Within the limited resources of this applied research and extension project, we attempted to a) systematically document the extent and nature of the farm neighbor conflict problem in New York through a key informant survey process, and b) to build the capacity of farmers and communities to understand and respond to conflicts more constructively by fostering a partnership of the institutions and organizations (especially community dispute resolution centers, cooperative extension, farm organizations, local government associations) most likely to be drawn into farm neighbor conflicts in advisory roles.
Farm neighbor conflict appears, almost ineluctably, to be on the rise. As in the northeast more generally, the fundamental drivers of this conflict in New York state arise from the changing nature of agriculture and the increasing number of residents without farm-related occupations who have moved into, or who live in, close proximity to working farms. Despite the potential significance of this issue for the viability of modern agriculture and healthy communities, relatively little effort has been made to formally document or respond to it institutionally. Even less effort has been devoted to understanding how farmers, neighbors and communities respond to such conflict and its effects.
Is farm neighbor conflict an important issue, and is there a constructive response? We had worked previously on similar projects involving community, farm, and land use conflict and "public issues education". This work suggested that both the farm community and rural communities in general could benefit, at least in theory, from the development and nurturing of appropriate local institutional conflict management capacity. In particular, we felt it would be promising to develop partnerships between key institutions that together might have the capacity to apply collaborative problem solving techniques to neighbor and community conflicts involving farmers.
A survey of key contacts in all agricultural counties of New York state was completed. Results of the survey were used in a number of presentations before audiences interested in agricultural issues in multiple venues in New York. A publication highlighting the results is forthcoming in early 2007 in a new Cornell policy brief series. Numerous meetings and strategic planning sessions were held to deepen relationships between key on and off campus partners interested in building capacity to more effectively respond to farm neighbor conflict - the NYS Agricultural Mediation Program, Interface of Community Dispute Resolution Center, Extension, ProDairy, Small Farms Program, FarmNet, the Local Government Program, and others.
Key partners collaborated in a response to demand from producers for training, information, and assistance (e.g. the NE Dairy Producers Association, the Small Farms Program, the NYS Direct Marketers Association). Our project goal of training and institutionalizing regional project teams to respond to farm neighbor conflict turned out to be overly grand, especially given the unexpected leadership turnover in key partner organizations. However, we provided over a half dozen well received and high quality trainings to a variety of stakeholder groups, and have built the foundation for longer term interorganizational collaboration. What is missing is the formal institutional commitment and funding to support this work beyond the scope of a short term project.
We have not undertaken an evaluation that enables us to quantify specific impacts. However, we are confident that we have raised awareness in hundreds of people and in key organizations about more constructive ways to respond to conflict involving agriculture. We believe this awareness will pay dividends in the medium and long term. The partnership involving the USDA funded NYS Agricultural Mediation Program in particular has helped shape that program's ability to offer more effective and longer term mediation services to the state's farm community.