The Sustainable Food Systems specialization track will train students to approach key food system challenges critically and innovatively. The specialization will define food systems holistically, to include all stages of the food supply chain: from agriculture and production, through processing, transportation, retail, consumption, and waste; and including the diversity of private sector, NGO, research, and government agencies that aim to influence the sustainability of these systems. Students will learn how to think about food and the environment from a systems perspective; to understand the interactions between science, policy, and ethics; and to understand the trade-offs and synergies between different objectives, solutions, and outcomes.

Students graduating from this track will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to become leaders in improving the sustainability of food systems, and might pursue careers in the private sector, government, or a non-profit organization, in the US or internationally. Colorado’s Front Range is rapidly cementing its reputation as a global leader in sustainable food system innovation, and students will benefit from frequent, direct access to leading locally-based food system entrepreneurs and thinkers.

Course Requirements

The course provides a holistic exploration of the environmental, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of agri-food sustainability and provides a foundation for future study of and leadership in food system sustainability. Through a combination of interactive seminar sessions, field visits, and interactions with food producers, students will learn to conceptualize food systems and their dynamics, recognize their achievements, come to terms with their role in environmental and social ills, and explore a range of promising alternative practices. To ground us as we tackle challenges and themes of global significance in the classroom, we will venture into the food system of the Front Range to consider a range of strategies for rebalancing and building resilience in food systems. (Seminar-6100 + Field Lab-6101)

The course will explore the evidence and ideas underlying some of the most important contemporary food system debates. We will ask: in enhancing the environmental sustainability of food systems, what do the data tell us about the roles that can be played by genetically engineered food, organic agriculture, local food systems, changes to animal agriculture, and reductions in food waste? Students will draw on peer-reviewed research to address the science, policy, and ethical dimensions of these topics.

Select two (2) one-credit modules from among the courses below to build quantitative skills relevant to food systems work.

Benefit Cost Analysis

Life Cycle Assessment

Monitoring and Evaluation

This course introduces and examines food law and policy in the United States. It surveys the history of agriculture policy and food regulation in the US, as well as the overlapping mandates, authority, philosophies, and rules of the two federal agencies with the majority of the agricultural and food regulatory authority in the United States: the USDA & FDA. The course will investigate policies pertaining to agricultural production, environmental impacts of agriculture, food constituents, food labeling, safety, manufacturing, marketing and retail, as well as policies pertaining to nutrition guidance and assistance programs. State and local food policy innovations are explored in context.  As we examine the network of policies that shape, players that influence, and laws that govern our food system, students will engage in thoughtful policy critiques and propose new ways of addressing contemporary issues with a focus on using policy mechanisms to enhance sustainability through agriculture and food.

Sample Course Sequence

Term Courses
  • Student Orientation
  • The Scientific Basis of Environmental Change (MENV core; ENVM 6100; 3 credit hours)
  • Applications in Environmental Change (MENV core; ENVM 6100; 1 credit hour)
Fall Semester I
  • Analyzing Socio-Environmental Systems (MENV core; ENVM 5002, 3 credit hours)
  • Nourishing Humanity within Planetary Boundaries (SFS Specialization requirement; ENVM 6100; 3 credit hours)
  • Lab: Nourishing Humanity within Planetary Boundaries (Lab; SFS Specialization requirement; ENVM 6100; 1 credit hours)
  • Reducing the Environmental Impact of Food Systems (SFS Specialization requirement; ENVS 6305; 3 credit hours)
  • Quantitative Analysis in Food Systems (choose 2 of 3 modules: Benefit Cost Analysis ENVM 6101, Life Cycle Assessment ENVM 6101, Monitor and Evaluation ENVM 6101; SFS Specialization requirement; 2 credit hours)
  • Capstone Innovation Lab I (ENVM 6001; 1 credit hour)
Spring Semester
  • Leadership and Ethics (MENV core; ENVM 6100; 3 credit hours)
  • Food and Agriculture Policy in the United States (SFS Specialization requirement; ENVM 6100; 3 credit hours)
  • Capstone Innovation Lab II (ENVM 6002; 1 credit hour)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (optional; 3 credit hours)
Summer Semester
  • Capstone Project (ENVM 6003; 5 credit hours)
Fall Semester II
  • Capstone Innovation Lab III (ENVM 6004; 1 credit hour)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)