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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A process for the development of collaborative, bioregionally-adapted soil health assessment : community-based action research with organic growers in the Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada Wagner, Julia Marie

Abstract

Soil health is a critical element of sustainable agriculture and a central tenet of organic agriculture. Soil health assessment is an information-gathering process intended to contribute to soil health management decisions. In this context, this thesis addresses two key objectives of an exploratory, community-based action research project conducted in the Similkameen Valley (British Columbia, Canada) with a small group of organic growers and local resource people, namely: 1) to describe organic growers' current approaches to soil health assessment; and, 2) to explore the concept of collaborative, bioregionally-adapted soil health assessment as a means of improving British Columbia organic growers' capacity for soil health assessment. The project activities included: an initial participatory workshop, a written questionnaire, review of growers' soil test records, a field day, semi-structured interviews, collaborative development and trials of a systematic soil health assessment strategy, and a final participatory workshop to discuss the trial results and evaluate the project, along with a written evaluation. Growers' existing approaches to soil health assessment were primarily: informal, individual, integrated with management activities, and based on sensory observation and management-based assessments, with limited use of assessment tools developed by the scientific community. The complexity of soil health impinges on individual growers' capacity for more systematic soil health assessment. Therefore, the collaborative, bioregionally-adapted soil health assessment trials provided a learning forum, to connect growers and resource people to address this complexity by sharing experiential and scientific knowledge. The process contributed to growers' knowledge of their own soils and of issues beyond their own farm; demonstrated the possibility of grower cooperation to achieve economic efficiencies; and nurtured social energy. Facilitation skills and time demands were challenges for maintaining the participatory nature of the process. Overall, determining how to appropriately balance or integrate scientific and grower knowledge (a desirable goal shared by all participants and also found in the literature) requires further consideration. Based on our experience, I proposed a framework for the development of collaborative, bioregionally-adapted soil health assessment strategies. I recommend further experiences with this framework in other communities, and with longer time frames, to evaluate its effectiveness and relevance in different contexts.

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