Christopher Comer, Dean
Professor of Environmental Studies
- ENST 225 – Community and Environment
- ENST 480 – Food, Agriculture, and the Environment
- ENST 519 – Foundations of Change
- ENST 520 – Environmental Organizing
- ENST 555 – Research Methods for Social Change
- ENST 580 – The Politics of Food
- EVST 594 – Assessing the Montana Food System
In 2000, I joined the UM Environmental Studies Program in large part because of its long-held commitment to engaged, interdisciplinary scholarship and to civic participation in environmental affairs. I brought with me a professional and academic background that reflects my fundamental interest in the theory and practice of social change with respect to solving our urgent environmental and social problems. All of my degrees are in Environmental Studies (St. Lawrence University, BA, 1985; University of Oregon, MS, 1989; University of Wisconsin-Madison, PhD, 1997). I have also gained experiential education and professional training through my work in the non-profit sector (as an organizer, lobbyist, and volunteer), as well as my service in the public sector.
Much of my research, teaching, and civic engagement revolve around food and agriculture, which are central to all of our lives and to the health of the planet. I am also interested in land use planning, organizational development, environmental policy, and gender studies. In addition, I facilitate students’ learning of relevant professional and civic skills, and I teach qualitative and participatory methods of social research.
My scholarship includes the book, Changing the Way America Farms: Knowledge and Community in the Sustainable Agriculture Movement (University of Nebraska Press, 1999). That book traces how alternative farmers in two organizations, the Ocooch Grazers Network and the Wisconsin Women's Sustainable Farming Network, have exchanged their own personal, local knowledge as a basis for moving toward an agricultural system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just agriculture.
My more recent scholarship focuses on the concept on "food democracy," the idea that people can and should actively participate in shaping the food system, rather than remain passive consumers on the sidelines. Food democracy is about citizens, not multinational corporations, having the power to determine agri-food policies and practices locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. In addition, my work has explored specific policy issues regarding topics such as food safety, pesticides, water pollution, the national organic program, and agricultural biotechnology.
Within the Environmental Studies Program, I coordinate our emphasis on sustainable food and farming with Josh Slotnick. We and our students have contributed to a variety of regional food and agricultural initiatives through research, internships, and projects. These provide excellent opportunities for students to learn-by-doing and be involved in community-based action research, as well as supporting the efforts of our partners. Faculty are able to connect students with these opportunities because we are actively engaged in the community.
For instance, I co-facilitated a Community Food Assessment for Missoula County (2002-2004). This comprehensive study of our local food system was guided by a 15 member, multi-stakeholder committee from the community; over 50 students were involved in the research process. In the wake of the assessment, I co-founded the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition of Missoula County in 2005, and served on the board for five years. Also in 2005, I was a founding partner of Grow Montana, a statewide policy coalition, and served on the steering committee for three years.
Environmental Studies’ students and I have also been involved in the nationally-recognized Farm to College Program in UM Dining since its inception in 2003. In 2006, ten graduate students and I completed a study of the economic, social, and transportation-related impacts of Farm to College. Done in partnership with Grow Montana, the summary is available at: Tracing the Chain.
Most recently, through a graduate course offered through the UM Environmental Studies Program during Fall 2012, sixteen students and I carried out a multi-dimensional case study of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative. Students presented their findings to the Co-op's Board and to key partners; they also produced a report, available at Local Is Delicious, but It’s Not Always Easy.
I have been active in the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, an international and interdisciplinary association of scholars and practitioners. I served as the President of AFHVS (2010-2011) and co-led the annual meeting in Missoula in 2011.
I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund, and the Missoula Chapter of MCV. I also serve on the Missoula City-County Consolidated Planning Board (appointed by Mayor Engen, January 2016). I am also a member of the UM Sustainable Campus Committee (2016-2018).
Learn more about some of my service and involvement in the community through these links:
Ph.D.,1997, Land Resources, Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin - Madison
M.S.,1989, Environmental Studies Program, University of Oregon
B.A., 1985 Environmental Studies and Government, St. Lawrence University
TEDxUMontana: "Cultivating Food Democracy" with Mark LoParco (2013)
Field of Study
Environmental Studies; Agri-food Studies; Rural and Agricultural Sociology; Community and Land Use Planning;
Hassanein, Neva, Laura Ginsburg, Kimberly Gilchrist, Caroline Stephens, and Eva Rocke, editors. 2013. Local Is Delicious, But It’s Not Always Easy: A Case Study of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative. University of Montana, Environmental Studies: Missoula.
Hubbard, Kristina and Neva Hassanein. 2013. Confronting coexistence in the United States: Organic agriculture, genetic engineering, and the case of Roundup Ready® alfalfa. Agriculture and Human Values 30(3): 325-336. DOI 10.1007/s10460-012-9394-6
Hassanein, Neva. 2011. Matters of scale and the politics of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Presidential Address, presented at the 2011 Annual meeting of the Agriculture Food, and Human Values Society, held at the University of Montana, June 2011. Agriculture and Human Values 28:577-581.
Hubbard, Paul and Neva Hassanein. 2010. Losing Ground: The Future of Farms and Food in Missoula County. Missoula, MT: Community Food and Agriculture Coalition.
Hassanein, Neva. 2008. Locating food democracy: Theoretical and practical ingredients. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition 3(2-3): 286-308.
Kloppenburg, Jack and Neva Hassanein. 2006. From old school to reform school? Agriculture and Human Values 23(4): 417-421.
Hassanein, Neva. 2003. Practicing food democracy: A pragmatic politics of transformation. Journal of Rural Studies 19(1):77-86.
Hassanein, Neva. 2000. Democratizing agricultural knowledge through sustainable farming networks. Chap. 3 in Science, Technology, and Democracy. Edited by Daniel Lee Kleinman. Albany: SUNY Press.
Hassanein, Neva. 1999. Changing the Way America Farms: Knowledge and Community in the Sustainable Agriculture Movement. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Hassanein, Neva. 1997. Networking knowledge in the sustainable agriculture movement: Some implications of the gender dimension. Society and Natural Resources 10(2):251-257.
Hassanein, Neva, and Jack Kloppenburg, Jr. 1995. Where the grass grows again: Knowledge exchange in the sustainable agriculture movement. Rural Sociology 60(4):721-740.
- Don Aldrich Award for longtime contributions to the conservation of natural resources & environmental protection, Missoula Conservation Roundtable (2015)
- Distinguished Alumni Award, Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin--Madison (2015)
- Residency, Playa, Summer Lake, Oregon (2015)
- Artsmith Scholar of the Year (2013)
- Sustainable Agriculture Education Award, Alternative Energy Resources Organization, Montana (2005)
- Helen and Winthrop Cox Award for Excellence in Teaching, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Montana (2005)
- Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Award for Campus-Community Partnerships to Environmental Studies' Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society (PEAS) and Garden City Harvest, with Josh Slotnick (2004)
Facilitation and Training Approaches for Community Change, Certificate, Coady International Institute, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS, Canada, October 13-31, 2014.
Community-Driven Health Impact Assessment, Coady International Institute, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS, Canada, November 3-11, 2014.
Social Change and Participatory Research. Fielding Graduate Institute workshop at the Highlander Research and Education Center, New Market, TN, August 21-25, 2002.
Environmental Leadership Institute. The League of Conservation Voters, July 16-20, 2001.
Negotiate to Win. Cooper Management Institute. Two-day training, 2000.
Running Electoral Campaigns. Community Strategic Training Initiative, Western States Center, Portland, OR. Two-day training, 1997.
Focus Group Interviewing. Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison. Two-day training, 1994.
Organizing for Social Change in the 1990s. Si Kahn of Grassroots Leadership, Madison, WI. One-day training,1994.
Principles of Community Organizing. Western Organization of Resource Councils, Billings, MT, Five-day training, 1990.
Environmental Studies Program
Area of Expertise
Agri-food Studies; Community and Land Use Planning; Environmental Studies; Rural and Agricultural Sociology
Each of us impacts the world every day. What will that impact be? How can we individually and collectively build a more sustainable, resilient, and just world? These questions drive me. I aim to learn answers from interdisciplinary theory and research, and from civic engagement, community practice, and meaningful reflection. In turn, I hope to inspire experiential, participatory, relevant, and self-directed learning. Much of my work revolves around food and agriculture, which are central to all of our lives and to the health of the planet. My students and I have contributed to a variety of regional food and agricultural initiatives through research, internships, and projects. I have written on sustainable agriculture, food democracy, policy, and community-based food systems. I am interested in land use planning, organizational development, environmental policy, and gender studies.
Food Energy Water Focus
Agri-food systems, rural and environmental sociology
UM Bridges Department
UM Environmental Studies
I have worked both professionally and as a volunteer for non-profit organizations and with local government. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Montana Conservation Voters (MCV) Education Fund and on the Board of the Missoula Chapter of MCV. I also serve on the Missoula City - County Consolidated Planning Board, and recently completed service as a member of the Steering Committee for the Our Missoula Growth Policy (2015). I am a long-time member of the Land Use and Viability Committee of the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, a food policy group that I co-founded in 2005. I served as President of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (2010-11). From 1997-2000, I coordinated a broad-based effort to pass a landmark law securing the public's right to know about pesticide use in Oregon for the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. I was a community organizer and a lobbyist for the Northern Plains Resource Council (1989-1991).
In my free time, I enjoy gardening, sharing food with friends, hunting wild mushrooms, raising urban chickens and bees, and exploring the natural world on x-country skis, foot, and canoe.