Environmental Science 218

Environmental Science 218: Food and Energy

Food & Energy: Applying Research and Theory to Local Dining Practice, developed by Nicholas School professor Charlotte Clark and taught in spring 2013 by prof. Nicolette Cagle, is designed to teach concepts about the agricultural system and climate change from peer-reviewed and popular sources, and to give students the opportunity to apply these concepts within the Duke and local communities. 

Through readings and hands-on research, students explore and reflect on the links between food and energy in science and culture:

  • Students study the climate footprint of food in the United States, considering food production, processing, transportation, consumption, and food security.
  • In project teams and in conjunction with client partners, students design research projects around the topic of food and energy both on and near by campus.
  • Students gain experience with basic qualitative research methods, including participant observation, personal interview, and content analysis.
  • Students apply their knowledge to local and institutional behaviors to help create a responsibly sustainable environment.

Service-Learning in Food & Energy

Service-learning is an integral component of the course, providing students an opportunity to reflect on the impact of food on climate and on the challenges and opportunities of reducing that impact in tangible ways.

In addition to being engaged in rigorous readings, class discussions, and lectures, students are challenged to apply their learning in a manner that provides tangible service to the community:

  • The students are divided into five person teams and are assigned a question, usually provided by the community client,  which is then researched throughout the semester.
  • The community clients and student teams collaborate on project design and evaluation, data collection, and analysis. 

These projects have the possibility of effecting real change in the community. In the past two years, 10 of 14 projects have continued beyond the semester, yielding tangible new institutional and/or student behavior(s).

Applying Research and Theory to Local Dining Practice

Listed below are three examples of Food & Energy project teams that have served both the university and local community. 

Team Farm: partnered with Jim Wulforst, Director Duke Dining Services, and Mark Hough, Campus Landscape Architect

  • A number of campuses around the country have on-campus farms explicitly to supply produce (primarily) to campus dineries. Bon Appetit was interested in investigating such an option based on their experience with contracts at other campuses. Through the research efforts of this team, as of spring 2011, the Duke Campus Farm began on a 12-acre plot in Duke Forest, a Farm Advisory Board was established, and the Office of Sustainability funded a Farm Manager---former Food & Energy student, Emily Sloss! One of the projects for the spring 2011 class was to design a marketing plan for the farm.

Sustainable Seafood team: partnered with Kim Gordon and Alexis Rameriz, Walking Fish and DukeFish. 

  • Volunteers with the Walking Fish initiative, a community-supported fishery (CSF) providing local seafood to subscribers (similar to produce in a community-supported agriculture organization) wanted a basic evaluation of the total carbon footprint of shrimp and clams eaten on campus that are purchased from traditional markets and from Walking Fish. Through a simple Life Cycle Assessment, this team discovered that the Walking Fish product and a locally farmed prawn product were the most environmentally sound options for Duke to buy shrimp. The students promoted this to eateries on campus. Walking Fish is using the materials produced by the students in some of their marketing materials this year.

Biodiesel Team: partnered with Arwen Buuchholz, Duke Recycling Coordinator and Casey Roe, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator

  • A number of campuses refine their own waste vegetable oil and use the product in campus fleet vehicles. This team concluded that Duke students would have an interest in such a venture. In the fall of 2010, two students (including one from this team) completed an independent study working with Charlotte Clark and Claudio Gunsch (engineering). The process of buying and operating a small biodiesel refinery is underway.

For more information contact Dr. Clark, or click below for the spring 2011 syllabus and more info about past team projects.