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The Southern Grassroots Biofuels Project: A Participatory Study of Conservationists and Stakeholders From Two Upper Cumberland Counties

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Biomass pyrolysis is being developed to convert biomass into renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel dependency, yet little sociological research has been conducted on knowledge and attitudes toward the technology in rural southern communities. Our study involved participatory collaboration with conservationists, farmers and stakeholders in the Tennessee Upper Cumberland to better understand attitudes regarding biomass production and conversion by pyrolysis. We found farmers very knowledgeable of first generation biomass feedstock and fuels but not familiar with pyrolysis. Rural economic growth as a result of supplying residues and feedstock for biofuels production appeared to be the main motivation behind future farmer involvement. Findings from our study indicate that farming communities are willing to partner with scientists if familiarized with the technology and approached with transparency and equality early in the decision making process. We conclude that such collaborative learning is essential when introducing pyrolysis to rural southern communities.
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Sociological Spectrum
Mid-South Sociological Association
ISSN: 0273-2173 (Print) 1521-0707 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/usls20
The Southern Grassroots Biofuels Project: A
Participatory Study of Conservationists and
Stakeholders From Two Upper Cumberland
Counties
Jessica D. Murillo, Lachelle Norris & Joseph J. Biernacki
To cite this article: Jessica D. Murillo, Lachelle Norris & Joseph J. Biernacki (2015) The
Southern Grassroots Biofuels Project: A Participatory Study of Conservationists and
Stakeholders From Two Upper Cumberland Counties, Sociological Spectrum, 35:4, 349-371,
DOI: 10.1080/02732173.2015.1043679
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02732173.2015.1043679
Published online: 29 Jun 2015.
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The Southern Grassroots Biofuels Project: A Participatory
Study of Conservationists and Stakeholders From Two
Upper Cumberland Counties
Jessica D. Murillo
College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Environmental Sciences, Tennessee Tech University,
Cookeville, Tennessee, USA and Department of Chemical Engineering, Tennessee Tech
University, Cookeville, Tennessee, USA
Lachelle Norris
Department of Sociology and Political Science, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville,
Tennessee, USA
Joseph J. Biernacki
Department of Chemical Engineering, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, Tennessee, USA
Biomass pyrolysis is being developed to convert biomass into renewable energy to reduce fossil
fuel dependency, yet little sociological research has been conducted on knowledge and attitudes
toward the technology in rural southern communities. Our study involved participatory collaboration
with conservationists, farmers and stakeholders in the Tennessee Upper Cumberland to better
understand attitudes regarding biomass production and conversion by pyrolysis. We found farmers
very knowledgeable of first generation biomass feedstock and fuels but not familiar with pyrolysis.
Rural economic growth as a result of supplying residues and feedstock for biofuels production
appeared to be the main motivation behind future farmer involvement. Findings from our study
indicate that farming communities are willing to partner with scientists if familiarized with the tech-
nology and approached with transparency and equality early in the decision making process. We
conclude that such collaborative learning is essential when introducing pyrolysis to rural southern
communities.
Government mandates and initiatives to curb fossil fuel use have prompted growth in all areas of
the renewable energy sector in order to make progress toward national energy security, econ-
omic growth, and environmental sustainability. Of the various renewable energy alternatives,
biomass-based energy is still the only viable route for producing high demand liquid transpor-
tation fuels. Pyrolysis, in particular, is a direct route for producing liquid fuels by heating
Address correspondence to Lachelle Norris, Box 5052, Department of Sociology=Political Science, Tennessee Tech
University, Cookeville, TN 38505-0001, USA. E-mail: Lnorris@tntech.edu
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/usls.
Sociological Spectrum, 35: 349–371, 2015
Copyright #Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0273-2173 print/1521-0707 online
DOI: 10.1080/02732173.2015.1043679
Downloaded by [Middle Tennessee State University] at 14:37 29 October 2015
biomass in the absence of oxygen (Bridgwater 2012). Pyrolysis of biomass is also being
developed to produce renewable chemicals for the expanding bioproducts industry (Willke
and Vorlop 2004). This movement toward ‘‘green’’ products and chemicals aims to displace
many petroleum-based products. Technological advances in cellulosic biomass conversion will
dictate a high demand for various biomass crops and feedstocks, raising questions about supply,
logistics and sustainability. Emerging front-runners for biomass feedstock are waste products
from agriculture, forestry, and municipalities. Additionally, energy crops, such as switchgrass
or other perennial, annual or cover crops, must be grown, harvested and pre-processed in large
part by redesigning agroecosystems to be more multifunctional.
While energy security and environmental sustainability are strongly sought after, the
interest of the Nation’s farmers, rural communities and local agriculture are often left out
of the biofuels equation. Contentious yet important questions regarding the impact of such
technological innovations, if implemented, have not been asked nor have local farmers been
engagedindecisionmakingregardingthistechnology. Are local rural communities willing to
embrace this type of technology if introduced into their area? In economically depressed
areas, would possible economic stimulus for rural communities be feasible? Would farmers
be willing to grow and provide much needed biomass crops and feedstock? Would a shift
to a more multifunctional agriculture (MFA) model, adopted in Europe but not widespread
in the United States, be welcomed? And most importantly, are local farmers, scientists and
conservationists willing to work together to have a real and active role in these and other
decisions to be made if this technology becomes available? Little research has been
conducted to assess current knowledge and awareness of biofuels, concerns of biofuel tech-
nology, and willingness to partner in research and implementation of said technology among
farming communities. This article presents the initial findings from the first two stages of a
proposed three-tiered sociological participatory research project, which seeks to answer these
questions using a sample of farmers and conservationists in two rural farming communities in
the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee. An important question to consider moving
toward deployment of pyrolysis is the impacts such technology might have on rural farming
communities. Therefore, this study was conducted as tier one and two of a proposed three tier
participatory project (Figure 1). Findings from the first two tiers in the process provide a good
foundation for future work on effective methods of combining emerging technologies and
sociological research and should be treated as a model to inform and involve modern rural
communities, particularly in southern states, at the grass roots level, when dealing with
biofuels production.
A Participatory Approach to Information Gathering and Decision Making
Participatory research is certainly not new. As early as the mid-1940s, with Lewin’s work under
the liberation theology perspective and continuing with the work of Freire in the 1970s through
90s, participatory research was employed as a means to achieve social justice (Thiollent 2011).
With such an approach, academic researchers collaborate with local residents during all stages
of the research process, from initial research question formation, to methodological planning, to
analysis of results. Findings are then used to empower citizens to change political and social
conditions in their community.
350 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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Wallerstein and Duran (2008) do an excellent job summarizing the history of community-
based participatory research; thus, a comprehensive review will not be repeated in this paper.
It is important to note, however, that participatory research has gained acceptance in academic
sectors (Fals-Borda and Rahman 1991; Stoeker 1999), and in cases where this approach was
taken, many pitfalls of traditional research, most usually characterized by the distance of the
‘‘researcher’’ from those who will benefit, have been removed. The participatory process seeks
to reduce the distance between the researcher and those being researched by including their input
in all stages, including identifying research priorities, study question formation, methods of
analysis and how the resulting knowledge is used. The goal of such collaborative social learning
is an empowered people who collectively make sense of their own situation and contribute to
bringing about changes they support.
Multifunctional Agriculture and Biofuel Production
Is collaborative, participatory involvement by local stakeholders, researchers and conservation-
ists important in achieving national renewable energy mandates while determining environmen-
tal, economic and process feasibility in the direct production of fuels and chemicals using
biomass pyrolysis? Some advocating multifunctionality in agriculture (Wilson 2006; Turner,
Lambin, and Reenberg 2007; Jordan and Warner 2010) strongly believe so. Given pressing
issues such as climate change and the increasing demand for agricultural products, Jordan
and Warner (2010,2013), among others, argue that a major paradigm shift to multifunctional
agriculture (MFA) is essential.
FIGURE 1 Schematic of participatory approach implemented in this study and projected research.
THE SOUTHERN GRASSROOTS BIOFUELS PROJECT 351
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The concepts of sustainable agriculture and multifunctional agriculture are closely related.
However, the idea of MFA as policy first emerged in 1998, with the OECD’s Agriculture
Committee’s formal definition:
Beyond its primary function of producing food and fibre, agricultural activity can also shape the
landscape, provide environmental benefits such as land conservation, the sustainable management
of renewable resources and preservation of biodiversity and contribute to the socio-economic
viability of rural areas. Agriculture is multifunctional when it has one or several functions in addition
to its primary role of producing food and fibre (Potter 2004:20)
Many believe MFA to be an essential alternative to today’s unsustainable agricultural system
which is heavily dependent on petroleum and the use of toxic chemical fertilizer and pesticides.
The modern agriculture industry is greatly controlled by corporate giants, which rely on unsus-
tainable and environmentally damaging practices such as mono-cropping and concentrated
animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in order to profit (Pillarisetti and Tisdell 2013). Japan, South
Korea, the European Union (EU) and numerous other countries have recognized and supported
MFA for the model’s interlocking environmental, social, economic, cultural and food security
and safety benefits that result (Pillarisetti and Tisdell 2013). Research has suggested that the ben-
efits of MFA are numerous (see Pillarisetti and Tisdell 2013). Not only has MFA addressed food
production issues but has also led to better protection and conservation of land, water, and air
quality (carbon sequestration); provided feedstock for alternative energy sources (biofuel);
encouraged biodiversity; and reduced poverty by providing sustainable employment and demo-
cratic economic development. In addition, rural social community and cultural heritage may be
preserved. In fact, MFA seems best suited for small, family=community-owned farming
operations.
Yet, since the late 1990s, most work and research pertaining to multifunctional agriculture
emerged and pertained to European developed countries (Brouwer 2004; van Huylenbroeck
and Durand 2003). In recent years, researchers have studied MFA in developing countries such
as Indonesia (Jahroh 2013), Costa Rica (Sarmiento, Russo, and Gordon 2013), Mexico City
(Hernandez-Cervantes and Serratos-Hernanadez 2013), China (An-jng, Zhi, Song, and Rong-
ping 2013), Ethiopia (Araya 2013), Sudan (Muneer 2013), Tanzania (Lazaro 2013) Brunei
Darussalam (Sulaiman and Lawrey 2013), Sri Lanka (Bandara 2013) and India (Bollempalli
2013). The interdisciplinary nature of this research is clearly evident, with collaborations of
researchers from numerous fields: agricultural sciences=agroecology, biomass energy, biology,
business, economics=economic development, environmental planning=protection, engineering,
forestry, pest management, plant genetics, human geography, natural resource management,
organic agriculture, participatory development and policy development, and zoology. However,
few sociological studies to date have been conducted on MFA.
In essence, MFA involves the diversification of agro-ecosystems by growing various crops
for a variety of purposes on a particular site. Such diversity allowed by the redesign of agricul-
tural lands from the traditional mono-cropping practices provides both economic sustainability
while addressing environmental issues of concern that might result from current practices or
changing environmental conditions. Key to the development of MFA is the collaboration
amongst the various stakeholders, which involves not only the local farmers and community
but also conservationists, policy makers, community groups and academic researchers.
352 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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While MFA has been developing rapidly and globally, its adoption has been slow in
developed countries, in particular the United States, mainly due to ‘‘sociopolitical, economic,
and ecologic factors that are interrelated and mutually reinforcing’’ (Jordan and Warner
2010:60). These stumbling blocks can be addressed by ‘‘new modes of perception, knowledge
production, and decision-making’’ (Warner 2008). A shift to MFA will only be possible when
policies and markets ‘‘required to stimulate a diversified flow of goods and services from MFA
landscapes’’ are in place. How might this be achieved?
Jordan and Warner (2010) propose a ‘‘theory of change’’ that could enhance and expand the
role of MFA in US agriculture. The theory of change involves three levels: the construction of
a ‘‘virtuous circles’’ model, collaboration leading to social learning by those involved, and
ultimately, a re-visioning of U.S. agriculture by society at large. First, in order for such a
change to occur, there must be a system of support for farmers as they make the transition
to a ‘‘multifunctional agro-ecosystem’’ (61), and this system must be in place in order for
the transition to take place. This change requires that the focus be on working from the grass-
roots up as proposed under ‘‘endogenous rural development’’ model (61). Thus, rather than
top-down policy decision leading the change, stakeholders from the bottom up work together to
foster the transition. Using the assets found in rural areas, networks (or positive loops) are formed
in such a way that these assets, be they human, political, natural or other, contribute to the system.
Ultimately, a supportive system is established making the transition to MFA economically feasible.
This ‘‘central system level’’ enables economic opportunities not only through economic incentives,
but by also addressing management and policy issues that arise. Once established, a positive effect
(perhaps in conservation of natural resources) ripples and enables a positive change in an agricultural
practice, beneficial to all involved due to theiractive participation throughout the process (Jordan and
Warner 2010,2013).
Second, this system can only be sustained with the success at the subsystem and supersystem
levels of the virtuous cycle. Collaborative social learning is key at the subsystem level. Knowl-
edge is created in a participatory fashion as experts in technology and experts in farm and field
work, in conjunction with conservationists and agriculture extension agents, all participate in the
social learning process. Challenges are met as skills and knowledge held by the different players
come together to inform, create, assimilate and apply new ways of thinking and doing. It is here
where we are warned that conflicts are most likely to occur. At this junction of skill and knowl-
edge, a ‘‘close coupling of research activity to multistakeholder processes of learning and
deliberation’’ can address such conflict (Jordan and Warner 2010:64).
The third aspect to the Jordan and Warner ‘‘theory of change’’ involves the supersystem. It is
at this level that citizens of the larger population begin to recognize the value in a MFA approach
and thereby support such a transition to the new system. A cultural shift may occur, providing
even more support for MFA. The general public must understand and internalize the importance
of this new approach. Only then will wholesale support enable and sustain the overall system
and, ultimately, policy changes as well.
Very little sociological research has been conducted in the United States on MFA. Hollander
(2004) applies the concept of multifunctionality to south Florida sugar producing regions. Bell
(2004) conducted socio-ethnographic research in rural Iowa farming communities. The farming
practices in two Minnesota watershed areas are analyzed using a MFA model in a study by
Boody et al. (2005). Moon and Griffith (2011) have researched the economic valuation of multi-
functional agriculture in the United States. Jordan and Warner (2010,2013) make the case for
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the adoption of MFA in the United States, particularly in the Upper Midwest. We discuss Jordan
and Warner’s work in more detail below as it is most closely related to our project.
Jordan and Warner (2010, 2013) apply their theory of change to a bio-fuelshed project in
Minnesota: the Xcel Project, an interdisciplinary project involving Koda Energy. They conclude
that their approach adds insight as well as direction for the adoption of MFA in other areas of the
United States. While our project was not designed to test the ‘‘theory of change via MFA’’ as
proposed by Jordan and Warner, we find this approach very similar to the participatory approach
taken in our ongoing research project. Jordan and Warner (2010:65) challenge ...
...scientists and scientific institutions to shift to a different stance, in which they deeply engage their
scientific work in such initiatives, and address their best critical faculties to the grand challenge of
doing so in the face of complexity, controversy, and contingency.
The cultivation of biomass for the production of a more sustainable fuel source, while pro-
viding environmental protection, is among the most important technological undertakings of
our time. Jordan and Warner (2010,2013) argue that their theory of change can be applied to
bioenergy production. A team comprised of University of Minnesota scientists, policy makers,
state conservationists, and representatives from Koda Energy was formed to address pressing
questions regarding supplying Koda Energy with the needed feedstock (Specht 2011). The pro-
ject illustrates all three levels of Jordan and Warner’s theory of change, but particularly the col-
laborative social learning taking place with a team of multidisciplinary stakeholders in an effort
to address a pressing energy need, while being economically feasible for local farmers and envir-
onmentally beneficial in regard to water and native species. Yet, one important team player was
not present at the earliest stages of the project: the farmer and residents from the local com-
munity. Yet the need to get farmers to ‘‘buy in’’ to new methods of producing biomass crops
was believed ‘‘key’’ to the project. Jordan, also a member of the team, noted that, ‘‘The chal-
lenge is how to develop policy and incentives to support innovation in how farmers use the
land’’ (Specht 2011, emphasis added). Yet, the local farmers’ inputs were not sought by this
team at this stage of the research process. We involved researchers, conservationists, and local
farmers and stakeholders in all stages of our research by developing a two-tiered participatory
approach (Figure 1). This approach integrates 42 farming and non-farming stakeholders into
the early stages of pyrolysis research occurring at Tennessee Tech University (TTU) because
we believe residents and farmers of local and rural communities to be the early benefactors
of a sustainable biomass-based multifunctional agroeconomy in Tennessee.
Environmental Considerations
Benefits of MFA on the environment could be numerous. Pest control, water quality issues, bio-
diversity and challenges to agriculture due to climate change have been noted (Wilson 2006).
The premise of the renewability and sustainability of biofuels can be partially explained by con-
sidering the carbon cycle. Carbon is released into the atmosphere when biofuels are combusted.
The atmospheric carbon is then used by growing plants in the short-term, and stored in soil and
oceans in the medium- to long-term. Waste products in the form of municipal solid waste
(MSW), agriculture, and forestry byproducts can be used in the production of energy. Dedicated
energy crops and fast-growing trees are also being considered for fuel production (Perlack and
354 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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Strokes 2011). Unlike waste-to-fuels scenarios, energy crops raise concerns related to fluctuating
food and feed prices, depletion of natural soil and water resources, disruption of ecosystems and
biodiversity due to land-use changes, and exacerbation of agricultural resources leading to
increased greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) (Payne 2010, Gomiero et al. 2010). Cellulosic feed-
stock have somewhat quieted the fuel-versus-food debate by using non-food crops, but as the
production of perennial crops becomes a reality for some farmers, environmental sustainability
at regional and local levels adds a new dimension to be considered for biofuels production.
Potential environmental impacts of biofuel chains can be determined from life-cycle analyses
(LCA) (Cherubini 2010, Cherubini and Jungmeier 2010). In a semi-LCA study, Frederikkson
et al. (2006) evaluated the energy balances and environmental loads of the on-farm production
of rape methyl ester (RME), ethanol and biogas. Overall, a reduction in global warming potential
of 58%to 72%was estimated from the on-farm production and use of biofuels versus diesel fuel.
Kim and Dale (2009) used a regional approach to study growing energy crops in 40 counties
within the U.S. Corn Belt. They examined farming practices to estimate well-to-wheel GHG
emissions from the production of corn ethanol and soybean oil. For both biofuels systems the
largest GHG emission was found to be associated with N
2
O from soil and CO
2
from burning
natural gas for corn dry milling and soybean crushing. Counties with farming sites producing
the lowest GHG emissions usually had the highest biomass yields and had a high fraction of
conservation tillage, and applied crop-appropriate nitrogen fertilizer rates. On the other hand,
perennial energy crops, such as switchgrass, have been produced in significant quantities with
no fertilizer or pesticide input, and under rain-fed conditions (Dale et al. 2011); in addition, these
crops provided forage for beef steer during a three-month period (Sanderson, Hussey, and
Wiselogal 1992). Varying levels of community involvement, general biofuels knowledge, local
resources, agricultural practices and culture merit further consideration to compile a more
complete understanding of the potential impacts of bioenergy at the local level.
Advocates for multifunctional agriculture systems argue that this form of ‘‘sustainable land
architecture’’ is a way to address numerous and interrelated environmental challenges, while
meeting food and energy needs, MFA involves a substantial redesign of ‘‘agricultural production
systems and their interface with food, water and energy systems’’ (Jordan and Warner 2013:140)
and, as such, is capable of providing a range of ecological services: protecting biodiversity,
increasing water quality and quantity, assisting in pest management and enabling carbon storage
as a result of cover crops (Dale and Polasky 2007). Thus the environmental benefits of MFA,
when it comes to biofuel production, are numerous.
Socioeconomic Considerations
Several factors must be addressed in order to develop a successful industry. In addition to
environmental concerns, economic goals are important. To truly manufacture biofuels sustain-
ably, the socioeconomic impact of such enterprises must be taken into account at the early stages
of technology development and implementation. Furthermore, integrating stakeholders and
growers early in the process will promote the successful establishment of the infrastructure
necessary for embedding the biofuels processing plant within the community hosting the renew-
able energy venture. The farm-gate price of energy crops, and agricultural and forestry residues
is a determining factor in achieving the one billion tons of raw biomass needed per year to
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displace the Nation’s current petroleum consumption by 30%(Perlack and Strokes 2011).
National directorates do not clearly address who will produce and provide the required feedstock
nor how, under what type of economic scenarios, nor what consequences might follow. Potential
societal impacts of bioenergy at the local community or farmer level seem to attract only minor
attention from policy makers, and the social and economic benefits of biofuels for feedstock
providers are obscured by poorly defined rural revitalization concepts.
To achieve social sustainability at the local level, Del Rio and Berguillo (2009) suggest that
the renewable energy project and corresponding political agenda aim to reduce unemployment
and poverty levels, improve job quality, and increase regional cohesion. According to Rossi and
Hinrichs (2011), farmers are currently viewed instrumentally and are perceived as ‘‘ready and
unquestioning providers of now needed energy feedstock, rather than expressively, as rural
actors with their own distinct voices and views about such developments.’’ This is an important
observation because by 2020, the market for biofuels is predicted to exceed over $200 billion, of
which producing and transporting biomass to bio-refineries, and developing technology to
increase agricultural production could generate $135 billion (Erickson, Nelson, and Winters
2012). Furthermore, the market for bio-based bulk chemicals plastics, and bioprocessing
enzymes could approach $95 billion, while conversion of biomass to heat and power could
be worth $65 billion (Erickson et al. 2012). Local farming communities stand to benefit greatly
from such an energy project, yet traditionally their voices and input have not been valued.
It is less certain what part of this economic influx will actually make it to the producers and
providers of the lignocellulosic starting materials, or if the growing biotech industry’s success
will translate into a much needed stimulus for rural agro-economies. Jordan and Warner
(2010:62) have found that ‘‘Multifunctional agricultural systems could enable relatively small
farm units to respond to these new economic opportunities, which may in turn provide the
capital and population base necessary for healthy, productive, and dynamic rural communities’
(citing Flora 2001). As with environmental benefits, MFA is seen as a means to achieve rural
social and economic development and viability, which have been diminished by today’s indus-
trial agricultural practices.
THE CURRENT PROJECT
Pyrolysis is currently being researched as one possible technological alternative to fossil fuel
dependency, yet little is known as to how such technology might be incorporated into rural com-
munities. The goal of this two-tiered participatory research project was to address this lack of
information by having academic researchers from chemical engineering and sociology collabor-
ate with local farmers and government stakeholders in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennes-
see. The Koda Energy plant, hailed as the prototype of a biomass fuel production plant that can
be both economically feasible and environmentally sustainable, has been used by Jordan and
Warner (2010,2013) as a model of social change stimulated by a shift to MFA. Such a shift
calls for a collaborative team in order for social knowledge to develop, yet the farmers from
the surrounding area were not a part of the initial Koda Energy team. Our study aims to resolve
this deficiency and to establish a model for including farmers in the early stages. In this study we
probed farmers and conservationists for their knowledge of both biofuels and biofuel production
processes. Throughout the study we refer to ‘‘biofuels’’ and ‘‘pyrolysis,’’ where biofuels is a
356 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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product and pyrolysis a process. One of our goals was to discern the relative level of knowledge
the study group individuals have on the starting material (biomass), the product (biofuels) and
the process (pyrolysis).
METHODS
Upper Cumberland Study Sites in Tennessee: Scott and Putnam Counties
Twenty-seven counties near the Kentucky-Tennessee border make up the region known as the
Upper Cumberland. Figure 2shows the location of the all the counties represented by District
and Soil Conservationists that participated as facilitators in this study. Information was collected
from farmers and stakeholders of Putnam and Scott County only.
Putnam County is approximately 50 miles east of the state capital, with 2,400 m
2
of land and
73,000 inhabitants primarily within the Micropolitan city of Cookeville. Scott County is more
rural, spanning a little over 3,180 m
2
, with 22,000 residents, as of the 2012 U.S. Census estimate
FIGURE 2 Counties of the Upper Cumberland region.
THE SOUTHERN GRASSROOTS BIOFUELS PROJECT 357
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(U.S. Census Bureau 2013). Aside from the similarities in people and culture, these two counties
differ in education attainment and economic conditions. Putnam County has a higher percentage
of residents holding bachelor degrees (or higher) than Scott County, the former resembling the
state average of 23%. Homeownership rate is much higher in Scott (76%) than in Putnam County
(64%) and even across the state (69%). Between 2007 and 2011, per capita income was lower in
Scott County with an average of about $15,000, while average income in Putnam County was
reported to be approximately $19,000. Both of these estimates are much lower than the state aver-
age of $24,000, a trend directly reflected in the poverty levels over the same years. At 25%and
26%for Putnam and Scott County, respectively, both counties exceed the state average poverty
rate estimated to be 17%, a significant characteristic of the region and one that will be looked at
more critically in later sections. Putnam County has over five times the number of non-farm estab-
lishments, and nine times more private non-farm employment than Scott County. Moreover,
between 2010 and 2011 Scott County experienced a decrease in non-farm employment of almost
11%, likely a consequence of the national recession occurring at about the same time.
Data on farm size and economics were originally obtained from the 2007 United States
Department of Agriculture Census. There were no significant changes from 2007 to 2012
(USDA Census of Agriculture 2007, 2012). Farming enterprises in Scott County, on average,
are larger than those in Putnam County, although significantly fewer in number. The average
dollar per hectare is about $1,000 less in Scott than Putnam County. All categories experienced
more favorable economics for the farming enterprises in Putnam County. Nevertheless, both
counties show a loss in net cash farm income, with each farm losing on average $2,200 and
$2,600, in Putnam and Scott County, respectively. Cattle for beef and milk are the main live-
stock raised in both counties, followed by poultry, hogs, pigs, sheep, and lamb. In Scott County,
over a million broilers are raised and sold from only six farms. This is substantially higher than
the number of chickens raised for such purposes in Putnam County. Little to no grain crops are
harvested for profit in either county.
Research Purpose and Protocol
As stated earlier, this participatory project endeavored to involve conservationists, and local
farmers and stakeholders in all stages of the research by developing a two-tiered participatory
approach.
Tier 1
To ensure that research priorities align well with the needs of local farming communities,
TTU researchers partnered with state, area, and district conservationists from the Natural
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of Tennessee. The NRCS staff works directly with
farmers, ranchers, and the community to provide technical and financial conservation assistance.
An open forum venue facilitated the exchange of information between TTU and NRCS.
Researchers provided information on the emerging bioenergy market and biomass pyrolysis,
while the NRCS professionals offered insight on crops and residues available in the region, dis-
cussed possible attitudes toward biofuels, and the potential economic interest of landowners.
358 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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Tier 2
The TTU-NRCS focus group described above (Tier 1) generated broad topics and categories
that were compiled into a questionnaire that was administered to community stakeholders during
annual soil conservation meetings in Scott and Putnam Counties. Researchers shared infor-
mation with community members according to feedback obtained at the TTU-NRCS focus
group meetings. Discussion with stakeholders included ways to nurture the ‘‘family farm’’ cul-
ture of the region and to develop economic strategies based on local biomass feedstock. As a
result, a questionnaire was designed to measure the following:
1. Characteristics of the farm operation, including type of enterprise;
2. Familiarity with energy crops and biofuels;
3. General familiarity and awareness of biofuel conversion processes;
4. Opinions on topics related to the production of biomass feedstock, including per-
ceived economic and environmental impact on the communities of the Upper Cum-
berland region.
Sample Size and Description
Data was gathered from 28 farmers (8 from Putnam County and 20 from Scott County) at their
respective annual Soil Conservation District meeting during the months of October and Novem-
ber 2012. A short technical presentation was given by the TTU research team broadly covering
topics related to energy crops, biofuels, and pyrolysis. The questionnaire administered at these
gatherings was developed with input from the 14 NRCS facilitators who represent 18 counties of
eastern Tennessee. Semi-quantitative information was obtained from the 28 questionnaires that
were completed and returned to the TTU research team.
FINDINGS
Results From Survey Data Collection: Descriptive Summary of the Participants
Table 1summarizes details about the participants, their land, and farming enterprise for each
county and for the entire sample. The information presented in Table 1is important in that it
confirms that this two-county study closely represents the population of many rural and farming
towns in Tennessee. Similarities in demographics, education, and economics can be corrobo-
rated with Census data as described in the Methods section of this paper. More importantly than
establishing a representative sample, in the case of this pilot study, was to connect with a rural,
agrarian community that would potentially benefit from agricultural revitalization and economic
stimulus. For Scott and Putnam Counties introducing MFA in conjunction with biomass pyrol-
ysis provides a renewed focus on establishing productive farming communities in the Upper
Cumberland. Both counties have resources for providing energy crops and biomass residues
1
1
‘‘Residues’’ or biomass residues refers to by-products from processing biomass (crops, wood, etc.) that have
significant energy potential (‘‘Biomass Resource Basics’’ 2013. USDOE Office of Energy, Efficiency and Renewable
Energy).
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production. Overall, forest land is much larger than the land reserved for crops and livestock. In
addition, approximately 30%of farmers from both counties reported having unused land,
2
which
amounts to about 15.4 ha on average. More than 50%of participants reported producing agricul-
tural and forestry residues. Only about 10%of farmers reported being a participant in the Con-
servation Reserve Program (CRP).
3
Participants in Scott County reported an average of about
27.5 ha of CRP land. No CRP land was reported by Putnam County participants. Almost
60%of the participants reported having some degree of trouble with erosion on their land,
and almost the same percentage of farmers report practicing limited tilling or no-till farming
which causes little soil disturbances and decreases soil erosion.
Characteristics of the farm operation are given in Table 2, including type of crops grown and
livestock raised and sold. Both counties show pasture and hay as main cash crops, with about
78%and 70%of participants, respectively, harvesting both types. A superficial look into the
economics of farming enterprises shows that on average farmers take home about $383 per hec-
tare; however, the net income ranged wildly from $0 to over $2,224 per ha. In Putnam county
participants report that 98%of household income is from off-farm employment. Participants
from Scott County are more dependent on farm income and production than those in Putnam
County. With almost the same number of participants employed off-farm, Scott County reported
almost 30%less off-farm income than Putnam County.
The extent of knowledge, familiarity and awareness that participants felt they had with energy
crops and biofuels was measured using the following metrics which are shown as numbers one
through seven (on the abscissa) in Figures 3through 5:
2
‘‘Unused land’’ is land not planted for crops or used for livestock, nor leased for profit.
3
Environmentally-sensitive land is removed from agricultural production; vegetation that will improve environmental
health and quality is planted in exchange for a yearly rental payment to the farmer (USDA Farm Service Agency 2012).
TABLE 1
Sample Demographics and Land Description
Putnam Scott Sample
Average age of participant (years) 63.6 61.5 62.1
Education
High School (%) 25.0 60.0 50.0
Higher Education (%) 75.0 40.0 50.0
Ownership and land description
Location of farm=land (%) 75.0 95.0 85.7
Participants as sole owner of land (%) 87.5 85.0 85.7
Participants involved in CRP12.5 16.7 10.7
CRP land (ha) 27.3 27.3
Land for crops and livestock (ha) 38.4 26.5 30.0
Forestland (ha) 44.5 104.8 92.8
Participant with unused land on property (%) 37.5 30.0 32.1
Unused land (ha) 3.91 23.7 15.2
Participants with agriculture=forest residues on land (%) 37.5 60.0 53.6
Closest coal-fired power plant (kilometers) 118.0 79.3 90.9
Note.Conservation Reserve Program.
360 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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1. Knowledge of growing energy crops to be used for energy production, such as
switchgrass
2. Awareness of other crops that can be used for the production of energy
3. Awareness of the types of energy produced by these energy crops
4. Familiarity with ethanol as a liquid fuel source
5. Familiarity with chemical and products made from energy crops
6. Awareness of other liquid fuels that can be made from crops and residues
7. Familiarity with the process of biomass pyrolysis
The level of awareness or familiarity was measured on a scale of 0 to 4, where zero repre-
sented ‘‘not at all familiar’’ and 4 meant that the participant was ‘‘extremely familiar’’ with
the topic in question. Those completing the questionnaire were asked questions based on their
knowledge and experience prior to being exposed to any information provided by TTU
researchers. Results are shown for Scott County (Figure 3) and Putnam County (Figure 4).
TABLE 2
Crops, Livestock, and Economics by County and for Putnam and Scott County
Putnam Scott Sample
Crops grown by participants (%)
Grass, pasture 87.5 75.0 78.6
Cotton – –
Corn 20 14.3
Hay 62.5 65 67.9
Soybean 5 3.57
Tobacco – –
Livestock maintained by participants (%)
All livestock 62.5 60.0 60.7
Beef cattle=cow operation 62.5 30.0 39.3
Chickens=commercial poultry operation 10.0 10.0
Sheep 5.0 5.0
Goats 5.0 5.0
Horses 5.0 5.0
Tilling and farm equipment reported (%)
Problems with erosion 62.5 55.0 57.1
Practice no-till farming 75.0 50.0 57.1
Own hay equipment 75.0 75.0 75.0
Economics
Net income ($ per ha) 548.2 272.9 383.0
Participants employed off-farm (%) 50.0 45.0 46.4
Income from off-farm employment (%) 98.0 67.5 79.2
Property leased for hunting 0 10.0 7.14
Property leased for hay=pasture 12.5 5.0 7.14
Community involvement by organization type (%)
Hunting 0 15.0 10.71
Grower=commodity 37.5 10.0 17.9
Local farm bureau 87.5 65.0 71.4
Environmental 0 5.0 3.57
Community group 75 15.0 32.1
Other 25 10.0 14.3
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Participants were asked about the concept of growing crops to produce energy. A well-known
energy crop, switchgrass (a species native to the region), was deliberately given as an example.
About 30%of Scott County felt ‘‘not at all knowledgeable’’ about growing plants for energy,
and an equal percent of farmers reportedly felt ‘‘extremely knowledgeable’’ on the topic. In
Putnam County, more than 60%of participants felt ‘‘moderately knowledgeable’’ concerning
FIGURE 3 Response to questions regarding knowledge of energy crops, awareness of biofuels, and familiarity with
biomass pyrolysis for participants of Scott County. The numbers 1–7 refer to the metrics presented in the text.
FIGURE 4 Response to questions regarding knowledge of energy crops, awareness of biofuels, and familiarity with
biomass pyrolysis for participants of Putnam County. The numbers 1-7 refer to the metrics presented in the text.
362 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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the production of energy from crops. Overall, close to 40%of the farmers and stakeholders
sampled felt ‘‘moderately knowledgeable’’ on this topic, which is a relatively low number
and reveals a lack of communication between industrial and rural players. When asked about
other types of crops that could be used for the production of energy, approximately 45%of part-
icipants in Scott County reported feeling ‘‘somewhat aware’’ of such crops, while in Putnam
County about 35%of the participants reported feeling ‘‘somewhat’’ or ‘‘moderately’’ aware
on the topic. Collectively, the majority of the farmers felt ‘‘somewhat aware’’ of other types
of energy crops, which suggests that participants were familiar with well-established crops used
for energy, such as switchgrass, but felt slightly less experienced with other forms of potential
energy crops.
To ascertain general knowledge of biofuels, participants were asked to describe their familiarity
with ethanol as a liquid fuel. Almost 40%of participants in Scott County reported being ‘‘mod-
erately familiar’’ with ethanol as a liquid fuel source, and 30%reported only feeling ‘‘slightly fam-
iliar.’’ In contrast more than 70%of Putnam County farmers and stakeholders reported being
‘‘moderately familiar’’ with ethanol. When asked about other liquid fuels made from energy crops
and residues, the majority of participants from both counties reported being only slightly familiar
with such liquid fuels. Not surprisingly, the same response was given for participant level of fam-
iliarity with the biomass pyrolysis process. In fact, about 55%of the participants in Scott County
felt ‘‘not at all familiar’’ with this topic. In Putnam County 50%of farmers and stakeholder
reported feeling ‘‘not at all familiar’’ and 50%reported being only ‘‘slightly familiar’’ with bio-
mass pyrolysis. Overall, participants felt ‘‘somewhat familiar’’ with the types of energy produced
from crops and residues. The majority felt ‘‘moderately’’ to ‘‘extremely’’ familiar with ethanol as
a liquid fuel, while most knew very little to nothing at all about biomass pyrolysis.
Early consultation with farmers about their willingness and motivation to grow and sell bio-
fuel feedstock helped establish a rapport between researchers and local agricultural communities;
FIGURE 5 Relative importance of variables rated by potential growers and providers of energy crops and residues for a
establishing a local bioenergy industry.
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this open dialogue is key for development of a sustainable local bioenergy industry. When asked
if they would be willing to grow energy crops in addition to their current farming enterprise,
about 20 to 25%of participants answered ‘‘yes’’ or ‘‘maybe,’’ while 70%of respondents chose
not to answer this question. From those who gave a response, many indicated factors that might
influence their decision to participate in growing and selling energy crops. More than 50%of
participants reported monetary return as being influential in determining their involvement in
adding energy crops as part of their current farming operation. Variables such as the knowledge
of the conversion process, proximity of processing plant, price of production, cost, labor, equip-
ment and time requirements were also listed as determining or influential factors, which suggests
that participants are aware of the complex array of variables associated with investing, creating,
and sustaining such a business venture. Selling agricultural and forestry residues offer parti-
cipants the ability to generate income without the extensive land and agricultural commitments.
For this scenario, 32%of participants declared being interested in selling residues derived from
their land, where more than 50%reported profit as the main driver for participating in such an
endeavor. Other motivating factors for farmers included knowledge of the process, financial aid,
and the ability to have biomass conversion capability on-site.
Five broad metrics were chosen in an attempt to measure and identify the level of importance
of different factors to growers and providers of energy crops. The metrics are as follows: capa-
bility, profitability, productivity, impact on community, and environmental factors. Participants
were asked to rate the five metrics from 0 to 4, with 0 representing ‘‘not at all important’’ and
four representing ‘‘most important.’’ The bar chart in Figure 5summarizes the results of the
participants who responded. Having the capability to grow energy crops was ranked ‘‘impor-
tant’’ by over 40%of farmers. Profitability was ranked ‘‘most important’’ by a higher percent-
age of participants than any of the other metrics, while environmental factors and productivity
ranked second and third most important, respectively. When considering growing and providing
energy crops, farmers and stakeholders view community impact as ‘‘very important’’ as indi-
cated by more than 30%of the participants.
Reactions Regarding Compensation, National Energy Supply, Emissions and
Community Impacts
Responses to open-ended questions concerning compensation for crops and residues, national
energy supply, atmospheric emissions, and rural community impacts were collected and are pre-
sented below. We expand on the input by NRCS conservationists and their role as facilitators
between the TTU research group and local farmers. In addition, an attempt is made to reconcile
the qualitative and quantitative data to find a more holistic interpretation of the perceptions and
awareness of rural communities on establishing a bioenergy industry within the cultural context
of the Upper Cumberland region.
Discussions with NRCS facilitators were held in an informal setting, where discourse
between researchers and conservationists followed a brief presentation on biomass pyrolysis
research. The facilitators were immediately receptive to potential roles they and farmers in their
communities could take if such a conversion process is established locally. Researchers were
acquainted with the historical context of agriculture in the Upper Cumberland. Conservationists
described the decline of family-owned tobacco farms in the region. Extant farming enterprises in
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the region harvest hay and pasture, or raise livestock; while some farmers’ only choice is to pur-
sue off-farm employment. This description accurately depicts the sample of rural stakeholders
that participated in this survey, corroborated by the wide-ranging grass crops grown and har-
vested, and that over 60%of participants maintain cattle operations.
NRCS conservationists showed a great interest in the types of biomass feedstock compatible
with the pyrolysis process. NRCS facilitators offered suggestions for readily available agricul-
tural residues, such as tobacco stalks, and forest residues left after logging or in the form of unu-
sable trees growing along the periphery of more substantial forest land. One of the
conservationist explained that the removal of these unusable trees would also promote the
growth of larger, longer lasting trees and aid with maintaining forest habitat and wildlife.
Although not directly involved in the growing of energy crops, the facilitators asked questions
with their farming community in mind, especially concerning economic growth and agricultural
productivity. Despite learning about the possibility of making energy and fuels through thermo-
chemical conversion for the first time, conservationists were open and willing to engage in dis-
cussion. In fact, they raised many questions regarding production chain logistics and how a
bioenergy industry can be successfully implemented in their communities. The overall attitude
of facilitators reflected the opinions and views later revealed by the participant farmers and
stakeholders.
DISCUSSION
Our goal with this project was to collaborate with stakeholders in the Upper Cumberland region
of Tennessee, so as to better understand the awareness of local farmers concerning biomass, bio-
fuels and the pyrolysis conversion process. Collaboration with conservationist from the Natural
Resources Conservation Service and two agrarian counties resulted in a better understanding of
stakeholders’ views and concerns regarding the establishment of an egro-economy based on the
production of energy crops for biofuels via biomass pyrolysis. This example of collaborative
learning fits nicely with Jordan and Warner’s MFA ‘‘model of change.’’ Researchers from aca-
demia were able to add much to the social learning process by providing information on pyrol-
ysis technology. Farmers and other stakeholders contributed with information on their current
farming enterprise and practices as well as their attitudes and opinions on biomass-based renew-
able energy. In agreement with Jordan and Warner, this is a crucial step in the grassroots social
change process in shifting to a more diverse agricultural system in this region, which involves
biomass and biofuel production via pyrolysis.
It is easy to misinterpret the requests of farmers as simply monetary from the quantitative data
presented above. The truth, however, is embedded in a long history of inequity in the farm and
food chain supply (Rossi and Hinrichs 2011). When asked what type of compensation farmers are
seeking, most growers are ask to be fairly compensated for providing energy crops and residues,
with the minimum level of compensation having to meet the dollar amount that their enterprise is
currently generating. One participant makes clear that compensation would have to equal ‘‘pas-
ture and hay,’’ the leading cash crop in the region. This is exactly the point made by Graham,
Downing, and Walsh (1996) who assert that farmers will only use high-value agricultural land
if the energy crops will exceed the profitability of producing conventional crops on the same land.
The intrusion of large agribusinesses or energy companies, which have been cited as concerns of
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farmers in similar studies (Rossi and Hinrichs 2011) was not voiced by the farmers in this study.
This is likely due to over 96%of participants having little, to no experience selling crops for the
purposes of energy production. That is not to say that these farmers have no experience in
commercial-sized operations. Nearly 1.6 million broiler-type poultry are produced in only six
farms in Scott County. Still, with large cattle=calf operations in Putnam County and the commer-
cial poultry operations in Scott County, both counties experienced an average loss of over $2,000
per farm, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture (2007). Economic problems are con-
founded by poverty levels that were reported to be almost 10%above the state levels for both
counties from 2007 to 2011 (U.S. Census Bureau 2013). Unfortunately, a struggling economy
may very well describe the profile for many farming communities in the Upper Cumberland.
We propose that the region could benefit by becoming more diverse in the types of crops grown
and in the ways such crops are used. One example might be that pasture and hay fields could be
rotated with energy crops. Waste from poultry production could be supplied as fuel stock for the
pyrolysis process. MFA could be the answer in addressing economic and environmental issues
facing the region.
More than 30%of participants rated community impact as a very important factor as a grower
and provider of energy crops and residues used in bioenergy production. A combination of hope
and skepticism emerged when farmers were asked if they believed a bioenergy industry could
bring about economic growth within their communities. Some participants replied, ‘‘I hope it
will be positive’’ and ‘‘I hope this comes true,’’ because as one participant plainly and accu-
rately said, ‘‘we need this.’’ From their responses, farmers demonstrate that their individuality
and perceptions are molded by unique experiences, which collectively contribute to the way they
interpret the potential benefits of participating in an emerging venture such as growing and sell-
ing crops for energy production. For instance, one participant declares that ‘‘this is a hard county
to get people to participate,’’ imparting a cautionary tone about the community due to lack of
visible positive change and growth. Another respondent remarks that ‘‘awareness is the major
source to get people involved in this task,’’ which shows a certain level of optimism if some
commitment and investments were made. This latter sentiment is shared by many of the com-
munity members, which also demonstrates a logical and practical way of thinking by the farmers
and stakeholders. Having farmers involved early in the process can help increase awareness and
address this hesitancy and skepticism. Farmers and other local stakeholders become partners in
the social learning process, thus offering their knowledge in addressing some of the problems
and pitfalls that might be encountered.
The honesty with which the participants addressed questions came through in their responses:
one participant admits that ‘‘biomass would be great for Scott County farmers.’’ This statement
truly captures the fact that farmers not only want, but need economic and productivity growth to
maintain the industry in their communities. When asked about their thoughts regarding environ-
mental impacts of biofuels, participants seem to understand the benefits of reducing atmospheric
emissions, but their responses revealed mostly a desire to learn more on the topic of producing
biomass-based energy.
Farmers were asked to describe their opinions regarding how using biomass for energy might
affect national energy security and atmospheric emissions. These themes are commonly cited for
the development of renewable energy at the national level, but the opinions and concerns of
those who will be affected directly, such as the rural stakeholders described in this study, often
go unheard at such a high level of the decision-making process. Not only did participants’ views
366 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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coincide with the objectives of national energy security, such as reducing imported oil, but they
identified themselves as potentially benefiting from this ‘‘environmentally friendly production’’
of energy to reduce dependence of coal and oil resources.
Del Rio and Berguillo (2009) list 12 points that should be considered when establishing a
renewable energy resource, including impact on employment, demographic, education, environ-
mental impacts, income distribution, local stakeholder acceptance, creation of a local industry,
endogenous use of resources, standard of living, social cohesion, and human development.
Overall, farmers appeared to stand firm on their position regarding economic growth in their
community, responding to this aspect as ‘‘a must.’’ In this category, participants point out cru-
cial issues related to production costs versus income, proximity of processing plants, and aware-
ness of possible economic opportunities.
Effectiveness of a Participatory Research Approach and Implications for MFA
Our approach of involving all stakeholders early in this participatory research project was ben-
eficial to the collaborative learning process; all stakeholders felt a sense of transparency with this
approach. Local farmers are open to the idea of providing energy crops=residues for pyrolysis,
which could mean economic stimulus and sustainable farming practices for distressed areas of
the Upper Cumberland. We assert that our findings add insight as to how MFA might begin
to take form in regions of the United States, particularly in rural southern regions such as the
Upper Cumberland. We also believe our findings expand on the MFA work by providing some
feedback from an area in the rural Southern Appalachian region of the US, an area not pre-
viously examined. In addition, we address some of the issues found in collaborative learning
and so we provide suggestions for making the process more participatory by engaging farmers
early in the process.
The ‘‘theory of change’’ proposed by Jordan and Warner appears to be a feasible path for
implementing MFA, based on our findings. Yet, we argue that our participatory involvement
of local farmers at early stages of the collaborative learning process also enhanced the process.
This area of the Upper Cumberland is known for being politically conservative and suspicious of
change, particularly in the farming communities. This approach to a more grassroots driven pro-
ject has great potential in this area and other comparable areas, based on our conclusions from
this two tiered project.
CONCLUSION
A pilot study of two counties was initiated to explore the use of participatory methods in study-
ing the intertwining technical and societal issues related to biomass, biofuels, and conversion
technologies. A participatory approach was taken to establish communication between research-
ers exploring biomass pyrolysis at Tennessee Tech University and the local farming community
of the Upper Cumberland region in middle Tennessee. State, area, and district conservationists
from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) served as facilitators between the
researchers and the farmers from Putnam and Scott County.
This pilot study served to introduce the researchers to perceptions, awareness and knowledge
of local stakeholders regarding biofuels, and biomass pyrolysis. It also initiated discussions
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between researchers and farmers on the possibility of local economic development through
provision of diverse sustainable energy crops and residue harvesting, thus transitioning to
MFA. Would a shift to MFA be a viable option for the region? More sociological research must
be conducted before answering this question. But given local farmers’ openness to consider pro-
viding biofuel feedstock, and the possibility of rural economic development that might result, we
believe this might well be. Wilson (2006) argues that the quality of MFA must be a factor in the
equation as well, and that this quality may be assessed by involving those most directly impac-
ted, i.e., local farmers and their communities. We believe that our model, presented in this study,
is the best way to determine that assessment. However, more research is necessary in order to
better understand local communities’ definition of ‘‘quality’’ in regard to diversifying agricul-
ture in the area and their willingness to do so. The final stage of this project (Tier 3 in
Figure 1) will aim to expand this connection of researchers=scientists, facilitators and farmers
in venues where discussions and ideas can be exchanged and hopefully lead to the next steps
toward a sustainable economic and energy future not only for communities in the Upper
Cumberland of Tennessee but potentially for the larger rural Southern Appalachia region.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The authors would like to thank the NRCS State and Area Conservationists (Tennessee) Kevin
Brown and Jenny Adkins, respectively. We also thank Professor C. Pat Bagley, for making this
work possible by connecting Tennessee Technological University with the numerous facilitators
and farmers that participated in this project. Jessica D. Murillo would like to thank Darrell
Beason and Dwight Dickson, the NRCS District Conservationists of Putnam and Scott Counties
for opening the doors to their community. The authors also acknowledge partial support for this
work under National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant No. CBET-1360703 and Jessica D.
Murillo would like to thank the Tennessee Technological University Challenge Fellowship
program for financial support. Finally, special thanks to Chuck Sutherland at Tennessee
Technological University for the map of the Upper Cumberland.
The opinions, conclusions, and suggestions made by Tennessee Technological University
researchers do not reflect the views of the NRCS.
AUTHOR NOTES
Dr. Jessica D. Murillo is the Florida Agriculture Science and Technology (FAST) Fellow at the
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Prior to joining FDACS as
a Chemist in 2014 she completed a doctoral degree at Tennessee Tech University (TTU) where
she researched biomass pyrolysis of agricultural waste and the socio-economic impact of
renewable energy technologies on rural and farming communities. Current research interests
include the development of analytical methods for pesticide residues in raw agricultural
commodities.
Dr. Lachelle Norris is Professor of Sociology at Tennessee Tech University (TTU). Her cur-
rent research interests include environmental justice and multifunctional=sustainable agriculture.
Her previous articles have appeared in Sociological Perspectives, Human Organizations,
Sociological Spectrum and Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management.
368 J. D. MURILLO, L. NORRIS, AND J. J. BIERNACKI
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Dr. Joseph J. Biernacki is full Professor of Chemical Engineering at Tennessee Tech
University (TTU). Prior to joining TTU in 1997 he spent 15 years working for British Petroleum
in various capacities. Biernacki’s research interests include bio-based fuels and chemicals
production.
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