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The Capacity-Building Stewardship Model: assessment of an agricultural network as a mechanism for improving regional agroecosystem sustainability

Alison J Duff, Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Paul H Zedler, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA; University of Wisconsin, Madison Arboretum, WI, USA
Jeb A Barzen, International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, WI, USA; Private Lands Conservation LLC, Spring Green, WI, USA
Deana L Knuteson, Department of Horticulture, NPM Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA


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Working lands have potential to meet agricultural production targets while serving as reservoirs of biological diversity and as sources of ecological services. Yet agricultural policy creates disincentives for this integration of conservation and production goals. While necessary, the development of a policy context that promotes agroecosystem sustainability will take time, and successful implementation will depend on a receptive agricultural audience. As the demands placed on working lands grow, there is a need for regional support networks that build agricultural producers’ capacity for land stewardship. We used a social-ecological system framework to illustrate the Healthy Grown Potato Program as an agricultural network case study. Our Capacity-Building Stewardship Model reflects a 20-year experience working in collaboration with potato growers certified under an ecolabel in Wisconsin, USA. The model applies an evolving, modular farm stewardship standard to the entire farm—croplands and noncroplands. The model demonstrates an effective process for facilitating communication and shared learning among program participants, including agricultural producers, university extension specialists, nonprofit conservation partners, and industry representatives. The limitation of the model in practice has been securing funding to support expansion of the program and to ensure that the ecolabel standard is responsive to changes in the social-ecological system. Despite this constraint, the Capacity-Building Stewardship Model reveals an important mechanism for building regional commitment to conservation, with agricultural producers in a leadership role as architects, adopters, and advocates for stewardship behavior. Our experience provides important insight for the application of agri-environment schemes on private lands. The durability of a conservation ethic on working farms is likely to be enhanced when networks engage and support producers in an ongoing stewardship dialogue. Stewardship networks provide a means for coordination of conservation practices across property boundaries; with sufficient enrollment, they can achieve the spatial scale necessary to enhance regional agroecosystem sustainability.

Key words

agroecosystem; Capacity-Building Stewardship Model; ecolabel; ecosystem services; social-ecological system framework; stewardship network; sustainability; working lands

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087