Big Sandy, Montana: Built on Sand or Food? (Module 2)


This teaching manual describes the second part of a two-module junior (Module 1) to senior (Module 2) standing case study, where each module can be imparted in a different (semester-long) course of interdisciplinary majors such as Food Systems or Agroecology. While the first module is designed for research method courses, Module 2 can be applied to courses with an emphasis on systems thinking and collective action. The case study deals with Big Sandy, a small rural town in Montana. Although most inhabitants of Big Sandy are dedicated to small grain farming, 40% of them lack access to affordable food. While the first module emphasizes prospects for young people in this community, the second module deals with the food environment in Big Sandy, which widely lacks offers of diverse fresh and local food. The case aims to increase the students’ awareness of the challenges of rural communities in an era of industrialized agriculture and relates the situation in Big Sandy with challenges all over the rural Northern Great Plains. At the end of Module 2, students should be able to identify the socio-environmental factors that impact a rural food system and how human actors (and their power relationships) interact at different scales with each other and their environment. Thereby, the case study strengthens systems and critical thinking skills within students. It uses pedagogical tools such as concept maps and role play. Students will produce a problem-solution tree as a final gradable product. Depending on the total number of students, the module can be implemented in three to five 60-minutes classes. Additional field research suited to the case study is recommended.

Roland Ebel
Alexandra Thornton
Course/Class Size
Course SFBS 466 ("Food System Resilience"), Major in Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems, Montana State University