Creating a Collective Impact Network Organization for Increasing Perennial Restoration Agriculture in Michigan
The Land Institute (based in Kansas) and the Savanna Institute (based in Illinois) are examples of groups doing very interesting work toward the transformation of agriculture in the Midwest (and globally) into more perennial and ecosystem-grounded systems. The ideas, methodologies, and technologies being disseminated by these institutes have impressive multiplicative impact potential toward sustainability and climate adaptation given the amount of statewide land under agricultural (or similar) stewardship. However, those institutes have limits on their capacity to outreach, network, and mentor farmers and landowners. What is the best approach to increase the numbers of Michigan farmers and landowners implementing perennial and restoration agriculture methods and systems? Should a Michigan-based network be formed to help disseminate these ideas and, most importantly, facilitate actual implementation on the ground? If so, what type of organizational structure would be most successful for this goal?
It is hypothesized that a collective impact model will be the most powerful model for organizing change in this area at different geographic scales. The Stewardship Network, founded and directed by SNRE alum Lisa Brush, is a collective impact “backbone” organization focused on land and water stewardship in the Great Lakes region. They operate with a collaborative conservation community, or “cluster” network model for connecting people interested in land and water stewardship issues. The Stewardship Network added restoration agriculture as an issue of interest in recent years, and added Mark Shepard as a board member, a renowned restoration agriculture Midwestern mentor farmer.
To answer our initial research questions it is anticipated that the following research methodologies may prove useful: a literature and case study review of collective impact organizations that have similar missions/goals; interviews with the Land Institute and Savanna Institute (and similar organizations) to find out their perspectives and suggestions on our stated goal to increase numbers of farmers/landowners taking transformative action as well as how to best partner or collaborate with said expert institutes; survey potential farmers and landowners across the region who might be interested in such a network to find out what would be most useful to get them making changes on the ground; inventory and assess existing organizations across the State of Michigan to see if any of them are already helping (even in piecemeal) toward our stated goal, or could at a minimum help connect us to farmers and landowners; inventory and assess existing ancillary organizations (financing, economic development, real estate etc.) that could be potential partner or collaborative organizations; quantify the collective impacts that would result if the statewide agricultural and fallow lands were transformed to certain scenarios of perennial restoration agriculture implementations; and, compile and report summarizations, recommendations, and best practice suggestions from all analyses done.
For more on The Stewardship Network see the website and this publication from SNRE assistant professor Paige Fischer:
2015. Fischer, A.P. A boundary spanning organization for transdisciplinary science on land stewardship: The Stewardship Network of Ann Arbor, Michigan.Ecology and Society 20(4): 38.