Cover crops at Full Belly Farm, Yolo County, CA. Photo by Paul Kirchner Studios

Agroecology / Diversified Farming Systems Research

Current Interdisciplinary DFS Research Projects

Promoting Soil Health Innovations: Barriers, Motivations, Enabling Conditions

Across the US and within California, there has been a surge of interest in “soil health,” brought on by major droughts and deluges that have afflicted certain parts of the country in recent years. BFI plans to draw on this growing interest to develop innovative policy analysis and recommendations to support diversified farming systems as a solution to boost soil health. Over 1.5 years, BFI will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the barriers, motivations, enabling conditions, and innovations that affect the ability of farmers in California to implement diversified and agroecological farming practices that advance beneficial soil health outcomes. To accomplish this goal, BFI will 1) review social science and grey literature, 2) survey UC Cooperative Extension and Resource Conservation District personnel, and 3) supplement this survey with interviews of a sample of farmers representing different crops and soil regions across California. Throughout the project, BFI will convene partners and key stakeholders to obtain input on the project, stay abreast on related and complementary efforts, and best position the results of the project to influence state and federal policy. Outputs will include a synthesis report, policy briefs, cost-return studies, and information aimed at legislators, government policymakers, and agricultural industry actors.

Team members:

Harmonizing conservation, pest control, and food safety in the Central Coast

In 2006, a deadly multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to spinach grown in California’s Salinas Valley caused public panic. Government and industry responded by forcing growers to adopt costly new measures to ensure food safety, which have potentially resulted in negative consequences for local human and natural systems. Compliance burdens have fallen most heavily on smaller farms, reducing the potential for sustainable rural livelihoods in the region. Further, ecologically beneficial practices, such as applying compost, planting hedgerows, and maintaining natural vegetated habitat around fields, have declined because they were seen as potential pathways of contamination. Instead, growers now fence their fields, deploy poison traps, and remove riparian habitat in an effort to improve food safety. The Center for Diversified Farming Systems has assembled an interdisciplinary team of conservation practitioners, ecologists, entomologists, disease ecologists, rural sociologists, extension specialists and governance scholars to study how the 2006 E. coli outbreak has affected marketing and policy regulations that in turn impact ecosystems, pest control, safe food production, water quality, and rural livelihoods in the Salinas Valley system.

Download the publication brief here and the full study here.

Team members:


Assessing benefits and costs of biologically-diversified farming systems in California’s Central Coast growing region

Farming systems utilizing a suite of management practices that enhance agro-biodiversity and ecosystem services  (“biologically diversified farming systems”) can provide many benefits to growers, the environment, and society. For example, amending soils with composts or green manures, planting polycultures and insectary strips, and protecting remnant natural habitats may reduce input costs, enhance resilience to climate and market shocks, and improve farmer livelihoods and environmental health. Despite these benefits, many farmers face market and regulatory barriers that impede their ability to adopt diversified farming management practices, potentially influencing both the long-term viability of the ecological resource base and the socioeconomic resilience of rural agricultural communities.  Working in California’s highly productive Central Coast region, an interdisciplinary team comprised of ecologists, entomologists, rural sociologists, economists, and soil scientists, will study how ecological diversification affects ecosystem services, how growers perceive and experience the benefits and costs of ecological diversification, and how diversification affects the productivity and socioeconomic viability of farming operations.

Team members:

Ecology and Society: "A Socioecological Analysis of Diversified Farming Systems” Special Issue

Edited by Center for DFS Co-Directors Claire Kremen and Alastair Iles and affiliate Chris Bacon, the special issue for Ecology and Society features a meta-analysis assessing ecosystem services to and from diversified farming systems, as well as articles discussing DFS-friendly policies, rangelands, rural social movements, and the social dimensions of DFS.

The full special issue is available here.