Seeding Food Innovation - Awarded Project 2016

Cultivating Innovations in Ecological Agriculture: Growing EFAO's Farmer-Led Research Program

Project Description

Farmer adoption of ecological farming practices – those that conserve water, regenerate soil and biodiversity and reduce energy and chemical inputs – is critical to the production of more nutritious and sustainably-produced foods and the viability of our farms and rural communities. With growing awareness of the importance of soil health and diversified agriculture, farmer knowledge and innovations are both timely and urgently needed in order to create a truly sustainable agriculture.

Farmers’ most trusted source of information is other farmers, but it is risky to turn observational and anecdotal information into practice without rigorous data from working farms. Programs in other parts of the world show that farmer-led research is an effective way to generate knowledge, innovations and on-the-ground action in ecological agriculture, but such programs are lacking in Canada.

To meet this need, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) launched Canada’s first farmer-led research program in 2016 ( Building off of Practical Farmers of Iowa’s (PFI) highly successful Cooperators’ Program, the goal of this project is to help farmers generate, put into practice and share evidence-based information about ecological farming.

Relevance to the field of food innovation

Farmer-led research is an efficient and effective path to innovation in sustainable food production because it is a bottom-up approach where farmers come up with the research topics that are meaningful to them. This ensures that innovations are relevant and practical for farmers, thereby increasing their chance of successful adoption. Farmer-led research also supports and strengthens a culture that already exists within farming communities: a culture of curiosity that values interpersonal relationships, land stewardship and evidence-based information while also encouraging farmers to share information.

Anticipated outcome

The anticipated outcome of this farmer-led research program is to nurture a culture of curiosity and innovation in ecological agriculture. In turn, information and innovations will spread through the agricultural community and lead to transformative change through greater adoption, and mainstream acceptance, of ecological farming practices that provide more nutritious and sustainably-produced foods.


Dr. Sarah Hargreaves

Dr. Hargreaves has a broad background in soil ecology, with specific training and expertise in microbial ecology and agricultural soil health. Her Ph.D. research focused on plant-microbe interactions in perennial vs. annual-based cropping systems, which provided evidence of the seasonality of plant-microbe interactions. » More Info