Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

The Dynamics of Family Farming in North Huron County, Ontario. Part II. Farm-Community Interactions

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

The Dynamics of Family Farming in North Huron County, Ontario. Part II. Farm-Community Interactions

Article excerpt


Among the consequences of continuing structural change in North American agriculture is a growing uncertainty about the place of rural communities in the economic and social life of the farm sector (Bird et al. 1995; Sumner 2001). In Ontario, the history of farming reflects a once strong connection between agriculture and rural communities. In large part, many of southern Ontario's rural communities grew and prospered on the strength of business done with farmers. Indeed, the viability and vitality of many communities depended heavily upon the health of agriculture itself. Consequently, there was not only a vision of shared progress but also a tangible interdependency that formed a foundation for mutually supportive interactions (Fuller 1985).

Today, there is far less certainty about the ways in which farming generally, and family farming in particular, remains linked to local rural communities, which are themselves changing. Recent instances of conflict between specific forms of agriculture and the broader concerns of rural communities relating to the environment and human health represent well-publicised flash points and suggest a possible divergence of farm and town interests in specific cases (Durrenburger and Thu 1996; Caldwell 1998). However, pervasive longterm trends in the business of farming are also implicated in changing farm--community dynamics. It has been argued that continuing trends towards industrialisation and corporatisation have changed the economic behaviour of family farms and served to diminish traditional economic linkages between farm and town (Goldschmidt 1978a; Wilson 1995). Arguably, for many farms, the critical linkages for farm financing, purchasing and selling are now more often vertical than horizontal (Wallace and Smith 1985; Marsden 1998), with local economic exchanges reduced to an insignificant role.

A second avenue for farmers' and farm family connections to local rural communities lies in the realm of social interaction, either through participation in, and use of, community activities and services or through the donation of volunteer effort in support of community causes. While these traditional dependencies and contributions undoubtedly persist, there is some evidence that they too are evolving as a consequence of change in both farming and rural communities (Teather 1996). Central to this changing pattern of farm and community interactions is the emergence of significant diversity on farms and within rural communities. It is now well understood that both family farms and rural community interests are highly differentiated and dynamic (Marsden 1998; Joseph 1999). Attention to this evolving differentiation may provide a window through which to view farm-community linkages and understand how specific types of farms may look to the community in different ways.

This paper is the second of two reporting on a recent investigation of family farming in North Huron County, Ontario. The first paper (Smithers and Johnson 2004) explored the nature of farm change via a 'pathways' conceptualisation and identified six distinct development trajectories in the region. The research also highlighted the interactive importance of external circumstances and farm business and household factors in creating diversity amongst local farm businesses. In this paper, we examine the interaction of farms and farm households with their (self-identified) local rural communities to better understand those aspects of community that remain important for farmers and to identify those that are changing in importance. Findings are presented for family farming as a whole and also with regard to specific farm development trajectories. The latter serves as a check on the existence of differing linkages and dependencies relating to the development trajectory and circumstances of the farm.

The remainder of the paper is organised in four main sections, the first of which reviews a small but salient contemporary literature concerned with the interrelatedness of farm and rural community change. …

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