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Farm to Table: Students See Sustainable Food Systems Firsthand

The earth is currently populated with 7 billion people. And by 2050, there will be 2 billion more. How will we feed all of them without overwhelming the planet?

That is the question students seek to answer in Sustainable Food Systems, a fall-semester seminar led by Associate Professor of Biology Alissa Packer.

Although it is an upper-level biology class, Packer says the class covers topics of interest to anyone.

"This class is about understanding the full progression of the food we eat--from seed to store to plate--and everything that is involved," she says. "We also dive into how the decisions we make as consumers affect the way food is grown."

Packer's course also teaches students about the costs and benefits of industrial food systems, and how to identify components of sustainable food systems, as well as the costs and benefits of these alternate models.

Throughout the semester, students in the fall 2016 class visited Owens Farm in nearby Sunbury, where animals are raised with no chemicals or growth hormones and are grass-fed; and Ard's Farm in Lewisburg, Pa., which uses sustainable agricultural practices such as no-till farming, crop rotation and low-density animal farming.

Students also developed a personal connection to their food by working at the campus garden, located near the Freshwater Research Initiative lab on Sassafras Street.

Guest speakers instructed on topics ranging from food banking to aquaponics, a symbiotic system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically (in water), which in turn purify the water.

During their final classes, students presented their own research. Eileen Gonzalez '17, of Miami, Fla., discussed the opportunities and barriers to sustainable college campuses. She advocated for serving food that is chemical-, pesticide- and hormone-free, seasonal menus with less meat, and composting and recycling fry oil.

"Colleges can foster a culture of sustainability by offering interdisciplinary courses like this one, classes that connect us to social and natural sciences," Gonzalez says. "We've been targeted too long as individual consumers when it's larger organizations that can make the most impact."



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