Farmer knowledge in alternative agriculture: Community learning and the politics of knowledge

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Laforge, Julia
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Agriculture and Human Values
This research examines the obstacles and opportunities experienced by new alternative and agroecological farmers as they seek out farming knowledge in Canada and how this contributes to the shaping of farmer subjectivities. Canada is facing a looming farm and food crisis; the barriers of accessing land and capital are becoming more significant for new entrants as well as disrupting the tradition of intergenerational knowledge transfer. Canada needs food and farming systems that not only tackle environmental problems, but which also address systemic oppressions and inequalities, while emphasizing local, grassroots knowledge and community-based economies. The goal of this research is to understand how knowledge and power determine farmer subjectivities, particularly for the new generation of alternative farmers in Canada. This research considers how new alternative farmers are shaping their own narratives, attitudes, and behaviours by cultivating their own subjectivities through collaborative learning initiatives. This process and its implications for the Canadian food system build on the theories of governmentality and environmentality, power/knowledge, learning communities, and social networks and assemblages. Primary data was collected through a national online survey of new and aspiring farmers and interviews conducted with new farmers and mentors in Manitoba and Ontario. This research explored the findings from multiple theoretical and methodological angles and includes an examination of the influence of the state in the historic formation of settler-farmer identities on the Canadian Prairies, the interactions between capitalist state and civil society actors in the establishment of food safety regulations in Canada and the US, and new farmer knowledge and learning in Canada. The findings indicate a tension between the ‘common sense’ definitions of farming as productivist or agroecological, and neoliberal or non-capitalist. New alternative farmers in this research rely on informal learning communities and social assemblages to overcome the challenges created by a lack of institutional support for training in alternative agriculture. The farmers studied demonstrated how thee networks are helping them learn about agroecological practices while also providing a supportive culture that redefined ‘good’ farming beyond productivism. Together, this dissertation explores the transformational potential of new farmers in the Canadian food and farming systems.
Knowledge, Governmentality, Subjectivities, Networks, Learning, Farmers, Agriculture, Canada