Constructing sustainable agriculture at a Northwest farmer's market: Understanding the performance of sustainability
Pilgeram, Ryanne S.
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Pilgeram, Ryanne S.
In this project I explore the commitment to "social sustainability" within sustainable agriculture. Using participant observations at a Northwest farmers' market, interviews with market consumers, and interviews as well as farm tours with sustainable farmers, I examine the construction and practice of sustainability in a particular setting. The environmental issues tied to conventional agriculture are numerous and well documented; however, "social sustainability"--the extent to which sustainable agriculture provides a food system that is accessible, inclusive, uses fair labor practices, and is economically sustainable--is often less emphasized and more ambiguously defined (despite the emphasis by scholars and practitioners of sustainable agriculture that the movement is good for social justice). My project, therefore, uses critical feminist theory to explore how the ideals of social sustainability are put into practice by consumers and farmers of sustainable food in a society where social injustices are often embedded on both a structural and individual level. Emphasizing fanners' markets as the most important social space in which the values of sustainable agriculture are constructed, I use a local case study of a Pacific Northwest farmers' market, the consumers who shop there, and the farmers who sell goods there to understand how the values of social sustainability are put into practice. After reviewing the relevant literature and outlining the methods I use, I first discuss farmers' participation in the market and sustainable agriculture more broadly, using interviews and observations at different local farms to analyze how farmers see their commitment to sustainable agriculture as tied to forms of privilege and oppressions. Next, I use participation observation at the market itself to analyze how the space mediates the demands of "social sustainability" in a farmers' market system that is ultimately entrenched within a capitalist economy. Finally, I examine consumers' perceptions of the market, why they shop there, why they think more people do not shop at the market, and their definitions of sustainability; their responses reveal the complex ways that consumers define and understand sustainable agriculture.