Ecological Agriculture: Healthy Soil, Healthy People


Winter 2016 and Spring 2016 quarters

Taught by

agricultural ecology, food systems
Thomas Johnson
health science, public health, bioethics


High school general biology and chemistry.

More than three-quarters of the arable land mass of the planet is influenced by human needs and desires for food and fiber. There are competing visions for the future of our agriculture and food systems. A global, fossil-fuel-based system provides large quantities of inexpensive food along with significant environmental and social impacts. Another vision is a local, community-based system that produces higher quality, but more expensive, food while seeking to minimize environmental and social impacts. Critical questions that will inform our inquiry include: Can we grow high-quality food that is available to everyone? How did we get into this current agricultural predicament of industrial production and a global population that is simultaneously both “stuffed” and “starved?” How can an individual make a difference?

This program will provide an interdisciplinary study of agriculture in the context of food systems. We will explore competing ideas while developing ecological and holistic thinking, which will be applied in hands-on laboratory and field exercises, expository and scientific report writing, critical analysis of film, and quantitative reasoning. Seminar will examine history, policy, and socioeconomic and political contexts of agriculture and health.

In winter, we will focus on soil science, particularly soil ecology and nutrient cycling in lecture and lab.  We will also examine food and agricultural policy at the national, state and local level, as well as the prospects for creating more sustainable food systems. Our learning will be supported by an extended field trip to the Ecological Farming Conference in California and visits to a number of rural farms and urban agriculture projects.  Seminar will examine U.S. agricultural history, food system policy, economics, and moral and ethical dimensions of food production. 

In spring, we will combine the topics of global farming systems, public health, and the health of agricultural workers. We will study basic ecological principles and practices involved in sustainable agriculture, indigenous agriculture, and permaculture. Farming intersects with larger questions of occupational health, including health-related burdens of workers in agriculture broadly, and specifically in migrant laborers in the United States. Integrating scientific and political population-based analyses, students will examine public health principles, tools, and policies related to pesticide exposure and other chemical, biological, and physical risks faced by agricultural workers. Seminar will focus on understanding structural history of agriculture, exploring the common roots of both malnutrition, hunger, and obesity.  A three-day field trip and three-credit independent project or in-program internship will complete in-class learning.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

farm, nursery, and garden management; agriculture, food system and environmental policy; federal, state and county agricultural and natural resource agencies; occupational health; and farming internships, Peace Corps service, and food justice organizations.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day

Advertised schedule: First spring class meeting : Tuesday, March 29 at 9am (Sem 2 A1107)


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Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online:

Required Fees

$750 in winter and $250 in spring for overnight field trips.

May be offered again in



Date Revision
February 9th, 2016 This program will accept new spring enrollment with signature.
November 18th, 2015 This program will accept enrollment with signature.
April 15th, 2015 This program will now start winter quarter.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50


Signature Required

Students must discuss how they meet the prerequisites with program faculty.  Please email your background to Martha Rosemeyer ( and/or meet with faculty at the Academic Fair.  Students can expect to know the decision by December 5.

Course Reference Number

So - Sr (16 credits): 20157

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Signature Required

Students must discuss with faculty how they meet the prerequisites.  Please meet with faculty at the Academic Fair Wednesday, March 2, 4-6pm.  Students can expect to know the decision by Friday March 4 in time for registration.  Students interested in the 3-credit in-program internship will need to complete their in-program internship paperwork by the end of the first week of class.

Course Reference Number

So - Sr (16 credits): 30138

Go to to register for this program.

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