Middlebury College Summer Study, 2015

[Draft of April 10, 2015]

John Elder, Instructor


Exploring Local Food-Systems


A Course Offered in Association with Middlebury FoodWorks




In this class we will explore the centrality of local food systems within current national dialogues about nutrition, place-based culture, conservation, sustainability, and racial and economic equity. Three primary goals of the class will be to foster deep and reflective awareness of these issues; to cultivate a community of learners encompassing the participants in Middlebury, Vermont, Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D. C.; and to gain competence together in the increasingly important practice of supplementing face-to-face conversation with engagement through a range of digital technologies.


Structure, and Assignments


The food-related internships and field-trips arranged through Middlebury FoodWorks will be complemented by our readings, discussions, digital conferences, and blog. Among the authors and activists featured in our syllabus will be Wendell Berry, Carlo Petrini, Jane Brox, Philip Ackerman-Leist, Michael Pollan, Raj Patel, Gary Nabhan, LaDonna Redmond, and Amy Trubek.


Because the FoodWorks internships will be based at hubs in Middlebury, Louisville, and Washington, the blog and online conferences will be essential in augmenting our various opportunities for face-to-face conversation. John Elder, who is based in Middlebury, will meet with students at an April retreat in Vermont as well as make visits of to the groups in Washington and Louisville. He will also moderate three videoconferences for students at all of the sites and informal conferences with with individuals groups throughout the nine weeks of the course. A blog, with prompts and facilitation provided both by John and by rotating teams of students, will be of special value to the work of the class.


On Mondays, four designated students will respond online to the readings for each week; posts of three to four single-spaced paragraphs will be appropriate, with an expectation not for thesis-driven essays but rather for writing that makes a specific, energetic connection with a given text, perhaps leads to a new insight. By Wednesday everyone in the class will be asked to write a brief (one-paragraph) follow-up to one of the four posts for that week. On Thursdays, four different students will a brief interview on the blog that features some member of the local foodshed with a striking angle on the focus of our class. This could either be in the form of a video or in that of an audio interview plus a photo or two; recorded interviews should be no more than two minutes, and can be created either with a phone or with some other device.


The first two videoconferences (with dates and subjects indicated below) will offer chances to follow up the readings and blog in a conversation including folks at all three sites. The final projects for the courses, digital stories from each local-food system, will weave together selections from the weekly interviews. Aylie Baker, an expert on digital stories within educational, environmental, and social contexts, will both offer a practical introduction to this medium at the retreat and remain available as a consultant throughout the course.


Combining personal contacts between teacher and students with online communication is often now referred to as either a blended or a hybrid pedagogy. As stated above in the brief statement of goals, such an approach will not only allow us to keep students at different locations connected during the summer. It will also offer all of us an opportunity to practice incorporating digital technology into our work in a flexible and appropriate way. Cultivating such a balance will certainly become more and more relevant in a wide a range of civic, professional, and personal contexts. This aspect of the course’s format thus feels potentially valuable in its own terms, as well as supporting our investigations of local food-systems.


Readings and Video for Discussion


The first six readings are excerpts from books. They, along with the video and the collection of articles, will be available under “Online Reserve Readings” from Middlebury College’s Davis Library.


Philip Ackerman-Leist, Rebuilding the Foodshed (Excerpt)

Wendell Berry, What Are People For? and Bringing It to the Table (Excerpts)

Jane Brox, Here and Nowhere Else (Excerpt)

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food (Excerpts)

Amy Trubek, The Taste of Place

Gary Nabhan, Cultures of Habitat


In addition we will make watch and discuss recent talks by Ladonna Redmond, Raj Patel, and Wendell Berry. Recent analyses and critiques related to food justice and political ecology by Julian Agyeman and Jesse McEntee, Thomas Forster and Arthur Getz Escudero, D’Artagnan Scorza, Nikki Henderson, La Mikia Castillo, Joshua Sbicca, Catarina Passidomo, Shorlette Ammons, and Charles Zalman Levkoe will be posted on line for response in the blogs and discussion in the videoconferences.




April 18 and 19 Retreat at Middlebury College for FoodWorks students and Coordinators.


From 2:00 to 8:30 on the 18th (with dinner on-site) we will meet at Hadley Barn on campus, getting to know each other and thinking about the larger shape of our course in the summer.


On the morning of April 19th we will reconvene at 9 in Middlebury’s Robert A. Jones Center. The morning will focus on Aylie Baker’s introduction to digital stories, including a workshop in which teams practice the relevant skills. Following lunch we’ll do a bit of writing and discussion about getting the most from our class’s blog. The retreat will conclude at 3 p.m.


Our hope is that as many of the class’s students as possible can attend, and FoodWorks may be able to defray people’s transportation costs. We will arrange for those who cannot make it to be linked in through video-conferencing software.


June 1 through June 4 The FoodWorks internships will begin. They will occupy six hours of FoodWorks Fellows time on every Monday through Thursday.

June 1 Posts due on blog, from four designated students, responding to the week’s reading

June 3 Brief comments on one of the four posts by everyone in the class.

June 4 Four recorded interviews by assigned students posted in blog.

June 5 Coordinators at each of the three sites will organize a Fifth-Day program for Fridays. Field-trips and guest-speakers will augment both the experiences of internships and the readings, conferences, and blogs of the class.



June 8 through 11 Internships

June 8 Four posts on readings

June 10 Comments on one of the posts by everyone in class

June 11 Four interviews posted on blog

June 12 Fifth-Day programs

June 11 through June 14 John visits Louisville, participates in the Fifth-Day activities there, offers a workshop on journaling and blogging and a seminar on the readings.


June 14 A videoconference, moderated from Louisville, with

students at all three sites. The focus of conversation will be on all of the readings so far, and the sense they offer of an emerging rationale for the local-food movement.


June 15 through 18 Internships

June 15 Four posts on readings

June 17 Comments on posts from whole class

June 18 Four interviews posted

June 19 Fifth-Day programs


June 22 through 25 Internships

June 22 Four posts on readings

June 24 Comments on posts from whole class

June 25 Four interviews posted

June 26 Fifth-Day programs

June 25 through June 28 John visits Washington, D. C., participates in the Fifth-Day activities there, offers a workshop on journaling and blogging and a seminar on the readings.

June 28 Videoconference for all three sites moderated from Washington, D. C. The topics for this conference will be food-justice, food-security, and the question of elitism in the local-food movement.


June 29 through July 2 Internships

June 29 Four posts on readings

July 1 Comments on posts from whole class

July 2 Four interviews posted

July 3 Fifth-Day programs


July 6 through July 9 Internships

July 6 Four posts on readings

July 8 Comments on posts from whole class

July 9 Four interviews posted

July 10 Fifth-Day programs


July 13 through 16 Internships

June 13 Four posts on readings

July 15 Comments on posts from whole class

July 16 Four interviews posted

July 17 Fifth-Day programs


July 20 through 23 Internships

July 20 Four posts on readings

July 22 Comments on posts from whole class

July 23 Four interviews posted


July 27 and 28 Final two days of internships

July 29 and 30 Completion of digital stories and posting them on class website.

July 31 Videoconference, moderated in Middlebury, responding to digital stories and looking back over the course.