Our Courses

our courses

The Food Policy Leadership Institute equips the next generation of food policy leaders to understand the current landscape and then to shape it. The Institute is offered within the context of the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health. Participants include business, nonprofit and government professionals as well as graduate students from diverse backgrounds to maximize the program’s scope and reach. It targets emerging leaders from both rural and urban areas with demonstrated interest in food policy and a commitment to sustainable agriculture. By virtue of the makeup of the team and GW’s DC location, the Institute connects participants with top national food policy makers and influencers.

The Institute operates with four primary goals: To help the next generation of food policy leaders understand present day policy and how it came to be; to position them to impact policy by training them on the strategic elements of a policy and agenda-setting campaign; to allow them to apply their knowledge to real-world policy problems; and to help them gain access to a prominent and influential network of food and agriculture policy leaders, including strong mentoring relationships, that participants can draw on throughout their careers.

online learning

Our three online courses are rigorous and the workload is comparable to graduate classes offered on campus at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and at other competitive universities. Fellows should expect to spend 8-12 hours per week completing their class assignments.

Online courses provide scheduling flexibility and Fellows can decide when during the week they can best complete their work. Our online courses consist of pre-recorded lectures, videos, required readings, written assignments, and tests. Throughout the course, an online discussion forum is open in which students and faculty interact. Because the online forum is an important component of the course, students typically are given a two-week window to complete assignments. This ensures that students are learning at a similar pace and can contribute meaningfully to online discussion. Once a month, a live video call will be convened by Dr. Merrigan and other program faculty to discuss broad themes in the class and current policy events.

To participate online, Fellows need a computer and an internet connection. Fellows should have Adobe Reader so to be able to read pdf documents.  If Fellows reside in an area where a high-speed internet connection is unavailable or unreliable, please contact the Program Staff to discuss options.

Public Policy for Change Agents  This course gives Fellows the concrete skills they need to analyze, understand and effectively engage in the policymaking process. It is a critical foundation course for all Fellows, from those new to policy to seasoned veterans. Policy practitioner faculty will present competing theories, models, and analytical frameworks for policymaking and lead Fellows in a discussion of how public problems are framed and described, the criteria useful in developing and assessing policy choices, and how outcomes are mediated and influenced by individuals, organizations, and political institutions. We will use case studies to underscore lessons learned, with each class focusing on a timely food policy issue such as farm bill deliberations, Executive branch budget woes, food labeling reforms, or the potential regulation of gene editing. Fellows will be responsible for choosing a current bill before Congress to analyze over the semester from the perspective of a congressional aide, an agency implementer, and a non-governmental entity. Fellows will leave the class with the skills necessary to strategically engage with both the content of policy and the policymaking process itself.

Agricultural Science and Policy  This course provides an overview of issues critical to healthy agricultural, food and environmental systems and examines various policy approaches for implementing them. Over the course of two semesters, the class examines broad topics including soils, water, air, energy, and farm and rural economic development, and specific topics including plant-pest interaction, crop breeding, plant nutrients, livestock production, agroforestry and fisheries. Fellows will gain basic scientific background on each issue and connect that background to the policies that govern the topic. There is great excitement over soil carbon farming as a partial solution for climate change, for example.  What is the science behind this and how could policy help promote it? Raising backyard chickens is increasingly popular. Why are food safety regulators concerned about this trend and are their objections legitimate? Infrastructure gaps and a lack of available capital in some rural areas affect food and farm business economics (and community vitality overall). How can policy help address some of these challenges? Fellows will gain a basic comfort level with key scientific and economic concepts, terminology, and resources across major production areas and will develop a panoramic view of the current status and challenges in food production as well as alternative forms of production. Guided by faculty, Fellows will apply their understanding to current policy controversies and debates and develop a deeper understanding of the forces driving American agriculture.

American Agriculture in the Global Context  U.S. imports of fruits and vegetables continue to grow year after year.  At the same time, U.S. exports of commodity crops such as soybeans and corn continue to rise – about half of American farmland is used to grow crops for export. American agriculture both impacts and is impacted by the production and demands of other countries. In this class, we will discuss global food trends and the interconnected issues of food security and migration. 20 million people now face starvation in East Africa; President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement on climate change and is promising to renegotiate NAFTA; and China is making massive agricultural infrastructure investments across the globe. What does all this mean and how does it play out in U.S. food and agriculture policy? In this class, we will consider the global context in which American food producers operate. Fellows will also become familiar with the global institutions and governance mechanisms (e.g., Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Trade Organization) that influence these issues on the world stage.

classroom learning

The majority of the FPLI program takes place online in a flexible format that allows Fellows to learn at their own pace. There is no substitute for in-person learning, however. For two weeks at the end of the program, Fellows will join each other, FPLI faculty, and an outstanding array of guest speakers in the classroom in Washington, DC. Classes will be held at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Although FPLI faculty are themselves policy practitioners, this portion of the curriculum will expose Fellows to an even greater range of policy leaders. These intimate sessions will allow speakers to share the behind-the scenes stories of why things happened as they did.  Fellows will be challenged to demonstrate their mastery of the online course materials by engaging in high level discussion with policymakers and one another. Attention will also be given to basic communications skills critical to effective policy engagement. Fellows will learn how to be effective storytellers, master the art of an elevator pitch and practice these skills in front of a video camera.  Individual mentoring sessions will take place between Fellows and faculty, and Fellows will be connected with other leaders in their fields of interest for additional guidance and mentorship. Our time together won’t be all work. In the evenings and over the weekend, several excursions are planned to keep Fellows entertained and take advantage of all that Washington has to offer.

applied learning

Washington, DC is an ecosystem of policymaking. Lawmakers, researchers, issue-focused advocacy groups, communications strategists, lobbyists, data geeks, pundits, organizers, trade associations and visiting constituents each carry out their unique roles, interact with each other, and ultimately shape the policies that affect our lives. To understand the process by which food and agriculture policy ideas are developed, advanced and implemented, you must immerse yourself in that ecosystem. You may decide you don’t want to stay there forever, but the skills you gain from the experience will be invaluable, wherever you choose to apply them.

The Applied Learning portion of the FPLI curriculum will immerse fellows in the DC ecosystem as they explore specific topics of their choosing. During the preceding semesters, fellows will identify topics of interest and be grouped with others in their cohort with similar interests. Group project topics will be honed in close consultation with FPLI program faculty. These projects will focus on a specific, current real-world issue in food or agriculture policy. Once in DC, fellows will carry out the project in consultation with faculty and experts in the field. The project will culminate in a report that will be published on the FPLI website as part of a growing, publicly accessible library.

This project is a chance for fellows to take the knowledge that they have accumulated during the year and apply it to a present-day policy issue. The final report will be a tangible work product that demonstrates fellows’ capacity to analyze an issue, propose a solution and lay out strategies for advancing that proposal. FPLI faculty will help the fellows connect with lawmakers, researchers or other players in the DC ecosystem who can advise the projects and who will benefit from the fellows’ end work product. Who knows – you may see your idea in the next Farm Bill!

Farm/Ranch/Processing Learning

A key component of the FPLI curriculum will be real-world exposure to agricultural production and food processing in the United States. The goal of the Farm Practicum component of the FPLI curriculum is to supplement online and classroom learning with exposure to farmers, ranchers and supply chain businesses that are the focus of, or are otherwise directly impacted by, food and agriculture policies and programs. Through site visits, FPLI fellows will have a chance to ask questions, learn about barriers and opportunities, and put their classroom work in context while learning about the diverse range of farm and food businesses at work in the U.S.

The Farm Practicum curriculum will include two elements:

Individual visits Program fellows will be required to organize two farm or food business site visits per semester, for a total of four site visits total, to farms or food production facilities. The length of time for each visit will be determined in consultation with the host, but fellows are not expected to spend more than one day maximum at each site. Site visits will be organized through discussion between the fellow and FPLI faculty member Mark Lipson to ensure that each fellow sees a variety of production systems, crops, and/or supply chain players. Over the course of two semesters, participants will be encouraged to visit one processing facility/manufacturer, one operation that raises or handles livestock, and one non-land based operation (aquaculture, vertical, greenhouse, etc.) in addition to other visits they may select. For example, one fellow could plan visits to a large row crop farm, an urban indoor farming operation, a small meat processor and a cut-and-freeze operation supplying produce to local schools. The range of operations will be tailored to the region where the fellow is located, accessibility of sites, and the season. In consultation with FPLI faculty, fellows will develop questions that build on their classroom learning and highlight how specific policy issues or programs play out on the ground. They will write up a short observation document following each visit.

Group farm tour For the final week of the FPLI program, fellows will depart from Washington, DC for group tours of farm and food businesses in the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) region. The range of operations at work in the region will allow fellows to gain a deeper understanding of the diverse production systems, markets, challenges and opportunities associated with food and farming in the United States. From large-scale poultry operations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and bison (yes, bison) operations in Delaware to regional food hub aggregation facilities in the DC suburbs, small-scale cattle cooperatives in the Shenandoah Mountains, high-tech indoor growing facilities in urban neighborhoods, and produce auctions in southern Virginia, fellows will see farm and food production in all its many forms. They will also meet with the organizations, local policymakers and community leaders at work to make the region’s food systems more sustainable. The group tour will be organized and guided by FPLI faculty in conjunction with other regional leaders and experts. Ample time will be made available for discussion and for relationship-building between fellows, with the goal of strengthening the cohort’s network for the long term.