degree requirements: ES


The global demand for food and fiber will continue to increase well into the next century.  How will this food and fiber be produced?  Will production be at the cost of soil loss, water contamination, pesticide poisoning, and increasing rural poverty?  In this course, we examine the fundamental principles and practices of conventional and sustainable agriculture with a primary focus on crops.  By examining farm case studies and current research on conventional and alternative agriculture we develop a set of economic, social, and ecological criteria for a critique of current agricultural practices in the United States and that will serve as the foundation for the development and analysis of new farming systems.  Evaluations are based on two exams, class presentations, participation in a conference on potato production, and a final paper.  

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites:  Signature of the instructor and one of the following:  Biology I, Plant Biology, Ecology, or Economics.  Class limit: 13.  Lab fee: $40.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES


From the dawn of human history, plants have played an integral role in human societies across the world.  The course is aimed at generating an appreciation for the myriad uses of plants by human societies, both past and present.  We will explore the use of plants as food and beverages, raw materials, fuel, medicine and psychoactive drugs, spices and perfumes, genetic resources, and for religious and spiritual needs.  The future ecological, economic, and social implications of our dependency on plants will also be discussed in light of current threats to plants and their native habitats, including threats to plant-human relations in traditional societies.  The important roles played by human societies in maintaining floristic and associated cultural diversity will be a primary focus of readings and discussions.  Evaluations will be based on class participation, involvement in class discussion, and a term project involving a half-hour oral presentation.   

Level:  Intermediate.  Prerequisites:  Signature of instructor or Edible Botany.  Class limit: 16.  Lab fee $40.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES3042Composting: Waste Management to Resource Creation

Composting is an art at the heart of gardening and farming and can quickly produce humus that is of the highest quality.  Anyone and everyone can produce great humus.  In this course we will examine what is compost and why it is important, the basic biology of a compost pile and differences in biology based on different composting approaches, and the current challenges with contamination and scaling up from small to large projects. How compost is produced depends on human aims and to be successful needs to take into account social, economic and ecological concerns. The laboratory exercises and projects will take these perspectives into consideration as we compare and develop institutional approaches to composting, from small-scale vermicompost to more commercial level production.  Readings will include a historical perspective on composting, basic microbiological processes, scientific literature, and papers on compost success stories.  Students will be evaluated on participation, quizzes, field exercises, and a final project presentation to the COA community.  

Level:  Intermediate.  Prerequisites: Permission of instructor and oOne of the following courses:  biology, chemistry, theory and practice of organic gardening, soils.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $50  Meets the following degree requirements: ES


Soils are one of the most important natural resources that affect the sustainability of agricultural, recreational, forest, and disturbed soil (mining, urban) systems. This course seeks to introduce students to basics of soils science and contemporary issues in soils science and management. The primary themes running through this course are how soil properties influence and are influenced by human activities. Classes will cover the basic physical, chemical and biological properties of soils and the processes which create, maintain and transform them. Evaluation of students will be based on quizzes, problem sets and a final presentation.

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites: At least one college level chemistry and one college level biology class.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $50  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES383Fisheries and Their Management

Humans have exploited the biotic resources of the ocean for thousands of years. Although early harvesting probably had minimal ecological and population impact, increased exploitation due to increasing market demand and technological advances have placed significant stress on many of the world's "fisheries". Those exploited species that have thus far avoided becoming commercially or biologically extinct, are, in many cases, threatened by collapse due to over-fishing. This course examines the exploitation of biotic resources in the oceans, including invertebrates, fish, and marine mammal populations. Importantly, it also examines the fishing techniques, fisheries technology and management of fisheries, and critiques and reviews the development of the mathematical modeling on which management is based. The class will be offered in seminar style, with students involved in the discussion and critique of readings, and researching and presenting various case histories. Students will be evaluated on the basis of participation and quality of presentations and term projects. Level: Intermediate. Class limit: 12. Prerequisite: Signature of the instructor, by demonstration of competence in QR and ES disciplines. Course fee: $60. *ES*

ES515Our Daily Bread: Following Grains Through The Food System

The aim of the course is to use wheat, oats and rye as a lens to explore how a wide range of factors including history, changing land use patterns, crop development, human nutrition, food processing, sensory evaluation, and socio-economic factors shape how grains are grown, harvested and ultimately transformed into our daily bread. This field-based course seeks to provide students with deep insights into the past and current production of grains in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. Extensive readings will complement the summer fieldwork at farms, mills, bakeries and research sites in Europe, and will provide students with the agronomic background necessary for a historical view of grain production and the possibility of localized grain within the current global economy. Students will lead discussions, interview farmers, write short synthetic essays, and undertake a research project designed together with the class. By the end of the course students should be able to: Evaluate the importance of wheat and other temperate grains to the feeding of human populations in past, present and future contexts; Review current and traditional methods of evaluation of food quality and grain processing (bread production in particular) and relate these to modern nutritional problems; Describe the growth cycle of wheat in general terms and relate the production cycle to current issues of sustainability including greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, energy requirements, and soil conservation; and Compare and contrast the socio-economic importance of wheat to Maine, Germany and the UK. Level: Intermediate. Prerequisites: Formal application, Signature of the instructor, Introductory German highly desirable, any of the following courses: Theory and Practice of Organic Gardening, Chemistry of Cooking, The Contemporary Culture of Maine Organic Farmers, Agroecology. *ES*

HS1025Business and Non-Profit Basics

Anyone who is involved with for profit or non-profit enterprises needs to understand a wide variety of interdisciplinary skills. This introductory course will introduce students to marketing, finance, leadership, strategy and other essential areas of knowledge needed to run or participate in any venture. This course is meant to build basic skills and expose students to a variety of business disciplines and is REQUIRED for all future business courses.

Level:  Introductory.  Class limit: 18.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS1036COA's Foodprint: Our Local Food System

The food supply for most cities and small towns in the U.S. depends on food grown as efficiently as possible-that is, producing high yields at low costs; manufactured into forms that are less perishable; and shipped long distances from centralized warehouses.  This food system is responsible at least in part for some of the nation's most troubling environmental and health challenges, from water pollution to obesity to climate change.  Students in this class will learn about food systems and why many people consider the U.S. food system to be "broken".  College of the Atlantic is trying to create a food system that avoids many of the shortcomings of the broken U.S. system.  But how well are we doing, and how do we know?  

Students taking this class will acquire an understanding of food systems by examining the "backstory" and impacts of COA's food system.  They will learn the source of COA's foods and where food waste goes; who makes decisions about food purchasing and why; and impacts of the purchasing and consumption decisions on our college community, region and beyond.  They will examine how impacts differ when foods are sourced locally, within a state or region, or internationally.  Other topics and issues include methods of analysis to compare environmental and social impacts of different production and consumption options, basic nutrition principles and proposals for more sustainable diets, motivations for food choices and how people acquire them, social marketing for healthy eating, and supply and demand for foods grown with environmentally - or socially - responsible methods.  

This course is an introduction to the Farms & Food Projects class, in which students design projects or farm enterprises to try to improve COA's food system or extend work that has been started already, and the Fixing Food Systems class, in which students comprehensively analyze innovations in food systems from inputs through consumption.  Students will be evaluated on participation in classes and field trips, biweekly reflective journal entries and individual or small-group assignments.

Level: Introductory. Prerequisites: none. Lab Fee: $25. Class limit: 18. Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS2032Introduction 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. Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS2033Call 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. Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS2048Food, 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   Prerequisites: none.  Class Limit: 15.  Lab fee: none.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS   

HS2049Marvelous Terrible Place: Human Ecology of Newfoundland

Where is the largest population of humpback whales in the world, the largest caribou herd in North America, the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America, and Paleozoic water bottled for consumption? The remote Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador presents a stunning landscape, an astoundingly rich ecological setting, and a tragic history of poverty amidst an incredible natural resource, the northern cod fishery, that was ultimately destroyed. The province has been alternately invaded or occupied by different groups of Native Americans along with Norseman, Basques, French, British, and the U.S. military, because of its strategic location and rich fishing and hunting grounds. One of the first and one of the last British colonies, this richest of fisheries produced a very class based society, composed of a wealthy few urban merchants and an highly exploited population of fishing families often living on the edge of survival. But within the past 50 years, Newfoundland society has been forced to evolve. The provincial government looks towards oil and mineral exploitation to turn around the economy, while ex-fishermen consider eco- and cultural tourism with growing ambivalence. This then is our setting, and background, for an intense examination of the human ecology of this province; the relationship between humans and their environment, sometimes successful, sometimes otherwise, the struggle between the tenuous grasp of civilization and this marvelous, terrible place. To do this we will discuss various readings, examine case studies and review the natural and human history of this unique province.  Our learning will culminate with a two-week trip to Newfoundland to examine its issues firsthand.  Evaluation will be based on class and field trip participation, responses to reading questions, a field journal, and a final project.

Level:  Introductory/Intermediate.  Prerequisites:  Signature of Instructor.  Lab fee:  $850.  Class limit 15  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS2051Agriculture and Biotechnology

This course will provide an introduction to global issues in agriculture today, with an emphasis on the controversies surrounding the use of genetic engineering in agriculture.  We start with a careful study of critical issues facing agriculturalists and, indeed, all of us, to give students a broad overview of food production and agriculture globally.  In the first half of the course, we will consider: the Green Revolution and technological developments over the last half-century; global trade in agriculture and impacts of major free trade agreements; famine, food aid, and food sovereignty; and neo-Malthusian perspectives on food production and critiques of those perspectives. In the second half of the course, we turn our attention to the science and politics of the new genetic technologies and potential social, economic, and ecological impacts of their use in agriculture.  We will examine socio-political and ecological problems associated with transgenic soy production in South America and cotton production in India and China.  We will also explore problems of contamination resulting from imports of transgenic maize into Mexico and canola exports from Canada to Japan.  To conclude the course we will consider strategies of resistance throughout the world to the introduction of genetically engineered crops.   Evaluation will be based on three written problem sets (8-10 pages each) and class participation.

Level:  Introductory/Intermediate.  Prerequisites: none.  Class limit: 20.  Lab fee: $10.00.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS3036Oceans & Fishes: Readings in Environmental History

This course will explore the rapidly expanding field of marine environmental history and historical studies that focus on fish and fisheries.  Recent methodological and conceptual work as well as growing interest in the history of these topics driven by conservation and policy issues has made this an important and innovative field.  Using the work of a variety of scholars from different fields the class will explore how historical accounts can be constructed with an emphasis on the types of available sources, the use of evidence, and how each author builds their argument.  We will explicitly compare the methods, use of evidence and other aspects of different disciplinary approaches to the topic to highlight the strengths and limitations of each approach.  This dimension of the class is particularly interesting because of the dynamic and interdisciplinary nature of scholarship right now that brings a wide range of research into dialogue. Students will learn about the history of oceans and fishes by looking at how historians and other scholars frame their works and make their arguments.  Students will be evaluated on their preparation for discussion, mastery of the material, short written assignments, and a final project made up of a presentation and essay.  This course is appropriate for students with interest in history, community-based research, marine studies, and environmental policy.  Students who are just curious and interested in lots of things are also most welcome.

Level: Intermediate. Class limit: 15  Lab Fee $75.00 Meets the following degree requirements: HS HY

HS3040History of Agriculture: Apples

This course will explore the history of agriculture from the vantage point of Downeast Maine with a focus on apples.  The premise of the course is that by exploring this fascinating crop in detail from the local vantage point of Downeast Maine students will be able to grasp the many historical processes at work from the introduction of the fruit in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries to the age of agricultural improvement in the eighteenth on to the rise and fall of commercial orcharding as a major component of Maine’s farm economy in the early twentieth century.  Using sources ranging from secondary sources, historical Atlases, Aerial  Surveys, and diaries, we will explore how the culture of apple agriculture in Maine develops over time as part of an interconnected Atlantic World where crops flow back and forth between Britain and the colonies/U.S. over hundreds of years.  Course activities will include fruit exploration fieldtrips to track down and identify antique varieties as well as visits to the local farms where a new generation of apple culture is taking shape.  The course will also engage students with the process of cider-making, both sweet and hard, as well as exercises in the preparation, storage, and processing of apples.  Students will be evaluated on their participation in discussion, how they collaborate with others in class projects, and a final individual or collaborative project.  This course is designed for students interested in history, farming and food systems, community-based research, and policy/planning issues.  It is also very appropriate for students who like apples and just want to know (a lot) more.

Level: Intermediate. Limit: 18. Lab Fee: $125.00. Meets the following degree requirements: HS HY

HS4025Resilience 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.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS4026Environmental Law and Policy

This course provides an overview of environmental law and the role of law in shaping environmental policy.  We examine, as background, the nature and scope of environmental, energy, and resource problems and evaluate the various legal mechanisms available to address those problems.  The course attempts to have students critically analyze the role of law in setting and implementing environmental policy.  We explore traditional common law remedies, procedural statutes such as the National Environmental Policy Act, intricate regulatory schemes, and market-based strategies that have been adopted to control pollution and protect natural resources.  Students are exposed to a wide range of environmental law problems in order to appreciate both the advantages and limitations of law in this context.  Special attention is given to policy debates currently underway and the use of the legal process to foster the development of a sustainable society in the United States.  Students are required to complete four problem sets in which they apply legal principles to a given fact scenario.

Level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites:  Introduction to the Legal Process or Philosophy of the Constitution strongly recommended.  Offered at least every other year.  Class limit: 20.  Lab fee $20.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS4035Hunger, Food Security & 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 protests in many countries and an increase in the number of people worldwide who could not access enough food for a healthy diet.  This course will examine food crises 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 food insecure people, and how effective are they?  How do we know? How many hungry people are there, and how are they being monitored? (This is a surprisingly contentious issue, as you will discover.)  How is the governance of food systems being changed, to address food insecurity?  This is a service learning class, in which each student will choose an organization that is trying to tackle hunger and food insecurity with which to work.  Students can select international or domestic food security as their emphasis; students in the international 'track' will have the option to attend the Committee on World Food Security in Rome, October 7-10, if they can secure funding.  Students on the domestic 'track' will have a variety of host organizations with which they can work for useful and meaningful learning experiences. Evaluation will be based on class participation, service learning project or CFS participation, and regular reflection papers.

Level:  Intermediate-Advanced.  Prerequisites:  at least two previous courses dealing with food systems or agriculture; signature of instructor NOT required for registration, but please speak with the instructor if you aren't sure whether you are eligible to register or have questions.  Class size limit: 15.  Lab fee:  $40.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS4040Farm 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.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS4041Global Politics of Food

This reading intensive course is tied to participation in the 2014 Camden Conference on "The Global Politics of Food and Water," 21-23 February 2014. This course will serve as a preparation for participation at the conference and will finish with a reflection on topics of the students' choosing.   Prior to delving into the suggested Camden reading list, we will explore the historical framing of the idea of development in terms of food and population, and conceptions of the development needs for the African continent.  The importance of agroecology will also be used in the critical analysis of proposed problems and solutions.  The goals of the class are: 1) to prepare students to attend and play an active role in the kinds of policy analysis, discussions and debates typified by this conference and 2) to develop skills for doing individual and group research projects in one of the topics being presented in the conference.  Attendance at the Conference is a requirement of the class.

Evaluation will be based on class discussion, leadership in discussions on one or two books from the Camden Conference reading list, the development and running of an evening discussion in collaboration with students from UMO and Unity College, and a final synthetic paper on a topic of interest.

Level: intermediate-advanced.  Prerequisites: Permission of instructor.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $100.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS4044Fixing Food Systems

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/Advanced. Class limit 15. Lab fee none. Meets the following degree requirements: HS

HS5016Corn and Coffee

This course explores the rich history of Guatemala through the lens of two vital products, corn and coffee.  The crops provide insight into the global and local dimensions of both historical and contemporary reality there.  The course will cover the history of Guatemala from pre-contact native society through the myriad changes wrought by colonialism, decolonization, the rise of the modern nation state, and the transformations associated with the rise of coffee as a major export crop.  Corn and coffee provide a convenient vantage point from which to examine the social, economic, and cultural dynamics of native society on the one hand and the globally- connected production of coffee on the other.  The course moves from a broad macro perspective on each crop to an intensive exploration of how both are produced in Guatemala.  In this way, class participants will be able to look at how global historical trends in consumption have played themselves out in local communities.  The class will simultaneously be able to look at the processes at work in pueblos throughout Guatemala that root the corn economy into rich cultural and social dynamics that are at the core of communal life.  Using these two crops as a starting point, the class will allow students to develop a holistic and synthetic understanding how Guatemalans live their everyday lives embedded in intensely local realities even as they experience much larger national and international processes.  The course emphasizes attention to the broad global dimensions of corn and coffee's production as well as the fine-grained study of Guatemala's socio-cultural life in historical and anthropological perspective. Through discussions of the books, this seminar-style course seeks to provide students with deep insights into the history of Guatemala while maintaining a sense of the global and regional context.  Intensive readings will provide students with a snapshot of trends in both history and ethnography while broader synthetic analyses of both corn and coffee will embody more popular approaches to the topic.  Students will lead discussions of the readings, write short synthetic essays, and undertake a research project for the class.

Level: Advanced. Prerequisites: Signature of the instructor, any of the following courses: Native Empires to Nation States; Articulated Identities; American Worlds. Class Limit: 12. Lab fee: $50. Meets the following degree requirements: HS HY

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

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*

HS782Tutorial: Advanced Seminar in Human Ecology

The purpose of this tutorial is to review the many uses of the term ?human ecology?. It begins with an historical review of the academic and intellectual origins of human ecology. From these foundations, we proceed through the development of more interdisciplinary approaches to human ecology --- working with primary source materials (e.g., books, articles, position papers, academic program descriptions and related documents). We will further explore the activities of various regional, national and international associations and the aims of leading educational institutions. Assignments and discussions will revolve around several current problems that face human ecology. In particular, we will focus on: various theoretical controversies within and between biological and human ecology; issues and proposed methods of inter-disciplinary problem-solving, planning and application; and the growth of professional opportunities in human ecology worldwide. Evaluations will be based on careful reading and review of assigned materials, participation in discussions, individual papers and a collaborative group project. Level: Advanced; Permission of instructor required; Class limit: 3 Permission of instructor required.


Business, like all disciplines, has its own language. Being able to speak the language of business is critical for activists, social entrepreneurs and business owners alike. Financial statements are a key component of this language. These statements measure the fiscal health of both non-profit and for-profit organizations. They provide insight into all areas of the company. They are a powerful tool for determining investments, competitive positioning and have extraordinary impacts on all of an organization's stakeholders. Unfortunately, most people, including many who run a wide variety of organizations, fail to grasp this language. In doing so, they undermine their organization's opportunity for success, as well as create obstacles to using business as a means of social change. Without guidance, looking at these financial statements is similar to examining hieroglyphics for the first time. Starting from a basic level and layering in complexity, the course will seek to demystify these statements in a way that is informative and unintimidating. In addition, time will be spent advancing students' understanding and familiarity with spreadsheets. Topics of the course will include: Creating and analyzing cash flow statements, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, as well as common sized income statements; Differentiating between each type of financial statement; Relating these statements to each other, tying them together and varying statements depending on business models; Comparing non-profit and for-profit financial statements and approaches; Examining key financial ratios and how they are different for different businesses; and Spreadsheet management and design. By the end of the class students will create their own financial statements and analyze a business through various financial statements. This class is positioned within the business program to provide the students' skills for business plan projections, exploring investing, general management, lead

HS791Classic Shorts: What's on our Plates

Questions of appetite. Questions of sustenance. Questions of nurturing. What's on our plates is"inevitably" filled with such questions, with food as primary source and sensual delight, with food as geography and climate, culture and economy, fact and metaphor. The short-story writer who includes anything about what's on our plates also invites us to consider food memories and associations of every kind: where our food comes from, who prepares it and how, who we do or don't share it with, what grows where in a season of bounty, what?s absent in a time and place of deprivation, drought, violence. The stories we'll read include a devastating announcement at a family luncheon in Brazil, the diets of a fat girl who hungers for love, what?s on the menu at a backyard restaurant in a mid-level Haitian slum, a journey to a shrimp shack south (south!) of New Orleans, a roof-top job for a California grocery store, an anorexic's visit to a hammam in Paris, the slaughtering of a pig post-Chernobyl, and a monkey in an Argentinean kitchen. Our focus on this genre -- the one William Trevor calls "the art of the glimpse" -- will also provide many different tastes of how writers develop a scene, simmer a metaphor, and serve us as readers discovering and naming some of fiction's truths. Please come prepared to read closely, discuss openly, and experiment in the art of the glimpse. Critical inquiries, midterm conference, and final paper (original short-story option encouraged) required. Level: Introductory/intermediate. Class size: 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*

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

HS854Farms, Orchards and Cider: Agricultural History in England

This course will be an intensive field-based exploration in England of the history of English agriculture through the lens of the production, consumption and marketing of apples. Students will travel to England during winter break to learn about the changes in social, cultural and economic aspects of farming in England from Roman times to the present with an emphasis on the evolution of rural farms and landscapes. We will discuss land tenure, land use, labor practices, farming practices, and much more at sites throughout England as we think through what historical insights can tell us about the past, present and future of farming and the rural economy. Students will do exercises on landscape history, visit museums, farms, cider producers and research stations as well as meeting leading experts. The course will continue with a seminar during the winter term on campus in which students will pursue projects inspired by their experiences and learning in England. Student evaluation will be based on the participation in the field-based components of the class in England and the project-based learning back on campus. The course will include an English language immersion component. Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: Permission of instructor. Program Fee: $1,200. Class limit: 12. *HS* *HY*

HS858Global Politics of Sustainable Development: 20 yrs after Rio

The Earth Summit that took place in Rio in 1992 defined the following two decades of global cooperation on environment and development issues. This course serves to review the history of those two decades and prepare students to be active participants in the UN review conference to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012. Students will read primary documents from the original conference and the 10-year review conference (the World Summit on Sustainable Development), and preparatory documents for the upcoming summit. They will examine positions of the main country blocs and the contributions of major UN specialized agencies (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Development Program and UN Environment Program). A central axis for study and analysis of documents and positions will be the political economy of sustainable development. Evaluation will be based on class discussions, weekly written summaries of information contained in readings, and a final presentation or analytical paper on a topic of their choosing. Course level: Introductory/Intermediate. Prerequisites: none. Class limit: 15. Lab fee: none. *HS*

MD1013Introduction to Farm Animal Management

This course will provide an introduction to the basics of farm animal care and management with a focus on small-scale, sustainable livestock production.  The outline of the course will include lectures from professionals within the local agricultural community (experienced farmers, Extension agents and veterinarians), student-led discussions of assigned readings (traditional production agriculture to contemporary sustainable farming), and hands-on interactive learning through visits to working farms in our area.  Students will explore the various health and nutrition needs of common livestock, including monogastrics (hogs), avian (poultry), ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats) and pseudo-ruminants (horses).  The course will have a strong focus on the integration of two or more of these livestock species on a diversified farm and include pasture management and feed production.

Students will be evaluated on attendance, participation in class discussion and activities, short synthesis essays and a final project focused on the integration of livestock into a farm setting.

Level: Introductory.  Prerequisites: Permission of instructor.  Class limit: 10.  Lab fee: none.


Want to learn more?

Contact Molly Anderson for more information about Sustainable Food Systems at COA (


  • Molly Anderson

    B.S., M.S. Colorado State University
    Ph.D. University of North Carolina
    » Courses taught:
    Fixing Food Systems, Food Power & Justice, Resilience in Social and Ecological Systems, Hunger, Food Security & Food Sovereignty, COA's Foodprint: Introduction to Our Food System, Farm Planning, Farm & Food Project Tutorial, Call of the Land: Agrarian Arts & Words, Introduction to Sustainability; and System Dynamics
  • Elmer Beal
    B.A. Bowdoin College
    M.A. University of Texas
    » Courses taught: Contemporary Culture and the Self, Culture of the Maine Fishing Industry, Culture of the Maine Timber Industry, The Culture of Maine's Organic Farmers, Cultural Ecology of Human Population Growth, Ethnicity as Source of Identity and Conflict, Ethnographic Film. Human Ecology Core Course
  • Don Cass
    B.S. Carleton College
    Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley
    » Courses taught: Biochemistry, Chemistry for Consumers, Chemistry of Cooking, Environmental Chemistry, Introductory and Organic Chemistry
  • Jay Friedlander
    B.A. Colgate University
    M.B.A., F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College
    » Courses taught: Business Fundamentals, Sustainable Strategies, Launching A New Venture, eMarketing, Business and Nonprofit Basics, Human Relations, Financials
  • Todd Little-Siebold
    B.A. , M.A. University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    Ph.D. Tulane University
    » Courses taught: The History Workshop: Theory and Practice of Historical Research, Salmon: History and Policy of North Atlantic Fisheries, Corn and Coffee History of Agriculture, Apples
    Farms, Orchards, and Cider: History of British Agriculture,
    Environmental History, Oceans
    and Fishes
  • Suzanne Morse
    B.A., Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley
    » Courses taught: Agroecology, Theory and Practice of Organic Gardening, Weed Ecology, Art and Science of Fermentation, Food Systems, Comida y Comunidad, Our Daily Bread: Following Grains Through The Food System
  • Nishi Rajakaruna
    B.A. College of the Atlantic
    M.Sc., Ph.D. University of British Columbia
    » Courses taught: Biogeography, Edible Botany, Ethnobotany, Plants with Mettle
  • Doreen Stabinsky
    B.A. Lehigh University
    Ph.D. University of California at Davis
    » Courses taught: Agriculture and Biotechnology, Politics of World Trade, International Financial Institutions, Tutorial: FAO Committee on World Food Security, Global Environmental Politics, Current Topics in Climate Politics, Practical Activism


  • Lise Desrochers is Co-Director of Food Services.
  • Ken Sebelin '94 is Co-Director of Food Services.
  • Tess Faller is Production Manager at Beech Hill Farm.
  • C.J. Walke is Farm Manager at Peggy Rockefeller Farms.

Of interest...

The National Good Food Network hosts monthly food system webinars and shares archived episodes.

What can you do with a human ecology degree?

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