Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS single major
Other major (if applicable):
Minor(s) (if applicable):
“Agriculture and Public Health” as an area of interest is meant to encompass the relationship between agricultural operations of different scales and the health of connected communities and ecosystems. This area would include questions such as “Are there long term effects of different types of agricultural techniques on soil composition?”, “Is there a connection between overall health and proximity to agricultural areas?”, or “How does income influence diet?”. Branching off from these initial questions would follow questions about how agriculture and food systems could be more equitable and sustainable.
Like all environmental studies, research for this area of interest has pulled from many different fields and disciplines, specifically urban planning, sociology, economics, and natural sciences. Urban planning is specifically intertwined with food systems and the existence of food deserts, but planning food systems has been somewhat ignored by urban planners up until the mid-2000s (Morgan 2009) (Wrigley 2002). As the planet reaches an expected global population of 9 billion, many have written on how a world with denser communities and diminishing usable land will feed the growing human race. This is extremely relevant to environmental studies, as the methods used in further agricultural development will shape the planet and alter an already changing physical landscape.
As population increases and repetitive agricultural practices further degrade soil, the proportion of farmable land to people becomes more disparte (Godfray et al. 2010). In addition to purposeful development of what was once agricultural space, desertification is a leading cause in the decrease of farmable land. Desertification is usually the result of years of intensive monoculture, which disrupts existing processes in the soil, causing it to degrade. This degradation leads to farmers using more intensive measures to make up from lower quality soil, which only furthers the cycle of damage. Not only does desertification lead to long term damage of the biodiversity of the area, it often spells doom for the livelihoods of those working the land and those who depend on it for food (Imeson 2012). The effects of desertification are wide reaching, and must be addressed when looking at the effects of agriculture and health.
One of the United Nations sustainable development goals is to eliminate global hunger by improving food distribution systems, increasing investment in agriculture development, protecting plant biodiversity, and stabilizing the global market prices for food (UN 2015). Global approaches such as this have gained traction, with many advocating that increasing population requires the development of a regulated global food distribution system (Morgan and Sonnino 2010) (Godfray et al. 2010). Others propose enhanced local food initiatives to reduce food miles and bolster the local economy (Connelly, Markey, Roseland 2011). However, since more people are flocking to cities, many people live in areas where no food is produced or affordably sold. These areas are referred to as food deserts (Wrigley 2002). Thus, local urban food initiatives must make use of backyard and small community gardens, or newer methods such as vertical indoor farming (APA 2007) (Benke and Tomkins 2017).
A sustainable future must address agricultural practices for the health of human beings and the planet. There is no simple answer to what kind of practices are best suited to specific situations, so a varied approach must be taken. On all scales, the voices and input of the communities to be affected by changes in agricultural development must be heard. Agriculture is a key piece of a sustainable future, which means equitable consideration of needs for everyone.
- Descriptive Questions
- What are the different methods of food production?
- What happens to soil during soil degradation?
- What are the most lucrative food products and how are they produced?
- What are the different ways people access or interact with food producers and distributors?
- What constitutes “organic” food production?
- What are GMO crops?
- Explanatory Questions:
- Why are some food production methods more profitable or popular than others?
- What processes contribute to soil degradation?
- What determines the monetary market value of a food product?
- What determines the structures and priorities of food systems?
- Is the definition of “organic” in reference to agriculture important? Why or why not?
- Why are GMO crops cultivated?
- Evaluative Questions
- Who benefits from the cultivation of cash crops?
- How has soil degradation affected people in the degraded area?
- Who benefits from high or low market prices for food products?
- Who benefits most from the current food system structures and who benefits the least?
- Who defines “organic” food production?
- Who benefits from the cultivation of GMOs?
- Instrumental Questions
- What are different ways in which food cultivation could be equitably improved?
- How can soil degradation be prevented or reversed?
- How can the agricultural market provide stable income to those who depend on it?
- How could food systems provide the most benefit for the most people?
- How can the definition of “organic” be agreed upon?
- How could GMOs be used to the greatest equitable benefit?
- SOAN 347, Cyborg Anthropology (Fall 2020)- In this class, I will analyze the social relationship that humans have with technology to see how people integrate technology in their lives
- GEOL 170, Climate Science (Fall 2021)- This class would be useful in knowing the mechanical aspects of nature that influence agriculture.
- SOAN 306, Social Permaculture (Spring 2021)- This class would be a look into how humans and agriculture shape each other.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: BIO 201, CHEM 110, ECON 260, SOAN 305, HIST 388, RELS 102. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Revisions to date
- 3/13/20- Meeting with Jessica Kleiss, received feedback on question-wording and categorizing.
- 3/13/20- Recategorized and added more guiding questions.
- 3/26/20- Meeting with Jessica Kleiss about pandemic and area of interest title.
- 3/26/20- Added to overview and made area of interest title more concise.
- 4/20/20- Finalized classes and added more to overview before submitting.
- 4/29/20- Edited related courses.
- Benke, Kurt, Bruce Tomkins. 2017. “Future Food-Production Systems: Vertical Farming and Controlled-Environment Agriculture.” Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy 13 (1): 13–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/15487733.2017.1394054
- Connelly, Sean; Markey, Sean; Roseland; Mark. 2011. “Bridging Sustainability and the Social Economy: Achieving Community Transformation through Local Food Initiatives,” Critical Social Policy 31, no. 2 (May): 308-324
- Godfray, H. Charles J., John R. Beddington, Ian R. Crute, Lawrence Haddad, David Lawrence, James F. Muir, Jules Pretty, Sherman Robinson, Sandy M. Thomas, and Camilla Toulmin. 2010. “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People.” Science 327 (5967): 812–18. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1185383
- Imeson, A. 2012. “Desertification, its Causes and why it Matters”. In Desertification, Land Degradation and Sustainability. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
- Morgan, Kevin. 2009. Feeding the City: The Challenge of Urban Food Planning. International Planning Studies 14:4, pages 341-348. DOI: 10.1080/13563471003642852
- Morgan, Kevin & Sonnino, Roberta. 2010. “The urban foodscape: World cities and the new food equation.” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. 3. 209-224. DOI:10.1093/cjres/rsq007
- Wrigley, Neil. 2002. “‘Food Deserts’ in British Cities: Policy Context and Research Priorities.” Urban Studies (Routledge) 39 (11): 2029–40.