Meaghen Kenney, M.A. Graduate, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University
Professor Ann Dale, School of Environment & Sustainability, Royal Roads University
Dr. Lenore Newman, Canada Research Chair in Food Security & the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley
Published April 25, 2016
Currently, Canadian farmers continue to struggle with the trends and challenges associated with conventional agriculture embedded in a globalized food system. These trends include globalization broadly, and the resulting effects of the cost-price squeeze, urbanization, changing rural demographics and environmental change (Caldwell and Temple, 2009; Ministère des Affaires Municipales et des Régions, 2006).
Rurality in Quebec and in other areas of Canada is affected by these broad trends and economic liberalization, market globalization, as well as major shifts in socio-ecologies. Locally, demographics play a significant role in the changing landscape of L’Ange Gardien and other Quebec municipalities, with significant decreases in small and medium scale farm production. Demographics play a significant role in the changing rural characteristics and the rapid loss in farm production with factors such as migration, the ageing of farmers, and problems stemming from population renewal (MAMR 2006).
Sustainable Development Characteristics
Concern is growing locally and nationally in Canada about the resilience of local food systems. Food systems as a concept, is used to navigate the who, what, how and why in relation to the food we eat (Tansey and Worsley 2008). The term food system implies that there is an interconnection or a network of actors (both human and non-human) that determines access and availability (or lack thereof) to food today (Kenny 2014). According to Tansey and Worsley (2008, p.2), adopting a food system approach links three critical aspects of life—biological, economic and political, social and cultural1.
Critical sustainable development questions are how then do we sustain the agricultural landscape, productivity vibrancy and resilience in the face of exogenous and endogenous pressures? Just as plants need specific nutrients, so do the seeds of change. This case study research on a rural Quebec incubator farm addresses the following questions. What are the critical elements to establishing and nourishing rural revitalization programs? What makes a program or project work in a community and can those key elements be replicated in other communities?
Critical Success Factors
A key factor was enlightened political leadership from the mayor and linking sustainable and economic community development. The main objective of the incubator farm was to re-engage young people in farming thereby contributing to the vitality and greater resiliency of the region. One of the most surprising results from the data is the crucial relationship between access to financial and equally social capital. The relationships developed between the new entrepreneurs and older farmers was invaluable in knowledge transfer and confidence building in the younger farmers. Collectively, this social capital contributed to a sense of purpose (characterized by pride and shared socio-ecological values), to the success of this incubator farm. We suspect that the social capital aspects of, incubator projects, local food markets and food cooperatives is an under-studied, and requires further research. In our opinion, this model incubator farm could be successfully applied in other rural, smaller communities across the country. One of the young farmers has been selling local, organic food baskets to the cottagers in an adjacent community of Val-des-Monts and another is selling at the larger farmers market in Ottawa, Ontario.
To support the continued take-up of new entrepreneurial incubator farms, at La Plateforme Agricole, specifically, and rural revitalization, more broadly, we recommend the following actions.
- Assist in the preservation of farmland by providing the financial support to programs aimed at rural revitalization and farm succession
- Develop farm succession programs that aim at linking new and experienced farmers along more informal relationships, potentially leading to the farm purchases and maintaining farm productivity
- Provide access to micro-loans, grants for new farmers and for farmers at various stages of their farm careers, and
- Establish more incubator models throughout rural Quebec in proximity to economic centers for easy access to direct sale.
Community Contact Information
Professor Ann Dale
School of Environment & Sustainability
Royal Roads University
2005 Sooke Road
Victoria, British Columbia
The pride that the farmers take in the quality of their product, the socio-ecological relationships they build, and the values they uphold are representative of the characteristics of alternative agricultural food systems. The participants are regaining control over their respective roles within the food system while building relationships of reciprocity amongst their fellow farmers, their customers, and a larger network of organizations with shared values. La Plateforme Agricole has played an integral role in the relative successes of each farmer interviewed, providing the necessary space, social infrastructure, resources, and support. Ultimately, success of a farm incubator such as La Plateforme depends on the combination of a number of factors.
- Enlightened local leadership and champions
- A sound business plan/model and the resources and experience to execute the plan
- Access to a diversity of grants and micro-loans
- Proximity to large economic centers and established farmers markets
- A co-ordinated network of organizations aimed at promoting and supporting rural character (the SRQ), and alterative agricultural productivity (Equiterre CSA network)
- Open and transparent communication to overcome the challenges of social proximity
- Diversity of socio-ecological relationships
- Pride of place and product
What Didn’t Work
It should be noted that farmers who did not have success at La Plateforme were not interviewed. Outreach attempts to these farmers did not prove successful and were abandoned. However, it can be gleaned from interviews that lack of income from farming often plays a role in a farmer leaving or not returning to the project.
In the case of L’Ange Gardien and the Outaouais region, the immediate problem is the decline in small and medium scale farm enterprises and how to support rural revitalization through innovation and entrepreneurship. This research used a case study approach to examine La Plateforme Agricole in L’Ange Gardien for several reasons. Case studies involve an “intensive study of a single unit for the purpose of understanding a larger class of (similar) units” (Gerring, 2004, p. 342, Yin (2008). However, it is important not to conflate sample size with the quality of the research. Case study research is used to study the in-depth nuances and contextual influences of a single instance or a small number of instances.
Interviewees were selected by directly contacting members of La Plateforme and the mayor of L’Ange Gardien. Subsequent recruiting was used snowball sampling, that is, when the same names kept emerging during interviews. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Categories of analysis were developed throughout the transcription and coding process, allowing the analysis to be grounded in the data and not a pre-conceived framework. Key themes were identified by analyzing the frequency of particular themes and patterns in the interviews and, at times, the level of emotion expressed by participants regarding certain topics.
The seven participants for this research were diverse and varied in their relationships to La Plateforme and their farm enterprise. The first interviewee was an employee of one of the farm enterprises, the second is the mayor of L’Ange Gardien, and the other four were individual farmers in the project, and the last was a full-time farmer with their own farm who had ‘graduated’ from La Plateforme.
Detailed Background Case Description
La Plateforme Agricole de L’Ange Gardien is an incubator farm site that offers ready to use certified organic agricultural land for rent to (Plateforme) new farm entrepreneurs who are interested in starting their own farm business. It has 78 acres and supports 20 farming start-ups and provides shared equipment cooperatively. The project was initiated to address the challenges of a declining and aging farming population in rural Quebec municipalities – specifically, in L’Ange Gardien and the Outaoais region. La Plateforme addresses the shortage of farmers by supporting young farmers focused on developing new agricultural enterprises and creating new investment in the Outaouais region (Solidarité Rurale du Québec [SRQ], 2013).
La Plateforme Agricole is a partnership established in 2008 between the Centre Recherche et de Développement Technologique Agricole de l'Outaouais (CREDETAO) and the municipality of L’Ange Gardien. The CREDETAO, a non-profit organization founded in 1993, focuses on applied research and technology adapting to the needs and reality of agribusiness in the Outaouais region. Their agri-food incubator projects work with professionals in economic development and regional strategic planning with an emphasis on supporting new food businesses. Since 1998 CREDETAO has assisted and supported more than eighty agricultural enterprises. More recently their focus has been on the development of their agri-food incubator model supporting the foundation, expansion, and diversification of a range of agricultural enterprises. The incubator model also promotes and supports farm transfer (transferring a farm to the next generation of farmers). La Plateforme Agricole is one of the many projects organized by CREDETAO.
La Plateforme Agricole has four main goals:
- to allow young farmers to start their business without having to go into debt to purchase a farm – effectively reducing the rural migration;
- maintain agricultural land use;
- to promote sustainable agricultural business models in the Outaouais region, and
- encourage safe and local food supplies (adapted from SRQ, 2013).
These goals are achieved through the organizational support of CREDETAO, the determination and innovation of Plateforme members, the financial backing from regional partners, the social support from the community and inspiration of municipality council members, the socio-economic context of Quebec, and the proximity of La Plateforme to both Ottawa and Outaouais local markets.
Globalization of the agricultural sector has made it difficult for small- and medium-sized farms to compete with large-scale farms (Caldwell and Temple, 2009). In fact, the price of food is not increasing at the same rate as operating costs. Operating costs for conventional farm production have increased significantly with the price of fuel and oil-based inputs (notably, fertilizer and pesticides). Farmers are being forced to become more efficient and use modes of production that are ecologically unsustainable in the long term. Increasing petrochemical-based inputs, and relying on monoculture crops degrades soil, reduces biodiversity and decreases agricultural resilience (Weis, 2007; IAASTD, 2008; Holt-Gimenez and Kenfield, 2008; Busch, 2009). Larger farms have more potential to earn profits sufficient to cover their expenses. As a coping strategy, many new and small-scale farmers have off-farm jobs to cover their expenses and ensure an adequate income (Caldwell and Temple 2009). There has been a significant decrease in the total number of farms in Canada and that decrease is seen, mainly, in the small and medium size farms. The number of large farms has actually increased in both numbers and in profits due to the large demands for agri-products such as grains and oilseed (ibid). Specifically, in Quebec the number of farms with $500,000 or more or 2010 gross income receipts increased by 9.2% and those with less than $500,000 decreased by 5.9% (Statistics Canada, 2011). Consistent with the global and national trends in agriculture, Quebec’s farms are growing fewer, larger in size, and less diverse. Table 1 demonstrates the lack of diversity amongst the top 5 farm types in Quebec as of 2006.
Table 1. Top Five Farm Types in Quebec (Adapted from Statistics Canada 2006)
|Top Five Farm Types in Quebec|
|Farm Type||% of Total Farms|
|Dairy cattle and milk production23|
|Beef cattle ranching and farming, including feedlots||15|
|Grain farming (including corn)||10|
|Hog and pig farming||6|
Another trend affecting both the availability and accessibility of prime agricultural land is the encroachment of low-density development due to proximity to urban centres (de la Salle and Fix 2009). L’Ange Gardien is thirty minutes from the National Capital Region (NCR) of Ottawa and Quebec. The encroachment of suburbia into rural areas is swallowing up prime farm land that has the potential to feed the NCR or at least supplement the NCR food supply with local produce. Furthermore, due to the proximity of some rural areas, such as L’Ange Gardien, to major economic centers, the property value of land has increased prohibiting the purchase of farm land and enterprises by young farmers without going heavily into debt. Those with the capital to purchase rural land in proximity to urban markets are those with full-time careers (outside of farming), developers, and retirees. According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey, the top three trades in L’Ange Gardien were public administration, health care and social assistance, and retail. The average age of people living in L’Ange Gardien is 40 with a large portion of the population over the age of 45 (Statistics Canada 2011) and the average age of farmers in Quebec is approximately 49. Agricultural land that was once diverse with productivity is now being left to fallow or being sold to developers. Producing, processing, and selling local, organic food can contribute to the social, economic, and ecological revitalization of a rural community.
An ageing farmer population and a lack of diversity in farm products is threatening the vitality and sustainability of agricultural production in Quebec. Even with the concern and demand for local and organic produce, new farmers do not have the capital to buy land, let alone start an agricultural business. The Plateforme Agricole incubator farm provides a number of benefits for new farmers who are striving to carve out a place for themselves and their business in an industry dominated by large agri-business. The incubator model allows these farmers to work a plot of land, share equipment, receive mentoring on business planning and marketing, make mistakes and track successes – eventually, “graduating” from the incubator program with the revenue, resources, network and business plans to buy land, qualify for financing, and set-up their own farms. The incubator model provides a number of benefits and challenges on the road to success (success being measured differently for each farmer) and for some farmers the challenges outweigh the benefits.
L’Ange Gardien has seen a significant decrease in the number of productive farms. According to Mayor Robert Goulet, the decrease in agricultural productivity is a result of several factors: provincial laws and policies that are more conducive to large farm enterprises; its proximity to the National Capital Region (NCR) that offers more lucrative employment than small-scale farming; and retiring baby boomers buying up farm land and not farming. However, unlike other retirees that move to the country, Robert took action as a municipal councilor member in an attempt to revitalize small-scale agriculture in L’Ange Gardien.
One of the key advantages that helped in establishing La Plateforme is the political context of Quebec. Quebec is well known for its social economy that includes credit unions, not-for-profits, and cooperatives that foster innovative solutions to local and provincial issues of economic decline and sustainability issues. Three main organizations that played significant roles in the establishment of La Plateforme were the CREDETAO, the Association des Centres Locaux de Développement du Québec (CLD) (a not-for-profit dedicated to the development of the local economy and entrepeneurship), and the Municipality of L’Ange Gardien. Furthermore, the Ministère des Affaires Municipales et des Régions du Quebec (MAMR) was in the midst of launching a three phase policy plan called Politique Nationale de la Ruralité (PNR), to stimulate and financially support rural development with a budget of $280 million with approximately $5.6 million going to Solidarité Rurale du Québec (SRQ) over seven years. The general purpose of the PNR is to
ensure the development of rural communities and the dynamic occupation of the territory by relying on their diversity and specific traits and the ability of rural areas to take the initiative. The policy adopts the RCM as the core territory from the standpoint of intervention, belonging and decision-making (MAMR, 2006 p. 8)
The PNR inspired and supported rural revitalization projects such as CREDETAO’s incubator model. As a municipal councilor member and a member of Association des Centres Locaux de Développement du Québec (CLD), Robert was able to hear and push for proposals that would stimulate the agricultural revitalization in L’Ange Gardien. In April 2009, L’Ange Gardien committed to financially and technically supporting the Plateforme Agricole project proposed by CREDETAO. They confirmed their financial commitment with an overall budget of $500,000 over the course of seven years. In 2009, the municipality selected and purchased the 78 acre site on River Road that would become La Plateforme Agricole.
Another key element to the success of La Plateforme Agricole is its geographical location that is both in proximity to large economic centers and rooted in a supportive rural community. L’Ange Gardien is located in the Municipal Region of Les Collines de l'Outaouais, only a thirty minute drive from large city centers such as Gatineau and Ottawa. Both cities have a diverse range of farmers markets and a growing consumer base for local, organic produce. Simultaneously, La Plateforme is established on prime agricultural land that has been carefully tended by the previous land owner. The previous farm owner still owns an adjacent plot of land and shares his advice and insights on the historical and geographical context of the land, as well as farming practices.
All the participants shared similar responses on the benefits and challenges of farming at La Plateforme, with some variations. The two most significant benefits to farming at La Plateforme were access to financial capital and social capital. Ironically, the responses representing the most significant challenges were also associated with money, financial support, and social proximity.
For many farmers money and financing is a challenge. The cost to buy a farm, equipment, and resources often requires a new farmer to enter into debt for a significant amount of time, especially, since a farmer will not see a return on their investment (in terms of profit) for at least four to five years. Revitalizing the rural agricultural landscape requires new innovations and a younger generation. However, the start-up cost for buying land, equipment, and resources often prohibits young farmers from successfully starting a farm enterprise. The mayor of described the difficulties of revitalizing agriculture in smaller communities.
I am very excited by the fact that there are a lot of young fellows that are interested in farming and, funny enough, at the Plateforme, they are from the cities, they are people coming from the city that have an interest in farming and they studied in farming but they can’t afford to buy their own land, to buy their own farm because it is too expensive. Particularly in the situation like ours and a lot of others around the city, speculation makes it cost a fortune to buy a piece of land here. These poor people can’t afford to do that unless they go into debt for the next 50 years making it totally impossible and the price of equipment is out of this world, you know, but they need to be encouraged and supported for our own sake, for our future, for our children and our grandchildren.
The Plateforme provides new farmers with the time and financial support to make mistakes, grow, and learn with minimal financial risk, with a ready made network to learn with and from. The farmer who graduated from the project one described the benefits as:
To have a Plateforme it's really useful because it allows the producer the future or potential producer to start with minimal financial risk. I mean the investment isroughly $1000, $2000, or $3000 to start with, and if it works fine than you can slowly increase. For sure without the Plateforme I would have never bought a farm in Quebec. I would have rented land maybe but not just go and buy a farm that's impossible.
Buying a farm requires not just risk on the part of the farmer but also the investors. One interviewee who has been at La Plateforme for four years and will be entering his fifth and final season there in 2015 explained that the financial benefits of farming at the Plateforme allows a farmer to build up their revenue, establish a market, and demonstrate that they can move product over the years, thus making their farm enterprise more interesting for potential financial investors:
So when you get that farm revenue you can walk in [to a bank] and say look, I was at here at the Plateforme with rented land with minimal infrastructure it wasn’t set up the way I wanted and I was packing out $120,000 of vegetables a year. I mean that’s not big money but it’s interesting. For them it all of a sudden it goes from them thinking ‘oh here’s another couple of back-to-the-landers who want to I want to farm, saying farming is fun!’ Who want to have a little house and have a big garden and make kimchee which is all good if you want that go for it. But farm financing should be for farmers, it shouldn’t be for essentially recreational property. This is the first year we’d get a serious audience. We could go in and say we want to buy a farm, we’ve found a farm here’s our books. And they will look at that and they will say look you have a track record of selling this product, you’re going to move to another farm, you’re gong to be selling to the same market in the same area and for them that is huge; your market is established they know you can grow the products they know you can move the product and that is the number one important thing to ….they want to know that you can do it. They don’t want to bet on hope and dream. They want to bet on numbers. And so you have a business history that really, really helps. And I think the plateforme I think that’s the key thing with the plateforme, it lets you get those agriculture numbers up right at the beginning. You’re walking in without having to invest $300,000. I mean if you want to buy a $400,000 farm you need to have $100,000 cash. You’re not walking in with putting all of your money, $100,000, on the line that you’ve saved up over the years – putting all of that on the line and you don’t even know if it’s going to work.
For some farmers the major challenge is in making a livable income even with the minimal financial risk at La Plateforme. Many of the farmers still need to have part-time, or in some cases, full time work in order to pay themselves and cover expenses. Others are able to dedicate 100% of their time because their spouses have full-time work.
Also of financial and social significance is the ability to save money through knowledge sharing and having other farmers watching your field for pests and blight.
Sometimes you need help with things and so it can be helpful in the way of advice or passing on information. For example there was a big problem with boron, the lack of boron in the broccoli, a micronutrient that causes your broccoli to turn all black and turn hollow and rot, it’s terrible. Literally thousands of dollars and the solution is a $50 bag that’s going to last me the next 25 years cause you put down grams per acre it’s that small and that important that nutrient and so I passed that information to other farmers because it is the same soil…It’s doing something about it preemptively so they’re not going to get stuck with $4000 worth of broccoli that they can’t sell cause that happened to me last year and it sucks.
Many of the young farmers have access to grants focused on revitalizing agriculture in Quebec. However, these grants are mainly for new farmers under the age of 35 or 30. The grants make a significant difference in the viability and vitality of many of the young farm enterprises. Three of the participants stated that without the grants and micro-loans they received from the government of Quebec they would not have been able to start their farm business and cover living expenses. Similarily, La Plateforme Agricole program, the municipality of L’Ange Gardien, and CREDETAO received a number of grants to purchase the land outright and to buy equipment and infrastructure. Unfortunately, finding the financial support to continue running La Plateforme is challenging. The government of Quebec is clawing back funding on rural revitalization programs. An official from Solidarité Rurale du Québec (an organization designed to promote the revitalization and development of rural areas, villages, and communities in order to reverse the decline and disintegration of rural Quebec), and Mayor Goulet who sits on the board of directors for CREDETAO, described the closing down of a significant funding program called Politique nationale de la ruralité/The National Rural Policy (PNR). The policy was established in 2001 and was renewed in 2007 and 2014 for ten years, with a budget of close to $500M. The policy was aimed at stimulating the vitality of rural communities by promoting local ownership of development through citizen engagement and empowerment for the use of resources. PNR supported community development programs with a network of agents, rural pacts, and financial allocations. Unfortunately, the Rural National Policy funding has been greatly reduced and the program is closing down (Solidarite Rural du Quebec 2014). The closing of programs and the end of funding to agricultural projects and local rural development may have significant consequences for rural revitalization. Many young rural entrepreneurs and programs depend on the micro-loans, grants, and subsidies that were funded by the PNR. The Plateforme Agricole does not make a profit off of the rent from its members; the money from rent goes into buying more equipment, resources and preparing plots for more future farm enterprises.
Even with financial challenges, the Plateforme is still successful in helping young farmers meet their goals of graduating from the program and buying land of their own. Since the start of the program the Plateforme has seen four members move on to buy their own land (two within the municipality of L’Ange Gardien) and others are preparing to buy within the next year.
Working in close proximity to other farmers and sharing resources offers its own set of benefits and challenges. However, all participants felt that the benefits outweighed the challenges. All the farmers expressed the social benefits of having access to farm neighbours close for knowledge and resource sharing. The social challenges were both spatial and temporal. The spatial and resource challenges included: sharing resources during the busiest time of the season; competing for space in the greenhouses and the wash station; draining the water pressure on an already limited irrigation system; and having neighbours that don’t take control of weed pressure in their gardens. Temporal social challenges were the most significant for some farmers with the mismanagement of fields over time by previous farmers.
The problem was that they had a very high weed pressure from mismanagement in previous years either by previous members or people didn’t take care of it or left in the middle of the season and not tilling it under or mismanagement from the program. Mismanagement usually means letting it go to weed so not cover cropping in an appropriate way. If I had done some due diligence I would have known to stay away from the plot that we are farming now – like getting the full history of it from other farmers and maybe a bit more of a truthful history.
It took this interviewee the a good part of the growing season to learn that his fields were mismanaged over time by previous farmers and then took the rest of the season to prepare and fix his soil for the next season. The time he lost in weeding and fixing his soil cost him in produce quality and quantity as well as time lost in marketing. Other than the extreme challenge of dealing with the mismanaged fields, he did feel that the social proximity of the other farmers was beneficial and other challenges can be resolved with proper communication.
Some of the key social benefits from being in close proximity to other farmers included: sharing of knowledge and resources; splitting of costs, and engaging with diversity (in people, practice and produce). One interviewee described his number one benefit with the following:
The first big benefit is that you work with different people, with different information, different knowledge and you share that. If you have a problem, instead of calling somebody you just meet that person there and you can say ‘hey I have this problem do you have any way to fix it?’ If you're not there for a couple days and then you come back and say ‘hey I want to see your plot I have this weird thing can we take a look?’ There’s an informal way of getting information or acting on a problem and that's really interesting. Because we're close, and that's not common in farming, usually the farms are big and you're spread out. You won't have your neighbor nosing around your plot. It's great for that because it's a way to learn around it.
Another interviewee stated that knowledge sharing was an important part of his experience at the Plateforme made possible by the social proximity of other farmers:
By working alongside other farmers that have all sorts of different experience ranging from one or two years up to 8 years of experience in vegetable farming you learn a lot just from everyday interaction or if you have a question there are four different people you can ask especially in vegetable production. So there’s a lot of knowledge sharing and essentially the Plateforme really allows you to develop your knowledge of vegetable production through the different pest and weed pressure that arises. There’s always an opportunity to be chatting with people when you’re washing produce because there’s a lot of communal areas as well. When you’re working in the greenhouse with the plants you might be working alongside someone, when you’re out washing vegetables there’s always other people washing and packing there’s a lot of opportunity to do some knowledge sharing that’s a huge strength.
Another interviewee shared their social experience as an employee of a farm enterprise with a particular focus on diversity.
There is a diversity of producers. Not all are doing the same thing. There is less competition, and a great opportunity to learn and see other things. Something that is nice to see is how they start out – everyone uses their land differently and the amount of land they use is different. Everyone does different vegetables depending on how much time and land they have. It’s a good learning opportunity for everyone.
Another young farmer described the social benefit of having neighbours to share in time and labour:
[the benefits are] not only money-wise but time-wise. Often we can scratch each others backs. Sharing in watering duties, might save some time. It works well because you help each other to some degree. The Plateforme connects you with your neighbours, weeds out the middle man, and brings community back.
Many of the farmers prioritized the social benefits over the financial benefits claiming it to be a significant factor in learning and preparing for the next step of farm ownership. The social and financial benefits are intercropped together growing social capital built on relationships of reciprocity, knowledge, and resource sharing. Expanding on the social capital are the bridges built between the members of La Plateforme Agricole and the supporting organizations such as Ecocert, CREDETAO, Solidarite Rural du Quebec, the farmers markets, Equiterre (an organization that established and runs the network of family farms and home or hub delivers organic vegetable baskets to registered members), and the municipality of L’Ange Gardien. There is a strong network of support and collaboration between these organizations that align on values of rural revitalization and community socio-ecological resilience.
There are multiple layers and definitions contributing to the scholarly literature on social capital. Dale (2001, pp 179-180) provides the following comprehensive definition of social capital, incorporating perspectives from various leading authors.
The shared knowledge, understandings, and patterns of interaction that people bring to any productive activity (Coleman 1988; Putnam 1993). It also refers to the organizations, structures, and social relations that people build up independently of the state or large corporations (Roseland 1999). It contributes to stronger community fabric and, often as a by-product of other activities, builds bonds of information, trust, and interpersonal solidarity (Coleman 1990). It also emcompassessuch features of social organization as networks, norms, and trust – features that increase a society’s productive potential (Putnam 1993).
Onyx (2005, p. 3) describes social capital as located within the “social structures, space between people not within the individual…social capital stands for the ability of actors (both group and individual) to secure benefits by virtue of memebership in social networks or other social structures.” These relationships are critical for human reconciliation of the economic, social and ecological imperatives because in order to realize the changes necessary for sustainable development, collective mobilization of people in communities is required (Dale, 2005).
La Plateforme draws and builds upon a diverse social infrastructure that includes relationships of reciprocity between farmers, non-governmental organizations, governmental organizations, and consumers. This social infrastructure is built upon a common ground aimed at fostering ecological integrity, economic development, and social change within the agricultural sector. One of the most notable successes of La Plateforme came from the farmer who had graduated from the project, who is considering inviting small-scale farmers to his own farm as an informal incubator farm.
Plateforme project was a really nice package that came with everything I think it's possible to have the same kind of output with a lot less input meaning money from the government. I think it can be done at a community level on a smaller scale. I think farmers could do it by inviting some people to settle in for a couple years if they want to. I think it something that should be discussed and presented and maybe an almost retired farmer in a way to get a potential buyer in a couple years…just open the farm and invite 4 small-scale producers and one of those 4 might just buy the land in 5 years right? I think it's a nice avenue to look at for transition….I think it's an interesting way to work with people and to get all the advantage of the Plateforme in my farm because right now I don't have a neighbor I don't have somebody to talk to I don't have someone in my plot and giving me advice - even if its somebody with less experience or less agriculture knowledge that doesn't matter because it's still somebody that’s interested in agriculture knowledge.
Diversity and Resilience
Resilience is based on the principles of ecosystem health, inter-dependent with diversity in both the human and non-human realms. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Similarily, resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future (Resilience Alliance 2014). Both biodiversity and social diversity play crucial roles in the resilience of a socio-ecological system. A diverse socio-ecological system is more resilient to environmental, economic, and social stresses or events. La Plateforme can be seen as a combination of diverse ecological, social, and intellectual capitals. Diversity among the members of the Plateforme is one of the key elements to the success of the program. When asked what is the main contributor to the success of the Plateforme, Mayor Goulet exclaimed that it is the involvment of the all stakeholders and innovators, from the director of the municipality, the selection committee, the members of CREDETAO, and the members of the Plateforme. The social system of the Plateforme is resilient insofar as it has a diverse range of stakeholders that have a shared interest in re-establishing farming built on values that are less intrusive and more sustainable than large-scale conventional farming.
Alternatively, resilience is lost or degraded by a wide range of factors including the loss of biodiversity; toxic pollution; inflexible, closed institutions, perverse subsidies that encourage unsustainable use of resources, and a focus on production and increased efficiencies that leads to a loss of redundancy (Resiliance Alliance, 2014). These factors comprise most of the socio-ecological problems that are characteristic of conventional large-scale agri-business. Adopting a certified organic approach to farming at La Plateforme creates a healthy and diverse socio-ecolgical system that is more resilient to stresses. Alternative agriculture systems such as small-scale, permaculture, and organic farming, that practice high levels of diversity, productivity and efficiency may likely be the only system that will be able to confront future challenges of environmental and economic instability (Alteiri 2012).
One farmer spoke to the importance of diversity in being able to adapt to environmental stresses such as pests and blight. He argued that selling wholesale by producing larger quantities of lesser varieties of vegetables is extremely risky because organic producers do not use the same chemical inputs that conventional farms do:
it doesn’t work for me…you have to do so much volume and have a system that is much more mechanized than our farm can handle to do that volume and sales, crop quality and then organically its very hard to do that because all you need is to have one very bad thing to happen, a giant plague comes in and you don’t have the big guns to kill it. You can’t say I don’t know what that bug is but I’m going to spray it with that stuff…I mean you have to be careful. We hedge our bets on diversity and grow 40 different crops and they don’t always all do well but your hedging your bets. It’s like a mutual fund your not investing in one company you’re investing in a bunch and that’s what you do when you diversify your crop rotation. You’re putting the ball in your court and hoping that you have lots of options there for selling products.
All the interviewees clearly valued their production and the organic principles they practiced. Even though some participants were struggling financially to make a living wage they all expressed pride in their work, values, and product.
Sense of Pride and Place
Many of the participants expressed a sense of pride in their products and their work, claiming it was a necessary element for success. Their sense of pride is based on the sacrifices they perceive, the commitment to organic values, the quality of the products and the contribution they make to community sustainability. The pride in their work is grounded in place, giving customers a sense of where their food comes from, and setting food apart from the limited and standardized products of conventional agriculture. In a similar study by Ross (2007), quality of product was identified as one of the key elements to success in small-scale farmers engaged in direct sales (farmer markets and community shared agriculture). All of the farmers interviewed by Ross saw that excellence of product as a necessity. According to Ross (2007 p. 7), quality is based on “producers’ personal standards regarding the sensory characteristics of the product and the nature of production practices. It requires personal attention to, and supervision of, all aspects of production.” All the interviewees had varying perspectives on organic production and the value of certification. However, they all confirmed that with or without certification, they would not change their production methods, whether it is for health and safety of labourers, consumers, or environment. All participants concurred that they were proud of the quality of product that they had to offer through the adherence to organic principles. The participants were all proud to, not only offer a product of quality, but to build relationships of regard and trust with the consumers and with their neighbouring farmers.
Being there was like being part of something that people were proud of and that's really valuable. You need to be proud of what you're doing. That's the first obstacle that you have to stop. So it's more than just money.
- Do you think that this case study can be successfully replicated in other rural communities, or is it place dependent?
- What other critical success factors do you think were important?
- How important is local, smaller scale farming to community vitality?
- Are there network marketing strategies that could work to scale up operations?
Resources and References
Burawoy, M. (1998). The extended case study method. Sociological Theory, 16(1), 4-33.
Caldwell,W. and K. Temple. (2009). Canada’s capital greenbelt: moving towards sustainable agriculture. Ottawa, ON: National Capital Commission
Dale, A. (2005). Introduction. In A. Dale and J. Onyx (Eds). A Dynamic Balance: Social Capital and Sustainable Community Development. UBC Press, Vancouver
Dale, A. At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century. UBC Press, Vancouver , 2001
de la Salle, J. and J. Fix. (2009). Choosing our future foundation paper series: food and agriculture. City of Ottawa, City of Gatineau and National Capital Commission Joint Planning Initiative. Retrieved from: http://choosingourfuture.ca/resources/foundation_papers/food_agriculture_en.html [Accessed on June 26 2017]
Gerring, J. (2007). Case study research: principles and practices. New York ; Cambridge : Cambridge University Press
Holt-Gimenez, E. and I. Kenfield. (2008). When renewable isn’t sustainable: Agro-fuels and the inconvenient truth behind the 2007 U.S. energy independence and security act. Oakland, CA: Institute for Food and Development Policy
[MAMR] Quebec, Ministère des Affaires Municipales et des Régions. (2006). Politique nationale ruralité québec: Une force pour tout le Quebec. Retrieved from http://cld.iledorleans.com/stock/fra/politique-nationale-de-la-ruralite.pdf
Resiliance Alliance. (2014). Resilience: A basis for sustainability. Retrieved from http://www.resalliance.org/index.php/resilience
Solidarité Rurale du Québec (SRQ), 2013. La Plate-Forme Agricole de L’Ange-Gardien. Retrieved from: http://www.ruralite.qc.ca/fr/prouesses-rurales/La-plate-forme-agricole-de-L-Ange-Gardien
Sumner, J., Mair, H., and Nelson E. (2010). Putting the culture back into agriculture: Civic engagement, community and the celebration of local food. International Journal of agricultural sustainability, 8(1), 54-61
Weis, T. (2007). The global food economy: the battle for the future of farming. Halifax: Fernwood
Tansey, G., Worsley, T., & Knovel (Firm). (2008). The food system: A guide. London: Earthscan
Yin, R. (2008). Case Study Research: Design and Methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc
1. Biological: the living processes used to produce food and their ecological sustainability. Economic and political: the power and control that different groups exert over the different parts of the system. Social and cultural: the personal relations, community values and cultural traditions that affect people’s use of food.