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Investigating the Realities of Agroecological Labour in the Canadian Organic Sector

Authors: Susanna Klassen*, , Hannah Wittman, University of British Columbia, Navin Ramankutty, University of British Columbia
Topics: Food Systems, Agricultural Geography, Canada
Keywords: labour, agroecology, organic, agriculture, justice, diversification
Session Type: Paper
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Labour is foundational for agroecological approaches to food production, where knowledge and skills largely replace inputs of capital, product inputs and machinery (Carlisle, Liz et al., 2019). Food systems scholarship has highlighted the potential synergies between diversification and employment, highlighting the positive relationship between crop diversification and agricultural employment worldwide (Garibaldi & Pérez-Méndez, 2019), as well as the potential to address issues of contributive justice by improving the distribution and quality of agricultural work (Timmerman & Felix, 2015). However, labour availability and job quality remain important sustainability challenges for farm enterprises and the food system more broadly. Other research has exposed the poor conditions experienced by workers in alternative agricultural systems, casting doubt on the common association between small, organic farms and higher quality jobs (Ekers, Levkoe, Walker, & Dale, 2016; Guthman, 2004; Harrison & Getz, 2015; Weiler, Otero, & Wittman, 2016). This paper presents empirical evidence from the organic sector in Canada to explore challenges to improving to job quality, the extent to which this regulated sector incorporates these social justice concerns, and whether more ‘agroecological’ farms also provide better jobs for farm workers. While not all organic farms in Canada identify as agroecological, the organic sector expresses significant synergies with the social movement for regenerative organic agriculture, and the internationally articulated principles of ecology, health, fairness, and care (IFOAM, n.d.; Isaac et al., 2018).

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