Even at the height of summer, Barnard students remain immersed in hands-on learning through field trips, smaller class sizes, and — for some — cooking.
As climate change continues to threaten food access, security, and land utilization globally, Barnard has created a summer course for students to better understand a major — but often under-recognized — driver of greenhouse gas emissions: food production. The course is co-instructed by Natalie Greaves-Peters, a doctoral candidate in the Health and Behavior Studies department at Columbia’s Teachers College, and Cynthia Rosenzweig, Barnard’s adjunct professor of environmental science and senior research scientist of the Climate Impacts group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).
The course, Food Journeys in the New York Metropolitan Region: Towards Sustainable Farms, Healthy Communities, and Just Policies — which focused on food distribution centers in New York City and the Hudson Valley — was offered through the College’s summer session, from May 22 to June 30. “One of the primary goals of this class was for students to become aware of the fact that the simple act of eating is loaded with politics and policies, food inequity, and environmental consequences,” said Greaves-Peters. “Students presented their own food journeys — they chose a food and tracked the journey of that food to a neighborhood within New York City.”
Sandra Goldmark — director of the Office of Sustainability & Climate Action, associate professor of professional practice in theatre, and senior assistant dean for interdisciplinary engagement at the Columbia Climate School — helped develop key partnerships for the class with the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and the Climate School. “The Food Journeys course is a part of Barnard’s larger sustainability journey, as we work toward building more circular and accessible patterns of consumption on campus,” said Goldmark. These partnerships gave students the opportunity to connect with experts such as Jeffrey Potent, adjunct professor of corporate sustainability from the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and Rae Gomes, the deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, as well as collect and analyze soil samples, and explore food policy and justice issues in the City.
“[We want] to empower students to have agency over the food they eat, as well as how they can advocate in society for equitable and sustainable food,” said Rosenzweig. “They were actively putting together all [of the] complex parts of the food system by creating, finding, and evaluating solutions. It really gave me hope for the food of the future.”
Getting in the dirt, planting crops, and harvesting lettuce allowed me to see the bridge between supermarkets and our own kitchens. It was an experience that allowed me to do a lot of reflection on my own life and think about how to leverage this experience to help the community around me.
Over the six weeks, students had a chance to take a deep dive into sustainable farming practices, waste management, and food systems solutions to climate change. Many of their weekly sessions — which included visits to the Bruckner Mott Haven Community Garden and the Stone Barns Center in Westchester County — culminated in a shared meal that students cooked together at the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College.
“We cannot teach about food without cooking food, and so part of the class is about cooking and eating together as a community,” said Greaves-Peters. “When [we] sit down and break bread together, we discuss the class in a much more relaxed setting that fosters a deeper understanding and application of the [course] content."
“It was an insightful experience,” said participant Alyssa Wei ’26, about her visit to the community garden. “Getting in the dirt, planting crops, and harvesting lettuce allowed [me] to see the bridge between supermarkets and our own kitchens. It was an experience that allowed me to do a lot of reflection on my own life and [think about] how to leverage this experience to help the community around me.”
For psychology major Daryn Wong ’26, going into the field meant observing the interplay between the food industry and steps involved in the food system network — such as harvesting, distribution, and post-consumption. “It really makes you think about where your food comes from.”
Building on Barnard’s Climate Action Vision to engage with sustainability across the curriculum, the Summer Food Institute, an initiative spearheaded by Goldmark’s office, will offer the course as part of the 2023 Pre-College Programs (PCP) — a unique academic and cultural summer opportunity for rising sophomore, junior, and senior high school students.
To learn more about the Food Journeys course, watch the video above.