A Growing Major Where Food, Justice and the Environment Meet

student working at farm
“Daniella Schoenfeld, a sustainable agriculture and food systems major, work at sweet peppers at the Student Farm for the UC Dining Services. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)”

Do you care about social justice, the environment — and food?

Sustainable agriculture and food systems might be the major for you. This field attracts passionate problem-solvers who use their hands, hearts and heads to find ways to equitably feed the world today and into the future.

 “The major is great for people who are proactive, creative thinkers, hard workers, leaders and team players,” says Allie Fafard, a senior and peer advisor for the major. “There are so many elements to sustainable agriculture, like community development, philosophy, economics, plant science and soil science.”

Indeed, you explore a wide range of topics in this major. Students also take internships and get involved in directed group studies.

Sustainable agriculture and food systems is popular

This young major is growing by leaps and bounds. Nine students were enrolled when the major launched in fall 2011. By spring 2017, 103 students were enrolled.

Quick Facts About This Major

  • 80 percent of these majors choose  sustainable agriculture and food systems  as a transfer student or switch into the major after their freshman year.
  • 60 percent of students choose the food and society track, 25 percent choose the agriculture and ecology track, and 15 percent choose the economics and policy track.
  • Students are relatively older than other undergraduates at UC Davis: 48 percent are 18 to 21 years old, 39 percent are 22 to 25 years old, and the remaining 13 percent are 26 or older.

 “And we’re still a tight-knit group,” Fafard says. “It’s an excellent community of students, alums, and community and faculty experts.”

Job growth predicted in agriculture and food science

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts a 5 percent growth rate for careers in agriculture and food science over the next decade, and sustainable agriculture specialists may lead the pack.

“It’s necessary for businesses to have a sustainability coordinator these days,” Fafard says.

Customize your classes in 3 tracks

The major offers three tracks of study:

  • Agriculture and ecology, which focuses on crop and animal production systems
  • Food and society, which looks at the social, cultural, political and community-development aspects of agriculture and food systems
  • Economics and policy, which highlights issues related to agricultural and resource economics, policy and management

“Everyone in the major takes the same 24 core classes, and then you deepen your studies into one of three areas,” explains Fafard. “We also have restricted electives — 20 units of upper-division courses — which let you specialize in a study or learn more about different disciplines.”

Internships required as part of the major

women arranging flowers on a long table
Students learn the horticultural practices for successful flower production along with handling skills such as harvesting and bouquet-making. They help coordinate floral plans for special events and are starting a flower subscription enterprise. (Sustainability Agriculture and Food Systems Major/ Instagram)

In this major, you are required to take 12 units of an internship, the most of any major on campus. That provides hands-on learning in settings as varied as farms and the state capital, and gives you a leg up when you hit the job market.

“When an employer asks if you have any work experience, you can say I’ve already had 360 hours,” Fafard says.

Here are some paths your career could take:

  • Farming
  • Soil science
  • Education
  • Community organization
  • Food and farm policy
  • International development
  • Pest-control
  • Small-farm consulting

Graduate helps groups improve conservation efforts

Kristen Murphy graduated from UC Davis with a sustainable agriculture and food systems degree in 2014, and she’s a project coordinator with the California Association of Resource Conservation Groups. Her job is to work with local groups to improve conservation efforts.

“I love my job. And my major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at UC Davis was perfect. It tied together the environmental and social aspects of food, which was just what I was looking for.” — Kristen Murphy

The sustainable agriculture and food systems major is popular with transfer students as well as with incoming freshmen. Get enrollment tips about the major and read the Bi-Weekly Beet newsletter to keep updated with community-building events, workshops and major-related opportunities.

Diane Nelson is a senior writer for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. She majored in political science, which prepared her well for a career in journalism and science writing.

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