Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 525–537 | Cite as

For the public good: weaving a multifunctional landscape in the Corn Belt

  • Noelle M. Harden
  • Loka L. Ashwood
  • William L. Bland
  • Michael M. Bell


Critics of modern agriculture decry the dominance of monocultural landscapes and look to multifunctionality as a desirable alternative that facilitates the production of public goods. In this study, we explored opportunities for multifunctional Midwestern agriculture through participatory research led by farmers, landowners, and other local actors. We suggest that agriculture typically fosters some degree of multifunctionality that arises from the divergent intentions of actors. The result is a scattered arrangement of what we term patchwork multifunctionality, a ubiquitous status quo in which individuals provide public goods without coordination. In contrast, interwoven multifunctionality describes deliberate collaboration to provide public goods, especially those cases where landowners work across fence lines to weave a synergistic landscape. Using examples from two case studies, we demonstrate the spectrum of patchwork and interwoven multifunctionality that currently exists in the Corn Belt, and present underutilized opportunities for public good creation.


Multifunctionality Agriculture Phosphorus pollution Participatory research Landscape 



Conservation Reserve Program


European Union



This research was funded by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Soil Science. A previous version of this paper was the recipient of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Graduate Student Paper Award in 2011.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noelle M. Harden
    • 1
  • Loka L. Ashwood
    • 2
  • William L. Bland
    • 3
  • Michael M. Bell
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Family DevelopmentUniversity of Minnesota ExtensionMoorheadUSA
  2. 2.Department of Community and Environmental SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Soil ScienceUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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