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Stakeholders' mental models of soil food value chain in the Everglades

Highlights•Farmers in South Florida face pressure to sell their land for development.•Mental models are used to examine soil communication in research and extension.•Farmers perceive soil within a larger system—the soil food value chain (SFVC).•Experts focus their research and communication (RC) toward improving productivity.•RC could conceptualize soil as part of a SFVC to help farmers fight urbanization.AbstractPeri-urban environments, where agriculture and urbanization interact, pose unique challenges for soil management. In Miami-Dade County, Florida USA, this interaction is especially important; a population of 2.7 million lives in an urban county with only 6% of the area zoned agriculture. Miami-Dade County is a major producer of tropical fruit and winter vegetables for the U.S., and is located within the Everglades ecosystem. Relatively little information is known about research and extension within peri-urban environments concerning soil health and management. Ethnopedological work has contributed to ethno-scientific knowledge by bridging the communication gap between scientists and locals concerning soil taxonomies, soil health, and soil fertility management. This study explores mental models of farmers and experts, examining the communication gap concerning soil health and food security. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from farmers (n = 19) and experts (n = 13). All stakeholders perceived pressures from urbanization as the main barrier to farmers' ability to continue to produce food, maintain their soil health, and contribute to national food security. The mental models of farmers reveal their ability to continue farming depends on their ability to construct and sustain a system—the soil food value chain. In this system, the farmer generates farm capital from a combination of high quality products, lower quality produce, and culls. This farm capital includes value-added products or soil amendments. However, experts did not perceive their responsibility to include maintaining a system, rather, only improving production. Experts' research and extension focused on improving product quality, increasing yield, decreasing cost of production, and minimizing the environmental impact of production. The mental models of farmers suggest research and extension related to building and maintaining the entire soil food value chain would increase the likelihood the farmers would better care for their soil and be profitable. This research contributes to the literature by recognizing the importance of examining the barriers to soil communication between stakeholders, as well as the importance to include examining soil within the larger food system.

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