Final Report for CS15-094

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2015: $34,665.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kathryn Stofer
University of Florida
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Project Information

Abstract:

A food system is ultimately a connected network of people and organizations. In order to understand how the system or network impacts sustainable agriculture and how producers use the system to support sustainable agriculture, we must understand what resources and needs they still seek in order to better develop their farming practices and markets for their products. It is also important to understand how well-connected producers are to the network to access such resources. Needs assessment for a group is often accomplished with focus groups, as the discussion among participants often reveals deeper insights and more information than one-on-one interviews. Focus groups can also identify barriers to adoption of existing practices related to sustainable agriculture and identify central nodes in a network for social network analysis. Therefore, we conducted focus groups with two regional subsets of North Central Florida food system producers to assess needs, barriers, and nodes in their network. We used social network analysis of the entire system to determine which producers are most well-connected to the network and which producers or groups may need to be brought in more closely. Results from these two types of data collection directed an outreach event for the network that explained the research results, shared educational materials, and began a structure for ongoing network collaboration with Extension support. 

Introduction

People often refer to local and regional food systems without a strong understanding of the actors in that system or a real ability to define the scope of the network that makes it up. Through this proposed research, we will be able to access the network that makes up the local food system in North Central Florida and define how sustainable agricultural producers are linked to this system. With this information, we can also identify the strengths and the gaps in the network. Finally, we will use this information to do targeted outreach with both producers and service providers in order to help them better connect to the system and to leverage the existing network and fill in the gaps to strengthen the overall food system in North Central Florida.

This work is of particular importance to our agricultural and rural communities as they seek to diversify their production and have a growing interest in local food and direct market channels.  In our region, a majority of producers still sell through brokers and are focused on national and multi-national markets.  By understanding the local food system networks that surround them, which are often in the urban or sub-urban areas, and how they might connect to these networks, we can better support them in their effort to engage.  This work will also help us identify the specific needs that the North Central Food System needs in order to serve sustainable agriculture that do not already exist. Finally, as we define the system and the demand for sustainable agricultural practices becomes clearer, we can help producers understand the value in adopting or enhancing these practices. 

Project Objectives:

Objectives:

  1. Identify current needs for and barriers to adoption of sustainable agricultural practices among producers in the North Central Florida food system.
  2. Characterize the network of the North Central Florida food system by identifying central nodes, well-connected producers, and producers who need to be more highly-connected to the network.
  3. Identify ways that the North Central Florida food system currently meets and does not meet producer needs for sustainable agricultural practice resources.
  4. Share results from Objective 3 with food system members to highlight North Central Florida food system resources.
  5. Share results of the research with producers in the system, particularly those who need to be more highly-connected in the network, including highlighting existing and newly-developed resources to meet identified needs and overcome barriers found in Objective 1 and address network weaknesses identified in Objective 2.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Anna Prizzia

Research

Materials and methods:

Approach and Methods

  1. For objective 1, we held two focus groups of North Central Florida food system members. Focus groups had 6 and 7 participants, respectively, all of whom were producers considering sustainability or already largely sustainable by self-report, recruited through UF/IFAS Extension. One focus group was held in the south half of the system, and one in the north part of the system. Focus groups asked about definitions of sustainability, current sustainable agricultural practices the producers have incorporated, are implementing, or would like to implement; how they use the food system resources to support, implement, or plan for those practices; and what further needs or continuing barriers they face for reaching sustainability. Particularly, each group was asked to identify key people or groups with whom they discussed sustainable agriculture. Each group lasted approximately two hours, and recordings of participant discussion were transcribed and analyzed using constant comparative methods (Glaser, 1965). 
  2. Using the results of the focus groups, we used social network analysis to determine what the food system network of producers currently looks like, including who is well-connected and who is only peripherally or not at all connected. By starting with central nodes identified in Objective 1, we created a survey for all producers in the food system to complete asking about which human or organizational resources in the network they use and with whom they collaborate most often (Scott & Carrington, 2011; Zack, 2000). Producers were recruited to take the survey and come to the outreach events through Extension listservs with existing contacts and through email and in-person visits to local farmers’ markets to reach other producers. We input the results into UCINET software, and produced graphical representations of the social network. Analysis continues on quantitative metrics on the strength of the connections.
  3. We used the results from Objective 1 and 2 to determine what human and material resources in the system already exist and are well-used, what resources may be under-used, and what resources are missing. Working with Extension, Florida Organic Growers, and SARE, we identified the existing resources that match with needs identified Objectives 1 and 2 and produced a web site for producers with these resources: http://agnetworkncfl.wixsite.com/home/resources.
  4. We created an email listserv, facebook page (http://facebook.com/agnetworkncfl), twitter: @agnetworkncfl, and web site http://agnetworkncfl.wixsite.com/home to advertise the resources. 
  5. Working with the UF/IFAS Small Farms Extension team, we developed one outreach events for producers in the system based on the results of the research in Objective 1 and 2. Based on the focus group results and the plans of the Small Farms team to support a network beyond the life of the grant, we targeted 50 participants in the entire region for an event that involved: a farm tour of a leading sustainable production in the region, a dinner featuring local food held at a local farmer’s market, a presentation on the research results from Objectives 1 and 2 and future plans for the network research, a presentation of existing resources from this grant and the Small Farms team, a presentation from an Extension agent from a different region who assists with a regional sustainable producer network already underway, and a discussion and planning session to design future network activities. Advertising specifically targeted those participants identified as peripheral or not at all connected to the food system based on Objective 2. 

Finally, we evaluated the success of the network meeting through an online and paper survey addressing intent to change behavior around taking part in sustainable agriculture network or seeking sustainable agricultural resources, as well as questions seeking to understand whether participants at the meeting had met people new to them. 

 

Research results and discussion:

Our social network analysis received approximately 46 total responses, with more partial responses. 

People only network diagram      Whole Network diagram

We produced an outreach event that drew 48 producers from the local region.

Evaluation of the outreach event garnered 13 responses (response rate 27%). Of those 13, 7 had previously talked to fewer than 10 percent of the attendees, and 6 had talked previously to none of the attendees – indicating the vast majority of respondents had not previously connected with the network in a meaningful way. 

For behavioral intent, responses varied across the board, but few people intended to do nothing related to sustainability within 6 months, and a large number of respondents intended to lead network activities:

 

Within 6 months

Within 1 month

Have been doing less than 6 months

Have been doing more than 6 months

Participate in Future network activities

5

3

1

1

Host farm tours for the network

3

0

0

1

Lead network activities

5

4

0

1

Contact a fellow producer to talk about sustainability

4

5

0

1

Contact an Extension agent to talk about sustainability

3

3

2

3

Contact another organization to talk about sustainability

3

1

2

3

Use UF/IFAS resources on sustainability

5

3

0

4

No respondents indicated that “almost all” their previous discussions on sustainable operations had been with fellow producers; a majority indicated that “not many” of those conversations were.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Stofer, K. A., and Keown, H.* (2016). Regional Sustainable Agriculture:
Who’s in the Network and What Does Sustainability Mean to Them? Poster presentation at Rural Sociological Society. Toronto, August 9, 2016.

Stofer, K. A.*, and Keown, H. (2016). Understanding Needs and Networks of Regional Sustainable Food Producers. Poster presentation at American Association of Agricultural Education. Kansas City, Missouri. May 19, 2016.

Keown, H.*, Stofer, K. A., & Han, G. (in preparation). Social network analysis reveals gaps and opportunities for regional sustainable food producer collaboration.

Keown, H.*, & Stofer, K. A. (in preparation). In their own words: Definitions of sustainable production vary among food producers.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
  1. Held two focus groups. Analyzed data has been presented at the American Association for Agricultural Education and Rural Sociology annual conferences. 
  2. Created and ran an initial social network survey. Results of the survey have been submitted for presentation at the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists’ Rural Sociological Section. 
  3. Held the first network meeting for the North Central Florida Sustainable Agriculture Network.
  4. Curated existing sustainable agriculture resources into an online repository for producers. 
  5. Laid groundwork for subsequent meetings of the Network supported by the UF/IFAS Small Farms Extension team (second event held Nov. 7, 2016).
  6. Research publications for the focus groups and social network analysis are in preparation.
Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Our research added to the body of knowledge on needs and barriers to sustainable agriculture, particularly around the desires of our regional producers to be in better contact with each other, not just Extension. This information also helped our Extension Small Farms team understand the needs of sustainable producers in the North Central Florida region. 

Our social network analysis will add to the body of knowledge on social networks, particularly as they can support adoption of new practices. The analysis can be repeated to track changes in the connections and participants over time. 

Our research on definitions of sustainable agriculture in the words of the producers themselves was of great interest to the Rural Sociological Society researchers. 

Our outreach started a network for sustainable producers in the North Central Florida region that will be sustained through collaboration with the Extension Small Farms team and the involvement of the producers themselves. 

Future Recommendations

Continue needs assessment with regional networks to ensure they do not face different regional challenges to sustainable agriculture. Even within our two halves of the network, producers had different ideas of how to address challenges as well. 

Continue social network analysis in other regions and over time in order to determine who is best served and who might be better served by participating in networks. 

Continue support of the sustainable producer network. 

Determine needs for networks in other regions using similar methods. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.