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

2012 Annual Report for LS12-251

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

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


This project aims 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? To answer these questions, we examine three dimensions of farm systems: farms (biophysical map), farmers (socioeconomic map), and perspectives on sustainability (cultural map). An interdisciplinary research team works together to develop and implement instruments for assessing efficacy of each map in guiding farmers make successful transitions to commercially-viable sustainable farm systems.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. Improve our understanding of diverse farm/food systems in the Upper Southeast region which beginning farmers create and participate in by: (a) 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; (b) understanding the biophysical, socioeconomic, and cultural maps used by these farmers to guide their operations; and (c) 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: (a) profiling various types of operations from preproduction to postharvest stages; and (b) classifying their common and distinctive needs for support;

3. 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.


Our work between June and December 2012 focused on addressing Objective 1. In the summer of 2012, immediately after the approval of this project, the research team met at the University of Tennessee to establish the structure and procedures to monitor the progress of this project. Since then, the project team has been meeting every other week over a conference call to update the progress with carrying about proposed activities in Year 1, including: (a) synthesized the existing data to develop our current “knowledge map” about beginning farmers; (b) creating a “resource map” that includes organizations providing support to diverse farmers/farms; (c) establishing a coalition of stakeholder organizations, agencies, and groups; (d) hosting six listening sessions with farmers that would provide our research teams with feedback on the content and construction of the maps and the survey and case study instruments; and (e) conducting the regional survey to: (a) develop a typology of sustainable farm systems used by beginning famers and (b) identify their challenges and needs to develop a commercially-viable and sustainable farm system.

1. Knowledge Map: Knowledge maps are in the process of development. Our existing knowledge about beginning farmers from our previous work in each state has been incorporated into the strategy for organizing listening sessions. However, we have not yet. We hope to constructed “knowledge maps” which can be shared with farmers through our planned project website.

2. Resource Map: Resource maps are in the process of development, each of which will be shared with the Advisory Board at that state. We plan to share our resource and knowledge maps with our Advisory Boards for feedback, and then with Project Team members at the annual project team meeting in May 2013 so as to make these maps more consistent.

3. Coalition Building: As of December 2012, each state is about to establish its own Advisory Board with stakeholders. Each Board is expected to meet regularly over the phone, though frequency may vary among the three states. These Boards will be instrumental for state-level project teams to organize listening sessions and recruit participants to the sessions.

4. Listening Sessions: As of December 31, 2012, we are still in the process of carrying out listening sessions. We expect to complete all six listening sessions per state by the end of summer. Analysis of these data will begin over the summer of 2013. By December 2013, we expect to be able to Identify key challenges and needs of beginning farmers to develop a commercially-viable and sustainable farm/food system. Hypothesis and typologies developed at this stage will be investigated deeply through case studies and the survey between January and December 2014.

5. Regional Survey: As organizing listening sessions has been more time-consuming than expected, the Regional Survey has been postponed. In our upcoming annual meeting of the project team in May 2013, we plan to discuss in detail how survey will be incorporated into our project.

Most of Year 1 activities will be completed by the end of August 2013. As we analyze the data collected in Year 1, our research activities are beginning to address Objective 2.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Since the project started in June/July 2012, it is too early in the project to discuss impacts and contributions/outcomes.


Dr. Margarita Velandia

[email protected]
Assistant Professor
University of Tennessee
Agricultural & Resource Economics
314 C Morgan Hall
Knoxville, TN 37996-4518
Office Phone: 8659747409
Dr. Steve Hodges

[email protected]
VirginiaTech University
Crop & Soil Sciences Dept
235 Smyth
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Office Phone: 5402318801
Dr. Annette Lynn Wszelaki

[email protected]
Associate Professor
University of Tennessee
Plant & Soil Sciences
252 Ellington Plant Sciences
Knoxville, TN 37996-4561
Office Phone: 8659748332
Dr. Krista Jacobsen

[email protected]
Assistant Professor
University of Kentucky
Horticulture Dept
N-318 Agricultural Sciences Center
Lexington, KY 40546-0091
Office Phone: 8592573921
Dr. Kim Niewolny

[email protected]
Assistant Professor
VirginiaTech University
Agricultural & Extension Education Dept
282 Litton-Reaves Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Office Phone: 5402315784