Reframing the Sustainable Farming Narrative to Help Northeast Farmers Effectively Activate Consumers

Project Overview

LNE19-390R
Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2019: $175,412.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2022
Grant Recipient: Red Tomato
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:

Commodities

  • Fruits: apples, peaches

Practices

  • Education and Training: framing narrative(s) for effective communication with farmers, scientists, the public
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems

    Proposal abstract:

    To activate consumers to support Northeast farmers, we will:
    1. Use Strategic Frame Analysis (a social science research process) to create and test new narratives that explain sustainable farming;
    2. Apply research outputs to Northeast orchards using IPM and test how (and whether) new narrative elements improve communication to customers and community;
    3. Package project outputs into a Communications Training Kit that will enable Northeast farmers to more effectively activate and expand their customer base.

    Problem, Novel Approach and Justification. The common public understanding of farming practices in the U.S. quickly devolves into the organic (good) vs. conventional (bad) mindset, or frame. Organic farmers enjoy a price premium and recognition of growing healthy, safe food ‘the right way.’ Yet, this frame excludes a large portion of our country’s farmers raising wholesale crops where organic production is not viable. Fruit production in the Northeast is a prime example where climate and pest pressures require the more nuanced practice of advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Like organic, advanced IPM growers assume additional risk and cost, and in return, they too seek public recognition and appreciation for prioritizing agroecological production. Recognition, commitment and willingness to pay require public understanding of these sustainable production practices. Despite creativity and hard work over decades, farmers, scientists, and organizations like Red Tomato struggle to explain this method of sustainable farming in a way that inspires eaters to commit to sustainably produced fruit from the region. In a time when Northeast growers are rapidly losing market share to West coast production, addressing this gap in public understanding is critical to the survival of our farms and orchards.

    Research Plan. The novel approach in this project is the marriage of an ongoing national social science research effort called The Farming and Food Narrative Project (FFNP) and the application of its findings to Northeast orchards who practice advanced integrated pest management (IPM). Utilizing the social science of framing – the cognitive science that studies how people make sense of information – this project will research, create, test, and apply new frames (metaphors, examples, and narrative) relating to sustainable agriculture.

    Hypothesis. Understanding of the cultural models that average citizens use when interpreting information about sustainable farming will inform the development of reframed, or, new frames that lessen people’s misconceptions about farming and build more accurate understanding about sustainable farming. These new frames will provide Northeast fruit growers with communication tools (with training) that enable them to explain their integrated pest management (IPM) practices to customers more effectively than before.

    Outreach Plan. We will leverage the FFNP Communication and Dissemination Plan developed as part of the national project to amplify and share the results of our Northeast application of its research throughout the region.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    To activate consumers to support Northeast farmers, we will:

    1. Use Strategic Frame Analysis (a social science research process) to create and test new narratives that explain sustainable farming;
    2. Apply research outputs to Northeast orchards using IPM and test how (and whether) new narrative elements improve communication to customers and community;
    3. Package project outputs into a Communications Training Kit that will enable Northeast farmers to more effectively activate and expand their customer base.
    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.