Sustainable Food Systems

Toddler PointingHand weight with apple and measuring tapeWoman focused laying on lawnBasket of TomatoesSnowboarder in air grabbing the tail of the snowboardTeens smiling at a table

The sustainable food systems program focuses on sustainable food production, food preparation and processing, distribution, nutrition, and community food security in order for students to better understand how food systems influence health. 

This program offers many opportunities to engage in experiential learning through management of projects at MSU’s Towne’s Harvest Garden and in the surrounding communities.  Students can tailor their program to their own specific interests by choosing supporting coursework in health promotion and education, political science, economics, business, Native American Studies, and agriculture. 

Masters’ projects and theses can potentially cover topics related to food system curriculum development and assessment of field experiences in sustainable food systems, food system education and public awareness, local food system development or localizing diets, institutional purchasing of local foods, food policies, community supported agriculture and distribution, community food security or community-based food and nutrition assistance, or local or statewide food system assessment.    

Potential career paths might include:

  • Public health
  • Food and nutrition policy and education
  • Community nutrition
  • Community food security
  • Culinary arts and management
  • Community supported agriculture
  • Food enterprise


Entering graduate students will have completed a bachelor’ s degree in food and nutrition, agricultural science, environmental or food studies or a related discipline.  Appropriate background coursework would include:  human nutrition, ecology, economics, culinary fundamentals or food science, microbiology, community nutrition, and political science. 


Admissions decisions are based on:

  1. Undergraduate preparation (GPA and strength of prerequisite course work)
  2. GRE equal to or greater than 300 preferred
  3. Goodness of fit and how consistent interests and goals of student align with research and outreach goals of faculty (to be addressed in personal essay)
  4. Relevant professional experience
  5. Strength of letters of recommendation


Dr. Alison Harmon teaches undergraduate courses in community nutrition, culinary management, and sustainable food systems and offers a graduate course that critically examines the American food system.  Her research focuses on the integration of concepts related to sustainability in the nutrition and dietetic curricula, the effectiveness of food system field experiences on learning about systems and sustainability, and community based strategies for increasing food access such as community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects.  Dr. Harmon is on the curriculum development team for the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems degree program at MSU. She advises the student organization MSU Friends of Local Foods and student operated Towne’s Harvest Garden, a campus CSA and outdoor classroom.  Additionally, she serves on the Montana Food System Council.  Graduate students working with Dr. Harmon are completing projects related to food system curriculum and resource development and evaluation, community food assessments, local food policies, food product development, and community-supported agriculture.

Dr. Carmen Byker teaches courses that explore community nutrition, culinary methods and management, human development, and sustainable food systems. Her research investigates how local, national, and international sustainable food systems impact public health, especially in relation to programs, practices, and policies that affect nutrition and diet. Examples of Dr. Byker's research endeavors include: evaluating farmers markets and other food system outlets as an avenue to improve public health; partnering with international community‐based agricultural
organizations to measure health outcomes; examining potential dietary measurement tools; empowering communities to implement policies and practices that increase access to fresh, nutritious foods, and; investigating the influence of sustainable food system curriculum on students, communities, and universities. Improving community food security is a central tenet for all of Dr. Byker's outreach efforts. Graduate students working with Dr. Byker can expect to conduct projects or theses that advance the sustainability and security of the food system, evaluate
health outcomes, and directly collaborate with communities. In addition to her ongoing research and regular teaching activities, Dr. Byker is a member of the curriculum leadership team for the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems degree program at MSU. She is also an advisor for the student organization MSU Friends of Local Foods and teaches a summer course at the campus farm, Towne's Harvest Garden.

Dr. Selena Ahmed’s teaching and research interests are at the intersection of the ecological, cultural, and health aspects of food systems. Her research examines links between natural and human systems in the context of global environmental change with a focus on biodiversity, indigenous and innovative food systems, bioactive food components, and dietary quality. Dr. Ahmed’s research asks questions such as, “How does environmental variation and management impact the health properties we derive from food and medicinal plants?” She leads the Ethnobotany and Phytochemistry Group of the Food and Health Disparities Integrative Lab (FAHDIL) at MSU that carries out basic and applied studies on the socioecological, phytochemical, and sensory basis of food systems. This work includes local, regional, and international projects that seek to inform evidence‐based management plans, land use conservation, and outreach to mitigate risk of food insecurity and diet‐related chronic disease. Some of her collaborative projects include: (1) impacts of fruit and vegetable cultivation on biodiversity and dietary quality; (2) food environments in rural and tribal communities of Montana; (3) climate effects on sugar maple culture and ecology in North Eastern USA; and (4) climate effects on tea quality and socio‐economic responses in China.