Topic: Working together towards ‘good farming’: developing community, collaboration and ‘best’ practice through on-farm demonstration
Key words: cultural norms, demonstration, collaboration, innovation, ‘good farming’
In recent years, an increasing body of literature has explored how ‘good farming’ is conceived in terms of symbols that represent culturally appropriate practices and success in farming. The cultural significance of autonomy in farming is also recognised, whereby decision-making has been found to be highly personal and important to farmers’ sense of self, and examples of collaboration which allow for that to be retained can underpin acceptable ways of working together across farm boundaries. In this paper we bring together these notions of cultural identity in farming to explore how opportunities for farming communities to interact regularly in the context of on-farm demonstration events can support new and strengthened relationships and identify acceptable ways of working together to improve land management practices at a community scale. As part of this we explore collaboration as a demonstrated social innovation and farm management strategy, which we found to complement traditional demonstration of agricultural practices in the context of on-farm demonstration events. Through participant observation and in-depth qualitative interviews undertaken with stakeholders on two ‘Monitor Farms’ in Scotland (where farming communities meet on a regular basis over three years to participate in a facilitated but farmer-led programme of community open days) we find support for including relationship formation at the community and farm business scales as a component of ‘best’ practice – or ‘good farming’. The results of this study also highlight several key lessons for on-farm demonstration providers and we make suggestions of ways that on-farm demonstration can be optimised to further promote sustainability in farming and land management practices.