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Just wheat transitions?: Working toward constructive structural changes in wheat production

Authors: James Hale*, Colorado State University, Meagan Schipanski, Colorado State University , Michael Carolan, Colorado State University
Topics: Food Systems
Keywords: Just transitions, sustainability transitions, food justice, rural, agriculture
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Food systems are under increasing pressure to transition to more sustainable agricultural practice. There have been suggestions of using Geels & Schot’s (2007) multi-level framework for examining how sustainability transitions occur in agriculture (Hinrichs 2014). This research builds upon this approach by first putting sustainability transitions literature into conversation with work on “Just Transitions” (Swilling & Annecke 2012), especially relating to recent efforts to expand justice scholarship to rural communities, which can range from politically-overrepresented to longstanding underrepresented populations who all express valid claims for experienced injustice (Carolan 2019). We examine the various factors producers face in transitioning to organic wheat production. Drawing on in-depth interviews, surveys, and observations with organic and conventional wheat producers in Colorado, we analyze the environmental, socio-cultural, policy, and economic barriers and opportunities that producers face in transitioning to organic wheat production. This analysis grounds our theory of rural just transitions and argues that transition approaches can be improved by engaging more thoroughly with constructivist and relational impulses on one hand, and structural and conflict perspectives on the other. For example, while it may be common for farmers to rationalize their practices based in political-economic terms (e.g. finances, markets, urban vs rural), they also describe the importance of non-human factors (e.g. soil, wind, infrastructure, weather), and the influence of how neighbors view their fields and farm activities. In other words, economic rationalization can sometimes mask socio-cultural modes of action and the role of socio-cultural meaning, policies, and non-human actors in both limiting and enabling transitions.

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