ACCESS Seminar: Regenerating soil, regenerating soul
Understanding what motivates farmers to adopt “climate-smart” regenerative practices is critical for developing the right policies, incentives, outreach, and support mechanisms. In this talk I’ll explore factors that motivated farmers in NSW Australia to transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture (RA), focusing on the role that their perceptions of agrochemicals and the microbiome played. Drawing on integral theory, I’ll take a holistic approach to analysing how farmer interiorities in personal and collective realms interacted with external behaviour and the larger social-ecological system in which food and fiber is produced. A key finding of this research is that negative experiences with agrochemicals associated with increasing costs and declining results were an important driver of change. Conversely, positive experiences learning about the microbiome and practising ecological approaches to fertilisation and pest control engendered enthusiasm and commitment to a transition away from high-input agriculture and a transformation in mindset. Further, conviviality associated with communities of practice, e.g. microscope groups, played an important role in the transition process, as farmers solidified new identities and participated in ongoing social learning. Based on these results, I argue that farmers’ feelings of kinship with nature (animals, plants, microbes) resulting from learning about and working with soil are underappreciated drivers of behavioural change and powerful leverage points for larger-scale social-ecological transformation. The integral model facilitates recognition of the connections between soil condition, farmers’ perceptions of and feelings about its condition, ensuing behaviour including participation in new networks, and the creation of new norms, all of which create space for the emergence of institutional and systemic change.
Hannah Gosnell is a Professor of Geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University who studies the human dimensions of natural resource management related to biodiversity conservation and climate change. Her research focuses on agricultural landscape change, landowner decision making, and environmental governance in the context of rural working landscapes in the U.S. West, though much of what she knows about regenerative agriculture she learned from farmers in Australia while on sabbatical at U of Wollongong in 2012-2013. She is particularly interested in the social, cultural, and psychological aspects of the transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture and the implications for landowners’ capacity to adapt to social, economic and environmental change. She is currently Coordinating Lead Author for the forthcoming Transformative Change Assessment for the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Hannah earned her MA and PhD in Geography from the University of Colorado and a BA from Brown University and has authored or co-authored over 70 peer-reviewed journals and book chapters.