A free open short course on exploring the economic, social, and environmental aspects of food systems from local to global.

What is a food system, what does it look like, and how does it work? A food system includes growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposal of food, which relies on labor, research, technology, public policy, and more at each step. Food system actors are interconnected through physical, market and legal relationships that give rise to food system outcomes that are often predictable, but are also governed by natural and human forces that are self-organizing, non-linear, and inherently unpredictable.

Aspects and characteristics of food systems have been linked to a wide range of environmental and social challenges, from climate change and ecosystem degradation to childhood obesity and malnutrition. By examining the elements and forces acting in the food system, we seek to envision and create a sustainable and resilient food system that provides food security from local to global.

This short course is free and open to the public. For a more in-depth study of food systems, Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences offers AGRI 411/511: Introduction to Food Systems both on-campus and online via OSU Ecampus.

Part 1 - Food Systems: Systems Thinking (10:27)

In Part 1, you will learn how to think about complex system by breaking them into 3 parts: the elements of the system, their relationships, and their outcomes.

Recommended Reading: Donella Meadows, Dancing with Systems

Part 2 - Food Systems: Public Policy (14:50)

In Part 2, you will learn about public policy as an element of the food system, which requires an understanding of the science, institutions of law and economics, and social values to make effective public policy. Using what you learned in Part 1, you will also consider how to target public policy and the leverage points that are available to change the system outcomes.

Recommended Reading: Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System and Institute of Medicine, A Framework for Assessing Decisions About Food and Agriculture

Part 3 - Scale and the Food System (11:38)

In Part 3, you will see how scale is a key consideration in food systems, from production to marketing and in public policy considerations. We will use producers that are considered “Agriculture of the Middle” as an example to see how scale impacts economic, environmental and social aspects of the food system.

Explore more: Agriculture of the Middle Initiative Website

Part 4 - Food Systems: Food Security (16:31)

The ultimate goal of our food system is to provide food security for every member of society. Here we will explore the four dimensions of food security: Availability, Access, Utilization, and Stability. Each dimension stems from different local conditions and has different public policy responses that may be appropriate. By considering how food insecurity arises from the system elements and relationships at different scales, we consider how to fashion public policy responses.

Part 5 - The Future of the Food System (8:23)

The goal of the food system is to provide food security while ensuring continued productive capacity, creating a sustainable and resilient food system. However, our food system is facing immense challenges due to climate change and increasing world population, exposing vulnerabilities to both slow-moving stresses and fast-moving shocks. As we envision a sustainable and resilient food system, we must consider how to design adaptive capacity into the system to withstand the stresses and shocks that we are facing.