IFSTAL Summer School: building a food systems community

The Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning (IFSTAL) programme, recently held its second summer school, a week-long fully-funded residential event for postgraduate students who have engaged with the programme in the preceding year.

The summer school marks the culmination of the second year of the IFSTAL programme. It is designed to build on the year’s online and face-to-face activities of workshops, Away days and online engagement on the IFSTAL Portal.

27 students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, institutions and nations (but sharing a common interest on the ‘food system’) gathered together at the University of Warwick to take part in a programme of activities which included highly interactive sessions on topics such as systems thinking, communications and writing policy briefings.

Further to the class-room sessions, the students were assigned to workplace project teams and over the course of the week they produced a short report on a real-world question/topic set by workplace partners (Good Food Oxford, William Jackson Food Group, Food Ethics Council, Defra and Oxfam), which they then presented to the rest of the group on the final day.

The students also had multiple opportunities to interact with workplace practitioners from a variety sectors, and hear about their career histories and activities. There was also time for field trips to an organic farm, a food bank, a salad farm and a supermarket distribution centre.

In a packed, intense and exhilarating week, there was plenty of time for reflection and feedback (indeed there was even a session on giving and receiving feedback). The students clearly valued the blend of theory and practice, with multiple opportunities for active participation. At the end of the week, all participants left feeling exhausted yet inspired, and certainly better equipped to bring about positive change in the food system when they enter the workplace.

Anonymous quotes from the students:

“Thank you so much – staff have been so approachable and helpful, and I’ve really had an amazing week. I do feel inspired!”

“It was really inspiring to be in a group of people so knowledgeable and interested. I’ve learnt so much just by talking to people. Also hearing other people’s reflections – it’s not something I’ve done before, but I’ve realised the value it has.”

“Writing the report was a very challenging and hugely useful experience for the real world out there!”

“THANK YOU for all your work and mentorship! <3 Yay IFSTAL.”

“Basically, I felt alive.”

More on the 2017 IFSTAL Summer School:



  • IFSTAL is a HEFCE-funded, interactive programme designed to improve postgraduate level knowledge and understanding of the food system. It is free, voluntary and open to all postgraduate students enrolled on any course across the partner institutions (undergraduate students are also welcome to participate on request).
  • The IFSTAL programme provides added value to postgraduate training across the five partner institutions (University of Oxford, City University London, University of Reading, University of Warwick and the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH, comprising researchers from the Royal Veterinary College, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and SOAS).
  • IFSTAL has engaged over 750 students across the five HEIs in its first two years. We have strong connections with the practitioners working in a range of sectors including food retail, production, logistics, research, NGOs etc.
  • Students who engage with IFSTAL enter the workforce better equipped to tackle food system challenges; we are developing a “Food Systems Community”.
  • Find out more at www.ifstal.ac.uk.

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