Sustainable Agriculture, Food, and Justice in Italy





Unpack the Slow Food movement’s motto of “good, clean, and fair” in its Italian birthplace. Explore how the business of food affects the health and wealth of farmers, workers, families, and communities.

Program Structure
Across the semester, classroom seminars provide context for field speakers and visits to innovative agricultural initiatives, and for structured exploration of the multiple functions of the Sonnino farm. Instruction in Italian each week builds functional ability. Internships begin the seventh week of the program, with 15-20 hours per week at the internship.

Topics & Themes
Sustainability, organic farming, biodynamic farming, and permaculture; slow food and other food movements, Italian and European agriculture and food policy and business practice; economics and social effects of food production.

Good to Know

Students live in apartments on the grounds of the Castello Sonnino estate. Each apartment has a fully furnished kitchen. Orientation to food shopping in Montespertoli and cooking instruction help students make the most of food stipends they receive.

Italian Language
Italian language fluency is not necessary. All students are enrolled in an Italian language course upon arrival, and all levels of proficiency can be accommodated.

Partner Institution
The program is offered in partnership with Università per Stranieri di Siena, which sponsors students’ visa applications, hosts the program for a field experience, staffs the Italian language instruction, and collaborates on curriculum.

Explore Castello Sonnino’s web site here to see the housing and the farm.
castello sonnino


Documentation & Syllabus Examples:
HECUA Sustainable Agriculture, Food, and Justice in Italy 2017 syllabus.

This program is conducted with the support of institutional partner Università per Stranieri di Siena.

Courses & credits

Agriculture and Sustainability in Tuscany (4 credits)
The aim of this course is to provide students with tools to analyze—in an integrated manner—the transition towards a sustainable agriculture. Sustainability is treated as an ongoing process, not a target, selected theoretical tools illuminate mechanisms that may hinder or foster the transition. Each tool is tested and used to analyze different issues and case studies within the agricultural system. Italy is a leading country in the process of transition towards a sustainable agriculture, and many different ongoing processes and issues are presented in the class.
Students discuss sustainability; the historical roots of regional diversification; organic farming, biodynamic farming, and permaculture in Tuscany; the effects of practices and policies on farmers, workers, and communities; Slow Food and other food movements.

Economics of Sustainable Food Production in Contemporary Europe (4 credits)
This course addresses the economics of sustainable food production in rural areas. The overall objective is to allow students to achieve a comprehensive overview of sustainable development theories and concepts related to the agricultural sector and of the economic instruments and tools used to move towards sustainability. A major focus of inquiry and critique is the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy. Many economists are now using “true cost accounting” to examine the costs of global food systems. Many international organizations are seeking to calculate the benefits that the natural world, whether in cultivation or not, provides. New methods of measuring “ecosystem services” like pollination, carbon storage, and water purification have brought renewed appreciation for smaller-scale farming and land use. Students learn how these economic instruments and tools can be used in rural areas to achieve rural development that delivers economic, social, and environmental benefits. This course is interdisciplinary, integrating economics, political economy, ecology, sociology, and the history of environmental economic thought. A background in economics is not expected or required. The interdisciplinary character allows students to understand and analyze theories of agricultural food production and rural development. The course includes associated field experiences that offer concrete examples of how theories and concepts are implemented through the EU Common Agricultural Policy in Tuscany.

Italian Language & Sustainable Italy Internship (4 credits)
Italian Language
Each week, Italian language instruction in context aims to help break down barriers to students’ participation in and understanding of Tuscan culture. Elena Monami leads weekly sessions both within and outside the classroom, at the Castello Sonnino, and in Montespertoli, Siena, and Florence.

Sustainable Italy Internship
The internship is a practical, hands-on way for students to develop skills and acquire insights into how different facets of society in Tuscany are working towards sustainability. Students work 125-150 hours during the internship. Students reflect on their experiences in weekly seminar sessions, which facilitate deepened self-awareness and a critical understanding of the internship site. Reflection journals aid discussions at seminars, and students give a final presentation on their internship site’s role in sustainability.

Independent Study Project (4 credits)
The Independent Study Project (ISP) allows students to tailor the program to individual learning and career objectives. Students can pursue a research question about a particular issue relevant to the program using academic resources accessible through home campuses’ online library systems, as well as other print and human resources in Sonnino, Montespertoli, or Florence. The Program Director must approve the topic. Because the ISP corresponds to a full course credit, assignments in structured stages build progress and depth over the course of the semester. For more information on the process of the Independent Study Project, please refer to the syllabus, below.

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Below are details of a few recently completed internships. Note that internship sites can change semester to semester in response to the needs of local organizations, and when possible, in response to the specific interests of students in the program.

Tenuta Barbadoro
A family run farm in Montespertoli that produces wine and olive oil. The HECUA student helps with production: cleaning the wine fermentation tanks, picking up olives, pruning grape vines. They learn about the olive oil and winemaking processes.

Castello Sonnino–Wine Production
This is the wine production operation on the Castello Sonnino grounds. HECUA students with experience in chemistry have been able to directly assist in the wine process, checking the alcohol and sugar levels. Other students have seized the opportunity to have a hands-on experience – crushing grapes, removing the must, cleaning the tanks, and transferring wine.

Senza Spreco
The name of this NGO translates to “without waste.” They are a start-up business in Florence that focuses on reducing food waste. The organization works with everyone from farmers, to businesses, to schools. The HECUA students at this site have written blog posts, attended an expo, and have worked to develop partnerships with farmers in the area.

The program is based in the olive and grape-growing region of Tuscany, and students live and study on a working farm with active cultivation and processing of olives and grapes, and land in farro (spelt, an ancient wheat). There are also chickens and bees on the farm. A five minute walk to the town of Montespertoli gives access to a farmers’ market, which is both a field study site and the site of several internships. Field trips also include visits to other farms in the area, to cheese producers, farmers’ markets, an ice cream producer in Florence, agricultural coops, food processing plants, and grassroots organizations.


Receive Credits That Count
HECUA’s programs provide upper-level credits (junior- and senior-level credits). All students from HECUA member institutions receive at the very least “blanket credit,” credits toward graduation, for their participation in programs approved by their home institution. Most students report to HECUA that they obtain significant major and minor credits for participating in HECUA programs. As is true for most off-campus study programs, students should work directly with their home institution to receive credit toward a major, or toward a specific graduation requirement. HECUA programs often fulfill general education requirements, liberal education requirements, or distribution requirements. Students and advisors can refer to the “topics and themes” section of each program page for a quick overview of what topics the program will explore.

Experienced HECUA staff are available to assist students in negotiating meaningful credit transfer.

Here To Help
To help students negotiate credits with advisers and registrars on campus, HECUA has compiled information on how recent participants in each program have received major credit from their home institutions. Contact program representatives Kari Pederson Behrends or Lauren White for your program of interest for more information.

HECUA’s Director of Programs, Sarah Pradt, is also available for more detailed information on credit transfer and for personalized assistance with students’ individual situations.

Semester offered:  Fall 2017
Program Categories: Abroad
Program Location: Castello Sonnino, Montespertoli, Tuscany, Italy
Program Start/End Dates: 4 September, 2017 to 15 December, 2017