Agricultural production across the United States is impacted by environmental variability and there is a critical need for farmers to adapt at the local level to ensure food security, rural livelihoods, and a sustainable food system. Small-scale farms, those that make less than $350,000 per year in gross cash farm income, comprise 90% of farms in the U.S. and half of all farmland. They are a critical part of a sustainable food system since they are often more biodiverse, support local food systems, and use resources more efficiently than large-scale farms. However, farmers' decisions and ability to adapt practices are influenced by many social, economic, political and environmental factors, including their beliefs about environmental change, perceptions of weather variability and risk, information sources, and farm characteristics. There is currently a limited understanding of small farmers' on-the-ground perceptions of and responses to environmental change in the U.S., and data on the various factors shaping their adaptation are needed. In addition to providing funding for the training of a graduate student in anthropology in the methods of empirical, scientific data collection and analysis, the project would enhance scientific understanding by broadly disseminating its findings to organizations invested in discovering more effective methods for communicating science to the public. The results will be disseminated to various governmental entities and farming organizations to inform outreach strategies and policies which help farmers adapt by indicating the most prevalent issues they are dealing with and how best to communicate with them via their existing social networks.
This research will be conducted with food-producing small farmers in the state of Oregon. Oregon is well-suited for this research because it is diverse both ecologically and agriculturally. As a region, the Northwest has already been experiencing the effects of a changing environment. Most notably, decreases in snowpack have increased competition for water resources and large wildfires continue to negatively affect farmers. Using interviews and a survey, the researchers will document small farmers' experiences with weather extremes and variability across Oregon and examine how they are responding to these challenges. They will also document the social networks farmers rely on for information about the weather, environment and farming practices, including other farmers, farming organizations, governmental entities, and media outlets. By spending extensive time with a subsample of farmers and having them take photographs of the weather-related challenges they experience throughout the year, researchers will also document the specific ecologies of their farms, such as what crops, weeds, pests, and animals are present. Using social network analysis, a statistical method for assessing the influence of social networks on individual outcomes, in a novel way, they will examine how these ecologies influence the challenges farmers are experiencing as well as how their social networks influence the information they receive and how they choose to adapt. The findings will indicate how various factors work together to influence small farmers' responses to environmental change.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.