Mapping Sustainable Farm Systems: An Integrated Focus on Upper South New Producers as Catalysts of "Good Stewardship."

Grants and Contracts Details


The purpose of this project is to design outreach and educational programs for commerciallyoriented beginning farmers in the Upper Southeast that (a) promote site-appropriate and profitable sustainable farming practices and (b) help these farmers realize their own vision of a sustainable farm system. To examine challenges and needs of commercially-oriented beginning farmers in the region, we ask: What kind of farm systems do beginning farmers create and maintain? What types of knowledge about agricultural sustainability and sustainable farming do they rely on to construct their systems? What challenges do they face? The farm system is the interaction of the biophysical, socioeconomic and cultural realms, which are conceptualized in this project as essential “maps” to guide farmers practice of certain styles from preproduction to postharvest. These maps span spatial scales and boundaries of knowledge; they describe the position and interaction of a particular farm within the larger physical, economic and cultural landscape. To answer the research questions above, we will collect detailed data on three dimensions of beginning farm systems: (a) farms (biophysical map), (b) farmers (socioeconomic map), and (c) perspectives on sustainability (cultural map). In each state an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including at least one biological scientist and one social scientist, will work together to develop and implement instruments for assessing efficacy of each map in guiding farmers make successful transitions to commercially-viable sustainable farm systems. In Year 1, the existing data in each state will be synthesized to develop our current “knowledge map” about beginning farmers. We will then create a “resource map” that includes organizations providing support to diverse farmers/farms. In each state, a coalition of stakeholder organizations, agencies, and groups will be established. Each coalition will host six listening sessions to provide our research teams with feedback on the content and construction of the maps, as well as the survey and case study instruments. In the winter of Year 1, the regional survey will conducted to: (a) develop a typology of sustainable farm systems used by beginning famers and (b) identify their challenges and needs to develop a commercially-viable and sustainable farm system. In Year 2, an interdisciplinary case-study approach will be used to understand how beginning farmers apply biophysical, socioeconomic, and cultural maps to guide their operations. In each state, case study of 12 farms will be completed. Through participant observations of their farm systems and in-depth interviews with the farmers, we will assess: (a) adoption of environmental best management practices, (b) yield and net profits relative to farm financial goals, and (c) integration of farms and farmers into their local community. Using STELLA®, we will analyze the effectiveness of farming, enterprise management, and knowledge acquisition practices on generating desirable outputs by constructing: (1) biophysical models of farm systems, (2) whole-farm planning models of farm enterprises, and (3) knowledge pathway models of farmers. By providing a nuanced and systems-based understanding of needs of our next generation of sustainable farmers, this project will contribute to supporting the development of sustainable agriculture.
Effective start/end date6/15/126/14/16


  • University of Georgia: $273,889.00


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