Class Profile: INTD seminar runs against grain, explores local alternative food systems

Associate professor of history Jordan Kleiman teaches INTD 388: Building Alternative Food Systems in the Greater Rochester Area, a course that explores efforts to create a food system different than the dominant industrial system we experience daily.

The course gives students an opportunity to study past and present local efforts to create an alternative food system and to contrast them with more prominent, mass-produced food.

In addition to his position at Geneseo, Kleiman is codirector of the Geneseo Food Project. His areas of teaching and research interest include modern United States history, the history of technology and the politics of food.

The INTD 388 seminar is a small class of about 12 students. The course is built around field trips and guest speakers who educate students on the way in which food is grown and transported.

“I made [the class small] so everyone really gets the full benefit of the course,” Kleiman said, adding that transportation seating for field trips also limited the class size.

Throughout the semester, students take field trips to local food-advocacy sites including Porter Farms in Elba, where students learned about community supported agriculture, commonly known as CSAs.

On Sept. 26, the class took a field trip to the Harley School in Brighton, N.Y. where K-12 students learn about sustainability through work on the school’s microfarm. The Harley School is also the distribution site of the Good Food Collective, a multifarm CSA. There, students learned about civic agriculture along with the challenges that arise in processing and distribution.

“It was a very hands-on approach to learning,” said junior Leta Spencer, who said that the class is “very low-key and discussion-based.”

They also discuss readings, like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and viewed films on the history and current status of both the industrial food system and the alternative food movement; the class watched the popular documentary Food, Inc. in its first meeting.

The class also completes two sessions of service learning with Rochester food-advocacy projects like Foodlink and Rochester Roots.

At the end of the semester, all class activities culminate in a final project: Students will write a mock grant proposal outlining a project that would enhance Rochester’s alternative food system using the tools and materials they worked with during the semester to prompt them.

“This is to try to get students to think through the issue by looking at the actual stuff,” Kleiman said. “You never know, maybe someone will have a really keen idea no one ever thought of.”