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ENVS504: Society, Economy, and the Environment

Unit 4: Food Systems   Aside from water, food is one of the most basic and important resources for all species, humans included.  As human societies have transitioned from hunter-gatherers or nomadic livestock herders to sedentary agriculturalists, the impacts on their societal and environmental systems have changed as well.  Intense debates currently surround the sustainability of any of these systems in general and the different approaches to agriculture in particular.  While the Green Revolution used fossil fuels, chemicals, and genetically modified organisms to greatly boost yields of foodstuffs in industrial fields, the social and environmental consequences of this revolution are beginning to become apparent.

This unit will cover the impacts of these food production transitions on social and environmental systems as well as their implications for societal resilience versus collapse.  Materials will compare resilience in both historical case studies and contemporary ones and will briefly examine the Slow Food, organic, and locavore movements as potential solutions to the negative impacts of industrial agriculture.

Unit 4 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 9 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 4.1: 0.25 hours

☐    Subunit 4.2: 0.5 hours

☐    Subunit 4.3: 5.25 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 4.3.1: 0.5 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 4.3.2: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit 4.3.3: 1.25 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 4.3.4: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit 4.3.5: 1.5 hours

☐    Subunit 4.4: 3 hours

Unit4 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Define and discuss terms and concepts such as: Green Revolution, locavore, organic, soil depletion, and virtual water. - Explain what the Slow Food movement is and why it is anticipated to have positive benefits for human health, environmental health, and local communities. - Relate the impacts of different food systems on social and environmental systems at the local, regional, and global levels in both the past and the present.

4.1 Hunter-Gatherer Systems   - Reading: Nutrition Noteworthy: Brent M. Kious’ “Hunter-Gatherer Nutrition and Its Implications for Modern Societies” Link: Nutrition Noteworthy: Brent M. Kious’ “Hunter-Gatherer Nutrition and Its Implications for Modern Societies” (HTML or PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this
article.  You may download the article as a PDF by clicking on the
“Download PDF” link.  This article provides a brief description of
the diet of modern hunter-gatherer societies.  The paper also
discusses the negative impacts that the diet from sedentary
agricultural systems (with an emphasis on grains) has on people who
originate in these systems.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

4.2 Nomadic Livestock-Based Systems   - Reading: National Geographic Society: “Herding” Link: National Geographic Society: “Herding” (HTML)

 Instructions: Click on the link above, view the photos, and read
the encyclopedia entry.  You can also click on the “Vocabulary” tab
at the top of the article to see all of the words defined.  The
article describes nomadic and semi-nomadic herding systems and
provides many modern examples of cultures that engage in these
practices.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Solutions: Ronnie Vernooy’s “How Mongolian Herders Are Transforming Nomadic Pastoralism” Link: Solutions: Ronnie Vernooy’s “How Mongolian Herders Are Transforming Nomadic Pastoralism” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this article, which discusses the case of livestock herding in Mongolia and its recent negative impacts on the environment (particularly the grasslands).  Much of this degradation occurred after the collapse of Soviet rule, when the traditional communal management practices were replaced with a privatized structure which led to overgrazing.  These governance changes occurred in tandem with negative impacts from climate change.  Now, local leaders are diversifying local economies and reinstating a communal management structure to try to preserve the productivity of the grasslands and the sustainability of the herding culture.

    Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.3 Agricultural Movements   4.3.1 Overview of Modern Agriculture   - Reading: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Shawn McKenzie’s “A Brief History of Agriculture and Food Production; The Rise of ‘Industrial Agriculture’” Link: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Shawn McKenzie’s “A Brief History of Agriculture and Food Production; The Rise of ‘Industrial Agriculture’” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and scroll down to
Lecture 5, “A Brief History of Agriculture and Food Production; The
Rise of ‘Industrial Agriculture,’” and click on the links to the
“Part A” slides and MP3.  Listen to the MP3 lecture as you follow
along with the Power Point slides.  Then, do the same for Part B.
 Shawn McKenzie describes the development of agriculture from early
to industrial agriculture and its impacts on natural resources and
the environment.  

 Reading the slides, listening to the lecture, and taking notes will
take approximately 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

4.3.2 The Green Revolution   - Reading: Yale University: Professor Kelly Brownell’s “Lecture 9: From Ancient to Modern Farming: The Green Revolution and the Prospect of Feeding the World” Link: Yale University: Professor Kelly Brownell’s “Lecture 9: From Ancient to Modern Farming: The Green Revolution and the Prospect of Feeding the World” (JWPlayer)

 Also available in:  
 [Transcript](http://oyc.yale.edu/transcript/854/psyc-123) (HTML)  

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this
lecture.  You may also download and following along with the
transcript for this lecture.  Professor Brownell discusses Thomas
Malthus’ early predictions that populations will always outstrip
their food supplies (leading to famine and population reductions). 
In this lecture, he also addresses how the Green Revolution has
forestalled Malthusian predictions but also created a lot of
environmental damage in its wake.  The Green Revolution was a series
of inventions and methods developed after World War II that
dramatically increased agricultural productivity, including the use
of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and genetic
modifications to crop seeds.  

 Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

4.3.3 Organic   - Lecture: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Robert Rodale” Link: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Robert Rodale” (YouTube)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch the
interview with Robert Rodale.  You may view each part of the video
separately by clicking on the links provided on the webpage, or you
may view all 7 parts in succession.  Robert’s father, J.I. Rodale,
was a pioneer in organic farming in the United States, and his son
(and now grandchildren) has continued to advance organic practices
at their Rodale farms in Pennsylvania.  

 Watching this interview and taking notes should take approximately
1 hour and 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

4.3.4 Polyculture   - Lecture: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Dr. Wes Jackson” Link: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Dr. Wes Jackson” (YouTube)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch the
interview with Dr. Wes Jackson.  You may watch each part of the
video separately by clicking on the links provided on the webpage,
or you may watch all 5 parts in succession.  Dr. Jackson is the
founder of The Land Institute, a research center in Salina, Kansas
that has developed a method of crop production that mimics the
native tallgrass prairies through intercropping many species of
grains, herbs, forbs, and other vegetables (or polyculture).  The
first 10 minutes of the first part (“Introduction, family, academic
life and the founding of the Land Institute”) can be skipped if
necessary.  

 Watching this interview and taking notes should take approximately
1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

4.3.5 Local and Slow Food   - Lecture: Tufts University: Carlo Petrini’s “Slow Food Tufts” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

[Submit Materials](/contribute/)

4.4 Impacts of Agriculture on the Environment   - Lecture: Yale University: Professor Kelly Brownell’s “Sustainability I: The Impact of Modern Agriculture on the Environment and Energy Use” Link: Yale University: Professor Kelly Brownell’s “Sustainability I: The Impact of Modern Agriculture on the Environment and Energy Use” (JWPlayer)

 Also available in:  
 [Transcript](http://oyc.yale.edu/transcript/855/psyc-123) (HTML)  

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this
lecture.  Professor Brownell discusses the impacts that the modern
industrial agricultural system has on the environment (e.g.,
supplies of water, land and energy supplies, etc.) and how this
system contributes to climate change through the release of
greenhouse gases.  

 Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: L. Horrigan et al.’s “Agriculture and Biodiversity” Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: L. Horrigan et al.’s “Agriculture and Biodiversity” (DOC and PPT)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all of the materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  Materials in the folder include two Word files (a Synthesis report, and Exercises) and a Power Point presentation that provides a review of the main points of the report.  The report reviews the resources and services that agricultural systems require from diverse ecosystems, and then describes the many negative impacts that traditional and modern agriculture can have on ecosystems.  The report also briefly describes modifications that can be made to agricultural techniques and crops that can make the practice more sustainable.  The “Exercises” document provides a sample scenario for you to apply changes to techniques and crops to achieve sustainable agriculture.  Discussion questions will guide your learning, and although answers are not provided, these would be good questions to pursue in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

    Reading these materials, taking notes, and completing the exercises should take approximately 2 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.