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Posts Tagged: Neal Van Alfen

Sustainable agriculture and food systems: An innovative new major at UC Davis

Two terms related to food production — “sustainability” and “food systems” — have been blended into a new major at the University of California, Davis. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, the new undergraduate major, in some ways embodies a re-blossomed, student-driven interest in food production, akin to the organic farming movement of the 1970s.

Food systems is a broad term that addresses nutrition and health, sustainable agriculture, and community development. A food system encompasses the entire production chain, not only from farm to fork, but includes broader topics such as short- and long-term impacts on the environment, labor, management of food inputs (e.g., water, pesticides) and outputs (e.g., waste), and the socioeconomic impacts on communities engaged in the food system. In other words, food systems encompasses agricultural production within the broad context of environmental, economic, social, and political concerns.

Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, noted during the celebration ceremony for the new major, “Agriculture is incredibly knowledge intensive. It is as knowledge intensive as launching rockets.” He cited a terrarium as a model for how we must maintain a sustainable food production system with limited resources to feed a rapidly growing global population. “The planet is a closed system,” Van Alfen said. “We have to get it right.”

Professor Tom Tomich, master adviser for the major and director of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, said, “The major is about leadership, as much as it is about education. It’s about creating a new generation of leaders who will go on to guide the sustainability transformation for this country and for this planet.” Unlike student programs that are limited to classroom learning, Tomich said that the curriculum for the new major combines the best of three worlds — classroom and labs, the Student Farm, and the real world.

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, attended the opening, along with other high-level state leaders in agriculture, including Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, and Don Bransford, president of the UC President’s Advisory Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi, who spoke about UC Davis’s national leadership in sustainability, noted, “This leadership from the state shows the importance of the program and what impact it may have on the state, on us as an institution, and on our students.”

“Agriculture and food have shaped human civilization and are central to well-being and health,” said Ralph Hexter, provost of UC Davis. “We recognize the need to understand both the natural world and our human activities holistically.” Addressing the global significance of the major, Hexter added, “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems is a major that is truly designed for the 21st century. It responds to today’s needs and incorporates experiential learning and state-of-the-art research.”

A recent UC Davis graduate who helped lay the groundwork for the curriculum, Maggie Lickter, spoke passionately to the 200 people celebrating the major. She said that the major is driven largely by students who have cutting-edge ideas and want to be engaged in creating a useful education. Lickter said that many students felt that components were missing from the traditional agricultural curriculum, such as farming practices grounded in an understanding of ecological systems, and the application of critical thinking skills to modern-day food systems.

In a moving tribute to the success of establishing the major, Lickter said, “This work can’t stop. If you stop stoking romance, love dissolves. If you stop tending a garden, plants wither. So we must stay committed to the evolution of this major.”

Dean Van Alfen, a strong proponent of UC Davis partnerships with the California agriculture industry, views this major as an additional way to create graduates with industry-ready work skills. Addressing UC Davis’s national and global leadership in agriculture, he said, “Agricultural sustainability has been a theme of this campus for a very long time. This new interdisciplinary major is the future in so many ways. It reflects our campus spirit and our culture. It will meet the needs of our stakeholders and the future of our planet.”

For more information:

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and Dean Neal Van Alfen, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Carol Hillhouse (UC Davis Children's Garden director), Ann Evans (former Davis mayor), and Craig McNamara (president, State Board of Food and Agriculture)

UC Davis Aggie Ambassadors: Jacob Gomez, Chase DeCoite, Alison King, and Phoebe Copp

Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 8:42 AM

New college degree: “Sustainable agriculture and food systems”

Students preparing food baskets at the UC Davis Student Farm (Photo: Ann Filmer)
The University of California, Davis, is launching a new undergraduate major — “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.” The program integrates several subjects to give students an understanding of the many issues facing contemporary farming and food systems, including production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management.

As noted in the Los Angeles Times, “With rising public interest in where our food comes from — as well as in "green" living — it makes sense that higher education would be eager to attract students who want to tap into the intersection between these two fields.”

Students will focus on the social, economic, and environmental aspects of agriculture and food — from farm to table and beyond. The program is designed to help students obtain a diversity of knowledge and skills, both in the classroom and through personal experiences on and off campus.

Students will take courses in a broad range of disciplines, but will focus in one of three tracks:  Agriculture and Ecology, Food and Society, or Economics and Policy.

“This interdisciplinary curriculum will prepare students to become leaders in agriculture and food systems,” said professor Thomas Tomich, the major adviser for the program and director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.

The major is new, but UC Davis has been covering the subject in field- and classroom-based interdisciplinary learning opportunities at the Student Farm at UC Davis for more than 35 years, said Mark Van Horn, the Student Farm director who will teach a core course in the major.

“Learning through doing and reflection adds a valuable dimension to students’ education because it helps them see the connections between theory and practice in the real world,” Van Horn said.

“This is an exciting addition to the college that reflects a change in how we think about food and agriculture,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Students will gain a broad perspective of what it takes to put dinner on the table in an era of greater demand and fewer resources.”

For more information:

Posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:43 AM

World's first LEED Platinum winery, brewery and food-processing labs

A new winery, brewery and food-processing complex at the University of California, Davis, is the most environmentally sophisticated complex of its kind in the world, one that promises to unravel scientific enigmas and solve practical problems related to foods, beverages and health.

The $20 million, 34,000-square-foot teaching-and-research complex is the first winery, brewery or food-processing facility expected to earn LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is intended to become self-sustainable in energy and water use.

Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, said, "It will serve as a model for industries throughout the nation that are also committed both to environmental excellence and production efficiency."

The complex houses a brewery, general foods-processing plant, milk-processing laboratory, and a teaching-and-research winery which will serve as a test bed for production processes that conserve water, energy, and other resources. The complex is adjacent to a 12-acre teaching-and-research vineyard.

Its environmentally friendly features include on-site solar power generation, a large-capacity system for capturing rainwater and conserving processing water, and many other features. The facility is expected to be carbon zero in carbon emissions.

Read more about the facility and take an online tour at the facility’s website.

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:43 AM
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