Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Major


Students majoring in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SA&FS) focus on the social, economic and environmental aspects of food and agriculture - 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 both on and off campus. 

Learn from students about the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major





Looking for more information? 


Prospective students should read enrollment details regarding the major. 

Current students and faculty seeking advising forms and other planning tools can visit the SA&FS Academic Planning Resources section.  




Major Adviser: 
Ryan E. Galt*
regalt [at]
(530) 754-8776
2429 Hart Hall 
Professor Galt will be on sabbatical for 2014/15. Please contact interim major adviser, Will Horwath, for policy-related questions and approvals.

Staff Adviser:
Galyna Erdman

(530) 752-2244
1301 Hart Hall

Track Advisers:
Will Horwath -- Agricultural and Ecology
wrhorwath [at]
(530) 754-6029
3226 Plant and Environmental Sciences Building
Ryan Galt -- Food and Society (Please contact Tom Tomich for track advising during 2014/15)
regalt [at]
(530) 754-8776
2429 Hart Hall
Tom Tomich -- Economics and Policy
tptomich [at]
(530) 752-3915
143 Robbins Hall

Student Learning Outcomes 

Systems Thinking: Students are competent in the analysis of complex systems, integrating societal, environmental and economic perspectives. Students reflect systems thinking in a deepening understanding of complexity, holistic approaches, and how the parts relate to the whole.

Experimentation and Inquiry: Students formulate questions, investigate current knowledge gaps, develop sound research design, learn current research methods and perspectives, experiment with new approaches to scientific inquiry, and integrate scientific and practical knowledge.

Interpersonal Communication: Students work in collaborative teams, present information for varied contexts and audiences, negotiate approaches and viewpoints and take leadership roles on important issues.

Understanding Values: Students reflect critically on their own values and examine different paradigms and perspectives, seeing beyond objective data to understand how values shape commerce, research, policy and action in sustainable agriculture and food systems. 

Strategic Management: Students work to collectively design and implement interventions, anticipating future scenarios and adaptively managing information, human and natural resources for maximum impact.

Civic Engagement: Students work to make a difference in the civic life of their communities, through both political and non-political processes. As part of a larger social fabric, students consider social problems to be at least partly their own; make and justify informed judgments; and take action when appropriate.

Personal Development: Students seek deeper understanding of their own and thinking and learning processes. They can tolerate ambiguity, respecting those with differing opinions and beliefs, while setting firm standards for behavior and holding themselves and others accountable. Students work to promote open expression of individuality and diversity within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity and respect.


Guiding Principles 


The major includes several innovative features designed to help students acquire the knowledge, skills, and understanding need to develop and work in more ecologically, economically and socially viable food and farming systems. 

These include: 

  • Interdisciplinary Breadth: Integrating natural and social science knowledge and skills
  • Systems Thinking:  Understanding connections among diverse components of farming and food systems, social institutions, and the environment. 
  • Skill Development:  Gaining practical skills including communication, analysis, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and leadership 
  • Experiential Learning:  Engaging in wide range of practical experiences in agricultural and food systems through laboratories, field exercises, internships and other means. 
  • Linking the Real World with Classroom:  Bringing practitioners into the classroom, sending students into the field, and discussing and analyzing these experiences.
  • Community Building:  Being part of community that includes students, faculty, internship sponsors, and others enhances learning and reflects the reality of life after school. 

Curriculum Design

The major is designed to help students gain a diversity of knowledge, skills and experiences using traditional and nontraditional teaching methods, including hands-on experiential learning techniques. To review the complete set of academic requirements for the major, download the Course Catalog Description

All students will take courses in a broad range of disciplines grounded in agricultural science, but each will focus their studies within one of three tracks: agriculture and ecology, food and society, or economics and policy. 

The curriculum is built around a number of common preparatory core courses, which allow students to develop a shared knowledge base and social network. They are:
- Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture (PLS 15)
- Food Systems (CRD 20)
- Sustainability and Agroecosystem Management (PLS 150)
- Economics of Agricultural Sustainability (ARE 121)
- Capstone: Workshop on Food System Sustainability (ESP 191a, b)

The preparatory classes in each track provide basic disciplinary training in agricultural, environmental, and social sciences. In upper division classes students can choose from several areas of specialization.

The major emphasizes development of practical skills that can be applied to a wide range of career opportunities in agriculture and food systems. All students will have direct experiences in food production activities through the applied production courses and through avenues such as internships.

Student internships will focus on off-campus experiences within diverse segments of agriculture and food systems. This may include working on farms or in food businesses, with government agencies or non-profit organizations.

Core Courses

Developing a new major has required the creation of new courses to comprise the core of the curriculum.  These courses will utilize an interdisciplinary approach and include skill building activities.  The core courses are:

  • Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture
    (PLS 15)  4 units. 3 hours lecture, 3 hours laboratory per week. Spring quarter
    Prerequisites: None
    Course Description: Agricultural sustainability from an agroecological perspective. Ecosystem functions, resource use, management, productivity and other outputs of agricultural systems. Sustainability, including socioeconomic and other factors and their interactions with biophysical factors. Laboratory activities explore agricultural sustainability through direct field experiences with diverse production practices and agricultural systems. Instructors: M. Van Horn & N. Williams
  • Food Systems
    (CRD 20)  4 units. 3 hours lecture, 3 hours laboratory per week. Fall quarter
    Prerequisites: None
    Course Description: Social aspects of agri-food systems. Political economy of food, agriculture, and sustainability with an understanding of connections to power, labor, knowledge, new technologies, governance and social movements. Discussions of specific commodity chains – vegetables, grains, meat – in comparative global context.
    Instructor: R. Galt
  • Sustainability and Agroecosystem Management
    (PLS 150)  4 units. 3 hours lecture, 3 hours laboratory per week. Spring quarter
    Prerequisites: SSC 10, CHE 2A and PLS 2 or BIS 1C or 2C
    Course Description: Interdisciplinary analysis of agricultural production and food systems with primary emphasis on biophysical processes. General concepts governing the functioning of temperate and tropical agroecosystems in relation to resource availability, ecological sustainability, and socio-economic viability. Comparative ecological analyses of agroecosystems.
    Instuctor: J. Six
  • Economics of Agricultural Sustainability
    (ARE 121)  4 units. 3 hours lecture, 1 hour discussion per week. Spring quarter
    Prerequisites: PLS 15, CRD 20, ECN 1A
    Course Description: Application of economic concepts to agro-environmental issues relevant to agricultural sustainability. Market efficiency, production externalities, government intervention, agricultural trade, and product differentiation, as related to sustainability issues. Case studies include genetically modified foods and geographically differentiated products.
    Instructors: R. Howitt and D. Sumner
  • Senior Capstone – Workshop on Food System Sustainability
    (ESP 191 A & B)  3 units & 3 units. 3 hours of lecture/discussion per week
    Prerequisites: Upper division standing. Open to students in the major only.
    Course Description: Senior capstone course featuring user-oriented, multi-disciplinary projects and other experience-based learning activities. Synthesis of previously-gained knowledge and skills through team projects addressing specific problems and opportunities of sustainable agriculture and food systems.
    Instructor: T. Tomich

Conceptual Model


SAFS Major Conceptual model

click on image to enlarge