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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What’s your major?

URI launches major in sustainable agriculture, food systems

KINGSTON, R.I. –Students interested in careers in sustainable food production, food security, food safety and food marketing and distribution have a new major available to them at the University of Rhode Island. 

Beginning this year, undergraduate students can enroll to earn a bachelor of science degree in sustainable agriculture and food systems.

The new interdisciplinary major will allow students to learn about the food chain from farm to plate to waste and back, emphasizing sustainability, human health, and resilience from economic, environmental and societal viewpoints.

According to Marta Gomez-Chiarri, chair of the URI Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Science and the coordinator of the new major, graduates of the program may end up working in small or large scale food production and harvesting; developing or enforcing policies that ensure food security and safety; or finding innovative, healthy and safe ways to distribute and market food.

“What’s unique about our program compared to others around the country is that ours will have a coastal focus, integrating sustainable seafood with all the other foods that other programs emphasize,” she said. 

Gomez-Chiarri notes that many current URI students have already expressed interest in switching into the new major, and others who are nearing completion of their degrees are working toward earning a minor in the discipline.

“There has already been demand from students studying plant sciences and animal sciences who want to learn more about the whole chain of sustainable agriculture,” she said. 

“We know there is a great deal of interest from students in the social sciences who want to know more about the food production side, as well as students studying the production side who want to understand more about the social and health aspects.”

One such student is Gennifer Keller, a sophomore from Narragansett studying environmental science and natural resource economics. She said the new major “is the future.”

“Life revolves around food, and if we cannot feed our growing population, more people will starve,” Keller said. “Agriculture, human health, negative effects on the environment, global warming, increasing population, hunger and poverty are all tied together. The new major combines all those topics into one.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the new program means that few new classes will need to be created. 

Instead, students will enroll in several new courses that provide a broad overview of the topic and then select from numerous existing classes offered in such disciplines as fisheries, animal sciences, plant sciences, nutrition, natural resource economics, sociology, anthropology, marine affairs, business, biological sciences and chemistry. 

Within the major, students will focus on one of three core options: sustainable agriculture, nutrition and food, or food and society.

Gomez-Chiarri said she will soon begin recruiting students from the many agricultural high schools throughout the region, who she said would be “perfect candidates” for the major.

Click here for more information about the new academic program or contact Gomez-Chiarri at 401-874-2917 or