Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Edward Bennett

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Community and the natural environment have always played an important role in my life. I have had the opportunity in the past few years to explore these areas in more depth. My introduction to Community Psychology during my undergraduate degree exposed me to agricultural initiatives that emphasized community and respect for the environment. I explore these initiatives further by conducting a study (van de Hoef, 1998) of Ontario couples who live self-reliantly (that is, they grow their own food, build their own homes, live off the electricity grid, and find supports in their local communities). Subsequent to that study I have become particularly interested in the experiences of women in alternative settings. This project was motivated by several questions centred specifically around the experiences of women farming ecologically. Ecological farming is defined by Keeney (1989) as "agricultural systems that are environmentally sound, profitable, and productive and that maintain the social fabric of the rural community". I am interested in fanning ecologically myself someday. Yet there is a lack of information available about women, especially Canadian women who farm ecologically. This topic is particularly important in the field of community psychology. Although this is the field that introduced me to community agricultural issues, the role of the natural ecology remains unconsidered in most community psychology research. In light of our current ecological crisis and the increasing awareness of the importance of nature in human experience and particularly human health, it is imperative that academic and particularly psychological studies explore human interactions with the natural world. The present study utilized the ecological approach prevalent in community psychology research to explore the contributions of conventional and ecological farming practices to human and natural ecosystem health. l looked specifically at the experiences of women in alternative agricultural settings and the role of nature in their lifestyles. I interviewed five women who farm ecologically in Southern Ontario using a narrative approach. Additionally I interned on an ecological farm and I offer a case study and ethnographic perspective on my experiences. The findings are presented as six individual life story summaries. The stories were collectively summarized and explored using the eight elements of ecological agriculture highlighted by Beus & Dunlap (1990) and Chiappe & Flora (1998). These are independence, community, decentralization, harmony with nature, diversity, restraint, quality of family life, and spirituality. Although the previous studies present these elements as distinct categories, the stories of the present study do not warrant dividing them up in a similar fashion. They are grouped according to the integrations highlighted in the stories. Chiappe & Flora (1998) reported that ecological farming provides more leisure time for families. The stories from the present study do not suggest this. Family and community supports are highlighted in the stories as necessary components of alternative farms. However the stories also indicate that current changes in rural Canadian landscapes and the prevalence of conventional farming philosophies and practices in agricultural areas minimize the accessibility of these supports. Meares (I997) suggests that women’s burdens on ecological farms increase relative to their experiences on conventional farms The women in the present study do indicate high levels of busy-ness and physical exhaustion. However in most cases this again was attributed to a lack of available supports and resources. Finally, current research highlights an important connection between the natural environment and human health. The women’s stories affirm this connection as an important ingredient not only in their individual health but in the health of their families and local communities. In summary, the women’s stories highlight their difficulties of maintaining alternative farm lifestyles in Canada's present rural climate. Yet they also present ecological agriculture as an important model for promoting the health of individuals, families, communities, and the natural environment. This project contributes their voices to Community Psychology literature as well as Canadian literature on ecological agriculture. It offers additional evidence to the Community Psychology field demonstrating the importance of nature and holistic food production in human health. It also documents the process of a non-traditional, yet effective and empowering research approach. Finally, this project provides additional evidence for ecological agriculture as an effective model of health.

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