The Potential of an "Agriculture of the Middle" Model in the Context of EU Rural Development: An American Solution to an Irish Problem?
AbstractIn the context of historical policies that pursue economies of scale in agriculture, and of ever-declining farm incomes among small and midsized farms, rural policies of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (EU CAP) have demonstrated a shift from productivist commodity agriculture toward modes of economic activity that are innovative as well as environmentally and socially sustainable. One of the key policy initiatives implemented by the EU is the Liaisons Entre Actions de Developpement de l'Economie Rurale (LEADER) initiative, a governance and rural development program designed to foster a participatory approach to cultivating economically diversified, innovative local economies. Indigenous Irish farmers have been slow to engage with the LEADER program, however. Recent research points to farmers' experiences of occupational and cultural estrangement when challenged with making the transition from primary agricultural production activities (and the associated forms of social and cultural capital that are esteemed by farmers) toward economic activities supported by LEADER that are based on service provision and processing. In light of this research, rather than focusing on encouraging farmers to adopt alternative rural enterprises, this paper proposes that a more promising policy approach may lie in a form of organizational innovation that builds on and valorizes indigenous farmers' existing range of agricultural practices. Drawing on the example of the American "Agriculture of the Middle" (AotM) movement, parallels are drawn between the policy aspirations of the EU governance and rural development model, and the economic, social and cultural aspirations of the AotM model. The organizational characteristics of how middle agriculture could be practicably operationalized in the Irish context are explored.
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