Growing Food and Social Change: Rural Adaptation, Participatory Action Research and Civic Food Networks in North America
Anderson, Colin Ray
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The goal of this research was to better understand how farm families adapt to global environmental and political-economic change to secure their livelihoods and to build more resilient food systems. The dissertation reports on five iterative cycles of participatory action research that resulted in a diversity of pragmatic, conceptual and theoretical outcomes. I first examined how farmers adapted to the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis in the Canadian Prairies, identifying three general adaptation types: ‘exiting’ from beef production or agriculture; ‘enduring’ through adaptations that seek stability; and ‘innovating’ to pursue new opportunities, including direct farm marketing and cooperatives as important forms of grassroots adaptation. Next, I reported on a five-year action research project that developed a “civic food network” in rural Manitoba, which emerged in large part as a response to the BSE crisis. This case study examined the tensions, politics and opportunities that arise through the intensely socially embedded relationships that underpin these grassroots innovations. I argue that CFNs must productively engage with difference if they are to reach their full potential for rural development and social change. Next, I examine the barriers that confront the local food movement, especially as they relate to food safety regulations. A series of short articles and videos are presented that were used to buttress the political efforts of our participatory action research team to advocate for scale-appropriate regulations in Manitoba. Next, I examined my PhD research as a whole to illustrate how participatory action research transgresses “academic” and “non-academic” knowledge and space to mobilize knowledge in intentional processes of social transformation. Through this research, we developed three Knowledge Mobilization strategies. These include: Using transmedia to exchange knowledge via multiple platforms and mediums; “setting hooks” to draw together diverse knowledge communities; and layering to deliver knowledge at varying levels of detail and complexity. Finally, through a performative autoethnographic script, I deconstruct graduate education, the dissertation and the professionalizing discourses that impede a vibrant “public scholarship” in Universities. As a whole, this participatory action research simultaneously argues for and also embodies democratic approaches to research and to agriculture and food practice and policy.