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

2013 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 January and December 2013 focused on addressing Objectives 1 and 2. In the first quarter, we collectively developed the methodological protocol for listening sessions while each state team established an advisory board with stakeholders in each state. In May, the research team met again at the University of Tennessee. We shared lessons from the first listening session held in each state in order to refine the research instruments and made adjustments to the overall project design in order to achieve objectives within the allocated budget and time. In the rest of the year, we completed listening sessions and began analysis. During this period, we met monthly in the first six months and then once in two months to monitor progress with listening sessions and discuss the research methodology for case study. We developed protocols and instruments for case study.

  1. Coalition Building: Each state established its own Advisory Board with stakeholders. Each Board met at least once over the phone to share knowledge and resource maps drafted during the previous year. These Boards provided us their feedback on our listening session protocol (mainly strategy and approach, not detailed instruments).
  2. Listening Sessions: We completed 16 listening sessions, including: 5 by the University of Kentucky, 4 by the University of Tennessee, and 7 by VirginiaTech University. By December 2013, we completed preliminary analysis of the data and identified key challenges.
  3. Case Study Protocol Development: We began designing protocols and instruments for pilot case study of beginning farmers (see the attachment). The University of Kentucky team will carry out the pilot case, and then begin the development of the final case study protocols and instruments.
  4. Tri-State Survey: We collectively decided not to pursue a tri-state survey of beginning farmers for both logistic and financial reason. First, there is not enough fund in the budget to carry out a survey. Second, both the University of Kentucky and VirginiaTech had experienced enormous difficulties in recruiting beginning farmers to complete the survey. Therefore, we decided to review the key findings from these two state-wide surveys in Kentucky and Virginia and help to design one for Tennessee.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In June, 2013, Tanaka gave 2 invited presentations at Osaka University and Nagoya University in Japan. These presentations focus on the interdisciplinary methodologies of our research project.

“???????????????????????????????????????[Mapping Sustainability, Farming Sustainably: Mapping Approach in the Study of Sustainable Farming Systems].” Presented at the International Studies Seminar, Osaka University, Japan, June 2013; Presented at the Environmental Studies Seminar Nagoya University, Japan, June 2013 [Japanese].


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