About Us – Sustainable Food Systems Initiative

About Us

Why the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative? | Who we are | Progress Reports | Contact Us

The University of Michigan Sustainable Food Systems Initiative acknowledges the university’s origins through an 1817 land transfer from the Anishinaabek, the Three Fires People: the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Bodewadami as well as Meskwahkiasahina (Fox), Peoria and Wyandot. We further acknowledge that our university stands, like almost all property in the United States, on lands obtained, generally in unconscionable ways, from indigenous peoples. In addition, our research on environmental science and sustainability has benefited and continues to benefit from access to land originally gained through the exploitation of others. Knowing where we live and work does not change the past, but understanding and acknowledging the history, culture, and impacts of colonial practices is an important step towards the creation of an equitable and sustainable future.

The University of Michigan Sustainable Food Systems Initiative engages an interdisciplinary mix of students, faculty, and communities at local and global levels to learn from and build food systems that are health-promoting, economically viable, equitable, and ecologically sound.

Why the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative?

Today’s global food system produces unprecedented quantities of food. Nevertheless, the World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people lack adequate food to satisfy minimum standards of nutrition, despite more than adequate global supplies, a perplexing pattern that has been evident for many years.

Even more perplexing is the irony that obesity has become a major health problem for some, even as hunger continues to plague others. Moreover, the industrial agricultural systems that developed during the past century are increasingly recognized as environmentally unsustainable, in many cases causing environmental degradation and substantial losses of biological diversity. For consumers, food safety has emerged as a critical issue and for producers — farmers and farm workers — workplace safety and unfair compensation threaten the sustainability of their livelihoods.

A global food system that simultaneously produces hunger and obesity, generates significant collateral environmental degradation, and compromises the well-being of farmers and eaters alike, indicates the need for serious analysis and action.

This challenge has been partially met with the emergence of a new paradigm that emphasizes sustainability and social equity rather than profit and production at its core. Contributions to this new paradigm are already emerging from many sectors of society, especially at the grassroots level (e.g., growing interest in local and regional food systems, increased demand for organic and fair-trade products, reinvigoration of inner cities through urban agriculture, new business models such as community supported agriculture and farmers markets, etc.).

Yet, we still lack a coherent intellectual foundation to inform and guide the construction of a clear path toward a sustainable and equitable food system that:

  1. helps to reinvigorate rural and urban communities;
  2. supports public health;
  3. promotes environmental protection; and
  4. enhances economies at state, national and international levels.
SFSI affiliates at our 2021 fall retreat at the UM Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Academic engagement in food systems challenges

The intellectual foundations of dynamically co-evolving natural and social systems deserve not only rigorous academic scrutiny but also engagement with those sectors that affect and are affected by food systems. As has happened so frequently in history, a clearly articulated intellectual foundation may help to promote leadership in critical debates that inevitably occur in paradigmatic transformation. The Sustainable Food Systems Initiative offers a vision of a foundation regarding the development of sustainable and equitable ways to produce and deliver nutritious food so as to improve people’s health and livelihoods, with minimal environmental damage and lasting economic security.

Ultimately, we need to plan landscapes that include cities, farms and natural and semi-natural areas, such that the health of humans and ecosystems is protected and promoted. This goal will be achieved by incorporating the dynamic role of interacting stakeholders (farmers and consumers) across the entire food system, to achieve landscapes that deliver a range of ecosystem services, while at the same time providing sustenance and equity for the world’s population. The Sustainable Food Systems Initiative at the University of Michigan is taking on those challenges.

Who we are

The Sustainable Food Systems Initiative is led by core staff and an advisory board. Our work is coordinated alongside many other campus organizations and is supported by community organizations.

SFSI Core Staff

Kimmy VanDeWege, SFSI Coordinator

SFSI Advisory board

The Sustainable Food Systems Initiative Advisory Board is comprised of an interdisciplinary group of senior faculty:

Core Community Partners

Core Campus Partners


Progress Reports

SFSI publishes achievements from sustainable food system scholarship and community engagement programming across campus. Learn more about our accomplishments throughout the years!

2016 Progress Report

2017 Progress Report

Contact Us

SFSI Team | foodsystems@umich.edu

Program Manager | Lilly Fink Shapiro | finkshap@umich.edu

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