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In 2019, Dr. Erin Nelson and her team at the University of Guelph evaluated EFAO’s Farmer-Led Research Program to better understand how the program and process of farmer-led research can help farmers adopt and/or improve ecological farming practices on their farms. In 2023, Erin, along with Sarah and Dillon of EFAO, published the findings in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, Community Development—with the cover photo and feature article!



Farmer knowledge as formal knowledge: A case study of farmer-led research in Ontario, Canada



Erin Nelson, University of Guelph
Sarah Hargreaves, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
Dillon Muldoon, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario


Farmer-led research (FLR) is a process of inquiry wherein farmers use scientific methods to address their own on-farm curiosities and challenges in ways that are compatible with the scale and management style of their operations. With its flexible, adaptable, participatory, grassroots-oriented nature, FLR has typically been employed by farmers interested in ecological farming techniques and technologies, and evidence shows that it contributes to the adoption and improvement of ecological management practices across a range of contexts. Engagement in FLR initiatives has also been linked to positive social outcomes, including community building, farmer empowerment, and enhanced capacity for leadership and collective action. In this paper, we present a case study of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario’s (EFAO) Farmer- Led Research Program (FLRP), which is currently one of relatively few FLR initiatives in North America. We draw on data from a participatory, mixed-methods research project. Our results highlight how the FLRP is enabling farmers to feel more knowledgeable, confident, motivated, and inspired to adopt and/or improve ecological practices on their farms, in part by supporting them in building robust social networks that align with their farming values and priorities.



  • Farmer-led Research, Ecological Agriculture, Farmer-to-Farmer Networks, Knowledge-Sharing, Social Learning, Evidence-Informed Practice, Ontario


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