Our research addresses economic, social, environmental, and policy topics related to a thriving Agriculture of the Middle.
The disappearance of mid-sized farms and ranches has been the focus of attention of rural sociologists and agricultural economists for many years (Buttel, 1999; Buttel and LaRamee, 1991; Galeski and Wilkening (editors), 1987; Lyson, 2004; Hoppe, MacDonald, & Korb, 2010). Researchers continue to explore the connection between farm structure and community vitality in agriculturally dependent rural areas, a theme framed as early as the 1940s by the social anthropologist, Walter Goldschmidt, in his study of two California rural communities situated in differing agricultural contexts (Goldschmidt, 1978). The communities surrounded by mid-sized, family farms exhibited considerably richer and more diverse community institutions than did the communities surrounded by larger, agribusiness-owned farms. The Goldschmidt hypothesis has continued to be a focus of attention and debate (Strange, 1989; Welsch and Lyson, 2001, Lyson, 2004) and will be broadened in this research to also include environmental and landscape issues (Francis et al., 2005).
In 2003, a broad consortium including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Johnson Foundation, the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the Leopold Center at Iowa State University, and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin organized a task force that focused on renewing an agriculture of the middle. These researchers drew upon a rich business literature focused on both products with unique and superior characteristics (Porter, 1990) and on supply chains based on long-term inter-organizational relationships also known as extended enterprises, strategic alliances, integrated value systems, and value-added partnerships (Dyer, 2000; Handfield & Nichols, 2002). The products may be differentiated by attributes such as organic, grass fed, or regionally sourced (Brady & OBrady, 2008) or by emphasizing issues of social justice and environmental responsibility (Jaffee, Kloppenburg, & Monroy, 2004).
This effort led to formation of initially NCDC 207, then NC 1036, NCDC 223, and most recently NC1198. The project participants have created a network of scientists from a range of academic disciplines focused on the complex issues related to agriculture of the middle. This group has collaborated on many funded projects; informed each others research topics, hypotheses, and study design; and shared interview guides, surveys and other research instruments. The group also developed a comprehensive research agenda, A Priority Research Agenda for Agriculture of the Middle (Clancy and Lehrer, 2010) that has been widely distributed and used. Each of the objectives for the current proposal were first raised in the research agenda and then refined in NCDC 223 meetings and email exchanges.
A Priority Research Agenda for Agriculture of the Middle (paper and presentation).