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Center for a Livable Future


Bloomberg School Courses

Baltimore Food Systems: A Case Study of Urban Food Environments

Roni Neff, Instructor; Megan Clayton, Assistant Instructor
Third term: onsite (4 credits)
Prerequisite: Consent of instructor required
Contact Roni Neff for more information.
Course website
Web article: Learning First-Hand about Urban Food Environments


This course uses experiential learning, discussion, and related texts to challenge students to look closely at the environment of Baltimore City's complex food systems, and to consider what it would take to improve these systems to assure access for all to nutritious, adequate, affordable food, ideally with reduced environmental harm. Students "go backstage" with tour guides at sites including a supermarket, a corner store, an emergency food distribution center, and a farm connected to the city school system. Students learn about the types of food available at these sites, who uses them; relevant aspects of their operations, and site-relevant key barriers to and opportunities for providing access to healthier and more sustainably produce food. They also conduct oral history interviews about food with elderly city residents to understand how food access has changed over the years.

The in-class sessions are structured primarily as discussion seminars based around the readings and trips, supplemented with lectures and guest lectures. Class sessions will engage students to think critically, and will provide background and frameworks for understanding the experiential sessions. Throughout, students consider the relative impacts of access, demand, and stakeholder interests, and consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of voluntary, regulatory (governmental), legal and other strategies. Lectures and discussions consider applicability of lessons gained from the study of Baltimore to other area food systems.

For their final papers, students identify a problem and its key determinants, and they propose/analyze an option to address it. Students will have the opportunity to think critically about selected aspects of the city's food systems and food environments, identifying challenges and opportunities for change and incorporating lessons learned from other food systems and programs. In their papers, students will also discuss implications beyond Baltimore .

Course Objectives

Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe how food systems and food environments relate to public health broadly and environmental public health more specifically
  • Describe from first-hand experience selected food system sites in Baltimore , including their offerings, clientele, and operations, and key opportunities and barriers to improving their healthfulness and economic and environmental sustainability
  • Conduct and document oral history interviews
  • Discuss key factors that have shaped food systems in Baltimore and other urban locales, including within the domains of policy, business, agriculture, and society
  • Analyze responses to particular challenges and opportunities within Baltimore 's food systems

Comments from former students

  • I loved this class! I learned so much and found the class very engaging. I really appreciated having a small, discussion-based class. The field trips were awesome and definitely made more of an impression on me than just reading/hearing lectures. The guest speakers were also fantastic and very memorable, as was the oral history assignment.
  • This was one of the top three classes I've taken at Hopkins. I love that we were able to get out into the Baltimore community and get a hands-on look at different aspects of the food system.
  • Roni and Anne were excellent in facilitating learning and discussion.