Origins, Transformation, and the Future of Our Food Crops

Steve Smith
Tuesday 10 AM - 12 PM (AZ Time)
June 4, 11, 18, 25, July 2, and 9, 2024
Watch the video to learn more about this course

Origins, Transformation, and the Future of Our Food Crops

Summer 2024
In Session
10 AM - 12 PM (AZ Time)
June 4, 11, 18, 25, July 2, and 9, 2024

Course Format: 



Main Campus



The food crops upon which our lives are so dependent each have their own, often meandering origin stories. In a process we now refer to as “crop evolution,” starting with wild or weedy plants, humans gather, tend, cultivate, domesticate, and modify crop plants to feed and enrich their culture. Understanding the evolution of crop plants is based primarily on a knowledge of plants and their interactions with the environment. Just as important though is an appreciation of the complexities of the behavior of humans as they deal with plants in a variety of settings. 

In this course we explore the evolution of food crops focusing on three primary questions:

•    Where do our food crops come from? 
•    Why and how do humans use and change these crops? 
•    How may crops continue to evolve to address future challenges we confront?

We will initially review the multiple and diverse origins of agriculture and domestication. These occurred independently in many areas around the world and for a variety of reasons. From there we will consider why and how humans have continued to alter their crop plants to better suit their needs. Much of this involves what we now know as “plant breeding,” although this was a field of science unknown to the vast majority of its practitioners who drove early crop evolution. Finally, we will address how food crops and their associated humans are evolving in response to a rapidly changing climate. 

Summer 2024 Registration Opens Online:
Monday, March 4, 2024 at 8 AM (AZ Time) 

Required Reading: 

No textbook is required. All readings will be distributed to students electronically.

Meet Your Professor

Associate Professor
School of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment

STEVE SMITH is an Associate Professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, where he has been on the faculty since 1984. He grew up in the central valley of California, where he first began working with plants under the supervision of his father, a commercial plant breeder. After receiving a B.S. in Plant Sciences from the University of California, Davis, he received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University in Plant Breeding and Botany. Postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison preceded his arrival in Arizona. His research interests reflect his training in application-oriented plant improvement and his fascination with plant adaptation in natural plant communities in arid environments. He is also consulting with other researchers on experimental design and analysis. Dr. Smith teaches undergraduate courses in biology, field botany, and sustainability. He received the Bart Cardon Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona and the Ted and Shirley Taubeneck Superior Teaching Award from the Humanities Seminars Program.

  • Ted and Shirley Taubeneck Superior Teaching Award


  • All classes will be delivered on-campus and online via live video streaming. Students will enroll in their preferred format during registration.
  • On-Campus classes will be held in the Rubel Room at the University of Arizona's Poetry Center (1508 E Helen St, Tucson, AZ 85721). Enrollment for in-person classes is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. All students enrolled to attend in person also have complete online access and may choose to attend one or all class sessions remotely if desired.
  • Online students may attend all classes via live video streaming and will be able to participate in all course Q&A sessions with the professor in real-time. A high-speed internet connection and a device capable of running Zoom are required to connect. Online access will be password protected and only available to enrolled students.
  • Class Recordings - All HSP classes are recorded and available for every enrolled student to watch for the duration of the course and one month after the last class session. This option is offered to aid students who cannot attend the live class times but desire to enroll and participate asynchronously. We hope this option also aids students who are traveling or have a necessary appointment that conflicts with a class session to stay connected and engaged with the course material.


Poetry Center
Dorothy Rubel Room
1508 E Helen
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States
Located on the SE corner of Helen Street and Vine Avenue, one block north of Speedway and three blocks west of Campbell Ave.

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