Curricular Initiatives

English 339: ecocriticism

Fall 2010 (MW 2:30-3:45)

Instructor: Ken Cooper

Ecocriticism takes as its staring point the connections between human culture and the physical world, although many such relationships are invisible to us, if not willfully effaced.  This course's mostly theoretical readings will enable you to become a more perceptive critic and writer along this convoluted interfaces.  Selected topics will include the phenomenology of hunger; recovering upstate New York (bio-)regional literature; and the poetics of climate change.  Plan on doing some non-traditional research and writing.

History 220: Food & Power in Modern America

Fall 2010 (TR 03:30 pm-05:10 pm)

Instructor: Jordan Kleiman

This course examines the ways in which the production, distribution, and consumption of food fundamentally shaped the political, economic, social, and ecological structures of American society from the mid-19th century to the present. Of particular interest will be the ways in which these changes altered the power relationships not only among farmers, plants, animals, and the land, but also between the U.S. and less developed countries.

History 391:  Senior Seminar on the Politics of Food in Modern America

Spring 2010 (W 4:30-7:00)

Instructor:  Jordan Kleiman

This senior seminar focuses on the politics of food in twentieth-century America.  The “politics of food” refers not only to the economic and public policy initiatives that gave rise to America’s industrialized food system, but also to the efforts of grassroots movements to transform that system and redefine its underlying values.  Politics, by definition, concerns relationships of power.  In examining how such relationships have played themselves out in the modern American food system, we will pay particular attention to the moral reasoning of its various stakeholders, including farmers, corporate executives, consumers, workers, ethnic groups, feminists, agricultural reformers, scientific experts, politicians, and bureaucrats. Our examination of the American food system will be organized around three broadly conceived categories:  (1) production, including such issues as increasing farm size, the impact of agricultural chemicals on farmworkers and the environment, and animal welfare; (2) distribution, including such issues as the increasing length of supply chains (and the “localist” response), the medicalization of food, and the debate over labeling; and (3) consumption, including such issues as food safety, hunger, and obesity.  Finally, while this course focuses primarily on the United States, the politics of the American food system clearly extend beyond our national borders in the form of trade disputes over food safety regulations, the heated debate over the causes of (and solutions to) world hunger, the environmental and social impact of extensive supply chains, the threat of bioterrorism, and other issues.  We will cover each of these issues to one degree or another in our common readings, and you are certainly welcome to focus your final paper on some aspect of the global implications of American food politics.

American Studies 201:  American Garden

Fall 2009 (TR 3:30-4:45)

Instructors:  Ken Cooper and Jordan Kleiman

This course is premised on the notion that the garden is more than simply a means of horticultural production.  Increasingly, it is recognized as a place to engage and restore the natural environment, an important element of a just and sustainable food system, a tool for revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods, a means of cultural expression, and a vehicle for personal transformation and rehabilitation.  To get at these issues, this course will explore gardening as a cultural theme and historical phenomenon from European settlement to the present.  We will approach the subject from a number of directions, including (but not limited to):

    • the garden as myth and symbol in American history and literature
    • the role of gardens in the modern food system
    • the ecology of gardens and the ecological implications of gardening
    • the intersection of gardening with issues of race, class, gender, and ethnicity
    • the evolution of community gardens:  school gardens during the early 20th century, “liberty gardens”
      during WWI, “relief gardens” during the Depression, “victory gardens” during WWII, and the use of  
      community gardens as instruments of social reconstruction in inner-city neighborhoods beginning in
      the 1970s
    • the garden as a means of rehabilitation for prisoners, the mentally ill, and the homeless

In addition to studying the historical and cultural meaning of the American garden, students will have an opportunity to learn first-hand about the actual process of gardening by working in the Geneseo Food Project’s campus garden.  Students will also make one or two site visits to learn about the role of gardening in the Rochester area.  No gardening experience is necessary.



Environmental Studies Internship:  Geneseo Community Supported Market

In the Fall of 2008, Geneseo students Stephanie Aquilina and Yolanda Gonzalez launched the Geneseo Community Supported Market.  The project, which fulfills the requirements of their dual Environmental Studies internships with Professors Jordan Kleiman (History) and Ken Cooper (English), connects the Geneseo community with the South Wedge Farmers Market (SWFM) in Rochester. 

We chose the SWFM because it is a highly principled market that provides an important link between the Rochester area’s ecologically sound farms and a mixed-income, racially and ethnically diverse urban neighborhood--a demographic traditionally underserved by farmers markets and organic growers.  We also liked the SWFM's strong commitment to the development of a local food system, which, among other things, has led them to restrict participation to farmers located within a 100-mile radius of the market. 

The Geneseo CSM is based on the more familiar concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which a farmer (usually organic) sells shares of the harvest to raise capital prior to the growing season.  In return, CSA members receive a basket of produce every week or so and have an opportunity to do a day or two of work on the farm during the growing season.  The farmer is able to distribute his/her economic risk, and the CSA member gets local, responsibly produced food at a discount and helps build a sustainable local food system in the process.  CSMs work on the same principle, but instead of buying from a single farmer, members buy shares from a farmers market, and their baskets of produce are filled by multiple farmers selling at the market. 

As part of their internship, Steph and Yolanda recruited Geneseo students and community members to buy shares and organized the biweekly pick-up and drop-off of the food.  In addition, they have created a webage and blog for the CSM and are helping the SWFM conduct customer and farmer surveys to determine the strengths and weaknesses of this cutting-edge program. Steph and Yolanda are also in the process of creating an "operating manual" to facilitate smooth transitions to future Geneseo CSM managers.

The Geneseo Food Project will sponsor a panel discussion of the CSM on the evening of March 25, 2009 (time and location TBA), featuring Steph, Yolanda, and SWFM co-founder Chris Hartman. Information on signing up for CSM shares can be found on the CSM website.