Practical idealists wanted: to change business for good

Janet Farness
Janet Farness, Certificate in Sustainable Business, Cohort 8

Pinchot University offers a Certificate in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems, a four-course sequence offering an integrated examination of food systems in the U.S. and the broader movement toward sustainable practices, innovation and whole-systems development.

The 12-credit, four-quarter program may be taken as a stand-alone certificate or as part of one of our MBA programs. To audit a single course, please see Professional Development.

The Certificate in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems program is offered in a low-residency format, combining monthly Saturday in-person class sessions with weekly distance learning. Monthly class sessions are held at IslandWood, a 250-acre LEED Gold environmental education center on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Between monthly in-person sessions, students attend class online and engage with faculty, guest speakers and each other through multiple distance learning technologies. This design allows students from across the United States and Canada to participate in the Certificate in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems program while continuing to live and work in their home communities.


During the first quarter, students will be introduced to and become well-acquainted with the history and economics of industrial agriculture, relevant public policy, organic agriculture and each component of the current dominant food system, from farm to market. The second quarter provides a survey of new and emerging models of alternative agricultural and food systems. Quarter three gets at the issue of scale and explores how to “scale up” sustainable models and embedded practices to compete more successfully with the industrial agriculture system. Finally, students will undertake a practicum in the fourth quarter, applying knowledge and skills gained during the first three quarters to real world projects.

The four-quarter Certificate in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems program will start in September 2016.

The program may be taken as a stand-alone Certificate or as part of the Metro MBA in Sustainable Business program or the Hybrid format MBA in Sustainable Systems program. To audit a single course, please see Professional Development.

Course Sequence and Descriptions

Please note that all four courses are required in order to earn the Certificate in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems.

SFAC 561: Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems: The World Must Be Fed
This course provides an overview of the entire supply chain and begins the process of exploring the design of food and agri-business. It focuses on more fully understanding the dominant structure within which most food production and distribution currently takes place – that of an energy-intensive agriculture. It explores the current status of US and global agriculture, including trends, issues and public policy and examines each link along the supply chain: production, processing, distribution, sales and certifications. Making use of guest speakers and student-authored case studies and field trips, the course provides a solid introduction for the certificate and the context for recognizing business opportunities favoring a shift toward more sustainable food systems. (3 credits)

To audit this course, please see Professional Development.

SFAC 562: Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems: Emerging Agricultural Alternatives
The purpose of this course is to acquaint students with new and emerging alternative food system models through field trips and a wide range of guest speakers. The course explores the history of some of the more established models, such a community supported agriculture, and the barriers to full emergence of others. (3 credits) Prerequisite: SFAC 561

To audit this course, please see Professional Development.

SFAC 563: Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems: Getting to Scale
The course explores the ways and means of scaling up new and emerging alternative food system models in order to be more competitive in the market place. Students will explore the possibilities at each step in the system: growing, processing, distribution, retail, marketing and financing. (3 credits) Prerequisites: SFAC 561 and SFAC 562
To audit this course, please see Professional Development.
SFAC 564: Sustainable Food & Agricultural Systems: Action Learning Practicum
This practicum is designed to enable students to apply the concepts and tools learned during quarters one, two and three in an integrated real world project. In this practicum, students will:
  • Identify a real or potential food systems project worthy of time and research
  • Analyze and describe each step of the project from concept to financing and marketing
  • Make the business case for the project
  • Present the project to a panel comprised of representatives from the sustainable food and ag systems industry, potential users or customers and the banking or finance community
(3 credits) Prerequisites: SFAC 561, SFAC 562, SFAC 563
Michelle Knab Erickson
Pinchot taught me to work on something I truly believe in. My work is guided by the goal of leaving a positive impact."

Michelle Erickson
MBA Cohort 3
Product Management Consultant, Santa Barbara, CA

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