Sunday, August 10, 2014

The End of a Beginning to Something Great

For our last blog post, we were asked to write about what our results and what we find most important from this summer (at the end is the touchy feely stuff and the internet in the sticks runs slow so no pictures for now).

The purpose of this study was to better understand the impact that farmers' relationships have on individual farming behavior. To do this, we surveyed and interviewed farmers about BMP adoption as well as who they would name as their closest farming colleagues. From this information, we were able to create a social network map. This research project and experience revealed a lot of useful data as well as allowed student researchers to form some valuable connections to landowners and local farmers.

One of our major findings dives into how knowledge is spread across farmer relationships and individual social networks. We found that the more farmers are interconnected within a close knit social network, the less likely they are to accept outside ideas. Additionally, the more sources that farmers are getting information from the more likely that others’ adoption of BMPs has an impact on their own adoption of BMPs. What this tells us is that farmers who are tightly connected to just one social group are less likely to be impacted by outside information. This will be important to consider in the future when actions to clean up the watershed are being taken.

We also analyzed the role that farming one’s own land versus farming another’s land has on BMP adoption, environmental values, and views of government. We were able to conclude that farmers who own the land they farm are more likely to be using BMPs and more likely to value the environment. Yet, those who own and farm are also more likely to state that laws regarding water quality and the environment limit their personal freedom. What this suggests is that landowners who are renting out their land and/or renters are less likely to be using BMPs and more likely to want government involvement.

From the survey we conducted, we were also able to see the reasons why farmers do or do not go to others for information about farming. These reasons include a lack of trust towards information sources, lack of opportunity to expand personal information as well as relationships, and a heavy commitment to traditional practices. One farmer stated, ““There is no one cookie cutter farm…it makes it difficult to get information from a source that understands your practice.” While further research needs to be conducted on exactly why these reasons are hindering farmers from connecting with others, the data shows an interesting trend in both why and how farmers are interacting with one another.

All of these findings are extremely valuable and give a lot of insight into how and why farmers within the area are using BMPs, how they view the environment, how they view the government, and how they are connected to one another. Our data shows the social aspect of water pollution within the Red Cedar watershed by mapping how farmers are connected to one another and the BMPs they are adopting.

Needless to say, I've learned a lot about the farmers I've been researching and getting to know. If I had to choose just one thing that I would want everyone to know it would be that farmers want and need these solutions.  Another farmer stated, “Farmers are doing a good job but we’re definitely going to have to bring in other farmers to make this work.” Of the 65 farms we visited over the summer, the majority of farmers were very excited to participate and play an active role in cleaning up the watershed yet there is more work to be done on everyone’s part. This data will be useful in the future when policy makers and citizens begin implementing plans to clean up the Red Cedar Watershed and begin considering the role that farmers play.

This summer has been absolutely amazing and to be frank, way better than I could have ever expected. As a collective group, we were able to accomplish so much. Not only that, but I formed incredible friendships. I can't say enough. I wish I had the time and space to give you all the individual blurts you so deserve. You are all amazing and inspiring people. I feel so honored to have been able to work with you. And while I was sad to see you go, I know that all of you will accomplish unbelievable things in your lives and we will see each other soon at conferences and the like.

In addition, I also wanted to give a huge thanks to all of the mentors that participated on this project. All of you did fantastic and I feel like you're efforts could never get enough credit. It was truly a pleasure, completely and honestly a pleasure. I’m convinced that if I am half as devoted as each of you were to us this summer I will be accomplished in any field I choose. Thank you all for the opportunity to work with each of you and I look forward this next academic year where I can hopefully get an opportunity to work with all of you in some capacity. I have grown so much as a person and a student simply by getting to know and talk to each of you. I can’t say enough good things about all of you.

I also wanted to single out my mentor for this summer project and regular academic advisor, Nels Paulson (considering I haven’t really had an opportunity yet to properly thank you).Thank you so much for everything you have done and continue to do on a daily basis for others. If you have taught me anything over the last couple of years it’s that if you want to accomplish something in life you need to align yourself with a person that resembles your goals and learn from that individual. By learning and interacting with the person who closely resembles what you as an individual hope to be, you will begin picking up the characteristics that have made them successful. As an academic, I someday hope to be at least a little like you. 

Thank you all again for everything. 

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