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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 14, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2023
  3. In the past few decades, farmers and researchers have firmly established that biologically diversified farming systems improve ecosystem services both on and off the farm, producing economic benefits for farmers and ecological benefits for surrounding landscapes. However, adoption of these practices has been slow, requiring a more nuanced examination of both barriers and opportunities to improve adoption rates. While previous research has demonstrated that both individual and structural factors shape farmers' decisions about whether to adopt diversification practices, this study aims to understand the interaction of these individual and structural factors, and how they relate to farm scale. Based on 20 interviews with organic lettuce growers on the Central Coast of California, as well as 8 interviews with technical assistance providers who work with these growers, we constructed a typology to help elucidate the distinct contexts that shape growers' decisions about diversification practices. This typology, which reflects the structural influence of land rent and supply chains, divides growers into three categories: limited resource, mid-scale diversified, or wholesale. In this economic context, limited resource and wholesale growers both experience significant barriers that constrain the adoption of diversification practices, while some mid-scale diversified growers have found a “sweet spot” for managing agroecosystemsmore »that can succeed in both economic and ecological terms. The key enabling factors that allow these farmers to choose diversification, however, are not directly related to their farm size, but have more to do with secure land tenure, adequate access to capital and resources, and buyers who share their values and are willing to pay a premium. By focusing on these key enabling factors with targeted policies, we believe it is possible to encourage diversification practices on farms at a variety of scales within California's Central Coast.« less
  4. Humanity faces a triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss, and global food insecurity. In response, increasing the general adaptive capacity of farming systems is essential. We identify two divergent strategies for building adaptive capacity. Simplifying processes seek to narrowly maximize production by shifting the basis of agricultural production toward centralized control of socially and ecologically homogenized systems. Diversifying processes cultivate social-ecological complexity in order to provide multiple ecosystem services, maintain management flexibility, and promote coordinated adaptation across levels. Through five primarily United States focused cases of distinct agricultural challenges—foodborne pathogens, drought, marginal lands, labor availability, and land access and tenure—we compare simplifying and diversifying responses to assess how these pathways differentially enhance or degrade the adaptive capacity of farming systems in the context of the triple threat. These cases show that diversifying processes can weave a form of broad and nimble adaptive capacity that is fundamentally distinct from the narrow and brittle adaptive capacity produced through simplification. We find that while there are structural limitations and tradeoffs to diversifying processes, adaptive capacity can be facilitated by empowering people and enhancing ecosystem functionality to proactively distribute resources and knowledge where needed and to nimbly respond to changing circumstances. Our casesmore »suggest that, in order to garner the most adaptive benefits from diversification, farming systems should balance the pursuit of multiple goals, which in turn requires an inclusive process for active dialogue and negotiation among diverse perspectives. Instead of locking farming systems into pernicious cycles that reproduce social and ecological externalities, diversification processes can enable nimble responses to a broad spectrum of possible stressors and shocks, while also promoting social equity and ecological sustainability.« less