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

2014 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; and
  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 2014 focused on addressing Objectives 1 and 2. During the first quarter, the University of Kentucky team completed a pilot case study and finalized the methodologies for both interviews and modeling. Over the summer, the VirginiaTech team also completed one case study and began modeling. Instead of face-to-face meeting, we held our annual meeting over Skype on August 20, 2014 to review our methodologies for case study and modeling. As of December 2014, each team fully completed one case study and in the process of completing the second and third ones. Major accomplishments during this year are as follows:

  1. Listening Sessions: We combined the data from 16 listening sessions, carried out by the 3 states, and presented findings at professional meetings.
  2. Case Study: We developed protocols and instruments for case study of beginning farmers (see the attachments). The team agreed that each state would complete 3 cases. Each case study involves 3 in-depth interviews, each of which takes about two to three hours. Consequently, we have generated an enormous amount of detailed information about how these beginning farmers design their farming systems and what constrains and challenges they experience. As of December, each team completed at least one and in the process of completing the second and third case study.
  3. Modeling/Mapping: We spent a considerable time for discussing a strategy for mapping/modeling. Because each case farmer has his/her own unique perspective on sustainability and goals in building a sustainable farming system, we have agreed to use different tools for modeling each case farm, including: Stella, Excel, and PowerPoint. This strategy will allow us to capture how farmers prioritize their goals for agricultural sustainability. During the no-cost extension period, we need to complete this mapping/modeling.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

During this project period, several papers were given at the professional conferences. I have included several outputs not reported in the previous annual reports.

Consultation/Community Service

Brislen, L. Board Member, Community Farm Alliance, Frankfort, KY. She specifically works on issues concerning beginning, young farmers.

Paper/Poster Presentations

Niewolny, K., L. MacAuley, K. Tanaka, L. Brislen, K. Jacobsen, M. Velandia, Z. Li, and A. Wszelaki. 2014. “Exploring Beginning Farmer Knowledge Production of Sustainable Farming Systems in the Upper Southeast Region: A Systems Approach to “Mapping” Agricultural Sustainability.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Rural Sociological Association, Dallas, TX, February 2014.

Niewolny, K., L. MacAuley, and S. Hodges. 2014.An integrated approach to “Mapping” Farming Systems of commercially-oriented Beginning Farmers:  Listening session findings in the Appalachian region of Virginia”.  Poster presented at the 2014 Virginia Cooperative Extension Winter Conference.  Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.

Tanaka, K., K. Jacobsen, and L. Brislen. 2014. “Mapping a Sustainable Farm System: Transdisciplinary Approach to Modeling the Complexity of Sustainability.” Presented at the 77th Annual Meeting of Rural Sociological Society, New Orleans, LA, August 2014.

Tanaka, K., L. Brislen, and K. Jacobsen. 2014. “First Land: Creating a Farm for the Future.” Presented at the RC-40 Session on Land as an Asset Class: The Future of Food and Farming in the 18th World Congress of Sociology, Yokohama, Japan, June 2014.

Outputs Not Reported in the 2013 Annual Report.

Brislen, L. and K. Tanaka. 2013. “Findings from the Kentucky Beginning Farmer Survey.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Little Rock, AR.

Brislen, L. and K. Tanaka. 2013. “Mapping the Beginning Farmer Experience, A new methodology.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Little Rock, AR.

Hodges, S., S. Shanholtz, K. Niewolny, K. Jacobsen, K. Tanaka, L. Brislen, L. Macauley, M. Velandia, and A. Wszelaki. 2013. “Internship on mapping sustainable farm systems: An experiential introduction to sustainable agriculture.” Poster presented at advisors meeting, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Experiment, GA.

Brislen, L. Board Member, Community Farm Alliance, Frankfort, KY. She specifically serves on beginning, young farmers.

Outputs Not Reported in the 2012 Annual Report.

Brislen, L. 2012. “Findings form research on beginning farmers in Kentucky.” Invited presentation given at the United States Department of Agriculture, Small Farmers and Beginning Ranchers Program, Washington DC.

Brislen, Lilian. 2012. Kentucky Beginning Farmers Survey Results. White paper, published by Community Farm Alliance, Frankfort, Kentucky. (15 pages) 


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