A Soil and Water Sciences doctoral candidate is studying mental models of farmers and agricultural experts in Miami-Dade County. Claire Friedrichsen is focusing on the communication gap that exists between those two groups when it comes to soil health and food security. Her research appears in Geoderma – The Global Journal of Soil Science. The study examines the human dimension of soil science.
The number of acres of agricultural land in Miami-Dade County is shrinking, giving way to development of urban areas. Still, the county’s agricultural sector remains important.
“This is a special area for the United States,” Friedrichsen points out. “It’s a major producer of winter vegetables and tropical fruit for the continental United States.”
For the study, Friedrichsen interviewed 19 farmers and 13 experts, who provide services to farmers. What she found was all stakeholders held common views when it comes to the pressure urbanization poses to farmers’ ability to operate. However, different stakeholders held varying perspectives regarding how to maintain a sustainable agriculture system. Farmers desired help developing new products and markets for their produce to better connect with urban consumers. Most importantly, the results show farmers view their future in terms of sustaining a system. In order for farmers to continue to be valuable land stewards for Miami-Dade they need help creating farm systems that integrate soil health management into each step of the food system. Friedrichsen identifies this as a sustainable soil food value chain.
Experts interviewed do not think their responsibilities include maintaining such a system. Their responses instead focus on increasing production and efficiency of niche crops. They believe doing that will help maintain healthy soil.
“There needs to be a holistic approach to supporting the entire farm system,” Friedrichsen says. “Soil scientists, social scientists, producers and buyers need to engage with each other to better understand the issue and focus research efforts.”
The Miami-Dade County case study is one component of Friedrichsen’s overall doctoral research. Another examines the connections between soil health and food security in South India. The third case focuses on maintenance of constructed wetlands, also in South India. Friedrichsen’s faculty advisor is Dr. Samira Daroub in the Soil and Water Sciences Department.