Land Ethics: Connecting Producers, Consumers, Land and Food

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2003: $9,620.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Charles Francis
Grain Place Foundation

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, swine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: free-range, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: extension, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study, market study, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, genetic resistance
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: urban/rural integration, sustainability measures


    Farmer and consumer land ethics and opinions and potential participation in local food systems were studied in Washington County, Nebraska. Results indicated an ethic of environmental stewardship for both populations. Consumers were interested in purchasing food from farmers’ markets, local restaurants and grocery stores, and directly from farmers. In contrast, the majority of farmers indicated no interest in meeting this market demand. The predominant agricultural system in the county is conventional corn and soybean production, and most farmers in the study predicted that they would be farming more land under this system in the future.


    As U.S. and global populations become increasingly urban, and as the corporate-owned global food system continues to account for the largest share of agricultural profits, people are more isolated from the original sources of their food, and their dependence on agriculture becomes less apparent. Consumers in the United States spend about 10.7% of total disposable income on food, while the farm value share received by farmers is only a fraction (19%) of each consumer’s food dollar. The remaining amount goes for marketing, processing, wholesaling, transportation, and retailing of farm products (Economic Research Service, 2002). At the same time, consumers have become further removed from the land, potentially changing their role in the food system.

    The growing disconnects between people, land, and agriculture may lead to decreased communication and cooperation between farmers and consumers in the food system. Study and identification of common values, attitudes, and ethics among these two groups are lacking. It is important to understand the ethical positions of farmers and consumers with regard to economic, environmental, and social dimensions of land and food in order to highlight commonalities that may form the bridges between rural and urban residents.

    One goal of this study was to gauge market potentials for locally produced foods in Washington County, Nebraska. Local food systems have been increasingly suggested as additions and/or alternatives to the global system of food distribution and production. The focus in the local food system literature is on consumer attitudes and preferences, especially in regions of the U.S. where farmers already grow for local, direct markets (Adelaja et al., 1990; Brown, 2003; Eastwood et al, 1987; Gallons et al., 1997; Govindasamy et al., 1997; Kezis et al., 1984; Kezis et al., 1998; Lockeretz, 1986; Patterson et al., 1999; Ross et al., 1999; Thomson and Kelvin, 1996; Wilkins et al., 1996; Zumwalt, 2001). By examining the attitudes and opinions of farmers along side those of consumers, this study contributed to a better understanding of some of the challenges associated with operating local food systems.

    Another goal of this study was to gain a better understanding of the land ethics of farmers and consumers in Washington County. The work of Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac (1949) was the initial spark for the study. Studies of environmental attitudes and opinions (Van Liere and Dunlap, 1980), environmental paradigms (Dunlap and Van Liere, 1978; McMillan et al., 1997; Milbrath, 1985; Scott and Willits, 1994), and agrarian environmentalism (Buttel et al., 1981; Buttel and Flinn, 1974; Filson, 1993; Lowe and Pinhey, 1982; Tremblay and Dunlap, 1978; Vogel, 1996; Williams and Moore, 1991) informed this study. Additionally, literature on agricultural paradigms (Abaidoo and Dickinson, 2002; Allen and Bernhardt, 1995; Beus and Dunlap, 1990) and environmental ethics (Manning and Valliere, 1995, 1996; Negra and Manning, 1997; Palmer, 2003) was used in the design of survey instruments. For the purposes of the study, land ethics consist of a set of normative statements about how people ought to use and manage the land. The normative nature of these items makes them different from items used in studies of attitudes and behaviors.

    Project objectives:

    The overall objectives of the study were to gauge farmer and consumer interest in locally produced foods in Washington County, Nebraska, and to examine land ethics for both of these populations.

    Specific objectives included the following:

    Objective 1: To examine the current food system in Washington County.

    Objective 2: To examine consumer food preferences, local food purchasing history, and interest in future local food purchases.

    Objective 3: To examine farmer interest in producing food for local markets and in sustainable farming practices.

    Objective 4: To quantify land ethics of farmer and consumers, and to determine if these two populations share similar ethics about land use.

    Objective 5: To test for relationships between land ethics and farming practices.

    Objective 6: To determine whether or not farmers want to continue farming, if they want their children to farm, and what factors influence these decisions.

    Long-term outcomes, as stated in proposal included: illumination of a deeper connection between consumers, land, and food; cooperation within farming communities; more local food production; less reliance on purchased inputs and agribusiness; protection of biodiversity; more farmers farming with increased profits; increased consumer health; information about the potential need for further education; government assistance for sustainable agricultural practices.

    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.