Fruits of Knowledge

A new sustainability minor challenges the way we think about food

Buildings, warehouses of computers, and sprawling tech companies now stand where tall fruit trees once grew—the Valley of Heart’s Delight has become one of silicon. But this corner of the country remains a hub for so many agriculture and food companies. And they’re looking to harness the area’s spirit of innovation, including that of Santa Clara University students. 

With 31 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions originating from the world’s agri-food systems, understanding these companies and the intricate system they fit in is paramount to fighting the climate crisis.

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As part of the minor Baker encourages students to go on immersion trips and learn about agriculture and food production, environmental and economic sustainability. In March 2022 they went to Ecuador. Photo courtesy Gregory Baker.

This changing landscape pushed Executive Director Gregory Baker and Director Erika French-Arnold of SCU’s Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship to create the new sustainable food systems minor. 

“Agriculture and food production produce food for almost 8 billion people and have a huge impact on resources, including water, soil, air, and energy,” Baker says. “For our food system to continue to feed the world, we must maintain and improve the productivity of these resources.”

French-Arnold points to studies showing that the best way to make an impact on climate change is to improve the food system. While SCU already offers a sustainability minor, the new Sustainable Food Systems minor focuses more specifically on food, agriculture, and the food system’s impact on climate change. French-Arnold helps teach this in her fall quarter Sustainable Food Systems class.

“I wanted to bring together all the classes around the University focusing on food and climate change and sustainability—the three pillars of sustainability: social, cultural, and environmental—and make that a minor,” French-Arnold says. “[This way], students who are interested in the food system can learn more about [it] as well as how they might look at jobs and careers in the industry, so they can make a difference in the future.”

Environmental Studies major Daniela Serrano ’23 says the minor has given her a place to explore her environmental interests in a more specific, concrete way. Course requirements for the minor have also provided her with real world experience, and given her hope that actual, tangible solutions exist to human-caused climate change.

“I feel like it’s really important to see that and then move on to other things,” Serrano says. “Hopefully one to one day, I’ll be able to work at one of those startups that’s trying to change the way we see food and the way that we throw away food. There are just so many opportunities in that space.”

During their trips to Ecuador in 2022 and Rwanda in 2019, Baker and his class worked in the fields and alongside the locals. Students learned about agriculture, food production, environmental and economic sustainability, and issues, such as health, nutrition, and gender equity. A homestay is an important component of the course and allows students to live and learn from the people they are visiting. Photo courtesy Gregory Baker.
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