Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Joshua Farley

Second Advisor

Ernesto Mendez


Policy makers say they govern the environment based on scientific evidence, but environmental activists express concern about issues that challenge scientific understandings, such as risk, uncertainty, justice, and participation. This conflict is magnified in agriculture, where many social movements and farmers advocate and create farming systems that are ecological—diverse, heterogenous and adaptive. Ecological farming systems are thus harder for outside experts - researchers, extensionists, development practitioners or policymakers – to understand. Complexity and context-specificity in ecological agriculture presents numerous challenges along the path from scientific inquiry to policy implementation, including in categorizing, systematically studying, modelling and regulating farming systems. In this dissertation, I explore these problems from several different perspectives. First, I analyze the ways in which the rhetoric of “inter-disciplinary” & “trans-disciplinary” scholarship obscures major differences in how socially engaged ecological-social science is conducted. Second, I review how the categories describing alternative ecological agriculture have been drawn, and the common problems that have been generated by ambiguity. I then use frameworks developed in this review to analyze certification criteria for alternative food products. Lastly, I attempt to put some of these ideas into practice in a probabilistic model of P Loss from Vermont farm fields.



Number of Pages

193 p.