New Sustainable Food Systems and Permaculture Design Concentration and Certificate Offered at AUS

Antioch University Seattle’s MA Programs in Leadership and Change is offering an exciting new concentration in its Environment and Community graduate program.

The nine-month program titled Sustainable Food Systems and Permaculture Design is the collaborative brainchild of Britt Yamamoto, Ph.D., and Jonathan Scherch, Ph.D., both core faculty in the MA Programs in Leadership and Change.

Also available as a certificate, Sustainable Food Systems and Permaculture Design focuses on developing a big picture view of the systems involved in food production, transportation and consumption. However, the program also goes beyond the realm of ideas and equips students with the skills to start implementing practical solutions that start—literally—in their own backyards.

“The idea began taking shape last fall,” says Yamamoto. “Jonathan and I were talking about ways to combine our expertise to meet the growing interest and need for courses in food and agriculture. The topics were already very popular so it just made sense for us to combine our skill sets.”

Both are leaders in the international development of food, agriculture and sustainable communities, so the pair make an impressive combination.

Yamamoto has received a number awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, a 2008-09 World Affairs Council Fellowship and the University of Washington’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

Scherch has been teaching permaculture and sustainable systems design for more than a decade. He’s currently program vice president for the Northwest chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration International and also serves on the advisory boards of Community Energy Solutions, Village Volunteers and the Foundation for Global Sustainability.

Their philosophic axis for food systems and permaculture (a portmanteau that conflates “permanent” and “agriculture”) is the goal of creating not just the means by which to provide the resources for daily living, but also to do so successfully in the face of challenges in the field of food that are dauntingly global: corporate control of food production, shrinking farmland, competition for water, economic access to fresh food and even obesity in children.

To bring those issues into focus, Scherch asks us to look at a single head of lettuce. “We might go to the store and buy an organic head of lettuce and think that, because it is organic, we’re doing something good. But we have to think about what went into that. If that head of lettuce came from southern California, we have to factor in the petroleum consumption involved in getting the workers to the field; in harvesting the lettuce; in shipping the product in refrigerated trucks from southern California to a refrigerated warehouse; from the warehouse to the store, and finally to the consumer. Each product we buy in a grocery requires between 25 miles and 2500 miles of energy input.”

The scope of these supply chains and their inherent fragility concerns both scholars. They hope the program will empower their students to design frameworks through which more families can live in symbiosis, a state in which the needs of plants, animals, people and the planet are balanced.

Students in the certificate program can expect hands-on, scalable experiences in creating this balance. They’ll be studying organic farming, effective methods of harvesting rainwater and renewable energy systems as well as the various social and political theories that frame and inform applied projects. In this way the certificate is not only a practical training, but also one that is informed by sound and rigorous theory.

Other aspects of study will be equally important if less tangible, such as public policy, international connectivity, community building, interpersonal communication and conflict resolution.

Scherch describes the teaching approach of the program as “a wildly interdisciplinary recalibration of the ways in which we live. It’s not dogma but an invitation to engage questions like, ‘how do these ideas resonate with where you’re at and where you’re heading? How can we transition into abundant living that is intentional, deliberate and authentic?'”

This year Sustainable Food Systems and Permaculture Design begins its food systems coursework. This will soon be followed by additional offerings in international community development.

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