Agricultural and Social Research for Sustainable Farming’s Future
Our current crisis in agriculture, farming, and food systems arises from many factors. Addressing it requires a many-faceted approach to supporting the health of farms, people, and ecosystems. It is well-known that healthy on-farm ecosystems can also play a role outside of the obvious agricultural one, such as to enhance wildlife and pollinator habitat and groundwater quality, and even reinvigorate local economy.
NEFA’s Northeast Agroecology Program, made possible with donor support, is designed to conduct and manage scientific and social-science research that answers fundamental questions about social and agricultural ecology.
In the 2016 growing season, at NEFA’s three New York agricultural centers in Copake, Chester, and Kingston, New York, a multidisciplinary approach and mixed methods began to be utilized to analyze the social and ecological impacts and benefits that are generated when agriculture, people’s livelihoods, and nature co-exist.
What Is Agroecology?
Agroecology links ecosystems, native plants and beneficial insects, with social systems to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.
NEFA’s Unique Opportunity
The diversified farming and processing operations at NEFA’s three distinct sites each comprise three or more farm households with complementary operations. The Centers are different ecologically; in various stages of conversion from conventional to organic agricultural practices; and at different phases of adaptation to mutual association and investor ownership.
Total acreage as the living laboratory for our research: 192 at Copake; 270 at Chester; plus 214 the Esopus center (near Kingston).
- Details of the Copake agroecology plans (detail below left), plus map
- Details of the Esopus agroecology plans, plus map
- Details of the Chester agroecology plans (detail below right), plus map
The Northeast Agroecology Institute is registering as a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization based in Marlborough, New Hampshire. The Agroecology Institute’s work, led by a team of farmers, ecologists, and social-justice advocates in multiple partnerships in the Northeast, is focused on applied research and education that brings together critical interventions in agricultural ecosystem enhancement, food access, and mutual-association farming for healthy agricultural and food systems.
The goal of The Agroecology Institute is to assess ecological and human communities and relationships that occur naturally on the farm, and to work together to figure out how to enhance or reestablish these relationships as needed. The Institute’s vision is sustainable agriculture that is interdependent with and integrated into local ecological, social, and economic systems.
Research Procedures and Protocols
The Agroecology Institute is being headquartered on a working farm, where we can establish a living laboratory of the best principles for ecologically healthy and socially just agricultural systems. The Agroecology Institute is farm-based, so that we are able to design and test small-scale sustainable agricultural management practices that enhance natural ecosystems and ecosystem functions, lessen negative environmental impacts of agriculture, and enhance food production and access.
- We will assist local and regional farmers with the biodiversity practices and monitoring necessary for federal organic-certification requirements.
- We will conduct observational research that requires minimal change to crop plans, planting, or farm management, and study farmer and farmworker knowledge of crops and cropping systems within existing production rotations and with minimal impact on projected yields.
- We will implement small changes or variations in management practices that are unique but not highly specialized, and undertake simple manipulative experiments and management modifications.
- Together we will consider the impacts of agricultural practices on the structure and function of farm ecosystems and the structure of local food systems.
- Through workshops and student training, presentations, journals, and academic conferences, the Agroecology Institute will disseminate the findings of all of our research within the NEFA network, plus locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
The Project Team
Claudia Ford, PhD, Principal Investigator
Hudsonia, Ltd., Ecologists
Advisory Board: King Aswad, Becca Berkey, Jasmine Burems, Peggy Eppig, Chuck Stead