2006 OCIA R&E Scholarship Recipient
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Awards - OCIA Research & Education Scholarships

Shauna MacKinnon, a graduate student at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, was selected as the recipient of the Organic Crop Improvement Association International (OCIA) Research & Education 2006 Scholarship. MacKinnon will use the $1,000 award towards finalizing and disseminating results on her project entitled, “Investigating opportunities for rural development: An assessment of socio-economic linkages between organic farms and communities in southern Ontario.” The study analyzes how organic farms are linked to the social and economic systems in their communities and explores various types of organic production and marketing practices. The project should be completed by October 2006.

MacKinnon became involved in the field of organics from an interest in alternative approaches to resource management and the need for stronger connections between and within communities. “With interest in organic agriculture continuing to grow, there will also be a need for people to be able to help build partnerships between growers and consumers. These partnerships will need to maintain the integrity of the products, while increasing both supply and demand,” she said.

Interviews with 66 organic farmers form the heart of the research. A structured survey captures detailed information on farm business and household characteristics and describes the types of organic farms found in southwestern Ontario based on farming practices, scale of production, marketing practices, and labor requirements. Of primary interest in the interview section of the research is the mapping of farm supply chains from inputs to the final consumers, and documentation of farm- community social networks, including such activities as on-farm education programs, membership in organizations, and demonstration of leadership roles.

“Statistically significant results from the project have already been calculated demonstrating significant social and economic linkages between organic farmers and rural communities,” said MacKinnon. “For example, in comparison to the conventional agriculture sector in a similar geographic area this research demonstrates less dependence on off-farm income overall in the organic sample and a higher number of farms with stable or expanding businesses,” she said.

Clark Phillips, chair of the R&E Board of Directors stated that supporting and advancing the understanding of the sociological perspective of organic farming is one of the goals of OCIA R&E. “These goals are based on needs identified by OCIA members,” he said. Deborah Stinner, a member of the R&E Board of Directors and a research scientist at Ohio State University agrees with Phillips assessment. “Shauna MacKinnon has outstanding references and is an excellent writer,” she said.

MacKinnon describes the impact of the research as providing the data needed to demonstrate how organic producers contribute to the economic and social systems in their area. The study will provide a foundation for understanding and improving these linkages. “As resource conservation, a healthful food supply, and ways to connect rural and urban interests become increasingly valued, research such as this will gain increasing currency in both public and academic circles,” she said.

2006 OCIA R&E Scholarship Finalists

The OCIA Research and Education Board thanks all applicants for applying and for their interest in organic agriculture. The applications were screened down to a short list of three highly qualified candidates with excellent research projects. The Board would have been proud to support any of these projects. The two applicants deserving recognition with their project titles are listed below:

Allison Jack: “Compost and vermicompost-mediated plant disease suppression: an investigation of microbial communities in the spermosphere”.

Frederic Theriault: “Use of perennial leguminous living mulches for fertilization of broccoli in an organic agriculture system”.