As a result of participating in the cohorts, 83% of participating farmers (n=30) who gross at least $50,000 annually, report improvement in quality of life and personal wellness as measured pre-post cohort intervention. After implementing social sustainability plans, participating farmers and 108 family members or employees report positive changes to the farm environment or reduced employee turnover.
Problem and Justification:
Social sustainability requires adaptation and resilience in the face of change and stress. The well-being, quality of life, and social sustainability of US farmers, farm families, and farmworkers is a great concern because of farm labor shortfalls, global markets, climate change, and changes in technology and consumer preferences. Most farm sustainability efforts center on economic or environmental concerns; few sustainability projects focus on social sustainability with educational interventions to enhance relational skills and social supports. Maine farmers attending a recent farmer field tour and Northeast farmers responding to a social sustainability survey expressed a desire for peer learning and opportunities to convene at retreat to discuss issues of social sustainability. Agricultural service providers will also feel more prepared to identify/address issues of social sustainability when farmers validate the need.
Solution and Approach:
Applied research with farmers and agricultural service providers will test the validity of three facets of social sustainability: 1) health and well-being; 2) equity; and 3) community connections. The process will inform educational curriculum development for a series of two farmer retreats and an online learning platform that address self, family and employees, and community connections. All participating farmers will develop and implement individualized social sustainability strategies tailored to their specific needs and farm context. Evaluation approaches (i.e. surveys, interviews) will document the outcomes, impacts, and behavior change on farms and in communities. To promote social connectedness and foster a peer community of practice, project participants will share insights and information with other farmers and service providers via formal educational channels at conferences and other professional gatherings, and via informal peer-to-peer networking. In turn, increased feelings of support and community, which build resilience in times of stress and economic strain, will result. Through outreach, farmers will learn from program participants about social sustainability: how to build community connections, support equity, address health and well-being, and improve on-farm work environments for themselves and family members or employees. A toolbox of curricula, educational materials, and facilitation guides about social sustainability will be created, and 20 regional agricultural service providers will access materials and increase confidence adopting education strategies to address social sustainability.
- As a result of participating in the retreats and professional development, at least 33 (90% of participants from both retreats) implement social sustainability strategies to change the farm environment or reduce employee turnover and report improvement in social sustainability as measured pre-post cohort intervention.
- 20 service providers report increased confidence understanding and addressing farm social sustainability as a result of participation in advisory group membership, retreat(s), work with cohort farms, or attending a training.
- At least 90 of the farmer cohort participants’ employees/family members (75% return rate of at least 125 surveyed) report positive changes in social sustainability on the farm through actions taken as part of social sustainability strategies (e.g. farmer behavior, farm policies, workplace culture).
How can indicators of “social sustainability” measure farmer community connection, equity, health and wellbeing? How do deliberate interventions (retreats and online communities) create experiences of social support for farmers? How do farmers’ individual actions through their social sustainability strategies and community outreach enhance social sustainability with family members, employees, and other farmers?
- Social sustainability cannot be measured through indicators.
- Social sustainability cannot be changed by deliberate intervention, planning, and peer dialogue.
- Intervention methods are equally effective (in-person or on-line) in enhancing social sustainability.
- Farmers will not experience social connection from an ongoing online community.
Validation of Social Sustainability Indicators-To assess which metrics meaningfully capture or describe social sustainability from a farmer’s perspective, surveys will be developed based on farmer-participant input via focus groups and survey, literature reviews, and consultation the advisory team and other experts. Inquiry will focus on: 1) health and well-being; 2) equity; and 3) community connections. At least 300 Northeast farmers will review and prioritize social sustainability indicators in these areas. At least two online focus groups with farmers will reflect upon the indicators prioritized and proposed measures to quantify changes in social sustainability. These indicators will frame the verification surveys used throughout the project.
The specific educational approaches used and content areas of focus for this project are co-developed by participating farmers, service providers, researchers and area specialists based on a participant action research framework. The early phase of work will focus on engaging farmers to refine project educational priorities and methods through a series of in-person and virtual focus groups held across the region. The results of these conversations will be used to guide development of a farmer input survey for broad regional distribution, which, in turn, will be used to further hone the scope and nature of long-term project goals, effective educational methods and accessible outreach tools to be developed and implemented in years 2-3 of the project.
Project years 2 and 3 will each feature a multi-day retreat, facilitated peer-to-peer and professional mentoring, and an online community of practice
1. 100 farmers, farm family members, service providers, farm employees, and service providers participate in 3-6 in-person or online focus groups to prioritize and define indicators of well-being, equity, and community connection aspects of social sustainability. (by late Jan 2020)
We held the first 2 in-person focus groups in Maine and Massachusetts (Nov 2, 2019 and Jan 11, 2020, respectively) and will be conducting two in NY on Jan 17 and Feb 19, 2020. At least two focus groups will be conducted this winter remotely via video conference and, if feasible, we may offer additional in-person focus groups to accommodate more participation.
Our research team has developed and is beginning to use a coding rubric for systematically analyzing focus group data derived from audio transcripts, facilitator notes and participant notes.
2. 300 NE farmers, farm family members, farm employees and/or service providers respond to survey to validate indicators. (April 2020)
3. 1,000 Northeast farmers, farm family members, farm employees and service providers learn about the project. (September 2020)
4. Out of 100 focus group participants invited to apply, 40 people total (1-2 individuals per farm and up to three service providers) selected for in-person retreats (October 2020)
5. 40 individuals complete pre-retreat self-assessment, participate in in-person retreat and begin selection of social sustainability strategies (between October 2020 and February 2021)
6. At least three online professional development (PD) offerings and three state-based gatherings (one each in NY, MA, ME) held for retreat participants (n=40) and up to 60 additional farmers, farm families and employees in each state. (date to be selected: between 1st and 2nd retreat)
7. At least 16 retreat participants (40% of the cohort) join in-person and/or online peer-to-peer meet-ups (in addition to the PD sessions) to provide and receive peer support. (Between 1st retreat and May 2022)
8. At least eight retreat participants (20% of the cohort) share their findings about social sustainability informally with at least three other producers through localized peer networks. (Between 1st retreat and May 2022)
9. At least 36 retreat participants (90% of cohort) participate in second in-person retreat (date to be selected: between November 2021 and Feb 2022)
10. Four of the participating producers and three service providers expand community outreach through presentations at farmer conferences that reach 75 new individuals, including 20 agricultural service providers. (Between 1st retreat and May 2022)
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Performance Target Outcomes
increased social sustainability for farmer cohort participants
improved personal well-being, equity, community connections
develop/implement social sustainability strategies
improved work satisfaction, employee retention, personal well-being, equity, community connections on farm
improvement in worker/family perception of social sustainability on the farm
improvement in farmer behavior, farm policies, workplace culture
Additional Project Outcomes
As a result of current project that compliment the topic of social sustainability, the advisory team has become a learning community. The January meeting of the advisory provided an opportunity for the members to learn about a resource guide for resilience building in farm families, and one of the members provided a training for the group. This activity enhances this specific project as well as the work of individual advisory members in their work outside of this project. Maria Pippidis and Bonnie Braun presented their work on Farm and Family Risk and Resilience and a recently published guide, available at: https://www.udel.edu/content/dam/udelImages/canr/pdfs/extension/economic-personal-development/Farm-and-Farm-Family-Risk-and-Resilience-Guide-1-17-20.pdf