Farmer knowledge as formal knowledge

A case study of farmer-led research in Ontario, Canada


  • Erin Nelson University of Guelph
  • Sarah Hargreaves Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
  • Dillon Muldoon Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario



Farmer-led Research, Ecological Agriculture, Farmer-to-Farmer Networks, Knowledge-Sharing, Social Learning, Evidence-Informed Practice, Ontario


Farmer-led research (FLR) is a process of inquiry wherein farmers use scientific methods to address their own on-farm curiosities and challenges in ways that are compatible with the scale and man­agement style of their operations. With its flexible, adaptable, participatory, grassroots-oriented nature, FLR has typically been employed by farmers interested in ecological farming techniques and technol­ogies, and evidence shows that it contributes to the adoption and improvement of ecological manage­ment practices across a range of contexts. Engage­ment in FLR initiatives has also been linked to pos­itive social outcomes, including community-building, farmer empowerment, and enhanced capacity for leadership and collective action. In this paper, we present a case study of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario’s (EFAO) Farmer-Led Research Program (FLRP), which is currently one of relatively few FLR initiatives in North America. We draw on data from a participatory, mixed-methods research project. Our results high­light how the FLRP is enabling farmers to feel more knowledgeable, confident, motivated, and inspired to adopt and/or improve ecological prac­tices on their farms, in part by supporting them in building robust social networks that align with their farming values and priorities.


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Author Biographies

Erin Nelson, University of Guelph

Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Sarah Hargreaves, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario

Research and Small Grains Program Director

Dillon Muldoon, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario

Research and Soil Health Program Manager

Special section logo (INFAS, eOrganic, and USDA NIFA)



How to Cite

Nelson, E., Hargreaves, S., & Muldoon, D. (2023). Farmer knowledge as formal knowledge: A case study of farmer-led research in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(4), 1–24.

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