Eating Locally, Thinking Globally: Understanding Agriculture and Food Systems

Why are bananas so cheap and plentiful year around? What is the difference between organic, fair trade, and regular bananas? Are organic bananas better for the environment? How many companies are involved in the banana trade? Which country is the largest grower of bananas? Which nation consumes the most bananas?

This SSIR is intended for students who, first and foremost, like to think about food and who have asked questions like the ones above and wondered about the answers. Students in this program will explore the origins of what they eat and learn about food issues in their communities and in other parts of the world. In an effort to explore the issues holistically, this program will integrate multidisciplinary perspectives held by anthropologists, economists, agronomists, journalists, historians, nutritionists, and sociologists.

Inside the Classroom

Students will investigate the making of the modern food system, including the promises and perils of efforts to feed a rapidly expanding human population. Utilizing interdisciplinary readings and methods we will explore issues that take us from the farm (production) to the fork (consumption) and determine the personal, cultural, environmental, and economic factors that influence what is on that fork.

Outside the Classroom

Students will have opportunities to learn about the agrifood system at the local, national and international level. We will begin by exploring the local food environment at the university and the Richmond metro area, followed by travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with people that shape our national food system through policy development and scientific research. Finally, we will travel to Belize where we will learn about the food system of an economically developing nation (and where they grow bananas!).

Research and Capstone Project

Over the course of the fall semester, students will conduct a research project focused on one agricultural commodity. The project will begin with a visit to a local farmer’s market where students will talk with vendors and select a food plant (lettuce, corn, etc.) that they will then research for the duration of the semester. Over the spring semester, students work in groups with their classmates to create a capstone project and subsequent presentation to the University community on those projects.