Gender, Sexuality, and Social Sustainability: Exploring Queer Farmers' Relationships, Ethics, and Practices in the Midwest
This project's outcomes focus on improving knowledge about queer farmers. First, this project will examine core challenges that that queer farmers face in establishing economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable farms. Second, this project will analyze how dual identities of being queer and being farmers inform one another in these farmers' experiences, taking into consideration quality of life, resilience strategies, and ethics and values. I use the term "queer" here to refer to people who are not heterosexual or cisgender (people whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth), including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary identities.
Social identities like race, class, gender, and sexuality shape the ways that farmers are able to engage in agricultural networks, resources, and communities. The "family farm," for example, is organized around a heterosexual marriage, where romantic partners become business partners. However, marginalized gender identities and sexualities are often rendered invisible in sustainable agriculture, making it difficult to properly and formally allocate resources and support for these farmers.
Currently, there is very little research on how queer farmers experience and engage with agricultural systems, but what research does exist has shown that queer farmers adopt particular ecological values, farming practices, and strategies for resistance and coping with homophobia and transphobia (Leslie 2017; Wypler 2019; Hoffelmeyer 2021). To create an environment within sustainable agriculture that is welcoming of a diverse group of people, we must make social structures such as gender and sexuality more visible and demonstrate their merits through research.
Through forty-five semi-structured qualitative interviews with queer farmers in Michigan and Indiana conducted between September 2022 and August 2024, this project will illustrate the unique experiences of these farmers in sustainable agriculture. Based on key themes and ideas that emerge from these interviews, I will create typologies of alternative resource networks and resiliency strategies of queer farmers, and I will develop specific recommendations for organizations and other farmers to support queer farmers and their work.
I will evaluate progress toward expected outcomes by assessing opportunities to present data and findings and to build and maintain sustained relationships with farmers and partner organizations. Outcomes of this project will be relevant to queer farmers by providing knowledge about economic and production practices; resources for support, security, and acceptance; and common resilience strategies that other queer farmers access and employ.
Project objectives from proposal:
This project will provide outcomes in two primary areas. First, this project will provide knowledge on the barriers that queer farmers face in establishing economically viable farms, including barriers related to income and profit, production, and resource networks. By sharing findings from this study with participants through workshops and presentations, I will inform queer farmers about how other queer farmers access resources that support economically viable farms. By increasing awareness of alternative, successful economic and production strategies, these findings will equip queer farmers to access resources and deploy these strategies. Additionally, through written materials and presentations, I will share findings with organizations providing financial, production, and network resources. These organizations will learn what barriers queer farmers face in accessing resources and will tailor their activities to support queer farmers in accessing resources.
Second, this project will provide knowledge about how queer farmers negotiate identities as both queer people and farmers, taking into consideration quality of life, resilience strategies, and ethics and values. By sharing project outcomes and findings, I will provide queer farmers with examples of how others access support, employ resilience strategies, and construct ethics and values in their agricultural work. Additionally, through written materials and presentations produced for this project, organizations and agricultural professionals will learn what opportunities queer farmers need to improve their quality of life through support, security, and acceptance. With specific feedback on what opportunities would best support queer farmers, these entities can collaborate to provide programs, training, and practices that promote inclusion and support.