Assessing benefits, costs, and tradeoffs of biologically-diversified farming systems in California's Central Coast, Oct 31

Students garden to save the world,

Monday, October 31, 2016

Biologically diversified farming systems (DFS) are thought to generate important ecosystem services that provide critical inputs to farm productivity as well as clean water, clean air, and beautiful landscapes that promote human health and well-being. Yet, these systems have been neither widely studied, nor broadly adopted. Our work will explore: (1) the ways that DFS influence ecosystem services and biodiversity; (2) how DFS affect the yields, economic performance, and socioeconomic resilience of farming operations; and (3) how growers perceive and experience the benefits, costs, and tradeoffs of DFS. DFS are defined as those systems utilizing a suite of management techniques that maintain ecological diversification within fields and in the surrounding landscapes. We hypothesize that using these techniques promotes beneficial biodiversity that generates and regenerates ecosystem services, thereby providing critical inputs to farms like fertile soils, crop pollinators, and predators of crop pests. By regenerating ecosystem services, such systems should be less reliant on off-farm inputs, more ecologically and economically sustainable, and more resilient to environmental shocks. Working in California’s highly productive Central Coast region, we will measure how farm diversification and surrounding landscape complexity influence on-farm biodiversity and how this, in turn, influences ecosystem services. We will quantify how these ecosystem services contribute to farm economic performance and assess farmers’ perceptions and experiences of the benefits, costs, and tradeoffs of using diversified farming practices. Our interdisciplinary ecological, economic, and social research will elucidate environmental, market, and policy opportunities and barriers to adopt diversified farm management.

Kathryn De Master is an Assistant Professor of Agriculture, Society and the Environment in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California-Berkeley. She is a sociologist of agriculture whose work focuses on the changing structures in agriculture in the U.S. and internationally. Her research interests include agri-environmental policy, food justice and food sovereignty movements, the “agriculture of the middle,” diversified farming systems, participatory mapping, and the influence of corporations in agri-food systems. In previous work, Kathryn conducted the first national level case study of organic farming transitions in Poland, in the wake of Poland’s accession to the European Union, and she has studied U.S. place-based agricultural initiatives in New England, Wisconsin, and the Western U.S. Kathryn grew up on a small family farm in Montana, received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Environment and Resources in 2009, and taught as a Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies at Brown University from 2009-2013. An avid advocate for place-based and community-driven rural and urban development and regenerative farming systems, De Master is an affiliated scholar with the Berkeley Food Institute and has facilitated numerous community-based participatory agri-food initiatives.

Adrian Lu was an intellectual property lawyer in Silicon Valley before his current career as a graduate student in Dr. Claire Kremen’s lab at UC-Berkeley. He became disillusioned with corporate legal practice and moved to China where he worked with grassroots environmental organizations for several years. In China, Adrian became interested in the intersection between grower livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, and wilderness conservation. He is now studying interactions among natural vegetation, strawberry crops, natural enemies, and strawberry pests in California’s Central Coast.

Amber Sciligo is currently a project coordinator and postdoctoral researcher working with Professor Claire Kremen in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California at Berkeley. While Amber’s technical expertise is grounded in plant-insect interactions, particularly pollination, her work takes an interdisciplinary approach to intersect ecological, economic and socio-political arenas to reveal truly sustainable farming practices. The main goal of her research is to understand how farming practices that promote biodiversity and ecosystem services can be more broadly adopted in an industrialized agricultural context. She hopes that by finding barriers to and opportunities for adoption, policy can be better informed to feasibly support farmers to adopt practices that simultaneously protect the land and support the economic health of their farms, while improving their own livelihoods and the livelihoods of their local communities.

Aidee Guzman is a PhD student in ESPM co-advised by Dr. Claire Kremen and Dr. Kathy DeMaster. She is broadly interested in the social and ecological aspects of agriculture. Specifically, she is exploring the role that diversified farming practices have on below to above ground ecological processes. While aboveground floral visitors provide pollination services to plants, belowground arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) can enhance nutrient quality and production of floral resources. These combined effects could have indirect and direct beneficial impacts on crop yields and pollinator community composition.

This talk is part of the Diversified Farming Systems Roundtable.