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For people who want to learn more about Food Systems

IFSL content is designed to help anyone interested in the food system build a deeper understanding of all components, while developing critical leadership skills.

Through six courses, you will:

  • Gain knowledge and understanding of interdependencies across the food system
  • Consider broader impact of decisions, policies, and unforeseen circumstances 
  • Engage, collaborate, and work closely together with faculty and advisors

Those enrolled build the skills and leadership mindset needed to address real-world food system challenges. People learn to think more broadly and become more effective problem solvers within their organization and across disciplines — locally, regionally, and globally.

Six online courses span food system insights from farm to fork

IFSL Program FAQs by Category:

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Program Overview

How is the IFSL program different from other certificate programs?

The IFSL program bridges the gap between traditional food system education and professional leadership programs. It focuses on competency and understanding of the interdependencies across the food system while developing the critical leadership skills needed to work more effectively across organizations, disciplines, geographies, and more. In addition, course credits earned in the program can be applied to a future graduate degree should participants decide to further their education.

Why is an integrated food system important?

Every food we eat is a combination and compilation of every factor and driver across the food system, yet food system professionals are often trained to focus on a single aspect in the entire farm-to-fork network. They rarely have the opportunity to step back to see the system as a whole, and to assess the interrelationships and interdependencies that actually allow the food system to work. 

By intentionally focusing on an integrated food systems approach, food system professionals and emerging leaders can begin to anticipate and proactively address interrelationships and interdependencies of the entire food system, to help move their aspect of the food system forward more quickly and effectively with less waste and environmental impact. 

The world needs you and your leadership to help us meet the food needs of the future! This integrated systems approach will help us solve the biggest food challenges and make an impact on food security and global stewardship as we grow to meet the challenge of feeding almost 10 billion people by 2050. Learn more by exploring our Food for Thought.

How long does it take to complete the program?
The IFSL program consists of six fully online courses that can be completed in as little as 2 semesters – fall and spring. Participants can also extend the timing and complete the program over two years. 

Can I complete the IFSL program and still work full time?
Yes. The IFSL program is designed to support working professionals through engaging content that is available when you are. If completing the program in two semesters, online courses and coursework take approximately 18 hours per week. However, with flexibility to complete the program over a longer time frame, you can design a program that fits your schedule.

Can I take IFSL courses if I am not in the IFSL program?
Yes. We welcome all post-baccalaureate students – both degree seeking and non-degree seeking. You can even take IFSL courses prior to admission in a graduate program. Visit our Apply page to learn how.

What University of Minnesota colleges founded the IFSL program?
The IFSL program is a unique, collaborative effort harnessing the breadth of expertise available through three University of Minnesota colleges –  CFANS: College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource SciencesCVM: College of Veterinary Medicine and SPH: School of Public Health. In addition, the University of Minnesota Graduate Schoolserves as the college that grants the degree.

Program Benefits

What are the key benefits of the IFSL program for students?

There are enormous professional and personal benefits associated with participating in the IFSL program. We encourage you to read our student stories to hear why they chose IFSL and their perspectives about the program.

For professionals in the food system who are aspiring leaders, or looking to take the next step in their careers, the IFSL program provides the opportunity to:

  • Broaden knowledge and understanding of food system interdependencies
  • Be challenged and evolve critical thinking and problem-solving skills across disciplines
  • Engage, collaborate, and network with faculty, peers, and industry advisors
  • Apply course credits towards a future master's degree at the University of Minnesota
  • Help make a difference in our food system!

How are IFSL students benefitting from the program?

We continue to hear from our program participants about the positive impact the IFSL Program is having on both their personal and professional growth. Within our inaugural graduating class, 100%  achieved the objectives they set for themselves and accelerated their career with this investment. Here are their stories.

Can the IFSL certificate be applied towards a graduate program?

University of Minnesota graduate level course credits are earned for every IFSL program course, and may be applied to future graduate degrees.

The Master of Professional Studies in Applied Sciences Leadership program offered through the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Education accepts all IFSL course credits.  This Masters level program can also be pursued from the onset.

As another option, IFSL students have utilized the program as their concentration area in Master's degrees such as the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs program. Prospective IFSL applicants who are currently applying or pursuing a Master's degree are advised to speak to their advisors of their respective programs to see how the IFSL program might fit with those degrees.

What are the key benefits of the IFSL program for companies?

For organizations throughout the food system, the IFSL program provides a more effective way to support business continuity, succession planning, and training and retention initiatives. Visit our Why IFSL page to learn more.

Program Format

Is the program entirely online?

The program is fully online in a highly engaging and interactive format.   

Are the courses self-paced?

Courses are not self-paced, rather participants progress through them at the same pace on a weekly schedule. Weekly assignments may be completed in a self-paced manner.

When does the IFSL program begin?

The IFSL program accepts applications in April for admission to the program in September.

What types of assignments will I be asked to complete?

Discussion boards, as well as group and individual assignments, are used throughout each course to improve communication, leadership, and organization skills. A specific highlight of this program is the adopt-a-product group assignment. Students work collaboratively on a series of assignments in each respective online course. Each course has its own associated assignments and evaluation criteria for each adopt-a-product task.

Will I be working with other class members?

As part of team collaboration, IFSL students participate in a number of assignments, including discussion boards, adopt-a-product groups, and whole class projects. These activities are designed to improve skills related to communication, assessment, feedback, analysis, creativity, motivation, and diplomacy. Each collaborative assignment is designed to enhance context-specific teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. 

Program Logistics

When does the IFSL program begin?

The IFSL program accepts applications in April for admission to the program in September, and is fully online.

What is the program schedule?

The IFSL program offers courses in the Fall and Spring semesters and allows flexibility for students to choose how many courses to take each semester.

IFSL 7001: Keys to Authentic and Effective Leadership
IFSL 7011: Food Production Farm to Fork
IFSL 7021: Food Governance, Policy, and Regulation

IFSL 7031: Food Security, Safety, and Defense
IFSL 7041: Food Business, Marketing, and Product Development
IFSL 7051: Leading Across Integrated Food Systems

Course Logistics

How long is each course?

Each semester offers one full semester and two partial semester courses.

IFSL 7001: full semester – 14 weeks
IFSL 7011: first 7-week session
IFSL 7021: second 7-week session

IFSL 7031: first 7-week session
IFSL 7041: second 7-week session

IFSL 7051: full semester – 14 weeks

Is there a break in-between courses?

The IFSL program follows the University of Minnesota calendar with breaks for holidays and between semesters. More details may be found at One Stop Student Services - Dates and Deadlines.

Eligible Applicants

Who is the ideal IFSL student?

Someone with a strong desire to grow personally, and is professionally interested in the food industry.
You may have some experience working in roles across primary production, manufacturing, or bringing products to market, in areas such as:

  • Crop and animal production, food processing, food service, and retail  
  • Research and product development
  • Physical plant operations, safety, and procurement
  • Food security, regulation, policy, and scientific affairs
  • Food safety, quality assurance, and risk management
  • Community engagement, nutrition, and public health 
  • Trading, distribution, supply chain, and logistics
  • Marketing, advertising, labeling, sales, and public relations

Are any academic prerequisites required to apply?

A baccalaureate or higher degree from an accredited college or university is required with a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. If you have less than a 3.0 GPA, please contact us for options.

Can I take IFSL courses if I’m not in the IFSL program?

Yes. We welcome all post-baccalaureate students – both degree seeking and non-degree seeking. You can even take IFSL courses prior to admission in a graduate program. Visit our Apply page to learn how.

Are international students eligible?

International students are welcome to apply. As a fully online program, international students are not eligible for visas. For more information, please visit these guidelines for international students

Admission Process

How do I apply to the program?

Visit our Apply page to review the application process and to get started.

What materials are required for the application process?

As part of the application process, you will be asked for your resume or CV, a statement of purpose and objectives, and collegiate transcripts. Visit the Apply page for more information.

When is the deadline for all application materials?

Applications are due in April for admission in September.

What support does the University of Minnesota provide online students?

University of Minnesota Online offers a variety of online and blended programming and provides information to assist students with transferring credits, financial aid, and student resources. See more at UMN Online General Information.

I have questions about the application. Who do I contact?

The IFSL team would be happy to assist you with any questions you may have. Please contact us at [email protected].

I have applied for the program and would like to know my status. Who do I contact?

Applications are reviewed upon receipt, and take about two to three weeks for a response. If you do not hear back after that time, we apologize for the delay. Feel free to send a reminder to [email protected]


What is the cost of the program? Is tuition due at once?

Tuition costs are $1,400 per credit, with a total of twelve required credits for the Graduate Certificate program.

Is there a flexible pay plan available?

The University of Minnesota offers payment plans. Please visit One Stop Student Services - Payment Plans to learn more.

Are there options for tuition support?

Many employers across the food system provide tuition support for their employees. If specific information is needed from the IFSL Program to support your inquiry, please contact our program team.

If I don’t reside in Minnesota or am an international student, will the program costs be more?

The cost for this online program is the same for each student regardless of their place of residence.

Are books and learning materials included in the fee?

All learning materials are included in the cost of the IFSL Program tuition. Students do not have to purchase outside materials.