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Organic farmers face persistent barriers to adopting diversification practices in California’s Central CoastFree, publicly-accessible full text available September 14, 2023
Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2023
The “Sweet Spot” in the Middle: Why Do Mid-Scale Farms Adopt Diversification Practices at Higher Rates?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 »
Narrow and Brittle or Broad and Nimble? Comparing Adaptive Capacity in Simplifying and Diversifying Farming SystemsHumanity 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 »