Food Studies: The Trouble with Land-Grant Universities Food Studies: The Trouble with Land-Grant Universities
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Food Studies: The Trouble with Land-Grant Universities

by Claire Stanford

April 2, 2011

Most of my classes—in the English department at the University of Minnesota—take place on what you might picture as a typical university campus: brick buildings, big quad, lots of students, lots of bustle. But twice a week, when I go to my farm class, I take a university shuttle for 20 minutes over to a different part of the campus, a part with more land than students, filled with acres of open space and hoop houses and greenhouses and even a cattle barn.

So that’s what a land-grant school is, that's why my school has a cattle barn, that’s why I'm able to get credit for digging my hands around in the dirt. But, in many ways, knowing what a land-grant university is raises a lot more questions than answers. Almost 150 years after the original act, what do we consider the evolving mandate of a land-grant school? Where do the ideas of organic, local, and sustainable agriculture fit into the land-grant system? And, most importantly, in this age of agribusiness, when I walk by the Cargill Building on my way to class, how is big money affecting both the curriculum and research at land-grant institutions?

That's just an introductory sampling of the systemic issues surrounding the land-grant institution. Despite the controversy, my individual experience so far has been nothing but positive. I am involved in interesting classes with engaged and deeply caring professors who are focused on organic, local, sustainable agriculture. I'm well aware, however, that my experience is very specific: I have sought out classes about sustainable and organic agriculture, by far a minority of offerings in the department. So while I'm digging in the dirt—and happy to be at a land-grant school that allows such hands-on experience—I'm also conscious of the fact that my organic tomato plant is just a tiny part of the larger world of the land-grant debate.

To be continued...

Claire is a student blogger for the Food Studies feature on GOOD's Food hub. If you enjoyed this, you can read more of her writing at her blog, Food Junta, and you should check out the rest of the Food Studies blogger gang, and their musings on table manners, meat substitutes, how to run a successful restaurant, and more.

Photos courtesy of the author.

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Food Studies: The Trouble with Land-Grant Universities