Wilbur, Andrew Mahaffey
Seeding alternatives: Back-to-the-land migration and alternative agro-food networks in Northern Italy.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis explores ‘back-to-the-land’ migration in Northern Italy with reference to the social, political and economic networks that sustain it. ‘Back-to-the-land’ generally refers to the adoption of agriculture as a full-time vocation by people who have come from non-agricultural lifestyles. For categorical clarity in this project, research participants were limited to those from predominantly urban backgrounds, most of whom worked in service sector jobs before moving to the countryside. Many geographical studies have examined urban to rural migration but these have focused almost primarily on migrants who are not engaged in agriculture. This research traces theorisations of urban to rural migration within the discipline, situating back-to-the-land as part of broader counterculture practices originating in the 1960s. Many current expressions of back-to-the-land, however, reveal an attempt to address contemporary social, environmental and economic concerns, representing both a trajectory and an evolution from 1960s origins.
Empirical research was conducted in four northern regions of Italy, looking specifically at urban to rural migrants engaged in organic or other ‘alternative’ forms of agriculture. Three simple questions informed the methodology and theoretical perspectives employed: 1) Why do people go back-to-the-land?; 2) How do they obtain the requisite skills to become competent farmers?; 3) How do they make this lifestyle economically sustainable? Answering these questions demands attention to how new farmers are inspired, supported and sustained by alternative agro-food networks (AAFNs). The research therefore explores the reciprocal relationships between back-to-the-landers and AAFNs, examining how new farmers can stimulate and influence AAFNs in addition to receiving their support. These issues are explored through interviews with back-to-the- landers and institutional representatives of AAFNs, as well participant observation in alternative agriculture projects. Particular attention is given to the organisations Slow Food, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and Associazione per Esperienze (APE), primarily with regard to their respective roles in enabling back-to-the-land migration.
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