More to a farm than meets the eye: McGill research explores multifunctional agricutlure
Elena Bennett, Canadian Research Chair in Sustainability at McGill University, investigates multifunctional agriculture in Canada. She’s driven by a desire to protect the iconic, but often overlooked working landscapes that provide biodiversity, places for recreation, flood control – even a connection to history and sense of place.
Dr. Bennett wants to know where the most multifunctional landscapes are in Canada and how they got that way. In 2022, her research garnered her a Guggenheim Fellowship.
“What I mean by multifunctional is agriculture that meets multiple needs or provides multiple benefits, which often sort of gets left behind when we think about agricultural landscapes,” she explains. “These are places that provide food, but they’re also beautiful to look at. And they store carbon to regulate climate change and retain nutrients in soil and are habitat for lots of different species, and can do all these other things. So one of the things that I’m doing is trying to investigate the magic about those multifunctional landscapes that allows them to do so many different things.”
The Guggenheim Fellowship will allow her to work on a book on the topic, while advancing her research. “The book may go a little bit more into the role of people as a force for good in the environment. We get a lot of this, ‘people are bad,’ at least in the environmental movement, a lot of thinking that the way to protect the environment is to block off some area and keep people out. But what I see when I look at some of these magic multifunctional working landscapes is not that there’s no people there, but that there’s a healthy relationship between people and environment.”
Dr. Bennett is co-chair of the international Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society and Founding Director of NSERC ResNet, a pan-Canadian network to improve management of working landscapes for the provision of multiple ecosystem services.
On winning the Guggenheim, she says it is “this great validation that what you’ve done is important, and what you’re proposing to do, at least by someone, is seen as being meaningful.”