Certificate in Sustainable
Food and Agricultural Systems

FieldNo sector is more fundamental to society’s sustenance than the supply chain that provides our food, feed, fiber, and fuel. BGI has crafted a four-quarter, one-year, graduate certification to stimulate innovation and creativity in the design and operation of businesses that pursue a more sustainable food and agricultural system. This series is relevant in the US and elsewhere, and examines business opportunities at a broad range of scale, including hyper-local, local, regional, national, and global. The course series includes an in-depth action learning practicum, in which students develop and present an opportunity to start a small business, grow a medium-sized business, or change a large business.


The instructors bring a broad perspective. BGI’s Dean, Dr. John Gardner, has experience at five land grant universities, and as an agronomist, has both research and agribusiness experience in mid-west crops and livestock-based US agriculture, and globally been involved in research for sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, South Korea, Australia and central America. He complements the experience and expertise of Tony D’Onofrio, who is a Certified Executive Chef and was a regional corporate chef in the food service and restaurant industry. Tony earned his MBA from BGI and is now the Sustainability Director for Town & Country Markets, a progressive chain of Puget Sound retail grocery outlets. Together, they approach the course with backgrounds in both a supply-push and a market-pull strategy. Further, they have found the diversity of students in the program add much to the discussion, debate, orientation, and framing of the opportunity for business design.

20120512_BGI_Island-Wood-Intensive_219smWho Can Benefit

Anyone already (or aspiring to be) in a food/agricultural business that desires to reduce risk while increasing economic, environmental, and social performance. The certificate would be most applicable to those making the business decisions as farmer, rancher, broker/dealer, processor, distributor, wholesaler, retailer, restaurant, policymaker, non-profit, and others simply interested in the food/agricultural system as a primer to sustainability.

Expected Results

The certificate’s objective is to understand sustainability through multiple points of view. We’ve concluded this makes a stronger and more realistic business model, with a higher probability for success. We take seriously our students’ ability to develop a small food or agriculture business. We prepare our students to make better decisions to move mid-sized businesses and organizations toward the consciousness of the marketplace, and have the wisdom to champion change within large firms that demonstrate shared value among all stakeholders.

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Program Format

This course is taught in a hybrid format, meeting for nine Saturdays (once monthly from Oct-Jun) at the Islandwood campus, in addition to twenty-one online classes held on Wednesday evenings for ninety minutes each. During the first and second quarters, student teams will author and present a case study related to the theme. During the third and fourth quarters, the student-selected project/practicum is presented. The fourth quarter is reserved exclusively for work on the practicum. A prerequisite for the course is a demonstrated interest in sustainable food and agriculture.

Food Actors


Q1    Energy Intensive Agricultural Context

A broad overview of food systems and issues of sustainability exploring the current status of energy intensive agriculture, including trends, issues and public policy in areas including food processing, distribution, sales and certifications. The course provides a solid introduction to current trends favoring a shift to more sustainable food systems. (3 credits)

What you will learn:
  • Understand the environment in which sustainable agriculture and food systems are competing
  • Understand current global policy and law on food production and distribution
  • Be familiar and evaluate information about current food certifications
  • Effectively communicate both issues and opportunities in sustainable agriculture and food systems to multiple audiences, including customers, local officials investors and banks

Q2    Emerging Innovation and Creativity in Food/Agriculture

Examine new and emerging models of innovative agricultural and food systems for both their failures as well as success in design and operation. Explore business design alternatives that shift the balance among the triple challenges of environmental quality, social equity and profit. (3 credits)

What you will learn:
  • Track the major agricultural alternatives being implemented around the globe
  • Understand and be able to evaluate chain of custody among emerging alternatives and how they relate to quality standards
  • Apply basic concepts, with the ability to make business design decisions, to achieve success while coping with the triple challenge of environmental, social and profit trade-offs

Scarcity Model

Q3    Sustainable Food/Agriculture: Reducing Concepts to Practice

Apply skills toward identifying new opportunities, and design new business models to start small businesses, grow medium sized businesses, and change large agribusiness to be both sustainable and competitive in the marketplace. Students will explore their own and/or team-specific project ideas. (3 credits)

What you will learn:
  • Be skilled in defending an “appropriate” scale for a chosen food system enterprise
  • Understand and prepare a set of pro forma financials demonstrating the value proposition of a agricultural and/or food system enterprise
  • Explain the nature of an integrated food system and how it would be financed
  • Effectively communicate and create opportunities among food system alternatives to multiple audiences

Q4    Action Learning Practicum

Apply the concepts and tools learned during the preceding quarters to further a real world project. In this practicum, students will identify a business, analyze the value proposition, make the business case, and successfully pitch the project to representatives from the industry. (3 credits)

What you will learn:
  • Apply sustainable food/agriculture systems knowledge to development and delivery a real or potential project
  • Design a new business model that creates value within a sustainable agricultural supply chain
  • Speak confidently and present information on a holistic approach to a food systems project
  • Make a presentation and case for a sustainable food/agriculture systems

Download the Program PDF

For more information, contact Kathleen Glazier at admissions@bgi.edu or 206.855.1215.