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Finding common ground: Defining agricultural viability and streamlining multi-organization data collection

Christensen, Libby, Limbach, Learner
Journal of agriculture, food systems, and community development 2019 v.8 no.C pp. 137-152
USDA, data collection, economic sustainability, farmers, farms, land use, marketing, stakeholders, surveys, Washington (state)
In 2011, the state of Washington created the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP), a collaborative and incentive-based approach to land-use management with the goal of protecting critical areas while maintaining and improving the viability of agriculture. Agricultural viability is an attractive ideal supported by a variety of stakeholder groups. Narrowly defined, agricultural viability is the ability of a farmer or a group of farmers to maintain an economically viable farm business. Yet, many feel this definition does not go far enough to reflect the long-term viability of agriculture in a community. It is, however, difficult to develop a broader shared definition and strategies to evaluate successful implementation of programs to achieve viability across multiple organizations. This paper explores how one county in Washington state organized a multistakeholder engagement process, employing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural and Marketing Service (AMS) Toolkit (Thilmany McFadden et al., 2016) to define and measure agricultural viability. The process included collaborative design and implementation of an agricultural viability survey in San Juan County, Washington. We frame our reflective piece within the literature on agricultural viability and multi-stakeholder engagement literature. To conclude, we reflect on the unique features of a multistakeholder working group and the implications for improving the viability of agriculture at the county level.