In 2013, the U of M launched a new food systems major for undergraduates looking to set their own place at the table in an evolving food sector. Rising consumer demand for healthier, less processed foods is driving innovation at food manufacturing startups.
Students preparing to enter an increasingly complex, interconnected food industry must understand food production “from field to fork,” says Len Marquart, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition.
The food systems bachelor’s degree offered in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) instills systems thinking in students aspiring to work for a food company or start their own enterprise. Coursework gives students an overview of the food industry and shows them how they might develop a new ingredient, grow more nutritious produce, or market a new breakfast cereal or line of healthy snacks.
Food systems students are following in the footsteps of alumnus Eric Sannerud (B.S. ’13), who as a student put together his own food systems major and had a hand in the creation of the new bachelor’s curriculum; he led a student petition drive and made the case to college leaders.
“The program was something that people in CFANS had been talking about long before I was a student,” Sannerud says. “I learned about it and became engaged in the process myself.... I’m hopeful that I helped make it happen.”
Upon graduation, Sannerud founded Mighty Axe Hops, a Foley, MN, firm that grows hops for beer and sells it to regional breweries. The CEO is also a CFANS mentor, providing counsel to students who take part in the college’s well-established program for networking and career exploration.
Many food systems majors and other students studying nutrition and food production work on class projects or conduct research with food companies in the college’s Joseph J. Warthesen Food Processing Center, on the St. Paul campus. Manufacturers develop new foods and production processes at the state-of-the-art facility, making it an incubator for relationships that can lead to internships and job offers.
This story is part of a broader Minnesota Alumni magazine feature about how the U of M is preparing students for the careers of the future.
- Agriculture and Environment