First generation Farmers: values, practices and relations – MSc-thesis by Laura Genello

Laura Genello, MSc-student Organic Agriculture, Wageningen University.

The average age of farmers is steadily rising across the United States and Europe, while the  proportion of young and beginning farmers declines. Challenging  economic conditions, coupled with agricultural consolidation and rising costs, have led to a decrease in farm successions. Simultaneously, the popular media has reported on increasing interest in agricultural careers among those from non-farming backgrounds.

This emerging population of first generation farmers has largely been ignored by the  academic literature, with only a handful of studies that suggest the ways in which these farmers differ from others. This study aims to characterize the values, practices and  supply chain relations of first generation, beginning farmers (FBFs). By incorporating concepts from research on farming styles, agricultural paradigm shifts and identity, I investigate to what extent FBFs represent change in agricultural attitudes and practice. To do so, I position their farming styles between the archetypes of the productionist and agroecological paradigms. These paradigms hold specialized, commoditized and production-centric traditions in agriculture on one side of a spectrum, and ecologically oriented, community embedded alternatives on the other. I took a comparative, exploratory approach, recruiting farmers who were both first generation (did not take over a family farm), and beginning (approximately less than 10 years experience) from two countries, the Netherlands and the U.S. state of Maryland. Data collection occurred in two phases: an online survey distributed using snowball sampling, followed by semi-structured interviews with 33 participants (15 in the Netherlands; 18 in the U.S.), selected strategically to represent a diversity of survey respondents. The survey yielded 95 responses that met the inclusion criteria: 38 from the Netherlands and 57 from the United States. Most FBFs were practicing small-scale, diversified agriculture, marketing direct to consumer, and using some level of unmapped organic methods. Interviews revealed FBFs to be motivated by a search for meaningful work, and generally have a strong environmental and community ethic. These principles were balanced with a high valuation of the business of farming. FBFs faced a variety of challenges, predominantly financial constraints, access to land and labor, lack of knowledge and regulatory barriers. Their farm practices and structure were the result of a negotiation between their values and business ethic as filtered through practical constraints. The solutions they employed included small scale, low-investment configurations, direct marketing, judicious application of web-based and small farm technology, strong online and in-person networks, and collaborations to access land, share knowledge and market products. While their practices, relations and values are heterogeneous, overall FBFs represent a shift towards the agroecological paradigm.

Key Words: beginning farmers, first generation farmers, new entrants, agroecology,
farming styles, farmer identity, alternative food networks.

The full thesis From Food Forest to Microfarm can be downloaded from the WUR-Library

The rise of Community Supported Agriculture in China

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Image from Cultivate https://www.facebook.com/collectivecultivate/

On April 16th, Shi Yan, pioneer of the Community Supported Agriculture movement in China will visit Wageningen after participating in FAO’s International Symposium on Agroecology. During the day she will visit a selection of CSAs and in the evening she will give a presentation at Wageningen University.

Where: Room C013/VIP Room Forum Building

When: 19:00-21:30

In 2008 Shi Yan started the first CSA of China in the area of Bejing as a joint project with her university, the district government, and the Renmin Rural Reconstruction Centre. By now some 800 CSA’s are operating around China.

Shi Yan had been inspired by her experience of working with Earthrise Farm, a small CSA in Minnesota, USA. “It changed my life,” says Shi Yan. She arrived there thinking that she would study its business model, “but when living there, I realised that farming is not just a model, it’s a lifestyle.” But she decided to move to the northwest corner of Beijing’s Haidian district to found and manage Little Donkey farm, going against the trend of young people abandoning rural villages for jobs in the city. After that she started Shared Harvest farm (http://sharedharvest.cn/), where she produces fresh food and also trains both farmers and school children.

With a growing middle class and expanding cities, fresh produce has become hard to come by in China. Novel food production and distribution systems are successfully meeting demands of urban residents in search of fresh and local produce. As the story of Shi-Yan tells, the CSA movement also offers opportunities to young people to shape their lifes according to a different set of principles from the average ‘big city’ way of life.

Shi Yan was a speaker at FAO’s Agroecology Symposium from 3-5 April 2018 where over 700 people attended. Learn more about Shi Yan and the CSA movement in China and join us on April 16th. More details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/413668762416251/ 

Are you too curious to wait? Check out this article in Farming Matters (June 2015): https://www.ileia.org/2015/06/09/community-supported-agriculture-thriving-china/

The state of Sitopia

The state of Sitopia. Report of the 8th AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Conference 

By Paul de Graaf, External PhD Candidate, Rural Sociology Group

IMG_2103In the fall of 2017 the 8th AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Conference took place in Coventry,  hosted by the Center for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR). Since its inception in 2009 the Sustainable Food Planning department is one of the most active within AESOP (the Association of European Schools of Planning), indicating that food is back on the urban agenda, at least in academia. As a budding urban agriculture planner and researcher I attended the first two AESOP SFP conferences (Almere, 2009 and Brighton, 2010). Both were exciting meetings where pioneers from Europe and America – not only planners but also initiators, activists and scientists from other disciplines and people like Carolyn Steele (architect and writer of the seminal book Hungry City) – came together to discuss the then relatively new theme. I went to Coventry curious to see how the discussion has developed since those days and what is the state of affairs in the field in international perspective.

Continue reading

From hunger to obesity – MSc-thesis by Sonia Zaharia

By Sonia Zaharia, MSc-student Organic Agriculture.

Many low-income countries deliberately pursue agricultural specialization to increase yields and thereby lift their population out of hunger and poverty. Trade is supposed to offset the implied lower diversity of food production and deliver a food supply that supports the health of their population. This study challenges this assumption. I investigate the link between the prevalence of overweight and agricultural specialization. Using a fixed-effects panel regression on data from 65 low- and middle-income countries over the period 1975-2013, I find that countries in which agricultural production is more specialized have a larger share of overweight women. The positive relationship is higher in countries with lower per capita income. The correlation is not statistically different from zero for the male population, which confirms existing empirical evidence that malnourishment tends to be more frequent for women than for men. My results suggest that there are negative health implications of agricultural specialization in poor countries.

My full thesis From hunger to Obesity: agricultural specialization and obesity in low- and middle income countries can be downloaded from the WUR-Library.

Call for Papers: Evolving Agriculture and Food – Opening up Biodynamic Research

20141004_134427_AndroidCall for papers open for the 1st International Conference on Biodynamic Research

Call for Papers: Evolving Agriculture and Food – Opening up Biodynamic Research

Taking place at Goetheanum in Dornach (Switzerland), September 5th to 8th 2018

Biodynamic research is done in any agricultural field, in many places of the world using a great diversity of methods and disciplines, getting in touch with many other research areas. Taking an inter- and trans-disciplinary approach, we aim to bring together both academic research and farmer’s expertise to explore and discuss issues in biodynamic food and farming systems. The perspective taken on these issues may be from a classical scientific point of view as well as from an innovative methodical standpoint.

This new biannual event will gather academics, scholars, PhD students, graduate students, farmer-researchers and action researchers from around the world to discuss the latest and most pressing issues in biodynamic agriculture, horticulture and food, dedicating significant attention also to new and alternative researching methods.

The partners of the organizer, the Section for Agriculture at the Goetheanum, are: The Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences of the University of Kassel, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and Forschungsring (Research in Biodynamic Agriculture, Darmstadt, Germany).

Call for papers is open : http://www.sektion-landwirtschaft.org/veranstaltungen/biodynamic-research-conference/call-for-papers/

More information  at: www.sektion-landwirtschaft.org

Thesis Opportunity: What is inclusive when it comes to policy?

Thesis Opportunity with Rural Sociology: What is inclusive when it comes to policy?

Proposed title: Inclusive approaches to policy making: Making sense of options for food policy

Key words: policy, inclusivity, civil society, multi-actor, stakeholder, co-production

Context:  There have been increasing calls for more participation in policy making to allow for more inclusive policies. But what does this look like in practice? What models have been developed and tried? What has worked and what hasn’t? What are the implications of trying to be more inclusive. And, what does inclusivity even mean in a policy making context? The goal of this thesis is to start to answer these pressing questions and to related them to food policy.

Objective: The goal of this research is to identify and understand strategies for including people and their lived experiences, into policy making processes.

In this thesis, you will:

  • Undertake a literature review into inclusive governance (theory and practice)
  • Identify examples of inclusive governance from a broad range of sectors
  • Create a database of examples
  • Select an appropriate number of case studies to examine in greater depth
  • Collect data (including via interviews) to support description and analysis

On the basis of this, you will be expected to deliver concrete outputs.

Outputs:

  • Develop a clear research proposal building on a structured literature review and outlining clear methods for undertaking the research
  • Collect relevant literature and empirical cases to support the answering of the research question.
  • MSc thesis conforming to the criteria and quality indicators of the Rural Sociology Group.

Start date:  February or March 2018

Qualifications:

  • You are registered in one of the following MSc programmes:

MIDMHSMOA or MFQ

  • You have an interest in participatory policy making, civil society, food security and food sovereignty
  • You have some knowledge about theories of change
  • You have completed at least 2 RSO courses (or relevant social science courses)

Supervisor: Dr Jessica Duncan (RSO)

If you are interested, please email Jessica Duncan (jessica.duncan@wur.nl ) with a short letter of motivation.

 

 

The @MSCActions project @SUSPLACE_ITN published two video’s

The @MSCActions project on sustainable place-shaping (@SUSPLACE_ITN), funded by the EU-commission and coordinated by the Rural Sociology Group (@RuralSociologyW), has published two video’s.

The first video explains sustainable place-shaping in theory and practice, the second introduces the training and networking. The video’s are produced by the Early Stage Researchers themselves as part of their training. Watch below or go to the You tube SUSPLACE playlist of the Rural Sociology Group.

 

 

Thesis opportunity: food banks as contested spaces for identity struggles

In general a person’s identity has cognitive-descriptive (C), normative-ethical (N) and affective-emotional qualities (A). Besides a person’s identity, a person can find him or herself to be in a certain position or have a certain status, and a person can have certain (un)officially assigned roles, tasks and functions. See the figure below. These three elements can ‘agree’, or be ‘in line’ with each other, but they can also diverge from each other, or be ‘in conflict’.

Plaatje fb identity

These distinctions are to a certain extent superficial: they are analytical distinctions. In that capacity they can help us discover different elements and qualities of peoples’ experiences. Moreover, a person’s identity is not once and for all a ‘given’. Identities develop and keep doing so in interaction with other people: first with primary caretakers and later with a host of significant others who also have an identity, certain roles and functions, a certain position or status, and corresponding expectations towards others.

In this MSc thesis proposal this interaction is taken to be located at the food bank where volunteers distribute food parcels among recipients. Volunteers and recipients have short or longer conversations about the food parcels and/or the reasons for being there at the food bank. In scientific literature on food banks it is an almost unquestioned assumption that the food bank is a charity organisation, very often inspired by religious ideas or values of love and kindness for fellow human beings in need, and an attitude of gratefulness and humility on the side of the recipient. A sociological understanding of charity would indeed point at these expected roles, functions and attitudes that the concept of charity implies. The general research question of this proposal is: To what extent is this general, unquestioned assumption supported by evidence?

Sub-questions are:

  • What are feelings and emotions towards, and what are normative opinions of volunteers and recipients about the existence of food banks and their activities?
  • To what extent do recipients experience discrepancies between the status in which they, (in)voluntarily, find themselves, and the way in which they see themselves or would like to see themselves? (In other words: to what extent do we see conflicts between the three elements in the figure above?)

Proposed research methods are participatory observations, interviews with volunteers and recipients, identity tests and conversation analysis. Starting literature is available.

The thesis will be supervised by Leon Pijnenburg (Philosophy) and Esther Veen (Rural Sociology). Interested? Contact Jessica de Koning: jessica.dekoning@wur.nl.

Knowledge clips reading for the social sciences

Students often ask us how they should read a scientific paper or book chapter, and what they should learn or remember from them. They may struggle with what they see to be too many readings, or express that they have difficulty understanding the main message of the articles we assign for our lectures.

In order to help students make the process of ‘reading for the social sciences’ more efficient and more targeted, Jessica Duncan and me (Esther Veen) designed four knowledge clips to pass on little tips.

The first one discusses the structure most sociological papers follow. In the second we give suggestions on how to read effectively. The third is on the different strategies you may use when you read for different purposes, and the last gives tips and tricks on how to keep track of your reading.

You can watch the clips here. You are welcom to send your feedback to jessica.duncan@wur.nl or esther.veen@wur.nl.

Welcome Kees Jansen – Scholar in Critical Agrarian Studies

My name is Kees Jansen. A few weeks ago, I have started in my new job at the Rural Sociology Group. I am very honoured that I can contribute to the international development profile of the group and teach in the domain of critical agrarian studies. Rural Sociology is an exciting group with a long history of remarkable work on redesigning the agro-food system and developing a social justice perspective in agrarian and food policies.

My teaching activities will mainly focus on the courses Sociology of Farming and Rural Life, Globalization and Sustainability of Food Production and Consumption, and Advanced Social Theory.

Latin America is the region where I have done most of my own field work, but shorter stays in a number of Asian and African countries have been important for grasping the significance of comparative research. By working on an organic farm in France, by living with small potato producers high in Andes and with maize-bean producers in Honduras, through interviewing export crop producers in Costa Rica and Mexico, and by visiting farmer co-operatives in the Philippines, I have experienced the multiple pressures on different types of farmers in this globalizing world. In the Rural Sociology Group I will continue my research activities on agrarian political ecology (the greening of the agrarian question; nature-society issues), pesticide risk governance, and theoretical issues in agrarian studies.

The latest examples of my work have just been published in Global Environmental Politics: Business Conflict and Risk Regulations: Understanding the Influence of the Pesticide Industry  (sorry, not yet open access) and in the Journal of Agrarian Change with Jaye de la Cruz: Panama disease and contract farming in the Philippines: Towards a political ecology of risk – open access).

The interesting aspect of doing sociology in Wageningen is the unique opportunity to collaborate with natural scientists on analysing social-technical configurations. Besides my own more specific research topics, I am always interested in exploring new, creative and challenging ideas of prospective thesis students and PhD candidates within the broader domain where international development studies and agrarian studies intersect. Examples are labour conditions of a flexible (often migrant) labour force, the social conditions for agroecology, social responses to risks of agricultural technologies, counter-expertise and social movements, people’s adaptation to climate change, agribusiness strategies, the future of corporate social responsibility, hunger and food security, sociology and politics of knowledge (including interdisciplinarity), autonomy/dependence in agrarian change, and comparative analysis of food sovereignty actions in the Global South. You can read more about me and my work on my website: www.keesjansen.eu.

Do not hesitate to contact me at kees.jansen@wur.nl to talk about your ideas.