As someone who works in the field of sustainable agriculture, I have dedicated much of my research and Extension endeavors to understanding the major ecological, social, and economic barriers to organic and sustainable food production in both the United States and abroad. As a result, I have had the privilege of working with and learning from peasant potato producers in the Venezuelan Andes and small scale vegetable producers along the Texas-Mexico border. The experience has not only been humbling, but it has opened my eyes to the power of community-driven, participatory research as a means of addressing complex socio-ecological issues such as barriers to organic/sustainable food production.
Currently, I am using my knowledge of participatory action research to help cereal producers in southern Idaho address critical concerns to organic production at the University of Idaho. My first step was to identify common barriers to organic cereal production, and to date my work indicates that weeds, pests, and lack of processing facilities appear to be significant constraints to the transition and certification process. My second step involves identifying a core group of producers, public agency representatives, researchers, and organic businesses that will actively work towards resolving major production constraints in organic cereal production. The third step in the process involves securing extramural funding to build a robust education, research, and extension program that promotes participatory action research in sustainable and organic agriculture. The fourth step will be to help create a community of co-learners and co-teachers that are actively involved in identifying and addressing future concerns to organic production.
At this point, I am early in the process (just barely taking on part of steps 2 and 3), but I am excited about the opportunity to work with and learn from organic producers in Idaho!