At the most basic level, my research tells stories about people and their food: how does food unite people, divide them, and and how are people working to make their food systems more sustainable and just? I am driven by my desire to answer questions that are meaningful to the people with whom I work. The challenge is finding ways to answer applied, problems-oriented questions like, "what are the barriers that people face when trying to build more sustainable local food systems" while also managing to pose and test scientific hypotheses about the nature of things.
In a nutshell, I'm interested in answering three questions:
What are the relationships between human well-being, ecosystem health, and sustainability, specifically with a focus on food systems?
What are the social and political drivers and determinants of how people respond to change and innovate in the face of risks?
How can people achieve win-win scenarios, where people's well-being and the health of the environment, thrive together?
I currently leading or participating in a variety of projects that attend, in some direct or indirect fashion, to these questions.
Prairie Drainage Governance
The Canadian Prairies are hugely important to Canadian agriculture, and also tremendously important to waterfowl and other wildlife, because of the immense network of wetlands that canvas the region. Drainage, the practice of draining wetlands to increase arable land, is a long-standing but controversial practice in the prairies. This project seeks to understand how we can better foster collaboration over drainage conflict, support sustainable livelihoods for farmers and ranchers, while addressing wildlife and water quality and flow concerns, and deal with a changing climate that includes more extreme swings in water availability. See here for more information about the project, and our funder, Global Water Futures.
Risk, Resilience, and Innovation in Coastal BC Food Systems
Communities of Coastal British Columbia are innovating to strengthen food systems and security, while also protecting and enhancing local and regional biodiversity. Yet, challenges such as oil and natural gas pipelines on the land, and ocean acidification and pollution in the sea, create numerous risks for these initiatives. In this project we will work with community partners to learn how they think about these risks, and how this informs their innovative strategies for reducing risk, building resilience, and promoting sustainable livelihoods.
This project has two streams: the first is a coast-wide assessment of conservation and sustainability challenges as they relate to community food security and local people's ability to steward local natural resources. In what ways are people creating resistance to challenges such as climate change and development? What programs are being successful and to what extent do they explicitly engage both biodiversity conservation and food/community security?
The second stream is in partnership with the Clam Garden Network and the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Here we are doing a more in-depth ethnographic engagement with one specific case of local innovation--the restoration by local First Nations of traditional clam gardens. New mariculture initiatives are an example of community innovation that will add diversity and hence resilience to local food systems, but will also increase communities’ risk of exposure to ocean acidification and hazards such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). We will explore local perspectives on risk and resilience, and how these may differ from contemporary scientific definitions. One hypothesis is that “risky” strategies like the clam garden project are seen as enhancing community resilience; this runs counter to traditional thinking about the relationship among resilience and risk reduction, and is in line with calls to better incorporate agency and self-determination into resilience science
Food Sovereignty and Food Tourism in Ecuador
This is my latest project, in collaboration with Veronica Santafe, a PhD student at University of Saskatchewan and faculty member of Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial in Ecuador. We are exploring how new approaches to Indigenous community-based tourism, specifically the Cacao Route in Napo, Ecuador, can serve as a community development strategy that strengthens local foodways and Indigenous Food Security. Tourism has long been touted as a possible venue for poverty alleviation and rural development, but rarely does it actually benefit local people in practice.
At the center of this work is the participatory development of a food sovereignty framework and set of indicators by which communities can evaluate whether these new tourism activities are helping them to achieve their goals for community health and self-determination.
SUSTAINABLE FUTURES NORTH
The Sustainable Futures North project is concerned with developing a sophisticated understanding of the interactions among environmental security, natural resource development, and climate change in the North American Arctic and Subarctic regions. With principle study sites in Western, Northwest and Arctic, Alaska, as well as Baffin Island, Nunavut, the project combines integrated assessments of community needs and challenges, ethnographic research, large-scale data synthesis, engineered systems analysis, and an education and outreach program intended to enhance community capacity for responding to change.
Partners on this project include faculty from multiple universities, including University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan, University of Colorado Boulder, and University of New Hampshire. We also have support from a number of community partners including the Bristol Bay Natives Association, the Tribal Village of Kotzebue, the Northwest Arctic Borough, the City of Iqaluit, and the Hamlet of Clyde River.