Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: farming (page 1 of 3)

Back from the Falklands

Late afternoon sun picks out a river course on West Falkland.

Late afternoon sun picks out a river course on West Falkland.

I am now back from my 3+ week immersion into the farming culture of the Falkland Islands, with 700 photos, 30 hours of interviews, 20 pages of observational notes, and a strong sense of my inadequacies as a specialist within a land of self-reliant generalists. Despite coming at the busiest time in the farming calendar – shearing and lamb marking – farmers were incredibly generous in their willingness to talk, and sometimes tour and host as well. My research assistant, Marilou Delignieres, went far beyond her role as recruiter, guide and driver, happily engaging in farm work and babysitting to help me get time with farmers. Her parents, Hugues and Marie-Paul, helped us with logistics, but also provided additional opportunities during my visit. I relished my discussions with members of a contract shearing gang then working at their farm Dunbar, and got to experience a cruise ship visit, one of the ways that many farmers here diversify their incomes and benefit from hosting penguin colonies and other wildlife. I travelled by 4×4, workboat (ferry) and Islander aircraft. I marveled at all scales: skies to ground cover. These memories will sustain me through the difficult transcription phase which follows such research, and support my subsequent analysis. Thanks to the OECD Co-operative Research Programme and Dalhousie’s Supplemental Sabbatical Fund for the fellowship funding to undertake this travel, and SSHRC for its support of Marilou.

Marilou throws a fleece in the Dunbar shearing shed, as Alex shears, Polly rousies, and Hugues and Marie-Paul look on.

Marilou throws a fleece in the Dunbar shearing shed, as Alex shears, Polly rousies, and Hugues and Marie-Paul look on, ready to class it.

Cruise ship tourists visiting Gentoo Penguins at Dunbar farm, with Death Head in the background - one of their tricker paddocks to gather sheep in.

Cruise ship tourists visiting Gentoo Penguins at Dunbar farm, with Death Head in the background – one of their tricker paddocks to gather sheep in.

What farm fragmentation looks like in Nova Scotia

Our typology of Nova Scotia farm fragmentation based on the number of non-contiguous parcels and the time to drive across the two furthest apart parcels.

Our typology of Nova Scotia farm fragmentation based on the number of non-contiguous parcels and the time to drive across the two furthest apart parcels.

When I moved back to Canada from Australia, and started interviewing farmers in Nova Scotia, I was surprised at how small and fragmented their holdings were. I found myself wondering how this spatial pattern influenced their management. Does it mean that it is harder to think of a farm as an ecosystem, and manage accordingly? Or is it a boon for biodiversity, as remoter parcels are left to nature? I threw a few questions about farm fragmentation on our Marginal Land survey last year, and those preliminary results are now in, recently presented on a poster at ISSRM, Farm as ecosystem: What is the impact of fragmented property ownership on farm management? It show us that fragmentation in Nova Scotia is intentional, the result of purposeful land acquisition by serious farmers. While it cannot be ascribed to fragmentation alone based on the data we collected, these high fragmentation farmers were less likely to have ponds and wetlands on their properties (as a function of farm area), though they had just as many woodlands, which are seen to have high ecosystem service value (timber, etc). Moreover, high fragmentation farmers were less likely to undertake biodiversity-friendly farming techniques. I think this is enough to suggest more research is warranted. Next time I want to look for diversity within farms. Does the farmer treat far-flung parcels differently than those closer to the heart of his operations?

Fun week of workshops

I seem to be giving bad news to Joyce and Simon from WWF on the HCV maps behind, as Beckley observes . Maybe I was, a little. (photo: Sarah Saunders, WWF Canada).

I seem to be giving bad news to Joyce and Simon from WWF on the HCV maps behind, as Beckley looks on. Maybe I was, a little. (photo: Sarah Saunders, WWF Canada).

Last week, with winter marks submitted, launched the workshop and conference season. Monday I spent all day in the marvelous new Halifax Central Library with a range of government, academic and NGO experts interested in agricultural risk management in the face of climate change. We workshopped AgriRisk research grant proposal ideas, well provisioned by Pavia. Then I hopped into the car with recent MREM alumna Sarah Saunders, now a tidal energy specialist at WWF Canada based in Halifax, to drive to New Brunswick for a meeting on the Saint John River. Organizer Simon Mitchell, WWF Canada’s Saint John River Advisor, always picks great meeting places, this time the Brundage Point River Centre in Grand Bay-Westfield, north of Saint John. That Tuesday meeting was to troubleshoot the first maps out of the Habitat Friendly Renewable Energy Mapping Project. WWF Canada uses the HCV system to identify constraints to development – high conservation value – which has 6 elements including social value and community needs. Those people-oriented maps were almost empty, prompting lots of suggestions from me and my Energy Transitions colleagues Tom Beckley and Louise Comeau, also in attendance. A thoroughly fun day for nerds like us, but I particularly enjoyed taking the long way home, across the Westfield ferry and up the Kingston Peninsula – entirely worth the extra half hour.

Who’s Afraid of Allan Savory?

Who's Afraid of Allan Savory? A poster summarizing the first report from RHoMPAS

Who’s Afraid of Allan Savory? A poster summarizing the first report from RHoMPAS

I am disappointed not to have been able to make the trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, today as planned for the Society for Range Management annual meeting (and not just because it’s February in Canada). I was asked to present a talk on the value of qualitative social science methods for grazing research, in a session designed to develop common ground around adaptive grazing practices such as Holistic Management (HM). Carlisle and I also submitted a poster (above) based on our bibliometric analysis of the HM literature (as approximated by looking at papers that cite Allan Savory). I wrote the Savory Institute to give Mr Savory a heads up, given the cheeky title we used, and received a gracious and supportive reply. I told him it was like seeing the name Spiderman in my inbox and he wrote back, “Kate, it’s Spiderman.”

The modern shepherd

I was in the middle of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), by Thomas Hardy, when I received word from the Halifax Central Library that the hold I placed on James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life (2015) was ready for pickup. This was a nice bit of symmetry, as the hero of Hardy’s novel is Gabriel Oak, stout-hearted and reliable shepherd of Hardy’s ‘Wessex’ (south-west England). Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1) is a modern shepherd who runs a family ‘fell farm’ of Herdwick sheep in the Lake District, as well as an Oxford graduate who advises UNESCO on ensuring tourism benefits local communities in cultural landscapes. The ‘fell’ is an area of marginal commons pasture shared by local farmers for extensive grazing.

James Rebanks worked up to this book on shepherding in the UK Lake District from twitter, and a column in Cumbria Life magazine.

James Rebanks worked up to this book on shepherding in the UK Lake District from Twitter, and a column in Cumbria Life magazine.

It was fascinating reading these books in parallel, seeing the same farming practices described, despite differences in vocabulary. They were also both deeply landscape-driven and embedded in place. Rebanks is eloquent and pithy, and mounts a passionate defense for this way of life, in part rejecting calls by folks like George Monbiot to destock grazed landscapes to rewild and revegetate them. Many analogies suggest the sense that the land is itself part of the family in shepherd life. About his grandfather’s connection to the land, Rebanks shared (p. 72):

My grandfather had an eye for things that were ‘beautiful’ like a sunset, but he would explain it in mostly functional terms, not abstract aesthetic ones. He seemed to love the landscape around him like a passion, but his relationship with it was more like a long tough marriage than a fleeting holiday love affair. His work bound him to the land, regardless of weather or the seasons. When he observed something like a spring sunset, it carried hte full meaning of someone who had earned the right to comment, having suffered six months of wind, snow and rain to get to that point. He clearly thought such things beautiful, but that beauty was full of real functional implications – namely the end of winter or better weather to come.

Above the love of the land, perhaps, is his love of the sheep themselves. The book also presents a new vocabulary for scholars of place: hefted, from Old Norse for ‘tradition’. Hefted sheep have “become accustomed and attached to an area of upland pasture”. It seems clear from this book that humans can be hefted, too.

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