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

Possible Thesis Topics: Trends in Global Food Security Governance

We are looking for good and motivated BSc and MSc students to conduct research on the following four topics:

  • Deconstructing the discourse of evidence-based policy making.

Project: Calls for evidence-based policy making are increasing evident in global food security policy processes, and beyond. For example, the follow up and review process for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to be “rigorous and based on evidence, informed by country-led evaluations and data which is high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable and disaggregated” (UN General Assembly, 2015, para. 74). Behind this push for evidence-based decision making lies a set of highly political questions about what evidence is considered appropriate? How should it be selected? Why? And by whom?

This thesis project will identify and analyse calls for evidence-based policy making made in food security policy processes at the multinational level so as to better understand the political nature of evidence and the implications this has for policies and claims to knowledge and expertise. Continue reading

Call for abstracts Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society Conference

The programme committee of the Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society Conference, which will take place in Rome (Italy) from 14-17 September 2015, has opened the call for abstracts. Abstracts can be submitted through the conference system EasyChair until 31 March 2015 for one of the following 23 working groups (click on the working group for description and convenors or download pdf (500 KB)):

  1. WG1 – Connecting local and global food systems and reducing footprint in food provisioning and use
  2. WG2 – Short food supply chains (regional products; farmers’ markets; collective farmers’ marketing initiatives; alternative food networks; CSA)
  3. WG3 – Economic impact at the farm level
  4. WG4 – New business models for multiple value creation
  5. WG5 – Entrepreneurial skills and competences, knowledge and innovation systems and new learning arrangements
  6. WG6 – Transition approaches
  7. WG7 – Regional branding and local agrifood systems: strategies, governance, and impacts
  8. WG8 – Food systems and spatial planning. Towards a reconnection?
  9. WG9 – Land-use transformations
  10. WG10 – Urban agriculture I. Urban agriculture and Urban Food Strategies: Processes, Planning, Policies and Potential to Reconnect Society and Food
  11. WG11 – Urban agriculture II. Grass-root initiatives and community gardens
  12. WG12 – Urban agriculture III: Effects of UA. Urban agriculture: a potential tool for local and global food security, economic, social and environmental resilience, and community health and wellness
  13. WG13 – Care Farming/Social Farming in more resilient societies
  14. WG14 – Rural tourism (agri-tourism) and changing urban demands
  15. WG15 – Local arrangements for agricultural ecosystem services: connecting urban populations to their peri-urban landscapes through the ecosystem services of agriculture
  16. WG16 – Gender aspects of multifunctional agriculture
  17. WG17 – Civic agriculture for an urbanizing society: production models, consumption practices and forms of governance
  18. WG18 – Society Oriented Farming – working on the balance between market and societal demands
  19. WG19 – Food Security: Meanings, Practices and Policies
  20. WG20 – Revolutionary solutions for local food systems
  21. WG21 – Urban forestry, Green infrastructure
  22. WG22 – Food System Transitions: Cities and the Strategic Management of Food Practices
  23. WG23 – Conceptualising and Assessing City Region Food Systems

After a positive evaluation of the abstract the author will be asked to upload a paper of max 10 pages which will be published online on the website of the conference. There will also be the possibility to submit a short paper of max 2 pages enabling the authors to still publish their results in peer reviewed journals after the conference. Short papers will be published in a book of proceedings. The procedures for the papers will be published on the conference website soon.

Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition – account of symposium hosted by the FAO

Maria Alicia MendoncaBy Maria Alice Mendonça, PhD-student Rural Development at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS, Brazil) and guest PhD at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University

During the days 18 and 19th of September, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations) hosted the International Symposium of Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, in Rome, Italy. See the FAO webpage for more information on participants, presentations, poster, videos and so on.

The conference was attended by over 400 people. Amongst them were academics and representatives from government and social movements from all over the world. The aim was to discuss agroecology in the context of global debates and strategies related to: food security, sustainable agriculture and local food systems. The symposium was divided in three parts. The first was a plenary session with presentations by experts at the forefront of scientific research and bystate officials involved in the construction and implementation of innovative policies on Agroecology and Food Security. This was followed by parallel sessions where social movements, such as La Via Campesina and the Articulation in Brazilian Semiarid – ASA, as well as academics and government representatives shared on the ground experiences with Agroecology in diverse countries. At the closing session, State’s ministries of France, Nigeria, Japan, Senegal, Costa Rica, Brazil (video message), the Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Union (video message) and the FAO’s general director, José Graziano da Silva made their statements and commitments to Agroecology and Food Security. Continue reading

Edible Academic Garden in the making…

IMG_0077Since half a year, an enthusiastic group of students has set as their goal to establish a productive landscape garden in which education of various disciplines and agroecological design will fuse in a space where students and staff can learn and relax at the new University Campus. The process so far has shaped itself organically as a learning opportunity for many, very much in line with the principles behind the garden. Around 20 students take care of the daily organisation with around 80 active followers and up to 300 students interested. After an initial pre-proposal supported by many chairgroups that was received well by the Board of the university, the phase of making a full proposal has now arrived, including a design, the budget, and issues such as care taking and maintenance.

Last night, the first of two public participatory design sessions was held. It was inspiring to put our dreams of the space around the new Orion building on paper. Next week Monday the second one will be held. If you want to participate, please register yourself through this link or look at the website EAT website/email

Grassroots Science course with Boerengroep and St Otherwise

Last year’s Food Farmer Fork series organised by Boerengroep and Otherwise was a big success. Some 750 people came to one or more of the 9 evening lectures and activities. The series could also be followed as a Capita Selecta course with the Rural Sociology group. Initially, 40 students enrolled and 20 students finalised the course successfully with the writing of an essay.  All in all, it inspired both participants and us as organisers. So, the new series until the summer is again available for students to follow as a capita selecta course. Please look at the websites of Boerengroep and Otherwise where you can subscribe to the course and download the course outline. The current topic; grassroots science. Why? Continue reading

Social movement and Brazil

Last week friday’s lecture in the course ‘People Policy and Resources’ discussed theory and practice of social movements. Social movements can be defined as social forms through which people:

 “coordinate and act together as collectives, respond to shifting environments and conflicts, dramatize and frame shared understandings of grievances, solidarity and visions, and challenge and influence existing political and cultural systems of authority.” (Karpantschof 2006)

One of the examples in class was the Landless People’s Movement in Brazil (MST). As a background to this example students had to read about the history and community-making of the MST (Wolford, 2003) and about the adoption of agroecology as “the science of sustainable agriculture”  within the movement (Delgado, 2008: 563).

Thanks to the cooperation of our group with the Rural Development Post Graduate Program in Brazil, of the Federal University of Rio Grande de Sul (see earlier blogs 27 January, 13 February, 6 March) the students could also see how the movement works through part of a dvd ‘Agriculacao National de Agroecologia’. Together we watched a documentary about IL ENA, the national meeting for agroecology in Brasil which took place in 2006. The documentary clearly showed how social movements work through both practice ánd language. On the one hand the struggle for the material; actions for rights and resources. And on the other hand the struggle against dominant discourse; the construction of alternative conceptions and significations which politicizes dominant understandings and creates room for change.