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Horticulture and Natural Resources

Urban Food Systems

M.S. in Horticulture with an emphasis in Urban Food Systems

Urban Food Systems is a specialization under the Master of Science in Horticulture and Natural Resources program.

The aim of this program is to study the potential an urban food system has in community building and economic development, educating youth and others about nutrition and wise food choices, and providing a source for nutritious food grown locally or regionally with the participation of urban residents. The specialization places an emphasis on sustainable agriculture, project management, and grant writing, in addition to having a solid foundation in urban food production.

This specialization will prepare professionals for positions such as director/program managers in not-for-profit organizations, city governments or extension programs in urban districts facilitating community gardens, urban farming, farmers markets, or farm-to-school programs. There is a growing demand for professionals in this area and this unique specialization will prepare graduates well for careers in this area.

All requirements of our M.S. program in horticulture will be met by students completing the specialization except where differences are noted in the sections below.

How to Apply

1. Check your qualifications for the program:

  • Background courses, at least one course in each of the following: biology or basic plant science and soil science. See Frequently Asked Questions if you haven’t completed all these courses.
  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree.
  • GPA of 3.0 or better on a 4.0 scale, based on the courses taken during the last two academic years. See Frequently Asked Questions if your GPA isn’t at least a 3.0.
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores for students whose native language is not English. Acceptable TOEFL score is 600 (paper-based test), 250 (computer-based) or 100 (IBT-internet-based test). Scores between 550/213/79 and 599/249/99 may be admitted provisionally and must at the time of their enrollment demonstrate proficiency in reading and writing English and in understanding spoken American English to the satisfaction of the Graduate School. If you are interested in a teaching assistantship you will need to achieve a score of 22 or higher on the speak section of the iBT or 50 on the paper-based test (TSE).

    * Note: The Horticulture and Natural Resources department will ONLY accept the TOEFL for students whose native language is not English. The IELTS, PTE, and completion of the English Language Program here at Kansas State University will not be accepted.

2. Check your qualifications for K-State Graduate School admission.

Online application instructions and forms are available at:


All application materials are submitted online. Applying early increases the probability of being considered for an assistantship. Persons with questions about the application process can contact the Graduate Program Director at bremer@ksu.edu or they can write to us at: Director, Horticulture Graduate Program Department of Horticulture, Forestry & Recreation Resources 2021 Throckmorton Plant Sciences Center Kansas State University Manhattan, Kansas 66506-5506 or call 1-785-532-1429

Application materials include:

  • Admission Application for Graduate School online.
  • Statement of Purpose (1-2 pages) describing your interest in urban food systems, your interest in conducting applied research, and working under real-world circumstances. Please make it clear in your cover letter and statement of purpose that you are applying to the Urban Food Systems specialization. The Statement of Purpose is an important component of your application.
  • Three letters of recommendation from former/current professors, employers, or other professionals in a position to evaluate your potential for graduate study.
  • Transcripts for all college course work. Students whose transcripts are not in English must furnish an English translation by an appropriate authority.
  • International Students:


Students in the Urban Food Systems program start each fall, spring, and summer semester.  Please refer to the Graduate School for deadlines.

The Urban Food Systems Admissions Committee will make every effort to review all completed applications within one month of completion. Only completed applications will be reviewed. The Committee will indicate deficiencies (if any), and identify potential major advisors. Before an applicant is accepted, a faculty member must agree to serve as the major advisor/professor for the applicant. The admissions recommendation of the Admissions Committee (full standing, provisional, probationary) with the name of the major professor is forwarded to the Graduate School. The Graduate School will verify that the applicant meets all the entrance requirements of the Graduate School and mail the applicant the letter of acceptance.

Contact information:
Director, Horticulture Graduate Program
Kansas State University
Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources
1712 Claflin Road- 2021 TH
Manhattan, KS 66506-5506

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon completing the M.S. program students will be able to demonstrate their

  • knowledge and competence in specific areas, issues, and problems in Urban Agriculture, Urban Food Systems, or related areas
  • knowledge in allied and relevant areas of Urban Agriculture to foster creativity and problem-solving skills
  • ability for critical and independent thinking in analyzing information and identifying valid scientific problems
  • ability to plan, design and develop strategies to solve problems using sound scientific methodologies
  • ability to conduct scientific investigation to solve problems and accomplish the set objectives (Thesis Option)
  • ability to effectively communicate in various formats and settings
  • awareness of ethical and professional conduct and responsibility to profession and community

Upon completing the Urban Food Systems specialization students will

  • Have proficiency and competency in urban food crop production
  • Understand the urban environment and its cultural, political, environmental, and economic roles in urban food systems
  • Have grant writing, fundraising, and non-profit management knowledge and skills
  • Have community organizing and/or business development skills

The educational objectives for the specialization will be achieved through program content that will include:

  • Foundational content: prerequisite coursework in biology or basic plant science and soil science
  • Basic dimensions of urban food systems: global, national, regional, and local food systems (HORT 791/794/898/899, electives)
  • Context of community work: not-for-profit; community development; grant writing and fundraising (HORT 792/898/899; electives)
  • Management of urban food systems activities: understand how the various urban settings and policies affect urban food systems (HORT 792/794/898/899)
  • Research: the importance of research, scholarly activities, and the continued development of a body of knowledge relevant to the profession (HORT 951, Research Methods)

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Program of Study

The program of study will be developed initially through consultation between the major professor and the student. Courses to be taken should fit into a unified plan aimed at providing the student with a comprehensive background in the chosen area of interest within urban food systems. Initiative in program design by the student is encouraged. The program should be presented at the initial meeting with the Advisory Committee. The program of study form is available from the Graduate School.

Urban Food Specialization course requirements are as follows:

  • HORT 791 Urban Agriculture
  • HORT 792 Urban Food Production Practicum
  • HORT 794 Urban Food Systems
  • HORT 796 Professional Development in Urban Food Systems - this course must be taken each semester, but only for 1 credit for at least 1 semester.
  • Specialization Elective, must choose at least 3 credit hours from the following:
    • HORT 725 Postharvest Technology and Physiology of Horticultural Crops
    • HORT 790 Sustainable Agriculture
    • HORT 793 Farm to Fork Produce Safety
    • HORT 795 Urban Agriculture Study tours

Thesis Option course and research credit requirements are as follows:

  • At least 30 credit hours beyond a B.S. degree
  • 2 credit hours of Horticulture Graduate Seminar (HORT 951)
  • At least 3 credit hours of Research Methods and/or Scientific Writing
  • At least 3 credit hours of 700 level or above Statistic courses
  • At least 6 credit hours of Thesis Research (HORT 899)
  • 8 credit hours of additional courses to be determined with Advisory Committee

Report (non-thesis) Option course and research credit requirements are as follows:

  • At least 30 credit hours beyond a B.S. degree
  • 2 credit hours of Horticulture Graduate Seminar (HORT 951)
  • At least 3 credit hours of Research Methods and/or Scientific Writing
  • At least 3 credit hours of 700 level or above Statistic courses
  • At least 2 credit hours of Master's Report (HORT 898)
  • 12 credit hours of additional courses to be determined with Advisory Committee

Professional (non-thesis) Option course and research credit requirements are as follows:

  • At least 36 credit hours beyond a B.S. degree
  • 2 credit hours of Horticulture Graduate Seminar (HORT 951)
  • At least 3 credit hours of Professional or Scientific Writing
  • At least 3 credit ours of 700 level or above Statistic courses
  • At least 2 credit hours of Master’s Report (HORT 898)
  • 17 credit hours of additional courses to be determined with Advisory Committee

Additional courses to be determined with Advisory Committee:

  • Examples of courses are:
    • AGRON 605 Soil & Environmental Chemistry
    • AGRON 615 Soil Problems
    • AGRON 635 Soil Conservation and Management
    • CDPLN 631 Leadership for Change
    • CDPLN 621 Sustainable Communities
    • CDPLN 630 Governance and the Community Development Process
    • CDPLN 632 Nonprofit Management
    • CDPLN 705 Organizing for Community Change
    • FDSCI 751 Food Laws and the Regulatory Process
    • GEOG 730 World Agricultural Systems
    • POLSC 650 Not-For-Profit Management
    • SOCIO 831 Sociology of Agriculture and Food
    • SOCIO 835 Environment and Society
    • SOCIO 850 Social Change
    • SOCIO 953 Political Sociology of Advanced Societies
    • SOCIO 830 Social Demography
    • SOCIO 951 Sociology of Global Social Change

Courses at the 700 level or above are designated as Masters’ level work, and should comprise a major portion of the program of study. Courses at the 600 level may be included, but the use of 500 level courses is restricted, as these are expected to have been completed as undergraduate prerequisites to graduate study or as undergraduate deficiency courses assigned upon admission. The use of 500 level supporting courses is limited as follows: 1) no course in the student’s major area may be included and 2) no more than 6 credits or 20% of the program of study may be at the 500 level. No more than 3 credits in problems or other individualized courses may be included in the program of study.

Upon approval by the major professor and advisory committee, the student will submit his/her program of study to the Graduate School. The program of study must be approved and submitted to the Graduate School prior to the end of the student’s second semester (excluding summer semester). All changes in the program of study must be approved by the advisory committee, Department Head, and Graduate School.

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Students are required to complete a practicum at an urban farm and document competency or experiences. For more information see the Practicum Manual and Practicum Appendix.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Urban Food System?

A food system is defined as a chain of activities connecting food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management, as well as all the associated regulatory institutions and activities1. In our program we ask what is the potential for an urban food system to play a role in community building and economic development, educate youth and others about nutrition and wise food choices, and provide a source for nutritious food grown locally or regionally with the participation of urban residents. Rather than define urban residents based on population density we base it on the ability to access land to grow food.
1Kaufman, Jerome and Kameshwari Pothukuchi. “The food system: A stranger to the planning field.” Journal of the American Planning Association, 66.2 (2000): 113–124.

I'm a graduate student in another department. Can I complete the Urban Food Systems specialization?

Students from across campus may enroll in the Urban Food Systems specialization courses, e.g. HORT 690 and 691. But the specialization is part of the M.S. in Horticulture program and includes more than the specific course work, including the research and mentoring components. Only students accepted into the M.S. Urban Food Systems specialization cohort can complete the specialization.

I have work experience in food production. Can I get the practicum requirement waived?

A student can make a request to their advisory committee for a waiver of HORT 792. Students will need to be able to document competency or experience in at least 12% of the learning outcomes of the practicum. For more information see the Practicum Manual.

If I get accepted into the program will I receive any financial assistance?

We will make every effort to assist students through teaching (GTA) and research assistantships (GRA). Students holding at least a 0.4 GRA are entitled to pay tuition at resident rates. Students on GTAs are eligible for a tuition waiver; the total number of credits varies based on the appointment. We will let students know at the time of admissions if any financial aid is available.

What if I haven't taken one or more of the required background courses?

Your options include:

  • Take the courses before applying.
  • Take the courses concurrently with applying and indicate this in your application.
  • Apply without the background courses: the Graduate School will admit students with some course deficiencies in undergraduate work as a provisional student; provisional students will need to complete the deficiencies and be placed in good standing to graduate.

What if my GPA is below a 3.0?

The Graduate School will admit students as probationary:

  1. Grade point average from 2.65 to 2.99 (A=4.00) in last two years
    If work has shown a marked improvement in later semesters and there are grades of B or better in demanding courses in major and related areas, admission is considered.
  2. Grade point average below 2.65 in last two years
    Admission is considered only upon documentation that the student is now qualified to do graduate work. Evidence may include: (1) satisfactory grades on a GRE Advanced Test or Miller Analogies Test; (2) satisfactory work at another graduate school; or (3) outstanding professional experience that demonstrates the ability to handle academic work in the major area.

Students who have earned grades of B or higher and GPAs of 3.0 or higher for the first 9 hours, exclusive of individualized study, and removed all deficiencies specified at the time of admission, will be placed in good standing.

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