Course: Baltimore Food Systems: A Case Study of Urban Food Environments

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Course Description

This course uses experiential learning, discussion, service learning, and related texts to challenge students to look closely at the environment of Baltimore City's complex food systems.  Students consider what it would take to improve these systems to assure access for all to nutritious, adequate, affordable food; to address diet-related disease; to create just and sustainable food labor conditions; increase the supply of and demand for healthy and sustainably produced foods; and to reduce food system environmental harms.  

Students "go backstage" with tour guides at a supermarket, an emergency food center, an urban farm, a rural farm, and an aquaponics facility. Students will participate in service learning projects, providing the opportunity to contribute to improving the city’s food system while gaining additional experiential insights.  Students will also have the opportunity to conduct interviews with some of those who have been at the forefront of food system change in Baltimore.  In-class sessions are structured primarily as discussion seminars. Guest speakers active in the city’s food system join many of the sessions to share their perspectives.

Throughout, students consider the relative impacts of access, demand, cost, stakeholder interests, administrative issues, history, and power, and consider the relative strengths of voluntary, governmental, legal and other strategies.  Discussions and lectures consider applicability of lessons gained from the study of Baltimore to other food systems.

Course Objectives

Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Analyze responses to challenges and opportunities within Baltimore's food system
  • Discuss key factors that have shaped food systems in Baltimore and other urban locales
  • Describe from first-hand experience the clientele, operations, key opportunities, and challenges in advancing positive change in Baltimore food and agriculture system sites
  • Discuss innovative food system interventions being considered in Baltimore and elsewhere
  • Describe how food systems and food environments relate to public health broadly and environmental public health more specifically
  • Conduct and document qualitative interviews
  • Comment on how the city’s history has contributed to the current food system
  • Provide assistance targeted to a community organization’s needs, and reflect on the experience.


Highly recommended but not mandatory: Food Production, Public Health and the Environment (180.620.81); Food and Nutrition Policy (222.657.01); Food, Culture and Nutrition (222.654.01)


Articles: See Readings page for session-specific reading assignments.

Required Book: Winne, M. Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Beacon Press: Boston . 2008.

Course Requirements

The heart of this class is student engagement, including seminar-style discussions, field trips and service-learning. There are also lectures by instructors and guests.  Students are expected to attend, be on time, participate actively, and do the readings.

1. Readings and Reading Responses: Students are responsible for reading all required readings.  Doing this reading in advance of class enables us to have more interesting discussions.  To help you think actively about readings, you are asked to choose one article from your assigned day of the week and write a few bullets on (a) the article’s main messages and (b) questions, comments, criticisms, personal reflections, and insights. Half of you will be assigned to Wednesdays, half Fridays.  You may be casual in style; the main point is for you to engage with the reading. Be sure to note the article title and to include your name on the page itself. Reading responses are due by 8am on the day of class, including when there is a trip. 

2. Potluck corner store exercise (ungraded): We will have a healthy potluck corner store lunch during one class session. The assignment is to go to a corner store, individually or with classmate/s, examine what is available, and purchase something to share with the class for a healthy lunch. You may combine ingredients purchased at the store or cook if you would like.  We will supply plates/cups/utensils.

3. Service-Learning: There are five service-learning projects: (1) SNAP eligibility assessment, and (2) supermarket assessment; (3) focus groups at public markets; (4) urban gardener interviews; (5) farm club volunteers. See attached for background on each. Students will submit their preferences by the third class session and will be assigned to groups shortly afterwards. Within each group, one student will volunteer to serve as a “site liaison.” The first session at each site will involve training. We will incorporate discussion of your experiences into class discussions, and these experiences will also form the basis for your final papers. Students are expected to contribute two hours per week on average to their sites for the middle six weeks of class (including one session of orientation/training). You will be asked to report your hours to the Student Outreach Resource Center (SOURCE) and submit an evaluation of the experience to them.

  • As background for this work, you will be asked to view sections of SOURCE’s service-learning orientation before you start; no later than the fourth class session.

4. Midterm Assignment: In pairs, students will conduct interviews with participants in the city’s Food Policy Advisory Committee (FoodPAC). The interviews will cover their recollections of their efforts and other events that have shaped the city’s food system, their discussion of how the food system has changed, their visions for the future, and their experiences as part of FoodPAC. Student pairs will transcribe the interviews and summarize them in a document of up to five pages double-spaced, 12 pt. font, dueby 5pm on the day of the fifth class session. Students will also share their interviews in 5 minute TIMED oral presentations during the fifth class session. With your permission, interview findings may be analyzed jointly and developed into manuscripts for journal publication. SEE ATTACHED for details. 

  • In order to conduct interviews, it is MANDATORY to demonstrate completion of CITI online human subjects training or equivalent by the fourth class session. 

5. Final Paper: For final papers, students will develop structured reflections on their service-learning experiences.  Papers are to be 10-12 pages double-spaced and are due on by 5pm on the last day of class. SEE ATTACHED for details.Students will share about their papers and experiences in class on that day, but do not need to prepare presentations.

Grading Policy

Students are expected to arrive promptly for field trip visits, service learning dates, and class sessions, and to be respectful of those who have taken the time to share with us. When working in pairs or groups, students are expected to divide responsibility equitably. Partners will each be asked to describe how the task was divided. Papers and reading reflections must be submitted on time. If exceptional circumstances arise and you need to miss class or to submit something late, notify us in advance to avoid having your grade docked. Grades will be computed as follows:

  • Participation (based on both quality and quantity): 30%
  • Reading responses: 20%
  • Midterm paper and presentation: 20%
  • Service learning/reflections: 10%
  • Final paper: 20%