I have a research question!

22 10 2012

…Maybe. If it is good. I haven’t received any feedback on it yet. Either way, I have the basic idea of what I want to do for my daunting undergraduate thesis, or Keystone project as we call them at Quest.

It has been a bit challenging to find time to work on my Keystone, especially while taking five courses, which is more than a full course load by AUC standards (but evidently not Quest standards). Communication with Quest tutors can also be difficult because email never fully replaces a real face-to-face chat and cuppa tea! In light of these challenges, I’m posting it here in hopes of getting some more feedback.

Anyway, without further ado, my research question asks, “What are the mechanisms that facilitate collaboration between small-scale farmers in rural Ontario?” Here is my justification and plan (as taken from the proposal I recently submitted to my advisor):

In light of our globalizing world, food production has become increasingly centralized and controlled by fewer and fewer large transnational corporations. Maximizing profits is the central goal of these monopolies, and as such, equitable distribution and environmental protection often becomes secondary, if on their agenda at all. Responding to this global situation, several individuals and organizations have launched a movement towards “food sovereignty”, an idea launch by La Via Campesina at the World Food Summit in 1996 (La Via Campesina, 2011). This movement calls for an increasing number of local, small-scale food producers in order to reduce global dependence on the monopolies. However, farming requires a considerable amount of various types of capital, most notably land, equipment, labour and knowledge, thus making it less accessible. Climate variability and competitive global market prices present further insecurity. 

In the face of these challenge, collaboration emerges as a prospective solution. Bedwell et al. (2012) define collaboration as an evolving process that involves two or more social bodies working towards a shared goal. Furthermore, collaboration emerges as the fifth level on a five-point collaboration scale, following networking, cooperation, coordination, and coalition (Frey et al., 2006). While there is an increasing body of literature on collaboration, including efforts towards quantification, it remains ambiguous, thus an interesting topic of study. As such, my Keystone project asks: what are the mechanisms that facilitate collaboration amongst local, small-scale food producers in rural Ontario?

For my Keystone project, I propose to conduct an empirical study to find out what mechanisms encourage collaboration amongst farmers, and the types of collaboration that precipitate. My population will be local, small-scale farmers in rural Ontario, with my sample targeting farmers who sell at farmers’ market in Grey and Bruce counties. I would like to explore what institutions, formal or informal, are currently available for small-scale farmers, and particularly, what role social capital might play in facilitating these interactions. Other possible mechanisms may include farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture schemes, local organizations, micro-finance or international work exchange organizations. I hope to identify gaps within the present structures that could be the basis for developments in the future. I will use questionnaires and key informant interviews to collect this research. Eriksen and Selboe (2012) provide some insight as to methodology and possible figures. For example, one possible figure would be a chart of collaborative relations, indicating the number of farmers that participate in different forms of collaboration, such as joint farm enterprise, sharing equipment, mutual assistance, rent labour, rent equipment or have a regular substitute (Eriksen and Selboe, 2012). I could create a similar figure showing the number of farmers that collaborated with others as a result of different mechanisms. As time allows, it would also be useful to use my findings to develop an index for collaboration that could be used for wider applications; however, this is a periphery goal.

In addition to the proposed research, I will also draw on previous relevant experiences. Firstly, I have worked extensively with local organizations in the geographic area of study. I have volunteered with two different local environmental groups and started and managed a local farmers’ market for several years. Secondly, for my experiential learning block, I completed an intensive one-month apprenticeship at Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island. This apprenticeship provided insights into the potential challenges that small-scale farmers face and potential mechanisms for collaboration. Lastly, I am currently volunteering with a couple different community garden projects in Amsterdam, an urban environment, whereby I can compare and contrast with the circumstances in rural Ontario. 

Next Steps:

  • Complete and submit application to the Quest Research Ethics Board (Deadline: 13 November 2012)
  • Consolidate and organize previous relevant literature in Zotero and identify gaps
  • Find studies that I might be able to use as a model for my study

So, there it is. All nice and tidy and easy, right? Am I on the right track? Should I focus more? Is this too ambitious considering my timeline? Let me know!

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Another Dada assignment…

11 10 2012

Another assignment for our “From Dada to Hell’s Kitchen” performance art class…to perform a monologue that was written collectively by the class. Each of us started a monologue and after a couple minutes, the piece of paper rotated to the next person. True artistic collaboration. One catch, the piece of paper was folded, so the next author could only read the last line of the former monologue. And from this my Exquisite Corpse was born. A bit non-sensical, but entertaining nonetheless.

Here, it is performed at the Apple Store at Leidseplein. Luckily, they did not kick us out.





My first public performance

5 10 2012

This was the assignment:

Dear Class,

I would like to clarify what I expect as your assignment for Tuesday.

1. Please re-work, re-write your manifestos and have the in typed form and send them to me by email before class.

2. Along with your manifesto – please type up to 3 exercises similar to those we performed in class that best define your manifesto

3. Each of you please compose a musical anthem to be SUNG by those who will be following your Manifesto

4. Bring Props – objects – material – color pencils – crayons – paints – clay – etc that you wish to build a group art structure which will best define your Manifesto.

PLEASE DO NOT NEGLECT TO EACH GATHER ENOUGH MATERIAL TO BUILD YOUR ART SCULPTURE.

5. Identify a PUBLIC location in Amsterdam where you would like to perform your manifesto.

See you all on Tuesday!

Have fun!

Sophia

This is what I came up with:

I performed my manifesto last Thursday, September 27 at the World Trade Center in Zuidas, Amsterdam’s business district. I didn’t attract a big crowd, but it was a learning experience and it generated lots of ideas for the other public performances I’ll have to do this semester.

As typical Amsterdam weather would have it, it was cool and windy with patches of rain. As such, the audio quality isn’t top notch. So, here is the version I performed here:

The streets are busy. Filled with people, bicycles, cars. All moving about. Moving quickly. Too quickly for any interaction, except market-based interactions, of course.  

One beer, please. Here is your change. Would you like a bag? Would you like your receipt. Thank you. Polite, yet empty interactions. Buying, spending. Always buying more. Must buy more. Have more. Always inadequate. Must look better. Be better. 

Scurrying about like machines. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. We are nearly as mechanized as the machines we carry in our pockets – cell phones, smart phones, iPhones, iPads. Responding to every text message, iMessage, notification or email the moment we receive it. It is like another language.

By night, more of the same. Get drunk. Go to the club. A big party with hundreds of people. All strangers, except for a few friends. More drinks. Tequila shots. Music is playing. It’s loud. Suddenly, dancing with one stranger. A boy. Everything starts moving even faster. Kissing. Touching. And inevitably, sex. Small talk, no real conversation. The most intimate of human interaction, now commonplace. Sexuality defined by a sea of drunken experiences. Moving at the speed of sound. No time for romance. No time to think. No time to process.

Amidst the flurry of noise and speed, there’s loneliness. Far too often, depression. So many crowds, so much contact, but no connection. So occupied with trivial actions of daily life that any sight of who we are is lost. 

Who are we?

We are social beings. Our identity is a mosaic of the people we meet. The selection of each piece is influenced by our conversations. Listen and observe, and be transformed.

I am calling for a ruralization of the city. Slow down and create time and space to have these conversations that are in accordance with our social nature. 

We will reject mechanization. Refuse to be a machine. Use our portable electronic devices. But never let them use us. We won’t necessarily respond to every message right away. Instead, we will prioritize the friends who are with us right now.

We will seek smallness and community wherever we are. 

We will smile at the people we pass in the street, greet the people we ride with in the elevator, and learn the names of the people we meet. We will remember details they share with us and every once and awhile, ask them how their parents are doing. 

We will create meaningful friendships. Choose quality, over quantity. We will build a diverse social network. Not just virtual one, but a living one.  Make friends with people who we wouldn’t normally be friends with, and likely learn something new as a result.

We recognize social capital as real capital. And as such, we will appreciate its worth and invest in it extensively. 

Rediscover the beauty of post and write a letter to an old friend. 

Call our grandmother and listen to her stories of days gone by. 

We will never pass up a potluck. Eating alone doesn’t make much sense. 

We will embrace opportunities for group work, because collaboration is a gift. We will listen to our peers until they feel that they have been understood. 

 Yet, amidst this eruption of social interactions, we will also make time to have conversations with ourselves, to find our own quiet, calm space, and to relish these moments of solitude because they allow us time to contemplate and process our exchanges with others. 

We will engage in work that feels like play. Work that allows you to exercise our own unique creative faculties, work that we are passionate about, work that is meaningful to us.

Let us take back the streets.

Let us reclaim our identity as social beings.

Let us create connection where only contact existed before. 





A manifesto for social creatures

11 09 2012

Last week, I received an unusual homework assignment unlike any before – write a manifesto. It was assigned at the end of my first class of a course called “From Dada to Hell’s Kitchen” which explores performance art. I read bits and pieces of other manifestos to try to gain some inspiration – the Communist Manifesto, the Anarchist Manifesto, the Cannibal Manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, the Futurist Manifesto and even the Lululemon manifesto. This is is a work in progress, but it’s what I’ve come up with so far. Critical feedback welcome.

We are social creatures. And as such, our identity is a mosaic of the people we meet. The selection of each piece is influenced by our conversations. We chose to include what we like, and leave the rest. 

In accordance with our social nature, we must slow down and create time and space to have these conversations. Listen and observe, and be transformed.

Create meaningful friendships. 

Learn the names of the people you meet. Remember details about them and every once and awhile, ask them how their parents are doing. 

Build a diverse social network. Not a virtual one, but a real one. 

Make friends with people who you wouldn’t normally be friends with. You might learn something new. 

Rediscover the beauty of post and write a letter to an old friend. 

Call your grandmother and listen to her stories of days gone by. 

Never pass up the opportunity to host or attend a potluck. Eating alone doesn’t make much sense. 

Embrace group work. It’s a learning experience and it builds character. Sometimes it is fun.

Social capital is real capital. Appreciate its worth and invest in it extensively.  

Governments are elected and defeated. Corporations eventually require bailouts. Cars break down. But people are consistent. Yet consistently changing, which allows for new conversations. 

We don’t have to respond to every text message, notification or email the moment you receive it. They will be there later. Instead, prioritize the friends who are with you right now.

Yet make time to have conversations also with yourself. Relish these moments of solitude because they allow us time to contemplate and process our exchanges with others. 

Don’t wait. Add some pieces to your mosaic today. And continue everyday. It will never be finished. 

Similar to the Lululemon, I came across another company called Holstee that also has a good manifesto. I like it.





Excellence and diversity in a global city

3 09 2012

Right now, I am sitting in a cafe (not a bar, but a cafe in the North American sense – I would say coffee shop, but I’m afraid that too has other connotations in these parts), doing some readings for a class called ‘Community and Society in a Globalized World’. Yes, even though I don’t have any classes until tomorrow, I’m afraid my summer has been cut short by 50 pages of reading. After an hour or so of reading and about only 10 pages in (yes, my brain is clearly still in summer mode), my mind begins to wander, not completely off topic, but wander nonetheless…

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to meet other students from around the world. It is rather interesting to discuss cultural differences and find common ground. Particularly at Amsterdam University College, where I am currently studying, I have found the students to be very diverse, just as the AUC motto suggests (see title). Not only is the student population diverse, but the individuals are quite multifaceted and diverse. For example, I have met many students who have lived in a handful of different countries, speak an equal number of languages, even dual citizenship is rather commonplace. This certainly isn’t high school. I can’t help but think that AUC’s selection of these students was intentional. And for good reason. Like Quest, the classes are small – about 20 or 25 students, and from experience I know how much richer class discussions are when you have a variety of cultural perspectives. My experiences with the wonderfully diverse students of AUC seems to be just another example of our age of globalization.

But, I can’t help but to be mildly troubled by this sense of rootlessness, or as a friend referred to a “culture of transients” when she was presenting her undergraduate thesis. How can we really know a place when we are constantly moving about? How can we observe the discrete changes in the ecosystem if we ourselves are moving across the landscape at such a fast pace? How can we form a broad web of social connections and really create community? How can we give back to our community?

So, here I am. Caught at this crossroads, searching for reconciliation.

Then, I realize, for me, I will continue to seize every travel opportunity that presents itself, especially at this point in time. I will journey forth with a nomadic spirit and explore with my eyes wide open. Yet, I still know where home is. And who home is. I know where my roots are, and what they are so I can carry them with me wherever I go. And when it’s right, I will return to them.

As for my peers, I will be grateful for their diversity. Just as we need the specialists and the generalists, we also need the rooted and the transients. It is more interesting that way.





Welkom in Amsterdam

26 08 2012

I have now been in Amsterdam for one week and the dust beneath my feet is beginning to settle. Yet, this week has gone by very quickly because I was busy with orientation activities organized by ISN (International Student Network). The highlights include a neon party, a crash course in Dutch, a boat cruise through Amsterdam’s canals, picnicking with friends in Oosterpark, a improv comedy night at Boom Chicago, a rooftop BBQ, sport climbing and karate at the university’s beautiful sports center and the final party with over 800 people! And last night, a couple friends and I went to “Pluk de nacht” or “Seize the night”, an open air film festival where we watched a coming-of-age comedy called “Terri“. However, even more exciting than all these activities was meeting so many new friends who are also studying in Amsterdam on exchange this term!

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This past week I have also become more familiar with Dutch culture and tradition – including “de fiets” or “the bike”. It seems like a funny coincidence that it is called “fiets”, pronounced “feet” because a bike is like your second pair of feet! I was fortunate to acquire a bike very quickly because my roommate was going on a holiday in Portugal for the last two weeks of summer and let me borrow her bike. This is by far the best way to explore and orient yourself around the city! At times, it is a bit unsettling as there are so many bikes and traffic and people, but it is getting easier as I learn the proper etiquette. There are two things (at least!) that I like best about my “fiets”:

  1. Physical activity! I have always struggled to find time to “work out” nor have I particularly enjoyed exercising for the sake of exercising. Yes, I know it is necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which is adequate justification, but it’s a challenge nonetheless. Further, I find it a bit nonsensical to see people going to the gym and jumping on the treadmill which is plugged into the wall and watching the television, also plugged in. Think about the energy use! In reality, gyms could be creating electricity if we converted all that kinetic energy, like they do for the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival. (I met the organizer of this at Hillside this year and went to his workshop about bike power. Pretty neat stuff!) Power plants, not gyms! While I wait for this utopian technology, I’ll just ride my bike, reduce fossil fuel use, exercise (without it feeling like exercise!) and get from point A to point B.
  2. It is basic technology that still requires use of our wonderfully complex human brains. In the age of mechanization, our actions are becoming more and more automated. Green light, go. Red light, stop. GPS says turn left, turn left and we forget to use our God-given mind. I just finished reading E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and in his chapter titled “Buddhist Economics“, he talks about how traditional Western economics focuses more on the product and less on the worker, and in a quest for greater efficiency, we turn to mechanization. However, this process of mechanization often deprives us of getting true fulfillment from our work because we are merely machines. Perhaps this is gone a bit off topic, but I’ll bring it back. A car is a relatively complex machine and if it breaks, we usually can’t fix it ourselves and need a mechanic. Also, we are bound by other traffic and traffic lights. A bike, on the other hand, is fairly simple technology, thus easier to fix. And although, we have to follow traffic lights too, there are bike paths and I feel a greater sense of freedom. I have to weave around obstructions and keep my eye out for other traffic, but my ability to do this makes me human, and I like that.

Anyway, the rain clouds have finally parted (for now) and the sun is out, so I better take advantage of this window of opportunity and hop on my fiets and do some errands.

But before I go, here are some photos of my apartment (otherwise known as “the penthouse”)

My apartment

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…and of my beautiful, brand new academic building at Amsterdam University College.

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Pieces of thesis

16 08 2012

Looking back on the past few months, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a rather epic summer – interning at a farm, motorcycling across the country, working (but more like playing) at summer camp, sweating it out in the bakery, volunteering at Hillside and exploring on the beautiful Bruce. But all good things must come to an end…in order to make room for more good things! In a short two days time, I’ll be flying across the pond to Amsterdam, where I will be studying for four months! I’m a bit nervous, but I know that unsettled feeling is necessary for new and exciting experiences!

Despite the flurry of fun summer activities and Amsterdam preparations, my academic pursuits continue to float around in my head. I finished another seminal reading, Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher and have now started reading Ecotopia. In addition, I’ve began pulling together pieces of what will become my thesis, or “Keystone” as we call it at Quest. My experiential learning block at Foxglove Farm really catalyzed the brainstorming process for my Keystone project, as I had hoped it would. Prior to the experience, I had considered doing a research project on collaboration and social capital at farmers’ markets. However, for logistical reasons, I am now thinking about conducting research on the farming community on the Bruce Peninsula, and attempt to measure both the collaboration and social capital that exists within this population. Some questions I might explore are:

  • How collaborative are local farmers?
  • In what ways are they collaborating – sharing equipment, labour, knowledge?
  • How do I measure collaboration?
  • Does geographic distribution affect the level of collaboration that takes place? Are farmers less likely to collaborate when their farms are more spread out?
  • What role does social capital play in facilitating these collaborations?
  • How do I measure social capital?
  • Does social capital reduce the cost of collaboration?
  • What types of institutions promote collaboration and build social capital?
  • How can farming become more accessible to new farmers?

This is my starting point. We’ll see how things develop over the next few months. I’d welcome any feedback, suggestion, ideas or resources, so send ’em my way!