FES students organize farm bill course

A guest lecture series at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies is bringing undergraduates and graduate students together to discuss the United States farm bill.

The series is a student-organized independent study that aims to give students an understanding of the U.S. farm bill and how it affects other areas of food and agricultural systems, said Julia Meisel FES ’12, one of the course’s organizers. Rather than teaching the course themselves, the organizers contacted experts on the subject and invited them to be guest speakers. The lecture series will be complemented by in-class discussions with the lecturer and students.

“One of the most exciting things about the class is that it’s bringing together people from these various perspectives and really incredible backgrounds,” said Cara Mae Cirignano FES ’13, one of the course’s organizers.

Cirignano added she and the other organizers — Meisel, Chandra Simon FES ‘12 and Amy Coplen FES ’12 — received “enormous interest” from across the University. In the end, Cirignano said, they had to cap the class in order to foster an atmosphere in which discussion would be feasible. The 17-person class contains students from the Yale School of Management, the Yale Law School, the Yale Graduate School, the Yale School of Public Health, Yale College and FES, said Simon.

Simon said the idea for the independent study arose from growing interest within FES about food and agriculture. Last November, she and the other organizers held a meeting where nearly 30 FES students discussed the issues they hoped to explore further. Based on this meeting, Simon said, the organizers decided to form a student-led course focusing on the farm bill, the federal government’s primary bill dealing with agricultural and food policy that is passed approximately every five years with various modifications. The course examines a different title of the bill each week.

Meisel said every student in the course has demonstrated past experience in food and agriculture, and that the lecture series is another way for students to explore their interest in the subjects. Both of the two undergraduates currently participating in the course, which counts as one credit toward the Yale College graduation requirements, said they are excited to be a part of the lecture series.

“I think various perspectives present in the classroom will enrich the experience significantly, said Diana Saverin ’13, who is enrolled in the course.

The organizers spoke with Associate Dean of Alumni and External Affairs Gordon Geballe GRD ’81, who offered to be their faculty adviser. As an adviser, Geballe said, he acts as a “sounding board” for the students, though ultimately they are responsible for the fate of the course.

In order to plan the course of study, Cirignano said they researched other schools’ course offerings on food and agricultural policy. Meisel said the organizers have also received input from their speakers, who suggested relevant readings for the topics they will discuss.

“The farm bill is a very large piece of legislation that’s almost indecipherable without intensive study, so it’s great that this group of students is tackling it together and bringing in salient speakers,” said Rachael Styer ’12, the other undergraduate enrolled in the course.

“Food Fight 2012: Why the Farm Bill Matters,” a lecture sponsored by FES and the course’s organizers, will be held in Kroon Hall on Thursday from noon to 1 p.m.

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