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Kwantlen graduates envision new future for food systems

By Richmond Sentinel

Published 12:02 PST, Mon November 21, 2022

A crop of potential change-makers and leaders in advancing sustainable food systems has emerged from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) at a critical time for the Earth.

The graduate certificate in Sustainable Food Systems and Security program began accepting students last year and the first students to successfully complete the program are now well prepared to improve the planet and help the human species thrive, says Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) at KPU.

“It doesn’t make any difference how many electric cars we put on the road or how many wind turbines we build. None of that makes a difference if we can’t bring forth a sustainable food system. It is job one,” says Mullinix. “The food system is the foundation of any semblance of human sustainability. Everything else tumbles out of that.”

The 12-month graduate program, a collaboration between the institute and KPU’s Faculty of Arts that also involves faculty from business, science, and design, has six courses delivered online over one year. It is designed to accommodate working professionals. Students examine contemporary food systems and food security from environmental, social, and economic perspectives, and they are also challenged to envision a preferred future for food systems.

Mullinix says the world’s ecosystems are collapsing, and global climate change is the most significant expression of that, to which our food system contributes. The sustainable food systems and security program equips students with the knowledge to promote substantive food system change.

Students engage in a critical examination of the contemporary dominant food system and its challenges. They also examine current thinking and efforts to bring forward alternatives, while being supported to partner with community stakeholders to do something about it.

That combination, says Mullinix, gives students the basis to be sustainable food system advocates and actors, regardless of career path.

“We recognize that the food system intersects with all dimensions of the human economy, and hence all sorts of professions are connected to food systems, and are required for food system reform,” he says. “We’re trying to provide the essential education that any professional in Canada or elsewhere could use to integrate sustainable food system knowledge into their work.”

Graduates are well-prepared for their work in government, planning, education, research, community activism, community health, and economic development. The certificate can also be extended into a master of arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, with an emphasis on sustainable food systems and security, through Royal Roads University (RRU) in Victoria, B.C.

Emily Burkholder is doing just that. The KPU graduate transferred her credits to the master’s program at RRU, complementing her studies at Simon Fraser University, where she is completing a second master’s degree in Resource and Environmental Management.

“In a political climate that often divides people, it’s important to prioritize things like food, which brings people together,” says Burkholder. “Food is a huge contributor to climate change, but it doesn’t have to be this way. So, I was motivated to study to sustainable food systems to better understand how food can help us mitigate and adapt to our changing climate.”

Burkholder, who now works as a research assistant at KPU, says her studies have demonstrated how complex our food system is.

“I’m inspired by the people working within an unjust and unsustainable system who are often working alone. I’m hopeful that my contribution can support them and perhaps make some changes for a better future,” she says.

KPU’s Faculty of Arts will host an online information session for the graduate certificate in Sustainable Food Systems and Security program on Thursday (Nov. 24) at 5 p.m. Registration is now open on KPU’s website.

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