by Marion Nestle
Sep 20 2011

The farm bill course at NYU

I’m teaching a graduate course on the farm bill at New York University this semester.   The class has about 45 students from diverse fields—food studies, nutrition, public health, public policy, environmental studies, law—all closely related to the subjects under discussion.

Discussions, to say the least, have been lively.

Photo by Hemi Weingarten, 9-19-11

I’ve had many requests for the course syllabus, which describes the goals and content, readings, assignments, and resources.  It is posted along with the syllabi from other courses I’ve taught recently on my NYU faculty website.   These are freely available for downloading.

Most of the readings are available online and you can find them easily if you search for them by title.

Download, share, use, and enjoy!

  • Melissa Ayres

    Thank you, Dr. Nestle! Wish I could be there in person for the course. It sounds fantastic.

  • Morgan Roddy

    Thank you for sharing! I’m applying to NYU next year; what a shame about timing! I’m glad to see that the course is well-attended and that participation is strong. Looking forward to the readings.

  • Thank you Dr. Nestle, I can’t wait to look through the syllabus. I just purchased your book Food Politics as well and I’m really looking forward to starting it. I’m also applying to NYU next year to the Nutrition and Dietetics program and I hope to get the opportunity to learn from you one day. It looks like this course has been popular enough that you’ll be teaching many more semesters in the future! Thanks again.

  • NYFarmer

    Are there any farmers in your class?
    I have to say one of the more ironic moments in NY agricultural history occurred in December of 2009. You were one of the featured speakers at NYC Food and Climate Change Conference held at NYU. In the heart of NYC, urban students were given literature blasting livestock ag, calling for justice for farm workers and urging people to stay away from animal ag products. I contacted the professors I knew at Cornell and Morrisville Ag College who actually work on climate change issues. They informed me that they had not been invited to the conference and neither had the young students of ag science.
    Just north of NYC, an entire other world was living its reality. This is the world of the typical dairy farmer…NY’s largest food sector. Here, dairy farmers were enduring a milk price crash like none ever seen. Extreme price volatility in farmgate prices had led to a drop in price to a little over $9 for a hundred pounds of milk. (yeah, NYC consumers still paid the same for retail milk as they always had). Dairy farmers were literally committing suicide. I attended one farmer rally in Herkimer County, NY where for a moment I feared for my life as grown men wept and farm wives screamed at NY’s Commissioner of Agriculture.
    And, at the very time of the NYC “food” conference that commodity dairy farmers were not part of, the dairy farmers chartered buses and rode all night long to get to Washington, DC, to beg for help in straightening out the price mess. For the most part, the farmers did not even have enough money to pay for their bus tickets, local farming communities and businesses pitched in to pay for the buses for the farmers.
    And, worlds away in Manhattan, a NYC Food Charter was developed. No mention in the NYC Food Charter of justice for the farmers, and certainly no mention of the contribution of NY’s vast grasslands and dairy farms in a very positive way to the environment, NY’s biodiversity, open space and the like. The farmers of the middle, the average farmer of NY seemed to be totally invisible once again.
    Will your course mention the average family farmers at all or will we continue to be invisible in academia?

  • Michael Bulger


    I can assure you that the well-being of farmers is a major focus of our class. In the first weeks, the students have discussed what the ideal agricultural system and farm bill would promote and support. Among the goals listed were ensuring farming is an economically viable endeavor, encouraging the younger generation to take up farming, promoting regional food systems, and many other pro-farmer goals.

    The market volatility in the dairy sector is part of the course. I hope you do not feel that the “average family farmer” is “invisible” in academia. My classmates are intelligent and compassionate students of the food system. It would be unreasonable to expect them to overlook the real issues of farmers.

    On another topic, I looked over the NYC Food Charter. Here is a link to the Charter and a quote:

    “Strong local food economies lead to prosperous and healthy communities and are the key to building truly sustainable food systems. While national and international food systems will continue to co-exist alongside local systems, New York City should support the creation of a robust regional foodshed by working with farmers, processors, distributors, and retailers to harness our urban buying power.”

  • Anthro

    Thank you Marion–I will now be your virtual student!

  • Yes. Fantastic. Amazing. The list goes on…

  • NYFarmer

    Mike, thanks for taking the time to give me further information on the class. NY dairy farmers have seen a few glimmers of hope coming out of NYC in the past two years. Although the Northeast is rich in family dairy farms (about 12,500 averaging 100 cows/farm), our numbers are small in comparison to urban consumers. Just 10 years ago, NYC officials worked to break dairy farmer collective bargaining (google “have a cow” “Northeast dairy compact” for further details).
    In 2010, things changed… NYC Councilwoman Christin Quinn’s food policy specifically mentioned NY dairy and advocates for keeping regional food and dairy production as a matter of food security. However, when it comes to federal farm bills and federal dairy hearings, NY’s farmers have gone it alone. I have not yet seen (although I do not attend all hearings) anyone from any NYC consumer groups advocate for the dairy farmers of NY. This is in contrast to New England where consumer groups seem more vociferous in supporting the continuation of New England’s family dairy farms. Dairy farmers were most appreciative when a young woman from NYC drove 9 hours to cover the dairy antitrust hearings last year in Batavia, NY. You can read her report at However, no consumer stood with the farmers to testify or to speak about what market concentration in dairy means to the NYC consumer.
    Likewise, dairy farmers go it alone in terms of trying to formulate how milk, a product so environmentally compatible with our bio-region, can fit into a healthy diet. I’ve tweeted to numerous urban nutritionists with this question, but none have replied. Dr. Nestle’s October 19, 2010 blog report on dairy very discouraging in tone and content. We are not all “Big Dairy” For farmers to give intelligent comment into checkoff programs, we need consumer and nutritionists’ input.
    I really appreciate you taking the time to post something to me. If you do twitter, I’d love to have you follow me. I’m @NYFarmer on twitter. Thanks, again.

  • Michael Bulger

    Thanks for the elaboration, NYFarmer. Hopefully, this class will enable more NYC residents and food and farm advocates to be better aware of the intricacies of farming, dairy markets, and federal policy.

    I’d be curious to hear whether you’ve encountered Sen. Gillibrand. From what I’ve heard, she is active in reaching out to NY dairy farmers. Likewise, I’d be interested in whether you have an opinion on Rep. Peterson’s proposal for dairy policy reform.

    (By the way, I take pride in the fact that I am from Western New York.)

    I will find you on Twitter.

  • NYFarmer

    Senator Gillibrand is much beloved in the NY dairy community. She has maintained a blistering pace of going out into the countryside for hearings and most recently to the flooded Catskill and Mohawk Valley areas. Recently Senator Gillibrand visited my own rural county, Herkimer County and did a listening session for farmers to speak. Scores of local farmers filled the session and each had a chance to speak while our Senator listened.
    Some of us dairy farmers are worried that Petersen’s legislation will ultimately work to the favor of the largest dairy farms. Also, for the Northeastern states, we are milk deficit area. I will send you a milk flows map on Twitter so you can see US milk flows in a graphic sense. NY’s milk prices are the lowest of all surrounding states and we have seen a loss of farms and a small drop in production while states like TX, AZ, NM and CA are roaring ahead in dairy production. In a practical sense, Chobani and Fage are growing and are looking for more milk to be made into Greek Yogurt to supply the Northeast Corridor and beyond. You probably know about the jobs situation in the Mohawk Valley. Fage and Chobani are adding on much needed jobs to our area, based upon milk. I look forward to tweeting with you. I get really frustrated when I tweet to some urban food policy people and they ignore me! EGADS!

  • Dominic

    Great to know that students and teacher are not just giving each other attaboys and dulling a discussion into the level of group-think.

    A discussion on PUBLIC farm policy, not only values the viewpoints of farmers but also those of taxpayers, consumers and other stakeholders.

    By Marion Nestle making this kind of material available to a wider audience, more and more of the public is starting to get acquainted with and debate the effects of policy instruments such as dairy marketing orders, milk price supports, dairy farmer income support, milk trade barriers and milk export subsidies.

    Among many other things, the students and public will be able to puzzle out the why and the how some organizations claiming to represent “needy” farmers can “somehow” muster millions of dollars to invest in PR.

  • Average Farmer

    Dominic, so are you working with the dairy processors and NYC consumers who shriek for cheapest possible milk wrung out of the Upstate farmers? These are the groups who set the stage for a decade of NY farmers receiving the lowest price of all northeastern states. NYC politicians screamed, shouted and cursed at the dairy farmers who tried to use collective bargaining to get a fair price out of the supply chain. (Google “Northeast dairy compact” “have a cow” for details) Laughably, these were same politicians who would normally support collective bargaining for other sectors of society. What’s your position on collective bargaining?
    Who said the PR effort represents needy farmers? The farmer presenting from Fair Oaks Farms is one of the wealthiest farmers in the US.

  • Dr. Nestle,
    Thank you for the syllabus. I teach a bit about the farm bill to my social work students, because it has implications for food and nutrition policy for our traditional clients, the poor, and for social justice. Before we discuss it, students usually have limited understanding of what the legislation encompasses. Wish I could take you class! Any thoughts on teaching it online?

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