Mapping Sustainable Farm Systems: An Integrated Focus on Upper South New Producers as Catalysts of "Good Stewardship"

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $270,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Keiko Tanaka
University of Kentucky

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: melons, apples, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), berries (cranberries), cherries, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, lentils, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: tobacco, herbs
  • Animals: bees, bovine, poultry, goats, swine, sheep, fish
  • Animal Products: dairy
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, free-range, grazing management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, indicators
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, cultural control, integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures


    This project aimed to design outreach and educational programs for commercially-oriented beginning farmers in the Upper Southeast by asking: What kind of farm systems do beginning farmers establish? What types of knowledge do they rely on to construct their systems? What challenges do they face? The farm system was conceptualized as the interaction of the biophysical, socioeconomic and cultural realms, which are conceptualized in this project as essential “maps” to guide farmers practice of certain styles from preproduction to postharvest. These maps span spatial scales and boundaries of knowledge; they describe the position and interaction of a particular farm within the larger physical, economic and cultural landscape. To answer these questions, we examined three dimensions of farm systems: farms (biophysical map), farmers (socioeconomic map), and perspectives on sustainability (cultural map). An interdisciplinary research team worked together to develop and implement instruments for assessing efficacy of each map in guiding farmers make successful transitions to commercially-viable sustainable farm systems. In this project, we completed 16 listening sessions and case study of 9 farm systems. We have learned that beginning farmers enter into farming from different background with diverse goals. Our data show the importance of support mechanisms that enable beginning farmers to translate their philosophies and visions for sustainable farming into concrete management practices. We recommend that support providers both widen and deepen their knowledge in farming and agricultural marketing so as to serve a broader range of beginning farmers with diverse goals. More support services are needed beyond farming and marketing techniques.

    Project objectives:

    There were three objectives in this project, including:

    1. Improve our understanding of diverse farm/food systems in the Upper Southeast region which beginning farmers create and participate in by:
      1. Identifying current knowledge gaps (i) among these farmers about sustainable farming and farm systems; and (ii) between researchers/extension agents and beginning farmers about challenges these farmers face and resources available to them;
      2. Understanding the biophysical, socioeconomic, and cultural maps used by these farmers to guide their operations; and
      3. Developing typologies of sustainable farm/food systems used by these farmers;
    2. Identify challenges and needs of beginning farmers to develop a commercially-viable and sustainable farm/food system by:
      1. Profiling various types of operations from preproduction to postharvest stages; and
      2. Classifying their common and distinctive needs for support;

    Design a support infrastructure that includes targeted outreach and educational programs to address these challenges and meet their needs by establishing a regional network of universities, government, and community-based organizations.

    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.