Panel Sessions

Agroecological Possibilities: Reconnecting Food, Farms, and Communities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest


Marcia Ostrom (

Gail Feenstra 2 

Steve Jones 1

Kim Binczewski 1

Katherine Selting Smith 1


1 Washington State University
2 University of California, Davis


Agriculture is central to the economy of the Northwestern United States. With rich soils, highly engineered irrigation systems, and a wide range of micro-climate zones, Washington is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the country. A landscape of plenty, however, belies complex challenges with global export markets, climate change, labour, food insecurity, and steadily declining numbers of productive small and mid-sized farms. Renewed public interest in food and farming may offer opportunities for citizens to become more engaged in decision-making about how their food is produced, distributed, and consumed. This panel explores a variety of new initiatives designed to reinvigorate regional food system relationships through partnerships formed among entrepreneurial farmers, aspiring farmers, land grant university faculty, non-profit groups, and food consumers.

The first presentation explores the changing farm structure in the Northwest and asserts the need to develop a middle tier of “values-based” market solutions somewhere between direct and export markets that can benefit small and mid-sized farms. Supply chains that are distinguished by particular sets of values associated with environmentally sustainable production practices, the qualities of the food, a particular place, or the relationships along the supply chain, have been termed “values-based supply chains” (VBSCs). VBSCs can aggregate products from multiple farms and are organized and governed in diverse ways, including as traditional businesses, partnerships among businesses, non-profits, or cooperatives. This presentation will share the results of a recent national survey of 485 farmers associated with 19 different VBSCs and examine in-depth case studies of successful Northwest VBSCs, including Shepherd’s Grain and food hubs. A second presentation will focus specifically on the re-decentralization of Northwest grain and flour food systems. This presentation will showcase recent research by the Washington State University Bread Lab that specifically responds to the plant breeding needs of farmers producing for regional food markets rather than global commodity markets. Finally, our third presentation examines questions about new farmer entry and how the next generation of sustainable farmers in the Northwest can be supported through building cross-organizational partnerships. Our participatory research with the Viva Farms bilingual farm incubator program indicates initial success in training and retaining beginning organic farmers, women farmers, and new immigrant farmers. Several years out, a high percentage of past program participants are still farming and employ place-based marketing strategies and agroecological farming practices.


Food Policy Councils as Strategies for Enhancing Real World Governance in Place-Based Food Systems

Gail Feenstra 1

Anne Palmer 2

Kimberley Hodgson 3


1UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program, UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute
2 Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, MD
3 Vancouver Food Policy Council


Food policy councils have expanded significantly in North America over the last 30 years.  They are often seen as institutions for encouraging collaboration between local governments and food system actors.  As such, they can potentially play an important role in supporting the development of food policies that address community food security, build infrastructure for regional agriculture and provide a voice for disenfranchised community members.  This panel will explore the contributions and challenges faced by food policy councils as they position themselves to influence policies, looked at from three perspectives:  a city perspective (Vancouver), cross-case comparisons among local food policy councils in California , and  national survey data from across the U.S., which also includes state level food policy councils. Researchers from UC Davis and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future will share survey data and case studies that address key factors in food policy council relationships with local governments, including intentional and shared leadership models, adaptive organizational structures, and inclusive community-based processes.   Session participants will learn promising strategies for developing local government – food policy council relationships and how these relationships build context-specific collaborations that advance local food systems policies. 


Growing Place-Based Food Systems in China


Steffanie Scott1

Ning Dai1

Weiping Chen2 

Danshu Qi1

Yanyan Li2

Zhou Li2 

Zhenzhong Si3

Xiaocong Wang2


1 University of Waterloo
School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development at the Renmin University of China
3Balsillie School of International Affairs


The concepts of “small is beautiful”, “locavore”, and “agroecology" are nascent in Chinese society and rarely discussed in the public domain. The ecological and organic agriculture sector in China, although developing rapidly, faces critical challenges that hinder its expansion. These challenges include the fact that (1) organic and ecologically produced foods are unaffordable for most consumers; (2) small organic farmers are largely excluded from organic certification; (3) the value of traditional agro-ecological practices is overlooked by state planners and by society overall; and (4) organic agriculture is perceived by state officials and others to have low productivity, and thus officials are reticent to promote it widely. These challenges highlight the need for a holistic and place-based food systems perspective in China to expand the ecological agriculture sector in a more ecologically and economically sustainable direction. Through case studies from around China, this panel reveals the emerging opportunities and constraints for the transition to diversified and place-based agroecological systems.


Small-scale ecological food initiatives are emerging, but fall outside of government’s vision of the modern farming model, and receive little policy attention. New farmers with urban backgrounds and strong ecological imperatives to address China’s new food challenges. By highlighting the challenges of institutional discrimination and social exclusion facing small-scale ecological food initiatives, Dai’s research aims to call policy attention to these initiatives. Dai argues that despite various challenges, small-scale ecological farms have the potential to scale out and catalyze bottom-up reforms within China’s industrial food system.


Chen et al. describe three types of institutional pressures which affect the willingness of conventional farmers in China to convert to ecological production. These pressures centre on the desire to maintain legitimacy. Yet, this restricts opportunities for a ‘green transformation’ in Chinese agriculture.


Examining the themes of social economy and social networks in the alternative food sector in China, Qi & Scott demonstrate that entrepreneurs, government agencies, public institutions, and social organizations in the ecological food sectors have, on the one hand, facilitated agro-food networks by offering knowledge and information, exchanging ideas, and sharing resources and markets. On the other hand, through building social and economic relations based on shared understandings of agriculture and-food, these stakeholders have endowed agro-food with environmental, social, cultural meanings, which go against the logics of the commodity economy.


Li & Zhou highlight how guanxi (relations of trust and reciprocity) contribute to a sense of community building within CSAs. They demonstrate how CSA activists establish ‘sustainable communities’ of CSA members and farmers through processes of guanxi formation and expansion, to build cognitive and emotional trust.


Finally, Scott & Si share cases to explore how the widespread uptake of diverse, agroecological systems offers a potential road map to achieve most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They argue that there is great potential to increase the profile of and engagement with agroecology in Chinese research and government circles, as a viable and productive path for farmers, and to provide an affordable and safe food supply for China’s population. An important strategy for this can be connecting with the SDGs, which are already on the national and global development agendas. They identify various opportunities to achieve the UN sustainable development goals—lessons that are particularly urgent in China (and attracting considerable interest by government), but also crucial for countries around the world.


Our panel highlights the key needs of ecological farming initiatives within a different political economy, enabling comparative analysis. Practitioners working on international development of sustainable agriculture may find ideas for incubating place-based approaches to supporting ecological farming. Trust-building techniques of CSA activists can be useful to CSA farmers, for example. We also provide a conceptual road map for achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals via agroecological solutions.


Down to the Countryside: Socio-economic Dilemma of Urban Farmers and Their Small Scale Ecological Initiatives in Nanjing, China, Ning Dai et. al.


The impact of institutional pressures on Chinese farmers’ willingness to convert from conventional production to green production, Weiping Chen et. al.


Beyond Food as Commodity: Social Economy and Social Networks in the Alternative Food Sector in Nanjing, China, Danshu Qi & Steffanie Scott.


How “GuanxiQuan” Contributes to the Community Formation of CSA? ——Based on six CSA farm cases in China, Yanyan Li & Zhou Li.


Using Agroecology to Advance Sustainable Development Goals in China: Pathways of Transition Towards a Sustainable Food System, Steffanie Scott & Zhenzhong Si.






Indigenous ways of teaching land-based health education research leadership: Protocols, pedagody and practice


Alannah Young Leon

Post-doctoral fellow, Land and Food Systems & Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Musqueam Unceded Territory, The University of British Columbia, BC


Wilson Mendes

PhD Student, Faculty of Land and Food Systems (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Unceded Musqueam Territory), The University of British Columbia, BC


Eduardo Jovel (presenter, author)

Associate Professor and Director, Indigenous Research Partnerships, University of British Columbia, BC



The Medicine Collective is a group of Indigenous knowledge practitioners, educators, leaders and researchers. They will present Indigenous decolonizing perspectives on how Indigenous land-based ways of knowing and teaching could inform alternate visions for restorative place-based food systems. Particularly, they will introduce Indigenous protocol principles and their potential role in establishing critical place-based food systems in the urban setting. They will also highlight some of the challenges and strategies they have navigated thus far in providing a foundation for enhancing Indigenous food trade systems and food security. 

The perspectives the panel will share are based on the work at the xʷc̓ic̓əsəm Garden: The Place Where We Grow at the UBC Farm on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Musqueam Unceded Territory. This urban garden is also known as the Indigenous Health Research and Education Garden. 


The panel will bring together Indigenous community and university-based peoples that are working to revitalize Indigenous cultures and Indigenize higher education.

​The​ Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action (2015) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), inform​ Indigenous panelists ​perspectives who are engaged in interdisciplinary dialogue, community ​action and research. The panel honours and recognizes the knowledge and teachings of Coast Salish communities and Indigenous national, international and academic partnerships.  


Eduardo Jovel, Ph.D. is a Mayan-Pipil descendent, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Land and Food Systems (UBC), and Director of the Indigenous Research Partnerships. His research interests include Indigenous people worldviews and the use of ecosystem resources to maintaining health and wellness, particularly medicinal plants. Prof. Jovel strives to integrate interdisciplinary research practices and merge Indigenous knowledge and Western academic interdisciplinary positions and cultural contexts.


Alannah Young Leon, PhD is Anishnabikwe Opaskwayak Cree and a founding member of the Medicine Collective. Alannah examines how tribal centered Indigenous Elders pedagogies can provide decolonizing frameworks for research, and how protocol principles can support the restoration of Indigenous land-based classrooms, while regenerating Indigenous knowledge that sustains ecologies for intergenerational and holistic health education.


Wilson Mendes, PhD student in Integrated Studies in Land and Food Systems is from the Guarani-Kaiowá of Brazil. Wilson is the xʷc̓ic̓əsəm Garden coordinator and works closely with the Medicine Collective. His research experience includes the Sharing our Wisdoms (2012) at the urban Indigenous research project. His research looks at the intersection of Indigenous community planning, Indigenous food sovereignty, and land-based pedagogies. His graduate work is rooted on collaborative and community-based approach that facilitates inclusive community planning processes, and strengthen Indigenous food systems dialogue and practice within Indigenous land-based education.