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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The long way home

16 08 2012

A while back, I embarked on an epic motorcycle trip from Salt Spring Island down the Pacific coast and then headed east just north of San Fran all the way back to Ontario, meeting up with pops and the boys in Wyoming. I was pretty good on the blogging front for the first few days, but eventually was unable to keep up with it. Anyway, here’s a bit of a general overview of the trip…

Day 1: Salt Spring Island, BC – Olympia, WA

Day 2: Olympia, WA – Newport, OR

Day 3: Newport, OR – Crescent City, CA

Day 4: Crescent City, CA – Orr Hot Springs near Ukiah, CA

Day 5: Orr Hot Springs – Nevada City, CA

Day 6: Day trip to Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley w/ Crissy & Gavin

Day 7: Nevada City, CA

Day 8: Nevada City, CA – Sand Mountain, NV = 315 km

Day 9: Sand Mountain, NV – Salt Lake City, UT = 807 km

Day 10: Salt Lake City, UT – Rawlins, WY = 476 km

Day 11: Rawlins, WY – Chardon, NE = 650 km

Day 12: Chadron, NE – Mitchell, SD

Day 13: Mitchell, SD – Oshkosh, WI = 858 km (Longest day of the trip!)

Day 14: Oshkosh, WI – Sault Ste. Marie, ON = 588

Day 15: Sault Ste. Marie – Lion’s Head, ON = 420 km

My total mileage for the trip was 6,619 km. Using the Conservation International‘s calculator, my 1982 Honda Sabre V45 produced 0.88 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Covering the same distance by plane would have been three times as much.

Here’s some photos from along the way…

After spending at least an hour driving over a steep and winding road, I was welcomed by this breathtaking vista on the other side

Best coffee of the trip! I did my best to avoid the “crack shacks” (selling espresso) that are especially abundant in the Pacific Northwest and hold out for the good stuff!

The Redwoods

Crissy and I at Sand Mountain in Nevada – the most amazing campsite that made for the most magical full moon experience

“I survived Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America”…and thanks to Crissy and Gavin, it wasn’t lonely at all!

Thank goodness for zap straps!

Mount Rushmore – a quintessential stop along any great American road trip

Getting my tourist fix

The boys are back in town

Dad in front of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota with murals and designs made from corn and other grains

The weathered, sun-kissed and wind-blown gang of six after about 3,700 miles, Tobermory bound at last