Food and the Future Environment

Section 3: Systems Approaches to Managing our Food Systems


Section 3: Systems Approaches to Managing our Food Systems


This is the third section of the course, where you will deepen your understanding of the connections between the natural environment and the human food production system. We already learned how important soil resources, water resources, and climate are in determining which crops we can grow and where we can grow them. In this section, we explore more soil management strategies and start to learn more about pests and climate change, which are two significant stressors for our human food system. Module 7 delves deeper into the management of soils and crops to improve soil quality for agriculture and illustrates more connections between natural systems and human systems. In Module 8, you'll explore types of pests and different methods used to manage pests as well as some of the challenges and opportunities to sustainably manage pests. The last module in this section, Module 9, first introduces the science of global climate change, then examines future projects for key climate variables that influence food production. Finally, the section wraps up with Stage 3 of the capstone, in which you'll explore each of these topics in relation to your capstone region.


  • Module 7: Soils and a Systems Approach to Soil Quality
  • Module 8: Pests and Integrated Pest Management
  • Module 9: Climate change
  • Capstone Stage 3

Section Goals

Upon completion of Section 3 students will be able to:

  • Understand the human impact on the environment in food systems and natural system feedbacks.
  • Apply broadly the principles of sustainable soil management in proposing solutions for food systems.
  • Apply an understanding of vulnerability, food insecurity, and diet quality as human system properties that determine food system sustainability.
  • Analyze a wide variety of food system types from the standpoint of human-natural interaction.
  • Critique food systems based on an understanding of food system properties related to resilience, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability.
  • Incorporate contributions of Food System-oriented movements and their proposals into their food system proposals.
  • Propose an integrated plan or scenario for the sustainability of an example food system (capstone project).
  • Learn the types and features of major agricultural insect pests, the benefits of insects, challenges associated with pest control.
  • Learn how trophic interactions can contribute to pest control, and the scientific basis for IPM to control agricultural pests over the long term.
  • Understand weed and pathogen pests.
  • Learn how integrated pest and weed management can contribute to long-term successful weed and pest management, and some transgenic pest management technologies and their impact.

Section Objectives

In order to reach these goals, we have established the following learning objectives for student learning. Upon completion of the modules within Section 3, you will be able to:

  • Name different food system impacts on earth's natural systems.
  • Define and provide an example of sustainable soil management practices including tillage, soil erosion prevention, cover cropping and crop rotational diversity.
  • Describe different options for sustainable water use in food systems.
  • Describe food systems as coupled natural-human systems.
  • Describe the three major types of food systems in the world today.
  • Describe a life cycle analysis and what it is used for.
  • Describe characteristics of insect pests and factors that make them successful pests, as well as beneficial characteristics of insects.
  • Explain some history of agricultural pesticides.
  • Describe factors that contribute to pests evolving resistance to pest control strategies.
  • Discuss what IPM is and why it is effective.
  • Interpret how to apply the pest scouting data and distinguish if pests have reached an economic threshold.
  • Analyze IPM management scenarios and interpret the agroecosystem benefits of IPM.
  • Describe and compare the characteristics of natural ecosystems and agroecosystems, and explain how trophic level interactions and biodiversity may contribute to pest control.
  • Describe characteristics of weed pests and factors that make them successful pests, as well as beneficial characteristics of weeds.
  • Describe categories of weed management tactics with example weed control practices.
  • Explain what organisms and factors contribute to crop diseases.
  • Explain some recent transgenic pest management technologies and analyze and interpret scientific data about transgenic technologies.
  • Differentiate pest control approaches that are likely to be effective in the long term based on IPM principles, and generate or formulate IPM approaches to enhance pest control.
  • Describe the evolutionary changes in the human history of diets and the current changes in modern globalized diet contexts.
  • Define concepts related to food security and resilience in food systems such as adaptive capacity, food access, vulnerability, and malnutrition.
  • Distinguish different ways that food systems develop and change because of interacting natural and human factors.
  • Discuss how managing crops and soils as a system promotes soil quality and multiple agroecosystem benefits and makes food systems.more productive and sustainable.
  • Apply and interpret a life cycle assessment (LCA) to measure and compare system impacts on earth's natural systems.
  • Analyze mapping resources related to food access and food insecurity.
  • Analyze the causes and historical trajectory of an example of a famine.
  • Evaluate and compare different approaches to deal with water scarcity in food systems.
  • Propose strategies for improved water use, soil management, system resilience, and diet improvement as part of an integrated strategy for food system sustainability.