Environmentality on the Canadian Prairies: Settler-Farmer Subjectivities and Agri-Environmental Objects
Julia M.L. Laforge & Stéphane M. McLachlan
State and institutional actors have been shaping settler-farmer subjectivities in order to transform the landscape and thus the history and geography of the Canadian Prairies. This paper expands the application of environmentality from its origins in colonial forestry to interrogate agriculture on prairie landscapes. The Canadian state used the technologies of environmentality to influence “common sense” attitudes and behaviours, which acted to deterritorialize Indigenous communities and then manipulated their subjectivities to guarantee settler-farmer access to land. Later, institutions and states moulded settler-farmer subjectivities of correct farming behaviour in an effort to convert soil, water, and seeds into economic resources. These environmental objects, in turn, acted upon settler-farmer subjects by setting biophysical and genetic limits such as soil fertility, water quality and quantity, and plant hardiness and disease resistance. Resisting environmentality requires understanding processes of subjugation while also creating counter-narratives of “good” farming behaviour and Indigenous-settler relations.
Exiting, enduring and innovating: Farm household adaptation to global zoonotic disease
By Ian J. Mauro & Stephane M. McLachlań
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been found in 25 countries, costing billions of dollars in those affected economies, and has had profound social and environmental impacts at multiple scales of organization. As a global phenomenon, the impacts of BSE were mediated directly through the environment (animal and human health) but in Canada the indirect socioeconomic impacts of BSE were far more damaging, especially for farm households. Yet, very little research has been conducted on adaptation to the indirect impacts of global environmental change, such as those mediated through the market and governance. Our goal was to examine how farm households adapted to the Canadian BSE crisis in order to better understand rural adaptations to global zoonotic diseases and to agriculture related global environmental change as a whole. We conducted our mixed methods research in 2004–2006. Data sources included 826 survey responses, 27 individual interviews and 12 group interviews with farmers and ranchers in western Canada. Factor analysis separated out responses into three general adaptation strategies: ‘innovating’ to pursue new opportunities; ‘enduring’ or adaptations that seek stability; and ‘exiting’ from beef production or agriculture altogether. Farm household and community level innovation was a crucial adaptive strategy in the absence of governmental and expert-based support. Enduring adaptations were important to farm household survival in the short term, yet ‘‘chronic enduring’’ can compromise long-term adaptive capacity. Farm exiting was highly problematic during the BSE crisis as these responses were largely unexpected and often left households more vulnerable. Government support at the farm level promoted stability, with little support provided for change orientated adaptations. Effective farm adaptation will require support for all three types of adaptive strategies and ones that are both expert-based and grassroots in nature to enable farm households in their pursuit of pluri active and multifunctional livelihood strategies.
From the ground up: holistic management and grassroots rural adaptation to bovine spongiform encephalopathy across western Canada
By Stéphane M. McLachlan & Melisa Yestrau
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been documented in 28 countries and adversely affected farmers and rural communities around the world. Our study examines the impacts of and adaptive responses of producers to BSE in western Canada. Moreover, it explores the role that holistic management (HM), and its combined focus on environmental, social, and economic sustainability, might play in mitigating the effects of BSE. One survey was sent to 835 HM producers and another to 9,740 producers across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The disease, and concomitant climate change and low commodity prices, had devastating impacts on both groups. Yet, HM producers were much more optimistic about their ability to adapt to BSE and the future of agriculture than their non-HM counterparts. Social networks, namely HM clubs and the larger HM community, enabled these producers to mitigate the impacts of BSE. Agronomic responses, especially those associated with rotational grazing and increases in on-farm biodiversity were also important. That HM has been such an effective adaptive response to BSE indicates the importance of this and other grassroots responses to rural crises, whether they be associated with zoonotic diseases or indeed environmental change as a whole.
Governments, grassroots, and the struggle for local food systems: containing, coopting, contesting and collaborating
By: Julia M. L. Laforge, Colin R. Anderson & Stéphane M. McLachlan
Local sustainable food systems have captured the popular imagination as a progressive, if not radical, pillar of a sustainable food future. Yet these grassroots innovations are embedded in a dominant food regime that reflects productivist, industrial, and neoliberal policies and institutions. Understanding the relationship between these emerging grassroots efforts and the dominant food regime is of central importance in any transition to a more sustainable food system. In this study, we examine the encounters of direct farm marketers with food safety regulations and other government policies and the role of this interface in shaping the potential of local food in a wider transition to sustainable agri-food systems. This mixed methods research involved interview and survey data with farmers and ranchers in both the USA and Canada and an in-depth case study in the province of Manitoba. We identified four distinct types of interactions between government and farmers: containing, coopting, contesting, and collaborating. The inconsistent enforcement of food safety regulations is found to contain progressive efforts to change food systems. While government support programs for local food were helpful in some regards, they were often considered to be inadequate or inappropriate and thus served to co-opt discourse and practice by primarily supporting initiatives that conform to more mainstream approaches. Farmers and other grassroots actors contested
Learning communities and new farmer knowledge in Canada
By: Julia M. L. Laforge & Stéphane M. McLachlan
This research examines the agroecological learning processes of new farmers in Canada in order to understand the role of learning communities in transforming food systems. We consider how these learning communities represent new farmer engagement with agroecology and community-based economies as part of a global movement building alternatives to dominant capitalist and productivist food systems. In particular, we examine how the lack of formal education in agroecological alternatives in Canada is being overcome by these new farmers. Our results arise from interviews conducted in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba with new and aspiring farmers, mentors, and farmer trainers. Farmer learning networks were described and compared according to factors that include region, gender, years of experience, and production practices. These networks showed remarkable similarities across these categories, indicating the importance of informal networks and the relevance of relationships that support farmers on their learning journeys. Farmers placed the greatest value on social learning, followed by independent learning, whereas institutional learning had much less value. Farmers who did not know each other were learning in similar ways, indicating that they may be part of a broader agroecological movement which relies on global assemblages of neighbours, peers, online tools, and mentors. Farming knowledge, as a component of a reimagined, sustainable, and just food sovereignty movement, has the potential to change the way farming is practiced and to facilitate the emergence of alternative food systems in Canada and indeed the world.
Navigating the Fault Lines in Civic Food Networks
By: Anderson, C. R. , McDonald, W. , Gardiner, J. & McLachlan, S. M.
Civic food networks have emerged as a civil society–driven response to the social, economic, and environmental shortcomings of the industrial food system. They are differentiated from other forms of alternative food networks in that they emphasize cooperation over independence, focus on participatory democratic governance over hierarchy, and serve both social and economic functions for participants. Yet there is little understanding of the processes of cooperation, particularly among farmers, in civic food networks. In this five-year action research project we documented the development of a farmer-driven civic food network in southern Manitoba on the Canadian Prairies. We explore the relations among farmers to better understand the potential of civic food networks to contribute to a more resilient and locally controlled food system. Our findings highlight the tensions and power dynamics that arise through the processes of re-embedding farmers in more interdependent relations. Fractures occurred in the group when negotiating the diverse needs and values of participants, which manifested in disputes over the balance of economic and extra-economic organizational pursuits, over the nature of the cooperative distribution model, and over quality standards. Asymmetrical power relations also emerged related to gender and generational differences. Although social embeddedness and civic governance did lead to enhanced relations and trust, these positive outcomes were unevenly distributed and coexisted with feelings of distrust and acrimony. In order to realize their full potential, proponents of civic food networks must confront difference in order to embrace the strength that comes from diversity in the process of building more resilient, and civic, food networks.
New farmers and food policies in Canada
By: Julia Laforgea*, Ayla Fenton, Virginie Lavalée-Picard & Stéphane McLachlan
As the demographics of farmers are shifting, the ways agricultural and food policies affect and influence the decision-making and behaviours of new farmers is also changing. At the same time, there is growing interest in contesting and rebuilding Canadian food systems to address environmental and social injustices. Many new farmers are interested in agro-ecological approaches to agriculture, including both ecological practices and community-based economies. This paper examined the findings of a national survey of 1,326 new, aspiring, exited, and experienced farmers, to explore challenges and opportunities in the Canadian food and farming system, as well as the municipal, provincial, and federal policies that they recommended. We also examined which programs are serving new farmers best, and how these successes could be translated elsewhere. We found that an increasing number of new farmers are coming from non-farming backgrounds and are women, potentially challenging the status quo. The most significant barriers concerned affordable land and financing their early farm businesses. In addition, respondents reported facing difficulties in accessing agricultural knowledge and that available institutional resources may not be appropriate to new types of ecological farming practices. Nevertheless, these new farmers are finding diverse ways to develop their livelihoods, potentially transforming Canadian agriculture. A national food policy that works with local and regional partners and that recognizes the changing realities of new farmers is a necessary first step in helping build a sustainable, healthy, just, and resilient food system in Canada.
Seeking Indigenous Food Sovereignty- Origins of and Responses to the Food Crisis in Northern Manitoba
By: Karlah Rae Rudolph & Stéphane M. McLachlan
A food crisis confronts many Indigenous communities in northwestern Canada, as reflected by wide-scale food insecurity and diet-related disease. South-generated responses to this crisis generally disregard principles of Indigenous food sovereignty and are disengaged from concerns related to environmental and food justice. This study seeks to explore the needs and priorities of a First Nation (Misipawistik Cree Nation) and an associated Me´tis community (Grand Rapids) regarding existing and potential responses to the food crisis in northern Manitoba. Substantial changes to the traditional food system were initiated during the establishment of the reserve system in the 1800s and now extend to damage associated with hydro development. Responses to these changes were categorised according to themes and include the revival of country food traditions, individual and community gardens, agriculture in the North, and better quality imported foods. Regardless of response, decisionmaking needs to be community-driven, culturally appropriate, to reflect local priorities in order to effectively address the northern food crisis, and, ultimately, needs to work towards Indigenous food sovereignty to be effective.