Agroecological Assessment of Farming in the Rural-Urban Interface: Building Resiliency in Regional Food Systems

Farmland in urban-influenced regions produces the majority of vegetables and fruits grown in the U.S., yet rural-urban interface (RUI) farms are threatened by development pressure, climate change, economic conditions, and infrastructure loss (American Farmland Trust, 2007). Developing innovative marketing relationships and strategic policy alliances with urban consumers can potentially enhance RUI farm viability. Community-led food system initiatives, including multi-stakeholder food policy councils and alternative food distribution networks, seek to strengthen such regional consumer-farmer linkages. Viable RUI farms can increase local food production and access, enhance long-term food security, contribute to local economic development, and provide a wide range of ecosystem services. Clark County, with the sprawling city of Vancouver, offers a unique opportunity to investigate RUI food system resilience at the farm level. This under-studied region hosts more than 60 direct market farms.

We proposed to develop and pilot an on-farm sustainability assessment tool that includes indicators for social, environmental, agronomic and economic sustainability through participatory field research with 20 direct market farms. By documenting the usage of BIOAg practices, we highlight areas of farm vulnerability, and identify areas for improvement. The tool will be evaluated and made available for use in other regions. Our project addresses BIOAg priority areas of “social and economic dimensions” as well as the eligible topic areas of “innovation and diversification to increase the resiliency and sustainability of farming and food systems” and “assessment of the environmental, economic, and/or social sustainability of agriculture and food systems that provide direction for needed improvements.”

Grant Information

  • Project ID: 127
  • Project Status: Complete


  • Principal Investigator(s): Ostrom, M.
  • Investigator(s): Carpenter-Boggs, L., Chappell, J.
  • Student(s): Wait, J.
  • Grant Amount: $13,975
  • 2013 Progress Report (PDF)


  • Principal Investigator(s): Ostrom, M.
  • Investigator(s): Carpenter-Boggs, L.
  • Student(s): Wait, J.
  • Grant Amount: $25,824
  • 2014 Progress Report (PDF)



  • Principal Investigator(s): Ostrom, M.
  • Investigator(s): Carpenter-Boggs, L., Chappell, J., Thiers, P.
  • Student(s): Wait, J.
  • 2016 Progress Report (PDF)

Additional Funds Leveraged

• Most Recent Grant Proposals
1. Ostrom, M. and J. Wait. Participatory Evaluation and Education on the Risks and Benefits of Alternative Markets with Diversified Vegetable Producers. Proposal submitted Nov. 17, 2014, to the Extension Risk Management Education’s Western Center (WSU) $49,962.
Secured by Graduate Student:
1. Wait, Judith. Resilience of Small-Scale Food Farming in Urbanizing Regions. Anne and Russ Fuller Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Research/Scholarship award of $4,000 for 2015. Second year renewal application pending for 2016.
2. Northwest Cooperative Development Center (NWCDC) was awarded a 2015 grant to support outreach for “Cooperative Education And Business Basics For Small Socially Disadvantaged [rural] Producers.” that included funding for collaborating with our community partners in SW Washington.
Ostrom et al, BIOAg Grant Final Report 12-2015 Page 8 of 10
Secured by PI:
3. Peterson, H.; Feenstra, G; Hardesty, S; Ostrom, M; Tanaka, K, “Impacts of Values-Based Supply Chains on Small and Medium-Sized Farms,” proposal submitted to USDA AFRI NIFA through Kansas State University (2014-2016) $500,000.
4. Moulton, C, Collins, D., Ostrom, M., and Jose Garcia-Pabon. “Farm Business Management Educational Program for Washington State,” USDA Risk Management Agency, RME Program (2013-2014), $96,613, included funding, curriculum, and coordination for Cultivating Success farmer educational program in Clark County.
• Future Funding Possibilities
Program development with producers, community partners, advisors, economists, Clark County Extension agents, and the Conservation District continues to be a possibility, but requires a high capacity applicant.
1. USDA NIFA Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program: Clark County collaborators identified the need for an overall agricultural-food system assessment and an inclusive process featuring community forums.
2. Western SARE: We have established partnerships with primary producer-cooperators and a professional agricultural advisor in order to consider a future project.
3. The Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG): Funded through Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is applicable to producer and agency biodiversity improvement goals and project effectiveness monitoring


• Short-term Impacts (Knowledge gained and shared)
This participatory research was initiated in response to Clark County food system stakeholder goals of preventing further loss of farms and food production infrastructure capacity. Co-PI Judith Wait has regularly attended monthly Clark County Food System Council meetings to keep cooperators and interested stakeholders mutually informed about the progress of the research; share initial findings from secondary data collection such as information from the Census of Agriculture; and communicate about relevant policy implications. She has also maintained ongoing communication with project advisors and farmer participants, and shared summary results to get their feedback.
Following our research on the irrigation water access problem, one cooperator helped find a favorable determination for small farm operations lacking a certified water right. The current Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) position is that farms using less than 5,000 gallons per day fall under the Exemption for industrial uses.
• Intermediate-term impacts (current & expected change in behaviors)
Some project impacts observed during the 2015 grant period followed producer workshops, educational farm tours for policy makers, and informational presentations to stakeholders.
For example, Clark County producers who attended a workshop on the Market Channel Assessment Tool (MCAT) became interested in conducting assessments on their farms. One farm piloted MCAT. Lessons learned include the challenge of tracking multiple tasks and laborers working to fulfil several market outlets and manage multiple crops in any given day during peak season amid a heat wave. Behavior changes for the next season might include focusing on the more profitable market outlets.
After the Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) workshop in 2015, five producers initially intended to develop proposals for value-added projects. However, the application process is still too cumbersome for some producers. The Clark County Extension director, along with County economic development leaders, presented a proposal to the County Board of Commissioners to incorporate farm viability topics, such as MCAT and VAPG, into their work plan to promote economic development and job creation in the agriculture and food sectors.ii For 2016, the VAPG workshop will be sponsored by Clark County Extension and Rural Development. In addition, Extension has offered additional value added technical assistance in the interim.
FRAT research confirmed the need for more farmer networking opportunities, so the roundtable offered one venue. Farmers learned about other farmers’ approaches to some common problems, and identified ways farmers could work together to overcome hurdles. They made future plans to learn more from one another. Examples include participating in soil management classes offered by a soil scientist farmer, and sharing Organic orchard management strategies. Farmers appreciated inclusion in farm resilience research, and that researchers are interested in helping to identify (and pursue) solutions.
• Long-term (potential change in economic/environmental/social situations)
The long-term goal of this project is to inform resource allocation and land use decisions that affect both immediate and long term farm viability. Our objectives are to document the problems facing small and mid-sized commercial food producers; to help ensure that farmer needs and aspirations are addressed in local food system development strategies; and to support farmland protection for the long-term. The research questions align with the Food System Council (2013) and Clark Conservation District (CCD) strategic planiii goals to enhance the sustainability and capacity of local food production agriculture. Initial data gathering and informational presentations were utilized by agricultural-food systems stakeholders for input to the County’s 2016 Comprehensive Growth Plan update, which plans for 20 years into the future and is updated every 10 years. The Food System Council and associated leaders request our ongoing participation. Furthermore, this project identifies future research needed to inform the implementation of solutions and foster collaboration across technical, educational, economic, and policy sectors.