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Rural Research Centre

The Rural Research Centre (RRC) is a small research institute focused on rural research and making connections between research and the people who shape rural life.

We do this through multi-disciplinary rural research, and a variety of endeavours and activities rooted in “the rural” whether that rural reality is here in Atlantic Canada or elsewhere in the world.

With a mandate to serve the rural community of Atlantic Canada first and foremost, the RRC conducts or facilitates rurally focused Atlantic research and outreach on a variety of subjects, including

  • agrarian movements (and present-day cooperatives and policy);
  • rural disaster resilience;
  • health knowledge and home remedies;
  • rural women’s volunteerism;
  • wool value-chain development.

Our central research program, Changing Paradigms in Atlantic Agriculture, funded in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), has been examining the changing (local to global) state of Atlantic agriculture.

Our research projects

Young Farmers’ Access to Capital in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia was the only province in Canada to experience an increase in the number of farms in 2006-2011. Yet, young farmers (aged 18-40), from both farm and non-farm backgrounds, consistently note that accessing capital remains a barrier to their farm start-ups or purchases. Meanwhile, commercial and government farm lenders report offering flexible credit at historically low interest rates. Anecdotal evidence suggests several possibilities: that some young farmers seek capital with unrealistic expectations; that although lending requirements are now much more stringent than in past decades, some young farmers are able to acquire loans despite not meeting all of the standard lending criteria; and that some young farmers denied traditional loans are able to access capital from a non-traditional source, and go on to establish a successful farm business.

This study, Young Farmers’ Access to Capital in Nova Scotia, is an outgrowth of the Rural Research Centre’s Changing Paradigms in Atlantic Agriculture research programme, and is an effort to better understand young farmers’ perceptions about barriers to access to capital as well as understand the perceptions of farm lenders in this regard. The Changing Paradigms research conducted beginning in 2007 revealed a number of challenges facing agriculture in the Atlantic region.  One of these broad areas of challenge, contained within the “Cost of Production Paradox” theme discerned in its Foundations Sessions-based research, was access to capital (Stiles and Cameron 2009).

First phase of the study is an online survey for farmers aged between the ages of 18-40, who are farming, or plan to farm in Nova Scotia, and have sought or obtained funding for a farm start-up or to purchase a farm (either a family or non-family transfer) within the last 7 years.  The study is being led by Rural Research Centre Director Dr. Deborah Stiles, of Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture, and Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture THINKFARM Coordinator Ms. Becky Sooksom is Co-Investigator on the project.  

To participate in the survey, please visit: https://surveys.dal.ca/opinio/s?s=17484

Following the online survey, the results will be used to create an interview guide for interviewing young farmers and also farm lenders.  Ultimately, it’s hoped that the research results will contribute to knowledge on perceptions of accessing capital as well as inform program and policy development that will better support young farmers’ entry into agriculture.

For more information about the research, contact Dr. Deborah Stiles at (902) 893-6705.

Changing Paradigms: A Research Initiative

The Changing Paradigms research initiative, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), addresses two key research streams:

(1) the global-local nexus of agriculture

(2) the socio-cultural context in farm health and safety research

The Changing Paradigms initiative conducted a year-long series of consultations with members of the agricultural community in Atlantic Canada, called the "Foundation Sessions." Preliminary findings from this work are discussed in the following publication:

Deborah Stiles and Greg Cameron. 2009. “Changing paradigms? Rural communities, agriculture, and corporate and civic models of development in Atlantic Canada.” Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy Vol. 3 No. 4. 341-354.

A Policy Working Group is taking shape as an outcome of the "Foundation Sessions" which will look more closely at the policy documents and the themes identified through the project, including:

  • the producer-consumer disconnect
  • regulatory roadblocks
  • the cost of production paradox
  • succession policies
  • import-export dilemmas
  • resource sector “modernization”

Read the mission and terms of reference of the Rural Research Centre (PDF - 151 KB).

Women’s Health in Rural Communities

The Women’s Health in Rural Communities (WHIRC) project begins with the understanding that young women are the guardians of future health in rural communities; therefore, promotion of rural women’s health should not only strengthen the individual, but also strengthen the health of the rural community. Limited health research has been conducted involving young rural women, and it is for this reason that the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of young rural women is the focus of WHIRC research.


WHIRC is funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) New Emerging Teams (NET) grant in Rural and Northern Health and is based at the Faculty of Agriculture and the IWK Health Centre. WHIRC is focusing on understanding current challenges facing rural communities, and the effects these challenges may be having on the health of young rural women. The project is divided into four broad themes of research that relate to the health of young rural women:

  1. mental and emotional health
  2. rural safety
  3. resilience and change in rural communities
  4. nutrition and dietary decision behaviour

Studies under each theme will focus on understanding current challenges facing rural communities and the effects these challenges may be having on the health of young rural women.

'The Lives of Rural Girls and Women': Health, Underdevelopment, Gender and Sustainability (HUGS)

The HUGS research program was funded by SSHRC through an Aid to Small Universities grant and also an institutional grant. The project’s title, “The Lives of [Rural] Girls and Women,” takes its inspiration from author Alice Munro’s work. In that early writing, Munro skillfully detailed some of the key elements of gender in rural life in Canada.

Through this project, the RRC, as a small and regional as well as rurally focused research centre, established itself as a key focal point in the region for scholarly activity and knowledge transfer on rural women: rural women's health, rural gender identity, rural volunteerism, and young rural women as vectors of farm safety information. Key research activities in the rural regional context highlighted the intersections and interactions of health, underdevelopment, gender, and sustainability.

Related scholarly publications and student training (master's theses):

Stiles, Deborah K. 2003. Rural Women, Underdevelopment, Health Knowledge, and Modernity: Women and Family Farms as Part of a Broader Context of Change. Anita Silvana Ilak Persuric, ed. Perspektive Žena u Obiteljskoj Poljoprivredi I Ruralnom Razvoju / Women Perspectives in Family Farming (Porec, Croatia: The Institute for Agriculture and Tourism, 2003), 130-35.

Stiles, D, Rangel, C, MacLaughlin, J, Sanderson, L & MacNeil, K. “Rurality, Gender, and Leisure: Experiences of Young Rural Women in a Nova Scotia Community.” Journal of Rural Community Psychology E 10 (2) Fall 2007. http://www.marshall.edu/jrcp/V10%20N2/stiles.pdf

Heather Levie, MA (English), Dalhousie University. Thesis: “Trouble at Home: The Anxiety of Belonging in the Fiction of Lynn Coady and Christy Ann Conlin.” 2008. Co-supervised by Deborah Stiles.

Carmen Reems, MA (English), Dalhousie University. Thesis: Explorations of Racism and Media in Black Canadian Fiction.” 2008. Co-supervised by Deborah Stiles.

Stiles, Deborah. “From Margins to Margins: Cultural Integrity, Ecological Survival and Future Transcripts in the Historical Home-Based Health Narratives of Nova Scotia and West Virginia.” Probing the Boundaries [Environmental Justice and Global Citizenship]. 7th Global Conference, Inter-Disciplinary Net. Mansfield College, Oxford, England. 11 July 2008. http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/ptb/ejgc/ejgc7/stiles%20paper.pdf

Stiles, Deborah. ‘Butter the size of a walnut’: West Virginia Food and Folklore--and Changes in Rural Women’s Health? West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies (accepted, April 2008; currently under revision).

Sanderson, Lauranne, Steven Dukeshire, and Renee Garbes. “The Farm Apprentice: Agricultural College Students’ Recollections of Learning to Farm ‘Safely.’ Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health (forthcoming)

Wool Value Chain Development Project

In partnership with Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers (CCWG), the Sheep Producers Association of Nova Scotia (SPANS) and AgraPoint’s Jonathan Wort, the RRC and the Faculty of Agriculture’s Farm Energy Nova Scotia (FENS) Research Group have been investigating the feasibility of developing new wool products, businesses, and value chains in Atlantic Canada.

Funded by FENS, the RRC, the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture’s Technology Development grant program and also the SSHRC Small Institutional Grants Program, the Wool Value Chain Development Project has been looking at what additional wool products might be developed, at how local value chains might evolve, and at how these new products might be marketed within the region and/or beyond.

A primary focus is the potential use of wool as an insulating material. Wool is already being used as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional insulation material worldwide, so the team—made up of sheep producer, SPANS board member, and research assistant Jaclyn Mosher, Kenny Corscadden and Ashwini Kulkarni from FENS, and Deborah Stiles of the RRC—are looking to explore this value chain in the Atlantic Canadian context.

Once one of the biggest industries in Atlantic Canada, sheep’s wool now has few market opportunities in the region or globally, for chief markets for wool remain only in a few countries. The research shows that this globalized environment for raw wool has tended to negatively impact smaller-scale producers in both Atlantic Canada as well as elsewhere in Canada and North America, and has stifled the potential development of niche products and innovation in use of wool.

The first phases of the project have involved networking with regional producer organizations and artisanal groups, investigating the global nature of the sheep’s wool insulation business, and conducting, with the help of SPANS and CCWG, an inventory of wool production in Atlantic Canada.

The results of the inventory have charted how much wool is currently being produced and its current uses. Estimates by the team’s AgraPoint partner, Jonathan Wort, appear to be confirmed: about 50% of the wool being produced in the region is being landfilled, stored/stockpiled, or thrown away. This represents a serious under-utilization of a valuable product.

In terms of production of wool annually, the project’s results were as follows:

Nova Scotia: 62,200 lbs
PEI: 19,800 lbs
Newfoundland: 18,000 lbs
New Brunswick: 21,000 lbs

Using funds from the SSHRC Small Institutional Grants program, the team also is analyzing possible business scenarios and their rural development potential. The team, aided by NSCC intern Ovide Mazerolle, is presently analyzing the current sheep’s wool products on the market for their efficacy and R value, examining the regulations related to uptake of any new product by builders in Canada, and testing, through the software ExtendSim, a number of possible production scenarios, that include the options of developing a completely new Canadian business or producer cooperative, partnering with a business outside of Canada who is already producing wool insulation, or partnering with an existing Canadian insulation manufacturer.

Further updates and research results about the project will appear on this page in the coming months as well as in publications being prepared.

In the meantime, if this project prompts a question or comment, please contact

  • the Wool Value Chain Development Project coordinator, Jaclyn Mosher: 1 (902) 893-6227 or jnmosher@nsac.ca
  • Kenny Corscadden: 1 (902) 893-6715 or kcorscadden@nsac.ca
  • Deborah Stiles: 1 (902) 893-670

The Rural Disaster Resilience Project

Between 2010 and 2012, the Rural Research Centre partnered with the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) to become the East Coast research site for the Rural Disaster Resilience Project (RDRP). With a focus on enhancing local capacity and capability in the arena of disaster preparedness (especially "resilience" in the face of potential multiple hazards and emergency situations), the RDRP research initiative involved a participatory process for engaging rural, remote and small coastal communities in disaster risk reduction planning at the local level.

Two British Columbia communities field tested a series of planning materials and procedures, and then these "tools" were tested and further developed through the participation of West Branch (also known as "West Branch River John") in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, as well as other sites participating in this national project located in Ontario, the Prairies, and the West.

Community members and community-based researchers gathered information about their communities, the hazards they faced, and the various resources available in the event of a disaster. The community-based research team developed materials and a process they think will help other rural, remote, and/or small coastal communities better prepare for disasters (such as natural gas explosions, human-made disasters, forest fires, and hurricanes and other weather events, etc.). What was learned will be shared across Canada via online resources.

Comprising the team were the West Branch and Area Community Association; two community-based researchers, Jane Morrigan and Trudy Watts; RRC RA Chloe Kennedy; and the RRC's Director, Dr. Deborah Stiles. Participatory community-based research and interviews with area residents, from which a “made in West Branch” plan was developed, may assist this particular community to prepare for disasters that might affect it. Copies of this draft plan, following its presentation for feedback to the community, are being provided to community members through the West Branch and Area Community Hall Association, and the RRC thanks this organization for its willingness to participate in this research effort.

For more information about the Rural Disaster Resilience Project (RDRP), visit the main project website: http://www.rdrp.ca/aboutus/project_description.htm


Other information


The Rural Research Centre has an extensive list of publications related to its various research projects. See the complete list.

The RRC team


Dr. Kathleen Kevany, assistant professor and director, adult learning

Associate Director

Dr. Av Singh, Organics and Rural Infrastructure Specialist

Research Associates

  • Dr. Irene Novaczek, Director, Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince Edward Island
  • Dr. Kenneth Paulson, Bunker Hill Community College


  • The Justice Institute of British Columbia
  • The Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women's Health
  • The Women's Institute of Nova Scotia
  • Rural and Coastal Communities Network
  • The Northeast Avalon Regional Economic Development Board

Other partners and collaborators

  • Women’s Health in Rural Communities (WHIRC)
  • IWK Health Centre, Halifax
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Coastal Communities Network
  • Brandon University, Manitoba
  • National Research Centre for Women in Agriculture
  • Rural Women Making Change, University of Guelph, Ontario
  • Women’s Institutes of Nova Scotia
  • Atlantic Centre for Excellence in Women’s Health, Halifax
  • The New York Times – Back to the Land Blog

Contact us

Rural Research Centre
56-58 Rock Garden Road
Faculty of Agriculture
PO Box 550
Truro, NS  B2N 5E3
Phone: (902) 893-6227
Fax: (902) 893-6230

Email: Dr. Deborah Stiles deborah.stiles@dal.ca