Interdisciplinary Team Awarded Funds to Launch the Transformative Food Systems Seminar

Taubman College Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Lesli Hoey leads a team of U-M faculty awarded a competitive grant from the Gilbert Whitaker Fund for the Improvement of Teaching to pilot a new Transformative Food Systems (TFS) Seminar. 

Hoey, the project’s principal investigator, will collaborate with core members of the Sustainable Foods Systems Initiative (SFSI) from three U-M programs, including the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), and the School of Public Health (SPH). The interdisciplinary team seeks to fill a key gap in U-M’s sustainable food systems curriculum through a new cross-unit course. 

Over the past nine years, SFSI faculty have been raising the national visibility of food systems studies at U-M. For the past few years, they also have been mapping course offerings across the university and discussing the core competencies necessary to cultivate through food systems studies at U-M. The TFS Seminar will contribute to scholarship about pedagogies that build “equity competency” – the knowledge, skills, and values needed to recognize and address the historical and persistent structural inequities pervading today’s food systems.

The Seminar includes locally and globally focused speakers, workshops, service learning, field trips, and retreats; and oral history projects. In addition to learning strategies for addressing equity in food systems, students will reflect on their identities, values, implicit biases, and leadership styles while growing their advocacy skills. Joana Dos Santos, Taubman College Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, said of the Seminar, “From bringing in the voices and knowledge of people of color, to peer learning, and co- creation of the curriculum, the TFS Seminar is leading the way in creating inclusive classrooms.”

The TFS Seminar is open to current and incoming U-M graduate students and will also form a core element of the newly launched TFS Fellowship, which trains future leaders who reflect the communities experiencing the strongest negative environmental, economic, and health impacts of the dominant food system. During the two-year fellowship, TFS Fellows study food systems from diverse disciplinary angles and gain critical skills for constructing truly transformative food systems that are more equitable, health-promoting, and ecologically resilient. 

Coordinated through the U-M Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, the annual grants are awarded to groups of faculty working together to enhance the quality of student learning at the University of Michigan. The Gilbert Whitaker Fund is a key part of expanding the U-M food systems curriculum for students across U-M Rackham, and for future students – the TFS Seminar will also inform plans for a future inter-departmental Master’s Program in Transformative Food Systems, an undergraduate major, and Ph.D. training grants in equity-focused, sustainable food systems.

In addition to this most recent grant to pilot the TFS Seminar, SFSI collaborators have secured over a million dollars from a combination of USDA grants, U-M Rackham matching funds, and contributions from SPH, Taubman College, and SEAS for the Transformative Food Systems (TFS) Fellowship, which will launch this coming fall 2022.