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Green Mtn College graduates nation's first online food systems cohort

POULTNEY, VT -- Green Mountain College further advanced its reputation as a sustainability pioneer in higher education by graduating the nation’s first cohort of online graduate students in food systems on May 17th.  Launched in January 2012, the Masters in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS) builds upon nearly a decade of bioregionally-focused online education at Green Mountain College.  The MSFS features a suite of interdisciplinary courses that encourage students to dig deep into their regional food systems while comparing their findings with their peers.  MSFS graduates attending the ceremony represented the geographical spread in the program, traveling from as far away as Washington State, Chicago, and Canada to attend the ceremony.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, was the graduation speaker. During the ceremony he received an honorary doctor of laws degree from GMC. Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross was a guest of honor. On Friday he was the speaker for the graduate studies hooding ceremony held at the college, focusing his shared words on the challenges facing our world as we balance feeding an estimated nine billion people with a commitment to creating more sustainable food systems.

 Students enrolled in the MSFS program examine these sustainable food systems challenges through a suite of thirteen courses, each six weeks in length and culminating in an individualized capstone project. Philip Ackerman-Leist, author of Rebuilding the Foodshed, directs this first-of-its-kind program, and he describes the MSFS as an in-depth quest for the levers of change within discrete food systems. Reflecting upon these first MSFS graduates, he noted that they confirmed his original interest in developing the program. "People working in food systems-be it on the farm or in food-related enterprises-tend to be deeply rooted on the land and wedded to their work. To pick up and move from their home communities to pursue a professional degree is highly problematic. Our online model allows students to continue their work at home while learning about food systems in other regions from their peers. The composition of the student cohorts is intentionally diverse."

Admiring the first cohort of food systems pioneers in academic regalia, Ackerman-Leist remarked on an unusual irony, “GMC is an established leader in experiential sustainable agriculture education. Now we’ve turned a new furrow in online food systems education. In both cases, rootedness matters.”

For more information on the MSFS program, visit