A grad student collaborator’s conference update – from last summer (oops) #proflife

As I get started in my career as a professor (ok, it’s been almost 4 years but it’s a little different as a research prof than someone on the tenure track), I have been starting to work with some graduate students when I have the funding. I encourage them to write blog posts to share the work we are doing. And … then I fail to post them. So this is a post from last fall from Heather Keown, AEC Master’s student, who went to the Rural Sociological Society conference in Toronto last summer. She shared a poster of our work on social network analysis with regional farmers. Here is her post:

“What an experience this has been! Early this week, I had the opportunity to travel to Toronto, Ontario for the 79th Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society to present a portion of our Who’s Connected research in the form of a poster. I talked about how the producers who came to our focus groups define sustainability and how they believe sustainability could be accomplished. I also talked about how we saw regional differences when it came to these two topics. 

I was inspired and overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback our research received while talking to attendees that stopped by the poster session. I talked mainly to sociologist from other universities around the States and Canada. I found that most everyone I talked to was excited to hear about how the producers themselves defined sustainability. It was stated many times that there is no one good definition for what sustainability means, and we were praised for going to the producers rather than using a “book” definition. Another general theme I saw was everyone’s interest in the regional differences we saw within the one system. A couple of questions that were asked were: “Why do you think these differences are occurring?” and “Why do you think the Gainesville area is rejecting the ideals of traditional sustainable farming practices (or co-oping) ?”

I also talked a bit about how this part of our research was used to create a social network analysis survey in order to allow us to actually see how producers in the system were talking to each other and to identify the key figures within the system. This again was another area everyone seemed to love! They were excited to hear about a network that could potentially be sustained by the producers and were interested in how extension would play a role in this. A few faculty members stated how their states seemed to have a similar program but most were led by industry companies who still had an “agenda” while helping the producers.

While it was awesome to receive so much positive feedback, I believe the most interesting conversations I had were about the cultural aspect of these producers. The producers we talked to only mentioned the environmental, financial, and human aspects of sustainability, but none mentioned how being a sustainable farmer culturally affected them. It was suggested by two people that if we were to further this research that we look into this component. They suggested that this may have to do with the regional differences as well.

All in all, this was a great conference. I was nervous going into it, especially since it was my first research conference, but I loved talking to everyone about the research we are doing. I knew our research had great significance, but I am even more excited to finish out our social network analysis and receive feedback after our event in September.”  

Funding for the project from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Foundation ended in October, and I have been working on publishing the results from the focus groups and social network analysis. Heather finished her classes and has been student teaching this semester. She will graduate at the end of this month.

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