Meeting needs at the margins: Building networks to support "missed" land stewards proposes to apply peer-to-peer learning in support of two different under-served or “missed” demographic groups, women landowners/farmers and beginning farmers. Through these two cohort cases, we will study how the extension of cohort building and sustained co-developed programming influences on-farm sustainability. This project will extend the existing research studying social networks in sustainable agriculture by identifying how to better tailor the cohort learning model through participant-led engagement to meet the needs of distinct demographic groups whose needs are often missed in agricultural education and programming.
These missed land stewards are needed if we are to improve equity in agriculture and conservation actions on the ground. Agriculture in the North Central Region is predominated by larger farms lacking biodiversity and diversity in land management; the majority of farmer operators are men (66%) with an average age of 57.5. Less than 8% of all producers are under the age of 34. Beginning farmers face many barriers including access to land and capital while landowners are often “off the radar” of agricultural professionals. Gender can also be a barrier for these groups. Half of agricultural farmland is owned or co-owned by women, yet they are often excluded from decision-making. The number of women in sustainable agriculture is growing, yet they experience gender-based income gaps. Prior research demonstrates that women and beginning farmers are eager to employ conservation strategies on their land and in their operations, and yet they are often left “at the margins”: conventional agriculture outreach typically doesn’t include them or their interests. Beginning farmers, especially, may not be well served by mainstream programming that divorces specific needs, such as financial planning, from work-life realities.
This interdisciplinary project builds upon our preliminary research with landowners and beginning farmers to engage groups of land stewards in cohort-building that will aid them in taking action to support their stewardship goals. The unique nature of the existing groups and partnerships that we will leverage allows us to study a model of sustained network engagement amongst distinct but similar groups “at the margins”. Assessment throughout the project will include evaluation surveys, focus groups, learning circles, and participant interviews that will measure connections and actions. These land stewards have the potential to make important contributions to the revitalization of their communities while advancing environmental sustainability in the North Central Region.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Develop peer mentoring cohorts who will identify on-farm improvement goals and activities
- Assess ecological, economic, and social cohort impacts through relationships made and actions taken
- Assess learnings from agriculture professionals when exposed to cohorts
- Cohort members identify opportunities to leverage on-farm changes
- Cohort members have greater sense of belonging within their agrifood network
- Agricultural professionals gain experience with land stewards “at the margins”
- Cohort members are better connected to resources
- Cohort members take actions, e.g. new practice implementation or mentorship relationships
- Cohort members gain and/or improve skills/connections contributing to sustainability goals