course banner illustrating various food production systems from around the world

Course Guide Information | Learning Objectives | Teaching Methods | Expectations | Deadlines and Grades

Spring 2024 Course Guide Information

Course Title: Food Production Systems and Sustainability (formerly Food Systems, Sustainability and Climate Change).
Course Guide Listing:   DY SCI 471 and AGRONOMY 471
Prerequisites: Junior, Senior, Graduate standing
Credits: 3
Level Advanced
L&S  Counts as LAS credit
Breath Biological Science or Social science
Date/Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4-5:15 pm 
Location: 3250 College Library WisCEL Center (Helen C. White)
Instructor: Michel Wattiaux, 646 Animal Sciences Building,
Teaching Assistant: TBA
Description: This trans-disciplinary course delves into aspects of biological, social, and agricultural sciences underpinning the assessment of food production systems as related to mitigation and adaptation to climate change. After engaging students in an example multidisciplinary case-study of milk carbon foot-print, instructors will guide students through the development of their own food production and climate change case-study research projects culminating with students creating multi-media web-pages, giving audio-visual presentations, and (for grad students) writing a peer-review style article. Students will engage in collaborative projects with people from disparate disciplinary paradigms.
Additional info: This course partially fulfills the course requirement of the Food System Certificate (CALS) and the Sustainability Certificate (Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies), and the CALS three credits of International Studies. The course is also listed in the Environmental Science Major curriculum and was a category E: Applied Biology, Agriculture and Natural Resources of the Biology Major as well as in the list of electives for the Global Health Certificate. This course contributes also to your eligibility to participated in a two-week Field Study Program in Mexico (i.e., This course is one of the alternative prerequisites for the international field program.)

Learning Objectives

Overarching objective: Students will develop the skills to critically evaluate food production systems as they relate to sustainability and climate change using recent findings from biological, physical, and social sciences.

Photo of class participants during a farm visit

Theme 1:  Through reading and discussion of core research in food systems and climate change, during theme 1, students will:

  • Recognize relevant scientific knowledge and integrate information from crop science, livestock science, environmental science, and social science as related to distinct production systems (regardless of time and space), including for example past, current, or future, urban or rural, local or global, and artisanal (small scale) or industrial (see figure below);
  • Evaluate food production systems for contribution to, mitigation potential of, and adaptation to climate change;
  • Identify ways in which social structures profoundly affect not only people, but also biology, ecology, and our very climate; and the complement: how people's race/class/gender/occupation/nation status within the global social structure, as well as the nature of the global social structure itself, profoundly impacts their ability to cope with changing climate.

Part 2: Through Team Projects, students will develop their capacity to:

  • Assess critically the sustainability [environmental (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions), social (e.g., food justice), and economical (e.g., financial aspects)] of food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste disposal;
  • Function effectively with team members with diverse worldview, as well as develop analytical and problem-solving skills;
  • Communicate effectively information to multiple audiences through multiple medias.

Additional it will be expected that Graduate Students will:

  • Develop skills working with mixed teams including undergraduate students.
  • Hone their research and writing skills in drafting academically rigorous literature reviews.
  • Assess the broader impacts of research beyond the academic setting.

Teaching Methods

My role as instructor: 

My goal is to help you learn (and as a result help you get good grades). The variety of instruction strategies used for the course will help you acquire knowledge that makes sense to you, interpersonal communication skills (in-class and out-of-class), and critical thinking skills.  I will strive to accommodate for the variety of interests that each student brings to class, but to do so, we need to hear from you! Do not be afraid to set a time to visit with us if you have any concerns. In other words, we want this course to be of interest to each one of you. We hope this class will motivate you to expand your interest in sustainability, food systems, and climate change. My role is:
  • To define the course topics and relative importance of various subject matters,
  • To provide you with the information and resources you need to learn,
  • To facilitate class activities designed to foster deep thinking and critical analysis,
  • To communicate with you in a way that facilitates your learning,
  • To set the level of expectations and evaluate your progress and your work.
<img src="/images/group235/45963/Food-Production-System-Sustainability-Figure.jpg" "="" title="" alt="image describing the scope of food production systems" width="545" height="408" hspace="10" vspace="20" align="right">

The course is divided in two main parts. Part 1 will engage you in reading and discussing recent research on food systems, sustainability and climate change. As an instructor, I have designed part 1 of the course as a inter-disciplinary approach to studying animal source food for humans and dairy production systems in particular as a the "instructor's project." What we will do in part 1 is meant in part to be a model for you to follow in developing your own project in part 2 of the course (Student Team Projects: creating your own multi-disciplinary team project on a topic of your choice). Not that the two parts are NOT sequential, but rather interleaved as more emphasis is given to part 1 at the beginning of the semester, only to let part 2 becoming a more important component of what we do in the class as the semester proceed.

Part 1

Throughout the course the instructors will use a mix of the following techniques: the case-study teaching methodology, flipped classroom, and interactive class discussion of assigned readings. Course material will span social and natural science approaches to assessing sustainability of food production systems, with special emphasis on livestock production in domestic and international contexts. The instructors will model what they want students to do in their team projects in part 2 of the course. Using the example of milk production, and comparing large, confined, industrial milk production in Wisconsin with small, family-based, pasture production in Wisconsin, instructors will model: identifying a research question or problem and its various production, social, and environmental aspects, evaluating possible research methods and metrics, describing the results, and interpreting results. Using this dairy case study, instructors will also model how to develop web pages for public consumption and how to write peer-review style research articles.

As a result of Part 1, Students will have a good understanding of the relationships among "food," Production Systems," and "Sustainability" as illustrated in Figure 1. More importantly, students will be prepared to identify and address mitigation and adaptation issues of other food production systems in different parts of the world and how they may relate to one another.

The teaching method used in part 1 of the course emphasizes ACTIVE participation of students before, during and after class. The course will be based primarily on pre-assigned readings followed by in-class discussion of papers. The in-class time will include a variety of learning activities (case studies, group discussion, etc.). PowerPoint presentations will be used sparingly only to clarify key concepts as needed. The work you do before and after class: reading the articles, taking the quizzes, completing the pre- and post-class blogs, and doing other homework (as described on the Materials and Schedule page) is essential for you to do well in this class.

Part 2

Concurrently with the development of knowledge through readings and discussions, students will learn and practice hands-on skills. Students will conduct group projects and practice several modes of communication, including designing web pages, public speaking, and writing for lay and scientific audiences. Each group will focus on a specific aspect of a specific type of food system, and compare the climate implications of at least two distinct production approaches within that food system.

After a series of library and web-development workshops, students will concurrently construct multi-media web pages as they advance their projects. Class will take the form of student-led presentations and discussion of their project content and their websites as they progress through specific project milestones. Instructors will give feedback and guidance in class. Groups will contain a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students who will work together towards and initial deliverable of an annotated bibliography and outline of their basic analysis to answer their research question. Then team members will communicate these results in separate products. Undergraduates are expected to take leadership on the design of a webpage that conveys the project analysis while graduate students are expected to place more time and effort on a peer-review style paper. At the end of the semester, each full team will give an audio-visual class presentation with project results.

Expectations: What am I expected to do to get good grades?

First, Individually Graded Items: Class Engagement, Content Knowledge, Reflection and Analysis

Your role as a student: 
As a student, you are expected to take an active role in your own learning. Please review the lecture material or complete the reading assignment before class. The ways you can be proactive and do well in this class include:
  • Be prepared for class and team work: Allocate enough time to read the papers carefully before class. Think of the reading and homework assignments as a way of helping yourself find out what you know and what you don't know or don't fully understand. For making sense of the course material, you have to continually question yourself, your teammates, your classmates, and your instructor.
  • Complete Pre-class entries in your own Journal: In this journal you will record the product of your very own reflection on the reading before class starts (see "Schedule and Material" page to download the journal template).
  • Complete a "pre-class blog" before either the Tuesday or Thursday class: You will be assigned to one of two groups. Members of group "T" (for Tuesday) and group "R" (for Thursday) will be asked to post an abbreviated version of their journal entry prior to class as "pre-class blog" that will be accessible to other students. These pre-class blogs are important because they help your instructional team to prepare the class activities that addresses your concerns.
  • Be an active participant in class: Active participation in class means listening, thinking, taking notes (hint: in your journal!) and asking questions. There are (almost) no stupid questions in this class. As long as you have a genuine interest in learning the subject matter, all questions will be valid questions!  Be honest with yourself and you will find out what your current level of knowledge really is, and what your misunderstandings might be.
  • Reflect on what happened in the class afterward: To help you "capture" what you have learned during our class activities, you are expected to complete a brief post-class journal entry focusing on your very own "bottom-line" and "take-home" messages.
Depending on the schedule, here is what you are expected to do for this class: 
Before class:
    • Use your NetID to login the "restricted" (internal) Schedule and Materials page of the website;
    • Read the posted paper(s) and/or view posted videos;  
    • After reading (and/or watching videos), synthesize what you've learned by completing the quiz, your journal entry, and your pre-class blog depending on whether you are in the "T" or "R" day/group. The quiz questions are limited to the content knowledge described in the the article and thus will test your knowledge and understanding of the pre-class assignments (readings, videos, etc.); 
    • See below for deadlines and quiz grades.
During class
    we may engage in any of the following class activities:
    • Introduction of the topic with a mini-lecture (if needed) or by highlighting the main points of the reading with a few of your pre-class blog entries;
    • Small group discussion and activities;
    • Discuss a case study.
    • Hint: Bring your laptop to access the readings during class and to take notes in your journal document. You can later edit your class notes to turn them into the expected journal entries.
After class:
    • After reflecting on the day's discussion, synthesize what you've learned by reviewing your class notes to finalize your post-class journal entry;
    • See below for deadlines and quiz grades.
Note that your journal, pre-class blog entries, and the quizzes should be completed as your own individual effort. If you have access to materials from previous offerings of the course, the act of copying/pasting answers or partially editing answers from others is an instance of academic misconduct, the definition of which includes "any act aimed at making false representation of one's academic performance." The University has strict rules and provides for disciplinary action on this issue. Please see the UW academic misconduct page for more details.

Second, Team-based Graded Items: Multiple-step Literature Review, Analysis and Synthesis Project

The group research project is, in some ways, the heart of the course. Through your efforts, with guidance and feedback from the instructor, you will learn how to make evidence-based assessments and recommendations. You will most likely learn to assess some aspect of food production systems sustainability (see Figure 1). Projects' emphasis will vary depending on teams' interest and will likely range from  adaptation, mitigation, and social implications. Groups will form early in the semester to begin the important process of team-building and topic identification. The team project has been structured as "initial" and "final" deliverables (see grading scale below).

Peer-Review Style Article

Team members will produce a peer-review style article summarizing the team project, modeled after a respected peer-reviewed journal. We expect graduate students to take the leadership, but surely undergraduate could and should contribute to this effort. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals allows researchers to contribute to our collective knowledge and to take an active role in their respective field. Publications contribute to your reputation and to your ability to fund your research projects and find engaging employment. Peer-reviewed publications are needed to establish the credibility of your work. The relatively high turn-around for journals allows you to communicate your research results and impact your field quickly.

Multi-media Website 

Team members will develop a website that conveys the findings of their group project. The internet has become more of the most effective and important means of communication. Having the capability to develop and maintain your own web pages allows you to respond quickly to breaking news, present content exactly as you want, and save time and expense by avoiding intermediaries. As part of your group project, you and your team will develop your own web page in order to share what you have learned with the broader public. We expect undergraduate students to take the leadership, but surely graduate students could and should contribute to this effort.

In-class Presentation and Discussion

Effective communication skills, including presentation ("delivery" of content) and discussion ("analysis and evaluation" of content), are vital for getting a job, getting your project funded, and communicating information so people understand it, remember it, and use it. Your team will be challenged to deliver effective and engaging presentation and discussion activities related to your project and findings.

Deadlines and Grades

Item  Main Category Due date Pts
(Grad. stud.)
Individual Graded Elements
1: Pre-class blogs1a | Google doc entry16 Reflection & analysis 1:00 pm T or R 5 10 5 10
2: Pre-class Quizzes2 Knowledge 1:00 pm T & R 20 15
3: Journal3 Knowledge, reflection, analysis, written
communication, & critical analysis
7:00 pm on F 01/31, 02/28, 03/27, and 05/01 16 16
4: Class Surveys4 Engagement ongoing 5 4 5 4
5: Farm visit short-essay Reflection & analysis tba 5 5
Individual Graded sub-total 50 45
Team Project Graded Elements5
1: Annotated bibliography and outline Researching & planning 3/05 & 3/10 4 5 4 5
2: Initial peer-review style article Synthesis & critical thinking 3/12 5 10
3a: Initial team-led class discussion Synthesis & oral communication 3/24-3/26 10  10 
3b: Initial web page  Multi-media communication 3/24-3/26
4: Final peer-review style article Synthesis & critical thinking 04/17 5 10
5a: Final web page  Multi-media communication 4/20-4/30 10 5
5b: Final team-led presentation Synthesis & oral communication 4/20-4/30 10 10
Team Project sub-total 50 55
Total6 100 100

1a: You will be assigned to post a pre-class blog entry on either Tuesday (T) or Thursday (R), but not both days. These entries will be graded based on the following criteria: 1.0 pt for thoughtful comments with probing thoughts / question (why or how); 0.5 pt for comments that may be relevant but not clearly connected to the pre-assigned material; 0.25 pt for superficial or poorly written comments; 0.0 pt for no pre-class blog entry by the deadline.

1b: Pre-blogs are replaced with entries in a google doc posted on specific dates as listed on the Schedule and Materials pages. Every student is expected to post an entry before class starts on the specified dates. These entries will be graded based on the following criteria: 1.0 pt for thoughtful comments with probing thoughts / question (why or how); 0.5 pt for comments that may be relevant but not clearly connected to the pre-assigned material; 0.25 pt for superficial or poorly written comments; 0.0 pt for no pre-class blog entry by the deadline.

2: You will be allowed two attempts at each quiz. Missing a quiz deadline will automatically result in a score of 0. However, the end of semester quiz grade will be calculated by averaging the score of every attempt after removing your two lowest scores.

3: Your journal will be due in the class dropbox on last Wednesday of every month (Jan. 29th; Feb. 26th, March 25th and April 29th). Each submission will be reviewed and graded on a scale of 0 to 4 points based on the following criteria: 4.0 pt for complete, thoughtful, clear, and concise journal entries demonstrating attention to details; 3.0 pt for journal entries that are well done, but lack in two of the four areas; 2.0 pt for journal entries that lack in three of the four areas superficial1.0 pt for incomplete, superficial, confusing and(or) poorly written entries; 0.0 pt for no journal submission by the deadline.

4: Class survey grade will be allocated based on student's completion of formative assessment tools (i.e., ungraded class survey or questionnaire) that will be administered throughout the semester and based on completion of the online end-of-semester course evaluation. Feedback from students on various aspects of the course are important for its improvement over time.  More about these surveys can be found on the Survey Page.

5: Team grade adjustment: For each of the five phases of the project, team members will jointly make an initial plan (identify major steps, allocate tasks, set deadlines, etc.) of their respective contribution to the expected deliverable. At the deadline, each student will then complete a self evaluation along with an evaluation of team members for their actual contribution in relation to the initial plan. Adjustment points will be -2, -1, 0 (no adjustment, everyone in the team has the same grade), +1 or +2. The sum of your adjustment points will have to equal zero. In other words, if you give someone positive point(s) you will have to give someone else negative point(s).

6: How will final letter grade be assigned? A criterion-referenced grading will be used in this class and therefore you do not need to worry about your standing relative to others in this course. In fact, working together with others may be to everyone's advantage. The following is an approximate grading scale that the instructors will use to determine the letter grade associated with students' percentage achieved in the class (slightly from year to year may occur depending on specific circumstances). A = 100-90 | AB = 89-87 | B= 86-80 | BC = 79-77 | C = 76-70 | D = 69-60 | F = 59 or less.