Understanding Social Justice Initiatives by Farmers in Manitoba's Local Food System
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Food production and distribution lies at the intersection of complex socio-ecological issues. In southern Manitoba’s agricultural landscape, local farmers are creating and participating in social-justice focused initiatives to address some of the inequities they observe in their food systems. Employing a phenomenological approach, this research sought to understand farmers’ motivations and experiences behind these initiatives, and their perspectives on their roles and responsibilities in working towards a more just food system. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews and a focus group with both farmers and employees from farmer-involved organizations, and analyzed with a combination of inductive and deductive coding. Transformative learning theory was applied to understand the learning that led to farmers’ creation of these initiatives, and a food regimes and movements framework was applied to understand how these initiatives relate to Manitoba’s local food movement and food systems change. The findings reveal that farmers are motivated to create these initiatives by personal values and by their desire to increase access and inclusion to food and food production. For many, the learning that leads to creating these initiatives is intertwined with the learning that leads to their choice to become food producers. Though farmers experience benefits from these initiatives, some also experience isolation, exhaustion, and burnout – particularly those who start these initiatives from scratch. Farmers do have a role to play in working towards a more just food system; however, they also face challenges and limitations as food producers, and additional support is required to ensure their wellbeing. The results of this research provide a list of potential roles for farmers to fulfill in working towards a more just food system, and outlines how this work can be facilitated by others in their communities. These initiatives are an important part of working towards a more just food system; however, a more coordinated approach across initiatives is required for transformative food systems change. This research provides important insight into the experiences of farmers as they aim to address inequities in their food system, and how this work can be facilitated by the larger community.