Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute (VFSLI)

harvesting beans at GMU garden
harvesting beans at GMU garden

The Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute (VFSLI) fosters rising leaders in the area of sustainable food systems by combining content knowledge in food systems, competency development in leadership, and direct experience helping re-localize Virginia’s food systems. VFSLI is for graduate students, advanced undergraduate students, food system practitioners and others seeking professional development opportunities. Offering a potent mix of theoretical training, practical skills, and hands-on experience, VFSLI will facilitate your career advancement in both new and established sectors of our local and regional food systems in Virginia and sustainable food systems everywhere.


Join us at VFSLI in June 2018 to:

  •  support local and sustainable food systems development

  •  build your food systems knowledge, skills, network, and research portfolio

  •  launch your career

VFSLI’s interdisciplinary program integrates experienced faculty from four Virginia public universities: George Mason, James Madison, University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech. VFSLI is a hallmark project of the Virginia Sustainable Food Coalition (VSFC), whose mission is to harness the intellectual, human, and economic capital of colleges and universities to foster Virginia’s emerging local food economy.


2018 VFSLI Schedule

Part One: June 3-15, 2018:  Coursework at Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC), Front Royal, Virginia

VFSLI participants take part in two weeks of intensive food systems and leadership development work in residence at the beautiful Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation campus in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  University faculty and professionals from food systems stakeholder organizations lead the classroom work and integrated field trips to farms, food hubs, professional kitchens, and other food systems sites. This program uses Virginia and its universities as a case study for understanding historical and present-day food systems and approaches to their re-localization. Participants also work with core faculty and practitioner mentors to develop collaborative action research projects focused on expanding sourcing of Virginia-grown foods for university dining halls. Leadership training modules focus on personal growth, self- and system-awareness, and group interaction skills necessary for career advancement in the new infrastructures of local and regional food systems.

Greenhouse growing

Part Two: June 18-28, 2018: Action Research Projects

Teams carry out collaborative action research projects, using a distance learning platform, and guided by faculty mentors. (Participants collaborate online and need a reliable high-speed Internet connection.) Projects focus on increasing Virginia university sourcing of local and sustainably-produced foods. Project teams use this time to do research, collaborate on solutions, put together a proposal and recommendations, and prepare a presentation for VFSLI instructors and relevant stakeholders.

Part Three: June 29, 2018: Plenary Symposium

The full VFSLI faculty and class cohort reconvenes. (Participants choose to attend in person or via videoconference.) Each action research team shares its project results, then the full cohort works together to critically evaluate outcomes and strategize about next steps towards implementation


VFSLI: 2 weeks of intensive coursework, 2-week action research project, 1-day symposium . . . and a lifetime professional network!


Application Procedure

Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute is offered through George Mason University's School of Integrative Studies as

  • an undergraduate course (INTS 475 for 4 undergraduate credits) from George Mason University
  • a graduate course (INTS 575 for 4 graduate credits or NUTR 626 for 3 graduate credits) from George Mason University
  • a non-credit professional training course

Individuals not enrolled in a university are eligible to enroll to audit (participating fully in all segments and activities of the course) or enroll for credit in this program.

Apply Now! Official apply-by date is April 9, 2018. Applications submitted after April 9 will be accepted on a space-available basis.

Interested individuals should complete the Field Studies Application and send it as an email attachment to If you are a matriculated student at one of our four VFSLI partner universities, please also inform your university’s core faculty member by email at the time you submit your course application; also, please contact that individual at any time for specific information about transfer of VFSLI course credits. This course has no prerequisites, but all course applicants must complete and submit the application form. 

VFSLI Faculty Team

University Core Faculty:

Michael Broderick, Assistant Professor, Communications Studies, James Madison University:

Wayne Teel, Professor, Integrated Science & Technology, James Madison University:

Tanya Denckla Cobb, Director, Institute for Environmental Negotiation, University of Virginia:

Mike Ellerbrock, Professor, Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech:

Kerri LaCharite, Assistant Professor, Nutrition and Food Studies, George Mason University:

Coordinating Faculty

Kate Christen, Senior Manager, Smithsonian Conservation Commons:

Andrew Wingfield, Director, Environmental and Sustainability Studies, George Mason University:


Course costs

Payment Deadline: April 23, 2018. 

Note that your acceptance to the course does not guarantee you a seat in the course. Seats are allocated as deposit payment is received, and early registration is strongly encouraged to ensure your space in the course. Deposit payment is $750.00 received as personal check (payable to "George Mason University") paid directly to the Field Studies office at:

          Field Studies                                                                                                                        4400 University Dr MS 5D3                                                                                                         Fairfax VA 22030-4444

The total costs for this course are: $2,740.00

working group

This cost is the same for in state and out of state students and for professional trainees. It includes a two-week Housing and Dining Package at SMSC (valued at $825.50) and also covers:

  • Tuition for 4 credits through George Mason University (undergraduate or graduate)
  • Instruction, course manual, and other course materials
  • Transportation for course activities
  • Daily full-service buffet at the SMSC Dining Commons starting with dinner on Sunday, June 3, and ending with lunch on Friday, June 15
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including a shared room with bathroom (single rooms may be available at extra cost). Lodging provided Sunday June 3-Friday June 15