Does Community Well-Being Matter in Landscape Management of U.S. Farming Systems?

Progress report for GNC22-348

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,510.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Katherine Nelson
Kansas State University
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Project Information


Research increasingly calls for agricultural systems to account for the well-being of local communities. However, designing and implementing a sustainable system that creates shared value for farmers and local populations remains a challenge, especially with continuous social and environmental changes that put pressure on agricultural management decisions. Managing agricultural landscapes involves making crucial decisions that profoundly recondition our ecosystem and the state of being of local communities. This study aims to produce a deeper understanding of the way farmers integrate community well-being (CWB) into their decision-making process and how this integration is perceived to influence community and farmer well-being. By examining the complex interactions between personal and place-based attributes and the broader economic, social, and political settings, this project seeks to capture the mechanisms by which agriculture supports, or can act in favor of, long-term CWB. This project will make use of interview and survey data collected in 2022 as part of a larger project investigating barriers and bridges to the diversification of agricultural systems in the U.S. In the proposed study, I will use regression analysis to examine the survey data, and the qualitative data from the interviews will be analyzed following a 5-step procedure. This procedure includes a compiling step where field notes will be organized, a disassembling procedure to break the compiled data down into smaller parts to ease the coding process, a reassembling phase where coded data will be reorganized into different groupings and sequences of themes, and two final procedures that involve the interpretation and conclusion in line with prior research. The analysis will try to capture the perceptions of community and farmer well-being, common types of management decisions influenced by well-being concerns, and individual and place-based attributes associated with the integration of well-being in agricultural decision-making. These analyses will be compared to a developed descriptive composite measure of community well-being to determine to what extent farmer decisions, farmer well-being, and farmer perceived community well-being are related to measurable characteristics of community well-being. Findings from this study will facilitate the identification of innovative ways to provide solutions for sustainable agriculture by developing strategies that account more for human well-being in management decisions that could potentially lead to improved community well-being and improved farmer well-being. Such an understanding will help agricultural officials, local government officials, and other stakeholders engaged in agriculture with planning and priority setting.

Project Objectives:

The target population of this project includes primarily farmers who are the centerpiece of the agriculture sector and public and private organizations that interact with agricultural producers that have the potential to drive changes in agricultural landscapes such as extension professionals, agricultural suppliers, local government program officials, lenders, and other agricultural intermediaries. Farmers will better understand common types of management decisions that account for CWB and how this integration is perceived to influence community and farmer well-being (Farmer Learning Outcome). With such an increase in their understanding, agricultural producers will be better equipped to engage in management practices beneficial for the whole community, including all farmers (Farmer Action Outcome). In addition to farmers, there is a need for public and private organizations that interact with and assist farmers to better understand management decisions that account for CWB and farmers’ consideration when making decisions. Getting more information on common types of management decisions that could lead to improved community well-being and farmer well-being will inform the contents of interactions between organization personnel and agricultural producers that are more prone to improve and sustain long-term community and farmer well-being (Organization Action Outcome). The proposed study will allow organizations to examine in what ways their current work orient farmers to engage in common types of management decisions that integrate human well-being and identify potential gaps in their current strategies with respect to community and farmer well-being (Organization Learning Outcome).


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  • Dr. Andrea Rissing (Researcher)
  • Dr. Emily Burchfield (Researcher)


Materials and methods:

Research Design: We employed a mixed-methods approach combining qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the connection between farming practices and community well-being. This approach allowed us to capture both the nuanced perspectives of agricultural stakeholders through interviews and the broader trends and patterns through surveys. The choice of a mixed-methods approach allowed us to triangulate findings from different sources, enhancing the validity and reliability of our results.

Data collection: We conducted semi-structured interviews with crop producers selected using snowballing techniques. This approach helps us select relevant participants who could provide rich and diverse perspectives on agricultural practices and community well-being. A structured survey instrument was developed based on findings from the interviews to gather quantitative data on farming practices, socio-economic characteristics, and perceived inclusion of community concerns into decision-making.

Data Analysis: Interview transcripts are being analyzed using thematic analysis techniques to identify recurring patterns, themes, and insights related to community considerations. I chose thematic analysis for its flexibility and ability to capture the complexity of qualitative data. Survey data are being analyzed using statistical software to generate descriptive statistics, frequency distributions, and correlation analyses. Using statistical analysis will help provide empirical evidence to support qualitative findings.

Research results and discussion:

A total of 26 recorded interviews have been conducted, with 13 of these interviews taking place in the North Central Region. Additionally, we received 154 completed questionnaires from survey participants, with 82 of these questionnaires being completed by farmers in the North Central Region. I transcribed the interview data and a codebook has been developed. The analysis of both interviews and surveys is ongoing. Themes and patterns were identified through systematic coding and analysis of interview transcripts, allowing for the qualitative assessment of farmer perspectives. Preliminary findings demonstrate important insights into farmers' perspectives on community considerations in farming decisions. Both qualitative and quantitative data indicated the way that farmers intentionally include community concerns in management decisions.

During the 2023 Kansas Rural Center Annual Food and Farm Conference, I delivered a presentation unveiling preliminary findings from interviews and surveys with agricultural stakeholders. The presentation provided an overview of the practices and approaches farmers are adopting to foster positive impacts on their communities.  Harvesting Well-being: Examination of Consideration for Community by Agricultural Producers


Participation Summary
180 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

10 Farmers participated
7 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

I disseminated preliminary findings from our project at various venues, including a farmer conference in Kansas, where I presented to an audience of approximately 10 farmers and 7 agricultural professionals. To complement the presentation, I developed a brochure containing project information, distributing 23 copies to attendees. Additionally, I created an online story map showcasing preliminary findings, which has garnered 132 views on Esri to date. Furthermore, I shared preliminary findings with a broader academic audience through two key presentations. Firstly, I presented at a departmental seminar hosted by the Geography Department at Kansas State University, where I addressed an audience of over 15 participants. Secondly, I shared the project findings at the American Association of Geographers 2023 Annual Meeting in Denver, presenting to an audience of approximately 10 participants.

I am scheduled to present my research findings at two upcoming academic settings: one at Kansas State University and the other at the 2024 Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society Conference in Syracuse, NY. These presentations will showcase the analysis of interview and survey data, which forms a significant component of my doctoral dissertation. Upon completion, my dissertation will be publicly accessible through the Kansas State University library and digitally available via the ProQuest Dissertation and Theses Database. Additionally, I am currently in the process of developing several peer-reviewed articles based on this research, which are underway for submission to journals, including the Journal of Environment, Development, and Sustainability.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This project serves as a window into the intentional and complex decision-making processes of farmers, revealing how they purposefully integrate community considerations, including the economic, environmental, and social aspects of the broader community when making farming decisions. Through in-depth interviews and surveys, we have gained valuable insights into the thought processes and motivations driving farmers' choices, highlighting the interconnectedness between environmental stewardship, community well-being, and farm management.

Farmers recognize the profound impact their decisions have on both the natural environment and the social fabric of their communities. We have documented instances where farmers prioritize sustainable practices not only for their economic viability but also out of a sense of responsibility toward community vitality.

By shedding light on these intentional efforts to integrate community considerations into farming decisions, our project offers valuable insights for policymakers, agricultural stakeholders, and the public, underscoring the importance of recognizing and supporting farmers' roles as stewards of the land and community builders while also highlighting the interconnected nature of agricultural, environmental, and social systems. Moving forward, these insights can inform the development of policies, programs, and initiatives that promote sustainable agriculture and foster community well-being.

Knowledge Gained:

Throughout the duration of this project, both my advisor and I experienced considerable growth in our understanding and appreciation of sustainable agriculture. Initially, while we understood the fundamental principles underlying sustainable farming practices, our knowledge deepened as we delved into the complexities of the topic through interviews, surveys, and data analysis. We gained a nuanced understanding of the diverse approaches and strategies employed by farmers to promote sustainability within their communities. From this project, we developed a greater sense of urgency and commitment to advocating for sustainable practices within the agricultural sector, recognizing the critical role they play in ensuring the long-term health and resilience of our communities.

In terms of skills, we improve our abilities in research methodology, data collection, and analysis, as well as in communication and outreach. Engaging with agricultural stakeholders and conveying complex ideas effectively helped to enhance our skills as we navigated through the various stages of the project. Moreover, our awareness of the interconnectedness between farming practices, community well-being, and broader sustainability issues was heightened.

Overall, the project served as a transformative learning experience, enriching our knowledge, attitudes, skills, and awareness about sustainable agriculture and inspiring us to continue our efforts in advancing sustainability within the agricultural sector.

Success stories:

“Thanks so much for presenting at our conference last month!  Your contribution was truly appreciated, and I heard very positive feedback about what you shared…Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.”

(From a farmer conference organizer in Kansas)


We extend our sincere gratitude to SARE for the invaluable opportunity to conduct research funded by the program, underscoring its pivotal role in advancing sustainable agriculture. Through this support, we have uncovered findings that contribute to our understanding of the dynamic relationships between farming practices and community well-being. These insights are crucial because they will not only help contemporary farmers but also lead to new ideas for making farming more sustainable in the future. It is essential to continue supporting research and outreach activities aimed at promoting sustainable farming practices. By doing so, we can ensure that farmers and rural communities have the necessary resources and support to overcome challenges they may face. We encourage SARE to continue its vital role in funding projects that address emerging challenges and opportunities in the sphere of sustainable agriculture, with a particular focus on promoting activities that raise awareness about community issues and potential solutions.

Information Products

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.