This ethnographic study explores the social aspects of agricultural land-use in the Marys River region. The study seeks to understand how farmers define sustainability and how their views on agricultural issues help to define a sense of place and identity in the Marys River region, within the context of the globalized agricultural system. This project builds on past research utilizing the theory and praxis of political ecology, but also incorporates elements of bioregionalism to develop a theoretical model of regional political ecology for an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to answering the research questions. The study asks:
1) How do farmers in the Marys River region define agricultural sustainability?
2) What methods do farmers use to develop more sustainable agroecosystems?
3) What do farmers consider to be the most important issues in developing a more sustainable regional community within the globalized system of agriculture?
A critical synthesis of information is developed establishing bioregional political ecology within the conceptual framework of the project. The study then describes the broad social and economic contexts that potentially shape and constrain farmer conceptualizations of sustainability, focusing on the contrast between the development and characteristics of the globalized system of industrial agriculture and more traditional systems-based methods considered to be alternative forms of agricultural production.
The study then uses this conceptual framework to integrate an historical account describing the development of agriculture in the Marys River region with contemporary ethnographic information collected through participant observation and semi-structured interviews with farmers to provide a more holistic understanding of contemporary definitions of agricultural sustainability.
This approach of integrating the qualitative information gathered from local farmers with historical and contemporary background information on land-use allowed for a better understanding of farmers' perspectives and definitions of sustainability. A principle finding from this research was that farmers throughout the Marys River region, regardless of farming styles and practices, consider sustainability primarily as the ability to continue farming into the extended future. Farmers' definitions of sustainability are inherently tied to the 'space' of the farm and these findings provide a common ground for dialogue among stakeholders with differing worldviews. This study helps to fill gaps in the existing literature on sustainability and agricultural land-use in the region; namely the perception and conceptualization of sustainability by its farmers. This more comprehensive understanding of how farmers relate to sustainability will help farmers, policymakers, and other institutions to better work together in making more informed decisions toward building stronger communities and developing a more sustainable bioregion within the global marketplace