Poultney, VT: Green Mountain College will offer a distance-learning master's degree in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS), which builds on the surging interest in food and agriculture issues in the U.S. and on the success of the College's undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture.
The MSFS program has received accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and GMC plans to launch its first cohort in January, 2012.
More than 30 undergraduate students already focus their academic work on food systems at the college. Four grants over the past three years totaling over $250,000 have enhanced facilities and supported faculty research capacity at the college's Cerridwen Farm and the adjoining Solar Harvest Center.
"Agriculture is an essential component not only of our economy but of our life-support systems," says Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of GMC's Farm and Food Project and associate professor of environmental studies. "There is significant demand for interdisciplinary programs related to food, and we've built the capacity to offer a strong graduate level program."
The primary objective of the MSFS is to educate leaders in food and agricultural systems with a graduate level interdisciplinary program focused on sustainable production and knowledge of the economic, ecological, and social forces driving food systems. Students will conduct in-depth interdisciplinary investigations into the complex arena of agriculture in their own bioregions. Because the new MSFS program follows Green Mountain's online graduate studies model, students can compare research with cohorts from other parts of the U.S. and abroad.
"People working in food systems—be it on the farm or in food-related enterprises—tend to be deeply rooted on the land and wedded to their work," says Ackerman-Leist. "To pick up and move from their home communities to pursue a professional degree is highly problematic. Our distance learning model allows students to continue their work at home while learning about agriculture in other regions from their peers. The composition of the student cohorts is intentionally diverse."
In 2006, the College initiated two online graduate programs, an MS in environmental studies and an M.B.A. in sustainable business. Currently over 100 students participate in these two programs.