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!





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. 





Welcome to the Rock

6 05 2012

I’ve landed on the Rock, otherwise known as Salt Spring Island, and am quickly settling into island life. I arrived on Tuesday and have worked 3 days here at Foxglove Farm, run by Michael and Jeanne Marie Ableman. So far, I’m enjoying myself and learning a lot. I have been itching to get my hands into the dirt for quite some time now, so I’m glad to finally get to do so. I’ll be a farm apprentice here for the month of May.

At Quest, we complete at least one, but up to four, experiential learning blocks. This means learning outside the classroom. My farm apprenticeship will count as my first

experiential learning block. Back in April, I had to find a site supervisor (which is Michael in this case) and a faculty supervisor, and complete an experiential learning plan, identifying the context, activities, objectives, assessment and application. My learning objectives for my apprenticeship are:

  • To learn to grow food more successfully
  • To develop research methods to apply to my Question (particularly a process for measuring collaboration and social capital in a particular context)
  • To begin considering possible Keystone projects (like a thesis, which I will be completing next year, in my final year at Quest)
  • To gain a greater appreciation for the food I consume

In addition to my day-to-day farm duties, I will also conduct some interviews, maintain a journal, and continue to read one of my seminal works, E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, as well as a collection of

research papers.

As you may recall, my Question is “What is the role of collaboration in developing effective institutions?” I hope this experience informs answers to some of my sub-questions, such as: Why should we

collaborate? What circumstances do and do not benefit from collaboration? How can we facilitate collaboration? How can we measure collaboration? What does it mean to be “effective”? More specifically, in the context of the farm, I am thinking about:

What form(s) does collaboration take on the farm (both internally and with the local community)? What role does social capital play in facilitating these collaborations? Is the farm an effective institution? If so, what makes it effective? Do farmers’ markets serve as a social hub that facilitates collaboration and generates social capital? Obviously, I’d like to focus a bit more, but for now, this is the scope of my studies.

Now on to what I’ve actually learned! Although I cannot chronicle everything, here are some of the main things (most of these can be accredited to Michael):

  1. Observation is the most importantagricultural skill. Michael claims he doesn’t know anything about agriculture. He just knows what he sees, and tries to make connections and understand why certain things are happening. To hone our observation skills, we are supposed to walk around the farm twice a week (following the same route each time), recording our observations. I did my first observational farm tour on Thursday. (This kind of reminds me of an activity we did in ERM in high school where we visited our spot every week and and made observations.) Observation, along with a bit of common sense, is all you need.
  2. Cultivating (with a collinear hoe, the best tool ever!) beats hand weeding any day. Ideally, you never have to weed if you do this often.
  3. “It’s often not about the big ideas, but the millions of little details that make the difference.”
  4. Human waste is not managed effectively (Thanks to Chris for this insight). For example, why do we shit into good drinking water? Further, urine is nitrogen-rich and totally being under-utilized.
  5. It is difficult to do everything well, so grow what you like to eat. If you love it, it will usually work out for you.
  6. You need to know the context of the land. We are merely passing through. Ownership is overrated.
  7. Don’t be afraid to break all the rules and experiment. Find out what works for you. Give up everything you’ve been told. Don’t hold on to dogmas too tightly. We really have more ignorance than knowledge, so approach farming with a beginner’s mind. Take risks and innovate. (Planting spinach and eggplant together is our own example of this) A farm should be a manifestation of your own needs and personality.
  8. Don’t underestimate the aesthetic. Take a peak at our patchwork of kale for proof!
  9. Diversify your palate. It seems to be narrowing, so we can only really distinguish between salty and sweet. There are so many other flavours we are missing out on!
  10. It’s not about products, but systems.
  11. More people need to be farming. A few percent of the population is not enough!People write about food, work in food policy, etc. without actually doing it. It is hard, but gratifying work. Put the farmer out of business by growing your own food. It is more fun at a smaller scale anyway.
  12. Pleasure is a more effective motivator than doom and gloom. If for no other reason, grow food because it tastes good!
  13. A bit of a paradox emerges when you look at collaboration in small towns, generally speaking. On one hand, a small town is a very conducive climate because the sense of intimacy and community provides a common vision and facilitates networking. On the other hand, there is a deepsense of ownership and often stagnation that can prevent something from evolving and emerging.

Okay, so maybe that was more than a few, but learning is good, right?

Photo of trailer that I am living in at Foxglove Farm

My Little Abode, Foxglove Farm, Salt Spring Island





An ordinary weekend in the life…

23 04 2012

What a weekend! Event after event on campus kept me pretty busy, leaving little time for homework.

It all kicked off Friday afternoon, dismissed from class early and we headed up to Telus Fest in Whistler to check out the free outdoor Michael Franti concert (not so coincidental considering the holiday)! Then, back to campus for the second Cabaret production, with this year’s theme being “rhythm”. All original pieces, I was utterly amazed by the artistic talent within our little student body…from poetry to music to paintings to sculpture to short skits. Amazing! Also, the way the loading bay (yes, in our cement underground parkade) was transformed into an intimate and comfortable space.

Then, Saturday morning, we had a garage sale to mitigate the mass of stuff that ends up in the garbage at the end of the year. I might have snagged more than I sold, but what can I say, I love garage sales!

After checking out the sale, I went to a community workshop, based on this report, that involved taking an inventory of the various programs and services in Squamish and identifying gaps and possible actionable solutions. There were twelve priorities in particular, as identified in the report, including child development, learning, the environment, belonging and leadership, housing, transportation and arts and culture. I didn’t count, but a decent number of people participated, including almost all of city council and a number of other movers and shakers in the community. What struck me in particular was the number of times the word “collaboration” was used! Because collaboration is central to my Question, I have thought about it quite a bit, but I still learned (or at least reaffirmed a few things: 1) Collaboration is important, especially in the context of limiting redundancy (that occurs as a result of the “silo effect”) in the non-profit sector where funding is scarce, 2) Collaboration is elusive and ambiguous, a concept that a lot of people use freely, meaning quite different things, 3) Collaboration is difficult, mainly because it takes time that no one apparently has. I keep these observations in the back of my head as I continue to study this concept.

After this facilitation, I was quite ready to go out and dig around in the campus garden behind the cafeteria. With about half a dozen of us working, we got quite a bit accomplished – finished the fence, planted the herb spiral, made a composting bed, and I shoveled a bunch of dirt around, making the furrows and turning over the soil and working in the mulch. I also planted my little bean and pea seed babies that I had planted a couple weeks ago. They were overflowing their tray. Hopefully it isn’t too early!

Saturday night was another night of incredible talent with the term-end Classics Plus concert, from Bach and Mozart to opera to original compositions. The last performance for some of the graduates! And then, this morning, we had our 5th annual adventure race! This year, for the first time, it was at the Easter Seals camp in Brackendale (we usually have it at Alice Lake), so there was a bit less running involved. Our team was a bit on the slim side, but it was fun nonetheless, as always!

And there you have it! Now, four more days of class, and that’s all she wrote for another school year!

P.S. Two songs worth downloading…”At the Birds Foot” by City and Colour and “Big Blue Wave” by Hey Ocean!, and of course some Michael Franti!





O.U.R. Ecovillage for block break

6 03 2012

Today, it was back to the grind of another block…Ecological Economics this time around. But before I get to that, I’ll tell you about my block break.

Wednesday night offered the monthly end of block shakedown at the Shady Tree, complete with non-stop music from Quest musicians. Then, on Thursday, no sleep in for me. I happily woke up for a full 8-hour day of class, but I can at least say that I’m now first aid certified with OFA Level 1.

On Friday, block break actually begin and I suited up and loaded up my good ol’ Honda Sabre, bound for Shawnigan Lake on Photo of my room in the sanctuary at O.U.R. EcovillageVancouver Island, making a quick stop at the bike shop in Squamish to pick up some warmer gloves. It was a rainy ride down to Horseshoe Bay, and I say that I was the only bike on the road and the ferry. But the Frog Toggs, my Cowichan sweater, long johns, insulated rubber boots, and new leather gloves kept me fairly warm and dry. Thankfully, by the time I arrived in Nanimo, the rain had ceased and it was a dry ride to Shawnigan Lake. Aside from filling up my gas tank (only $12) and my tummy in Duncan, it was smooth sailing.

Why Shawnigan Lake, you may ask? My destination was O.U.R. Ecovillage, a permaculture learning centre and sustainable community, flooded with natural buildings, made from straw bale, cob and more. The 25-acre property started its on-site operations in 1999, but the O.U.R. (Our United Resource) movement years earlier in Victoria. Over 10,000 visitors came through the ecovillage this past summer. Wow! So, after hearing about this remarkable little community from friends who had visited as part of a Quest Permaculture class last November, I thought that I’d better check it out. In relation to my Question, I was particularly interested in how its pioneers had A photo of a sign in the outhouse at O.U.R.collaborated and continue to collaborate to create and sustain the community.  Although short (only 2 nights), I really enjoyed my visit and hope to return before too long. I had a go at trying to catch chickens (with one success), digging in the garden, learning about natural building, and meeting some inspiring people. The trip re-ignited my longing to develop some agricultural skills and experience. Further, the motorcycle adventure gave me a sample of the much, much longer journey that might be to come in May/June.

By the way, I’m just in the progress of making my own yogurt for the first time! I am very exciting! From what I’ve been told, it is quite easy. Just boil some milk (ironically, the milk boiled over as I was writing this), then, when it cools, add some yogurt as a starter. Then, leave it in the oven overnight, with just the oven light on. Morning will tell if it worked out or not…





Wisdom from Quest faculty and staff

16 03 2011

Thus far, I have met with many faculty and staff members to discuss and organize my ideas. In the two months prior to Question block, I spoke to many faculty members to varying degrees to organize my ideas as well as brainstorm potential directions. (Check out our faculty bios here..they are pretty spectacular!) In addition, I have also shared some of my preliminary ideas with a few former colleagues and personal contacts. I have deliberately cast this wide net in order to make sure I am gaining diverse perspectives from a range of academic fields as well as personal backgrounds. I feel very fortunate that the faculty is so accessible to students as these meetings (both formal and informal) have been incredibly helpful as I try to find an academic focus of my own.

Most recently, I scheduled meetings with Andre, Jim, Court, Steve as well as a second meeting with Eric. I went into this second round of meetings with much more focus than my preliminary sessions, and was even able to propose possible Questions, such as “How can we facilitate collaboration effectively?”

  1. Focus – What is an appropriate balance between breadth and depth? How can my Question be broad enough to encompass a wide range of curricular and co-curricular interests and to provide adequate flexibility and freedom during my Concentration years? However, my Question needs to be narrow enough to offer sufficient academic focus and direction?
  2. Integration – How can I acquire a well-rounded education that integrates concepts from different disciplines in a meaningful, multidisciplinary way? To what extent is it possible or even desirable to pursue both arts and sciences with equal rigour?

My goals for these meetings were to:

  • Gain perspective on the importance of focus and integration when forming a Question.
  • Receive constructive feedback on the wording of my Question
  • Identify some relevant sources of information that would aid further independent research, such as search words, topics, disciplines and possible readings

During these meetings, I gained a lot of insight about some possible areas that I would like to further explore as well as some specific courses that might be relevant to my anticipated academic journey. I was pleasantly surprised by the meaningful links I was able to identify between seemingly different fields, all occurring within the scope of my Question. For example, Court identified parallels between natural resource management and human resource management. Furthermore, population models used in the life sciences could inform human population models. On the other hand, Andre and Jim highlighted the importance of first defining the terms that I am using, such as management and collaboration, to make sure I mean what I am saying, after all definitions can be subjective. In addition, Andre suggested that I also define the anti-theses of these terms. Rather than strictly thinking about the motivations for collective action, he suggested it might also be useful to look at individualism.

Also, out of pure coincidence, I also began talking to Steve, our new international admission counselor. I described the nature of my Question, and then asked about his academic background. As it turns out, he has an Honours degree in Sociology, a discipline that Eric had directed me to during our meeting a day earlier. Sociology is defined as “the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.” Steven has also worked in varying capacities within the field of institutional organization. According to Steven, I am destined for a career in human resources. I have fully processed that notion quite yet, but I’ve accepted it for now. Similarly, I learned that Vanessa, our university librarian, is currently undertaking graduate studies in leadership. She is currently writing a strategic plan for the library, which serves both her responsibilities for work as well as one of her courses. Coincidentally, I plan on writing a strategic plan for the Quest Students’ Representative Council (SRC) as experiential learning over the summer, so she will be an incredible resource. Melanie has also been extremely helpful in the past couple months as I attempt to integrate both my curricular and co-curricular activities. Once again, I am completely intrigued by the professional and personal backgrounds of the staff and faculty at Quest, and their willingness to take time out of their daily work to exchange ideas with students.

Also, Eric proposed a few more possible Questions: i) “What is the role of collaboration in political and social organization?”, or more broadly, ii) “How do institutions transform themselves?” Alternatively, in consideration of David’s suggestion, I could merge the two to read, “What is the role of collaboration in institutional transformation?” As you can tell, each of these versions has a slightly different focus. I’ll keep all three for now.

My next step is to start the next round of research, based on the keywords that I received. A long day in the library for me, but luckily, I am so interested and excited about my Question that it won’t even really feel like work. I was hesitant and overwhelmed at first, but I think I’m going to like this whole Question thing after all.