Rian Fried Center
for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems
Our soils are eroding, our freshwater supply is dwindling, and our atmosphere is warming. Volatility is the new normal. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, at least 33 percent of land is significantly degraded by erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification, and chemical pollution of soils. NASA reports that 21 of the 37 largest aquifers in the world are depleted. Global agricultural emissions from crop and livestock production exceed 5.3 billion tons of CO2e and are rapidly rising. The way we feed ourselves has transformed the planet. Despite agriculture’s heedless productivity, more than 795 million people—49 million of them in America alone—do not have enough to eat. While millions starve, we waste 1.3 billion tons of food globally (35 million tons in the US) each year. Dominant agrifood systems are simply unsustainable.
The Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (RFC) was founded upon reverence and concern for the critical connections between farm, food, and community. America’s great agrarian poet, Wendell Berry, plainly reminds us of these dangerously eroded but fundamentally unbreakable ties. For several generations, most societies have neglected this interdependence at great peril to their physical selves, their identities, their planetary home and cohabitants, and the well-being of their descendants.
But before we simply advocate for “sustainability,” we need to make sure that our systems are worth sustaining. The systems we support must be restorative and resilient: diverse and distributed, innovative and inclusive, natural and just. As we pursue a more sustainable food future, we must ask ourselves: What does a healthy and productive agricultural ecosystem look like? What must we do to return the earth to a homeostatic state that supports both human thriving and the persistent evolution of diverse species co-inhabiting this planet? How can we nourish ourselves—body, culture, and community—without impairing the ability of future generations to do the same.
Recognizing that building a healthy and just food system is among the most critical challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems (RFC) at Sterling College cultivates the next generation of environmental stewards with exemplary education and research opportunities that restore functional ecologies, revitalize connections between people and place, support vibrance and health, and promote regenerative economies of the working landscape.
In alignment with the Sterling model of environmental stewardship education, the RFC is the instructional laboratory for an experiential and place-based curriculum that unites the farm, forest, and kitchen. The Center models food and education systems grounded in ecological principles that enhance nutrient recycling, support the biodiversity of species and genetics, increase the socioeconomic viability of communities, and build the practical skills and critical thinking capacities of our students.
The RFC also collaborates and develops programs with local businesses, landowners and not-for-profit organizations to build academic partnerships that broaden the College’s curricular offerings and strengthen the regional food and agroecological systems.
Because the RFC fosters mindful and active connection among Sterling College’s farm, forest, and kitchen, students experience what it means to be part of a small, integrated, values-driven food system. The RFC also serves to connect Sterling College with the greater community of farmers, food producers, and activists in our region, which gives students frequent and ample opportunity to learn directly from Vermont-based and nationally influential visionaries and change-makers. Through the immersive experience of hands-on education and work in community, Sterling students develop a much more sophisticated understanding of the issues currently facing food systems locally and globally than peers who study similar subjects at more traditional schools. Our students also acquire and hone skills that can be used to revitalize and regenerate the full agri-eco-social system. Because we apply—and eat— what we teach, the opportunities for paradigm-shifting applied farm and food system education at Sterling College are unrivaled.
The RFC provides:
- Majors in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, as well as the option to self-design a major that integrates Ecology, Outdoor Education, and Environmental Humanities
- A minor in Draft Animal Management and the opportunity to undertake focused study in agroecology, value-added food production, and food justice
- The School of the New American Farmstead, which offers workshops, and certificate programs for agrarians, culinarians, entrepreneurs, and lifelong learners
- Integrated Work Program positions that help students defray tuition costs while gaining marketable skills. Through the RFC, students can raise livestock, grow vegetables, fruit, and mushrooms, and preparing food for the campus community
- An inspiring and committed group of faculty practitioners who work side by side with students, on the farm, in the lab, developing internships, making lunch, advising, or doing research
- The possibility to develop a degree tailor-made for your interests in the environment through a variety Independent Studies and capstoned with a Senior Project that gives to you time to dig real deep