Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 367–381 | Cite as

How knowledge deficit interventions fail to resolve beginning farmer challenges

  • Adam CaloEmail author


Beginning farmer initiatives like the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), farm incubators, and small-scale marketing innovations offer new entrant farmers agricultural training, marketing and business assistance, and farmland loans. These programs align with alternative food movement goals to revitalize the anemic U.S. small farm sector and repopulate landscapes with socially and environmentally diversified farms. Yet even as these initiatives seek to support prospective farmers with tools for success through a knowledge dissemination model, they remain mostly individualistic and entrepreneurial measures that overlook structural barriers to productive and economic success within U.S. agriculture. Analysis of the BFRDP’s funding history and discourse reveals a “knowledge deficit” based program focused on the technical rather than the structural aspects of beginning farming. This is contrasted with qualitative analysis of beginning farmer experiences in California’s Central Coast region. The discrepancies between the farmer experiences and national structure of the BFRDP program ultimately reveal a policy mismatch between the needs of some beginning farmers and the programs intended to support them.


Land access Beginning farmers Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Knowledge deficit model Agricultural policy Land tenure 



Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program


Farm Service Agency


National Institute of Food and Agriculture


United States Department of Agriculture



The author wishes to acknowledge the precious time, insights, and opinions offered by farmers in the Central Coast. Staff from the Agricultural and Land-based training Association and Mika Maekawa from California Farmlink helped guide this research. Madaly Alcala provided support on the analysis of BFRDP programs. Rachel Perera aggregated USDA census and land tenure statistics. Manuscript feedback was generously offered by Hank Herrera and members of Kathryn De Master’s research group. Essential editing came from Patrick Baur, Lisa Kelley, and Alastair Iles. The arguments of this paper were improved by four anonymous reviewers and the editor, Harvey James. This work has been supported by the Berkeley Food Institute and the UCANR Graduate Students in Extension Program.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Ahearn, M. C. 2013. Beginning farmers and ranchers at a glance. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, EB-22. Accessed 8 Oct 2016.
  2. Alkon, A. H., and J. Agyeman, eds. 2011. Cultivating food justice: Race, class, and sustainability. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Altieri, M. 1995. Agroecology: The science of sustainable agriculture. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  4. Ayazi, H., and E. Elsheikh. 2015. The US Farm Bill: Corporate Power and Structural Racialization in the US Food System. Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. Accessed 3 Jan 2015.
  5. Beckett, J. 2011. Beyond the moral economy of local food: Land trusts, beginner farmers, and redefining conservation in the public interest. Master’s thesis, Department of Community Development. Davis: University of California, Davis.Google Scholar
  6. Beckett, J., and R. Galt. 2014. Land trusts and beginning farmers’ access to land: Exploring the relationships in coastal California. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 4 (2): 19–35.Google Scholar
  7. Bigelow, D., A. Borchers, and T. Hubbs. 2016. U.S. farmland ownership, tenure and, transfer. US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service EIB-161. Accessed 15 Jan 2017.
  8. Blaikie, P., and H. Brookfield. 1987. Land degradation and society. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  9. Bradbury, Z., S. Von Tscharner Fleming, and P. Manalo, eds. 2012. Greenhorns: 50 dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement. North Adams: Storey Pub.Google Scholar
  10. Brunk, C. G. 2006. Public knowledge, public trust: Understanding the “knowledge deficit”. Public Health Genomics 9 (3): 178–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bunnell, R., D. O’Neil, R. Soler, R. Payne, W. H. Giles, J. Collins, U. Bauer, and Communities Putting Prevention to Work Program Group. 2012. Fifty communities putting prevention to work: Accelerating chronic disease prevention through policy, systems and environmental change. Journal of Community Health 37 (5): 1081–1090.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calo, A., and K. De Master. 2016. After the incubator: Factors impeding land access along the path from farmworker to proprietor. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 6 (2): 111–127.Google Scholar
  13. Corburn, J. 2003. Bringing local knowledge into environmental decision making improving urban planning for communities at risk. Journal of Planning Education and Research 22 (4): 420–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cortassa, C. 2016. In science communication, why does the idea of a public deficit always return? The eternal recurrence of the public deficit. Public Understanding of Science 25 (4): 447–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DeLind, L. B. 2010. Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars? Agriculture and Human Values 28 (2): 273–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. DeLonge, M. S., A. Miles, and L. Carlisle. 2016. Investing in the transition to sustainable agriculture. Environmental Science and Policy 55 (1): 266–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. DuPuis, M. E., and D. Goodman. 2005. Should we go ‘‘home’’ to eat?: Toward a reflexive politics of localism. Journal of Rural Studies 21: 359–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Durant, J., M. Bauer, G. Gaskell, C. Midden, M. Liakopoulos, and L. Scholten. 2000. Two cultures of public understanding of science and technology in Europe. In Between understanding and trust: The public, science and technology, eds. M. Dierkes, and C. von Grote, 131–156. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  19. Dutta, M. J. 2015. Neoliberal health organizing: Communication, meaning, and politics. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
  20. Einsiedel, E. 2000. Understanding “publics” in the public understanding of science. In Between understanding and trust. The public, science and technology, eds. M. Dierkes, and C. von Grote, 205–216. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Farm Credit Administration (FCA). 2014. 2014 annual report. Accessed 21 Sept 2015.
  22. Freedgood, J., and J. Dempsey. 2014. Cultivating the next generation: Resources and policies to help beginning farmers succeed in agriculture. American Farmland Trust. Accessed 7 June 2016.
  23. Fricker, E. 2002. Trusting others in the sciences: A priori or empirical warrant? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 33 (2): 373–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Funtowicz, S. O., and J. Ravetz. 1993. Science for the post-normal age. Futures 25 (7): 739–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Galt, R. 2013. The moral economy is a double-edged sword: Explaining farmers earnings and self-exploitation in community-supported agriculture. Economic Geography 89 (4): 341–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gillespie, G., and S. Johnson. 2010. Success in farm start-ups in the Northeastern United States. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 1 (1): 31–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Goodman, D. 2004. Rural Europe redux? Reflections on alternative agro-food networks and paradigm change. Sociologia Ruralis 44 (1): 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Guthman, J. 2000. Agrarian dreams?: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  29. Guthman, J. 2007. The Polanyian way? Voluntary food labels as neoliberal governance. Antipode 39 (3): 456–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Guthman, J. 2008a. Neoliberalism and the making of food politics in California. Geoforum 39 (3): 1171–1183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Guthman, J. 2008b. Thinking inside the neoliberal Box: The micro-politics of agro-food philanthropy. Geoforum 39 (3): 1241–1253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Guthman, J. 2011. If they only knew: The unbearable whiteness of alternative food. In Cultivating food justice: Race, class, and sustainability, eds. A. H. Alkon, and J. Agyeman, 263–281. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. Hamilton, N. D. 2011. America’s new agrarians: Policy opportunities and legal innovations to support new farmers. Fordham Environmental Law Review 22 (3): 523–562.Google Scholar
  34. Hansen, J., L. Holm, L. Frewer, P. Robinson, and P. Sandøe. 2003. Beyond the knowledge deficit: Recent research into lay and expert attitudes to food risks. Appetite 41 (2): 111–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Henke, C. 2008. Cultivating science, harvesting power: Science and industrial agriculture in California. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hightower, J. 1972. Hard tomatoes, hard times: Failure of the land grant college complex. Society 10 (1): 10–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Holmes, S. M. 2013. Fresh fruit, broken bodies: Migrant farmworkers in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  38. Holt Giménez, E., and A. Shattuck. 2011. Food crises, food regimes and food movements: Rumblings of reform or tides of transformation? The Journal of Peasant Studies 38 (1): 109–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Holt-Giménez, E. 2006. Campesino a campesino: Voices from Latin America’s farmer to farmer movement for sustainable agriculture. Oakland: Food First Books.Google Scholar
  40. Honeycutt, S., J. Leeman, W. J. McCarthy, R. Bastani, L. Carter-Edwards, H. Clark, W. Garney, J. Gustat, L. Hites, F. Nothwehr, and M. Kegler. 2015. Evaluating policy, systems, and environmental change interventions: Lessons learned from CDC’s prevention research centers. Preventing Chronic Disease 12: E174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Irwin, A., and B. Wynne, eds. 1996. Misunderstanding science?: The public reconstruction of science and technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Jasanoff, S. 2005. Designs on nature: Science and democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Johnson, K. 2008. Conserving farmland in California: For what and for whom - How agricultural conservation easements can keep farmland farmed. Sustainable Development Law and Policy 9 (1): 45–49.Google Scholar
  44. Jones, C. P., C. Y. Jones, G. Perry, G. Barclay, and C. A. Jones. 2009. Addressing the social determinants of children’s health: A cliff analogy. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 20 (4A): 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Katchova, A. L., and M. C. Ahearn. 2016. Dynamics of farmland ownership and leasing: Implications for young and beginning farmers. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy 38 (2): 334–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kloppenburg, J. 2010. Impeding dispossession, enabling repossession: Biological open source and the recovery of seed sovereignty. Journal of Agrarian Change 10 (3): 367–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lyson, T. 2004. Civic agriculture: Reconnecting farm, food, and Community. Civil Society. Medford: Tufts University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Markham, L. 2014. The new farmers. Orion Magazine, Nov–Dec 2014, 18–25.Google Scholar
  49. Marmot, M., S. Friel, R. Bell, T. Houweling, S. Taylor, and Commission on Social Determinants of Health. 2008. Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health. The Lancet 372 (9650): 1661–1669.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McGreevy, S. R. 2012. Lost in translation: Incomer organic farmers, local knowledge, and the revitalization of upland Japanese hamlets. Agriculture and Human Values 29 (3): 393–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McNeil, M. 2013. Between a rock and a hard place: The deficit model, the diffusion model and publics in STS. Science as Culture 22 (4): 589–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Miller, S. 2001. Public understanding of science at the crossroads. Public Understanding of Science 10 (1): 115–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Minkoff-Zern, L.-A. 2014. Knowing “good food”: Immigrant knowledge and the racial politics of farmworker food insecurity. Antipode 46 (5): 1190–1204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Minkoff-Zern, L.-A. 2017. Race, immigration and the agrarian question: Farmworkers becoming farmers in the United States. The Journal of Peasant Studies. doi: 10.1080/03066150.2017.1293661.
  55. Minkoff-Zern, L.-A., and M. A. Carney. 2015. Latino im/migrants, “dietary health” and social exclusion. Food, Culture and Society 18 (3): 463–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Minkoff-Zern, L.-A., N. Peluso, J. Sowerwine, and C. Getz. 2011. Race and regulation: Asian immigrants in California agriculture. In Cultivating food justice: Race, class and sustainability, ed. A. H. Alkon and J. Agyeman, 65–85. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  57. Morris, A. W. 2008. Easing conservation? Conservation easements, public accountability and neoliberalism. Geoforum 39 (3): 1215–1227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Niewolny, K., and P. Lillard. 2010. Expanding the boundaries of beginning farmer training and program development: A review of contemporary initiatives to cultivate a new generation of American farmers. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 1 (1): 65–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. OBPA (Office of Budget and Program Analysis) US Department of Agriculture FY. 2016. Budget summary and annual performance plan (2015). USDA. Accessed 20 June 2016.
  60. Overton, M. A. 2014. Growing new farmers: A survey of farm incubator programs in the United States. Master’s thesis, Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. Medford: Tufts University.Google Scholar
  61. Parsons, R., K. Ruhf, G. W. Stevenson, J. Baker, M. Bell, E. Epley, J. Gilbert, C. Hinton, and J. Keller. 2010. Farm land access, succession, tenure and stewardship. The FarmLasts Project. Accessed 20 Sept 2017.
  62. Peck, J., and A. Tickell. 2002. Neoliberalizing space. Antipode 34 (3): 380–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Petrovic, J., and A. Kuntz. 2014. Citizenship education around the world: Local contexts and global possibilities. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  64. Pitzer, H. 2015. Urban teachers engaging in critical talk: Navigating deficit discourse and neoliberal logics. Journal of Educational Controversy 9 (1): 8.Google Scholar
  65. Pretty, J. N. 1995. Participatory learning for sustainable agriculture. World Development 23 (8): 1247–1263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Reid, T. 2013. First generation farmers: An assessment of their challenges, motivations, learning processes, and values. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resources Studies. East Lansing: Michigan State University.Google Scholar
  67. Röling, N. G., and M. A. E. Wagemakers, eds. 1998. Facilitating sustainable agriculture: Participatory learning and adaptive management in times of environmental uncertainty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Rose, N., and P. Miller. 1992. Political power beyond the state: Problematics of government. The British Journal of Sociology 43 (2): 173–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rose, N., P. O’Malley, and M. Valverde. 2009. Governmentality. Annual Review of Law and Society 2: 83–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rosset, P. M., B. Machín Sosa, A. M. Roque Jaime, and D. R. Ávila Lozano. 2011. The campesino-to-campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: Social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty. The Journal of Peasant Studies 38 (1): 161–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Ruhf, K. 2013. Access to farmland: A systems change perspective. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 4 (1): 51–60.Google Scholar
  72. Shute, Lindsey. 2011. Building a future with farmers: Challenges faced by young, American farmers and a national strategy to help them succeed. National Young Farmers’ Coalition. Accessed 5 May 2016.
  73. Sureshwaran, S., and S. Ritchie. 2011. US farm bill resources and programs for beginning farmers. Choices 26 (2): 3.Google Scholar
  74. United States Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA NASS). 2016. 2014 tenure, ownership, and transition of agricultural land (TOTAL). Accessed 11 Oct 2016.
  75. United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture [NIFA]. 2016. Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: FY 2016 Request for Applications (RFA). Accessed 11 Oct 2016.
  76. Warner, K. D. 2007. Agroecology in action: Extending alternative agriculture through social networks. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  77. Warner, K. D. 2008. Agroecology as participatory science: Emerging alternatives to technology transfer extension practice. Science, Technology and Human Values 33 (6): 754–777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Warner, K. D., K. Daane, C. M. Getz, S. P. Maurano, S. Calderon, and K. A. Powers. 2011. The decline of public interest agricultural science and the dubious future of crop biological control in California. Agriculture and Human Values 28 (4): 483–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wittman, H., J. Dennis, and H. Pritchard. 2017. Beyond the market? New agrarianism and cooperative farmland access in North America. Journal of Rural Studies 53: 303–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and ManagementUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

Personalised recommendations