Chapter 5: Perceptions of agriculture's multifunctional role among rural Pennsylvanians

Martin H. Lenihan, Kathryn J. Brasier, Richard C. Stedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Purpose: The policy approach of multifunctionality - that agriculture has benefits beyond the production of food and fiber - has been debated within global trade negotiations. Little is known about the perceptions of agriculture's multifunctional nature at the local level. These perceptions may be particularly pertinent in rural locations undergoing rapid transformations of the agricultural system, economic base, and related land uses. This chapter describes research conducted to examine the perceptions of agriculture's impact on local communities and the policy choices needed to support agriculture's multifunctionality. Methodology: Six focus groups were conducted in Pennsylvania, USA. Counties were selected to represent three differentiated rural spaces (contested, clientelist, preserved), in which production and consumption interests claims vie for control of rural land. Participants represented both production and consumption interests, and described their perceptions of local agriculture and policy preferences. Findings: Production and consumption interests across the study sites expressed views consonant with global discussions, in that agriculture provides significant positive impacts and few negative. However, locally specific issues related to taxes, land use planning, and farmland preservation dominated discussion. Participants supported a mix of policy tools (voluntary, regulatory, educational), but gave little credence to federal programs. Research limitations/implications: Policy initiatives to support agricultural multifunctionality need to be sensitive to local conditions and create an enabling environment to allow multiple stakeholders opportunities to identify issues and preferred policy mechanisms. Originality: Previous research has identified multifunctionality concepts at the global level; this chapter localizes multifunctionality, and examines potential hurdles to implementation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-149
Number of pages23
JournalResearch in Rural Sociology and Development
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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