Smithers, John

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Professor
PhD, University of Guelph, 1994
Phone: 
519-824-4120 ext. 56722
Office: 
Hutt 131
Specialization: 

Alternative and Local Food Systems; The Role of Short Supply Value Chains in Enhancing Farm Viability and Local Food Production; Landscapes of commodification and consumption in the Rural Realm; Agri-Environmental Management.

My primary research interests relate to how various types and processes of change are altering rural places and spaces in Canada and elsewhere. Once well understood in both its composition and function, the nature and purpose of rural space is now highly contested in many regions. While it might have been clear at one time that the purpose of the countryside was for primary production, today  that is no longer so clear. Many of the changes that have affected society as a whole in recent decades have imprinted themselves on the rural landscape and have altered the nature of economic activity, the demographics of rural communities and the composition of “influential voices” in the governance of rural affairs. In some respects the contemporary countryside has become a canvas on which a wide variety social, economic and governance issues are playing out – sometimes happily and sometimes not.

In recent years, a series of analyses, conducted with graduate students, has explored the idea that agriculture and rural communities are becoming less connected than was historically the case – and have tried to identify points of potential reconnection. This idea of “reconnection” underlies my current interest and activity in local food systems and short(er) supply chains in the farm sector. I currently have running a multi-faceted program of research that is exploring how various food initiatives are forming and redefining producer-consumer relations and even the purpose of rural space. My collaborators and I have been looking at the Farmers’ Market as a site of local food trade, the formation of local food networks, the re-orientation of rural space around amenity and consumption, and the emerging environmental importance of re-localizing food (e.g. carbon costs and food miles).

GEOG*4390 Seminar in Rural Geography
GEOG*4990 Independent Study in Geography
GEOG*6060 Special Topics in Geography
GEOG*6180 Research Project in Geography
GEOG*6200 Land Use and Agriculture Systems

Like most faculty members I am involved in a variety of activities that relate to my ‘day job’ in some way. My current and recent service activities include the following:

  • Vice Chair, City of Cambridge Farmers’ Market Advisory Committee
  • Board Member – FarmStart Farm Incubator Program (a pilot farm project based at the St. Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario)
  • Member of Land Management Committee – Grand River Conservation Authority (2001– 2004)
  • Closing the Farm to Plate Gap: Needs and Prospects in the (short) Supply Chain, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada - Standard Research Grant (2008-2011: $116,000)
  • New Markets, New Farms (?):  connecting immigrant farmers with ethno-cultural food communities in Ontario.   Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food – Sustainable Rural Communities Program (2007 – 2009; $32,000)
  • Short Supply Chains and Local Food: Adding Value Through Farm – Food Linkages.  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.  New Directions Research Program (2005 – 2008; $73,000)
  • Assessing the Role of Local Food Systems in Re-linking Agriculture and Rural Communities.   Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – Standard Research Grant (2004-2007; $111,000)
  • Designing for Resiliency and Self-Reliance: An Evaluation of Options for Responding to Agricultural Drought in Canada.  Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Research Fund [with R. deLoë and R. Kreutzwiser] (2004-2007; $119,000)
  • Local Food Systems: Linking and Sustaining Agriculture and Rural Communities in Ontario.  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food – Sustainable Rural Communities Program [with A.E. Joseph] (2004-2007; $43,000)
Smithers, J, Lamarche, J, and Joseph, A.E. 2008 Unpacking the terms of engagement with local food at the Farmers’ Market: Insights from Ontario. Journal of Rural Studies (doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2007.12.009 )
Smithers, J. and Wilson, R., ‘Rural change and sustainability: Conclusion’ in Rural Change and Sustainability: Agriculture, the Environment and Communities ed S.J. Essex, A.W. Gilg, R.B. Yarwood, J. Smithers and R. Wilson  (Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CAB International) 373-381, 2005
Smithers, J., Joseph, A.E. and Armstrong, M. ‘Across the divide (?): Reconciling farm and town views of agriculture–community linkages’ Journal of Rural Studies 21(3), 281-295, 2005
Smithers, J. and Johnson, P. ‘The dynamics of family farming in North Huron County; Part I: development trajectories’ The Canadian Geographer 48(2), 191-208, 2004
Smithers, J., Johnson, P. and Joseph, A.  ‘The dynamics of family farming in North Huron County; Part II: farm – community interactions’ The Canadian Geographer 48(2), 209-224, 2004
Smithers, J. and Furman, M. ‘Environmental farm planning in Ontario: exploring participation and the endurance of change’  Land Use Policy 20, 343-356, 2003
Smithers, J. and Blay-Palmer, A., Technology innovation as a strategy for climate adaptation in agriculture. Applied Geography. 21, 175-197, 2001
I am fortunate to be working currently with graduate students on projects investigating a variety of issues and opportunities relating to the production, exchange, and systematic organizing of local food systems and short supply chains, notably in the area of Farm to School Food Programs.  Additionally, I am collaborating on projects pertaining to the rural landscape implications of renewable energy transitions and the role of farm incubator projects in supporting so-called 'next generation farmers'.   While I remain committed to advising duties on these projects, regrettably, I am unable to make commitments on acting as primary advisor at this time for new applicants owing to plans for study leave in 2020/21 and the prospect of retirement from regular faculty before projects commencing in 2021 would be completed.  However, it will be my hope to support grads in other ways via committee memberships or informal mentoring. 
 

Graduate Students Supervised

Name Research
M.A. 2018 Reid, Heather The effects of the transition to agritourism by small to medium sized farms on the biophysical, economic, and social functioning of the farm.
M.A. 2017 Fromstein, Maya The Spaces Between Theory and Praxis: Exploring Action and Actors in Toronto’s Food Justice Movement
M.A. 2014 Albrecht, Cayla Local food systems and small scale agriculture: consumer/producer perceptions and understandings of food cost and value.
M.A. 2014 Withers, Julia Agri-Environmental Geography.
M.A. 2013 Bull, Jacqueline Implications of the consumption and commoditization of the countryside on the local food sector; farm-restaurant partnerships.
M.A. 2013 Coop, Deanna Community farms in Ontario: exploring prospects for local food on public land.
Ph.D. 2012 Bloom, Shauna Producer engagement in local food systems and organizational capacity of local food promotion groups.
Ph.D. 2012 Mount, Philip Andrew Investigating the effects of increased scale (in both farm and food chain) on adherence to fundamental principles of local food systems, through an examination of 'local beef' initiatives in Ontario and the EU.
M.A. 2009 Morin, Sabrina New foods, new faces: Exploring options for localizing and linking production and consumption in ethno-cultural food systems in Ontario.
M.A. 2009 Shapiro, Emily L. The grocery store as a site of engagement in local food: prospects and challenges.
M.A. 2006 MacKinnon, Shauna L. Identifying and differentiating farm-community linkages in organic farming in Ontario.
Ph.D. Ruetz, Amberley Exploring the impact of school food programs on local economies and how they might evolve to expand the scope and sustainability of local food production and procurement in Canada.