Center for Sustainable Food Systems

Sustaining Traditions: Food, Farming, and Climate

Italy
Semester
15 Weeks
18 Credits
Fall 2024
Sep 1 - Dec 12
Filling Fast
Spring 2025
Jan 27 - May 9
Open
Program Costs
  • Tuition$17,000
  • Room & Board$5,500
  • Total$22,500
Application Deadlines
Fall 2024
May 1, 2024
Spring 2025
November 1, 2025
Semester Program

Sustaining Traditions: Food, Farming, and Climate

Tuscany,
Italy

In the heart of the Tuscan countryside, explore sustainable and traditional food systems offered as alternatives to industrial food production. Explore the diverse topography of central Italy and its distinct ecosystems that have, over thousands of years, shaped unique food traditions and production practices. Hike through sun-baked Tuscan hillsides, saltwater marshes, and wolf-inhabited forests while learning from olive growers, viticulturists, fishers, and shepherds about the complex interdisciplinary issues of traditional and present-day Italian agriculture.

Program highlights: 

  • Visit the coastal area of Maremma to tour a sustainable artisanal fishery and local farms, coming face to face with endangered heritage breeds of livestock
  • Research creative farmer-driven responses to climate pressures on their olive groves and vineyards
  • Discuss with livestock shepherds how the Foreste Casentinesi National Park balances wolf conservation with predation pressure on their herds
  • Embark on a weeklong excursion to Sicily to experience the contrasting Greek- and Arab-influenced culture, food, and history
  • Join Italian families for cooking lessons and cultural immersion in exchange for English conversation through the “Cucina for English” initiative
  • Conduct a comprehensive field research project: Develop a research question, collect, and analyze data, complete a research paper, and present your findings to the community.

Academics

This rigorous academic program follows a five-day/week schedule. Each program combines theory learned during classroom sessions with field-based applications. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand through classroom work, intensive field trips, and experiential learning, the complexities of balancing conservation with social and economic issues.

Major academic themes include: 

  • Environmental, sociocultural, and economic dimensions of food systems 
  • The intersections of food production, biodiversity conservation, environmental policy, and climate change  
  • Agroecological practices and sustainable management of food systems 
  • Food systems policy objectives and implementation 

Courses

Students will gain knowledge and make use of practical research field tools and instruments such as: research design and implementation, quantitative/qualitative data collection and analysis, questionnaire development, stakeholder interviews, basic statistical analysis, monetary valuation techniques, multicriteria analysis, biodiversity assessments, population monitoring, animal behavior observation, GIS and mapping, biodiversity survey techniques, scientific writing, and communication.

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SFS 3753
Food Systems Resource Management
4 credits
SFS 3753

Food Systems Resource Management

4 credits

This course addresses the management of environmental, sociocultural and economic resources in food systems. The totality of resources needed for the primary production of food, as well as for other food system activities (e.g. processing, distribution) is examined, considering the range of actors engaged in food system activities and the outcomes with respect to food security, social justice, livelihoods, and human health. Students will learn how to use GIS (Geographical Information Systems) software in order to evaluate the capacity of the planet to produce food in aa sustainable fashion. Resource efficiency improvements to enhance food security are analyzed and discussed through a holistic and integrated approach, looking at resources such as soil, water, agrobiodiversity, knowledge, labor and landscape as a whole, integrated with the ecological platform which is our planet. In a typical experiential learning process, students will learn about the practices and structures that affect the health and wealth of those in agriculture and food systems. 

During field trips, students will share innovative practices that are fostering the transition towards a sustainable agriculture. The study of ecological functions in farming, and the marriage of agriculture and ecology will bring us to the concept of “Agroecology”. More specifically, agroecology is defined as the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.

Many food movements embrace today the concept of agroecology as a pillar of food sovereignty, which focuses on local autonomy, access to knowledge, local markets, and community action for access and control of land, water, agrobiodiversity, etc.  This course will be interdisciplinary, integrating different disciplines such as economics, geography, ecology, sociology, and the history of agricultural systems. 

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SFS 2031
Language and Culture of Italy
2 credits
SFS 2031

Language and Culture of Italy

2 credits

Language and culture are critical elements in the understanding of any system of food production and distribution. This course provides students the opportunity to learn and practice essential elements of Italian, and the important cultural values, norms, and behaviors that shape attitudes toward the role of food as a basic civil right, and as an essential expression of life and culture in Italy.

Students will learn basic communication and some basic grammar, but will in large part be learning based on their goals—with specific vocabulary and interactions designed to allow them to interact in specific fields.

For this reason, students will participate in activities involving young Italians and their families. The idea is to be part of a program called “Cucina for English” where students can help Italian students with homework and conversation in English in change of family dinner. During the visit to the Italian families participating to the program, students can practice their Italian language and learn cooking skills. It will be enjoyable and a great opportunity to get closer to the Italian family traditions.

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SFS 3082
Agri-environmental Policy and Socio-Economic Values
4 credits
SFS 3082

Agri-environmental Policy and Socio-Economic Values

4 credits

Through analyzing the theories and school of thoughts of the predominant economic paradigm underlying the conventional governance of the primary sector, and by looking at alternative theories and decision-making systems, this course will address innovative governance approaches designed to yield sustainable food systems. The historical development of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be analyzed to assess the sustainability of past and current food production policies in the EU. This analysis will be propaedeutic to understand and study what new agriculture and rural development ideas could be the answers to the present conventional food systems crisis and what policy instruments could be used to achieve sustainable agriculture. New concepts and methods of assessing the socio-economic value of both agricultural positive and negative impacts on ecosystem services such as pollination, carbon storage, soil erosion and water runoff control, biodiversity conservation, maintenance of aesthetic quality of the landscape and territorial cultural identity, will be analyzed, in class and in the field, and integrated in the development of agri-environmental policy. Students will learn how policy instruments and economic tools can be used in the governance of agricultural systems to enhance the delivery of economic, social, and environmental benefits in agroecosystems. This knowledge will be useful in fully exploiting field research experiences that offer concrete examples of how theories and concepts are implemented through the EU CAP in Tuscany.

This course is interdisciplinary, integrating different disciplines such as economics, political economy, ecology, rural sociology, and the history of environmental economic thought. A background in economics is not required. The course will provide the knowledge base for developing critical capacities to gather and analyze environmental and socio-economic socioeconomic data in field research to assess sustainability of agricultural systems and related policies.

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SFS 3591
Food Systems Ecology
4 credits
SFS 3591

Food Systems Ecology

4 credits

It is estimated that most of the global terrestrial biodiversity loss is related to food production. Food systems account for around 25% of the global greenhouse gas emissions and an estimated 33% of soils are moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, compaction, and chemical pollution.

This course focuses on the ecology of food systems and on the impact of food production on biodiversity and natural resources and their management, as well as efforts to mitigate its impact. This framework provides a comprehensive approach to examining complex ecological relationships between agricultural practices and agroecosystem ecological state, drawing on the disciplines of biology, ecology, and climate.

The course provides theoretical and practical knowledge and skills needed to undertake field research on biodiversity conservation in agroecosystems. By working at the ecosystem and community level, students will learn research design, monitoring techniques, data gathering, analysis, interpretation, and communication of results.

Students will have the opportunity to visit different farming typologies as well as explore the surrounding natural habitats, experiencing the close interaction between the different habitats that characterize these ecosystems, conducting direct experiences of field research. The practical lessons will take place in three different areas of Tuscany. In the central Tuscan town of Chianti, students investigate the cultivation of vine and olive trees mixed with woodland areas. In Mugello, a few kilometers north of Florence, students examine pasture and agroforestry systems, such as chestnut groves, a typical cultivation of the Tuscan Apennine mountains. In Maremma, students explore a diverse region extending from coast to foothills interspersed with reclaimed wetlands and coastal fossil islands with Mediterranean macchia and holm oak woods.

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SFS 4971
Directed Research – Italy
4 credits
SFS 4971

Directed Research – Italy

4 credits

Students will select a research topic related to one of the three core courses in the program and conduct a research project under the direction of the appropriate program faculty. The directed research prepares students to identify hidden assumptions in scientific approaches and separate fact from interpretation, correlation from causation, and advocacy from objectivity. Students will learn specific tools, including experimental design; geographical information systems (GIS); field techniques; basic descriptive statistics; as well as qualitative and quantitative analysis.

The directed research will allow students to tailor the program to individual learning, interests, and career objectives. Students can pursue a research question about a particular issue relevant to the program using academic resources accessible through their own campuses’ online library systems, as well as other websites and databases, data gathered during field research and by interviewing local stakeholders in Greve, Chianti, Florence and Tuscany. Guidelines on how to integrate what was learned in class into the field research project will be presented and discussed in class. Students will write a final report on their research and present the results in class. Together with the final written paper, presentation to the class and local communities serves as a capstone of the research experience, and a way of integrating it into the group’s collective experience. Emphasis is placed on succinct scientific writing, graphic and tabular presentation of results, and effective communication of the results of their Food Systems research project.

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Core Skills

Students will gain knowledge and make use of practical research field tools and instruments such as: research design and implementation, quantitative/qualitative data collection and analysis, questionnaire development, stakeholder interviews, basic statistical analysis, monetary valuation techniques, multicriteria analysis, biodiversity assessments, population monitoring, animal behavior observation, GIS and mapping, biodiversity survey techniques, scientific writing, and communication.

Field Sites

In addition to sites located in the hilly countryside surrounding Greve, research sites are also located in very different agroecosystems such as Maremma plain in the southwest coast of Tuscany, in the northeast mountainous areas of Mugello and Casentino, and on the island of Sicily. The ecological, sociocultural, and economic diversity of research site locations offers the opportunity to investigate the implementation of food systems sustainability, both theories and practices, in different socio-ecological contexts and explore what sustainability solutions may better suit different areas and contexts.


Other Italy Programs

Semester

Sustaining Traditions: Food, Farming, and Climate

15 Weeks
18 Credits
Fall 2024
Sep 1 - Dec 12
Filling Fast
Spring 2025
Jan 27 - May 9
Open

More Information

Program Costs
  • Tuition$17,000
  • Room & Board$5,500
  • Total$22,500

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