Did you know that the average young farmers in Canada is 55 and 57 in British Columbia? According to the Census of Agriculture, there is an increasing aging population in the farming industry, due to the high capital cost, competitiveness and unstable commodity prices.
In our LFS 350 CBEL project, we have partnered with Young Agrarians (YA) to create a list of recommendations for them to develop a sustainability impact dashboard with an aim to promote agroecology to new entrants to agriculture, to investors and hopefully to policy makers. YA is an amazing NGO that provides a network for new and young sustainable and organic farmers. YA’s aim is to grow the next generation of ecological farmers in Canada. In order to meet this mission, YA coordinates a collaborative network strategy to build participatory community engagement and deliver educational programs to farmers. Agroecological farming takes a holistic approach in tackling food insecurity and food sovereignty issues, with the use of local knowledge and natural resources in using methods that promote healthy environments and communities. As we see agroecology as a beneficial asset, a sustainability impact dashboard will help YA to assess the 3 pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic impacts of agroecologial farming operations. This concept not only promotes environmental justice and natural resources stewardship but also takes full consideration of the society’s interests. Furthermore, in order to achieve the aim of the project, our group has developed a list of objectives:
1. To create a list of sustainability indicators and recommendations to include in the sustainability impact dashboard for YA
2. To research other companies or organizations who have made successful sustainability dashboards and learn from their challenges and successes
Thus, based on the information above our guiding question for our literature research is:
What are the environment, social and economic Indicators to be presented in the Sustainability Dashboard?

With this in mind, we have decided to conduct a literature review to analyze peer-reviewed articles, journals, government statistics and existing survey results. The literature review is a systematic approach to document and evaluate the benefits of agroecological farming operation based on the 3 pillars of sustainability: Environmental, Economical and Social. For each pillar, we entered key words such as “agroecological”, “indicators” and “sustainability” to help us refine our research results. The criteria for choosing the indicators needs to be sound, simple to calculate, and easy to interpret and use by decision-makers. Once a set of indicators have been collected, they were then grouped into their respective social, economical and environmental sustainability criteria and presented in a table format. The table consist of 4 columns that represents Category, principle, criteria and indicators for data analysis and data collection.

Framing of our categories was based on Sustainability Assessment of Farming and the Environment (SAFE) proposed by Cauwenbergh et al. (2006). The first layer of the framework includes the 3 categories of sustainability: environmental social and economic. The second component includes principles and consists of general conditions in a sustainable agricultural system and account for the all the pieces in that system. A third component is criteria that describe the desired state of the principle when it is managed sustainably. The last component in our results are indicators, which consist of quantitative and qualitative variables that assess a certain criterion. The results are presented in the table below.

Category: Principles Criteria Indicator
Environmental sustainability Soil Soil erosion is minimized

Soil quality is maintained

Nitrogen fertiliser use

Pesticide use

Emission of greenhouse gases

Emission of ozone depleting gases

Emission of acidifying gases

Emission of nitrifying substances

Emission of pesticides

Emission concerning terrestrial eco-toxicity

Emission concerning aquatic eco-toxicity

Emission concerning human toxicity

Waste production and utilisation

Agricultural biodiversity

Natural biodiversity

Air Air quality is maintained or enhanced
Water Water quality is maintained


Biodiversity Agricultural biodiversity is maintained or enhanced

Natural biodiversity is maintained

Input use External inputs use is minimized Use of non-renewable energy

Use of other non renewable resources

Water use

Land use

Economic sustainability




Farm income

Dependency on external finance Adaptability to market demand

Total sales per farm per year

Average sales per farm per year

Total purchases per farm per year

Total farm jobs per year



Market activities are optimal Total food bought locally per tear

Buyers’ jobs per year

Social sustainability Food security and safety Production of food is aligned with society’s demand Total annual amount of food production
Quality and Quantity of Food Production Qualitatively analyze the community’s satisfaction on the production of food
Diversity and Culturally acceptable food
Working and Living


Farmer income sustained or enhanced Impact of income on the farmer’s lifestyle and living conditions

well-being of Farmers

Farmers are satisfied

Cultural, spiritual and aesthetic value features are maintained

Qualitatively analyze the success of the farmers

Qualitative analysis of acceptance of food for cultural and traditional use

According to Cauwenbergh et al. the benefits of using the SAFE approach is that it is holistic with regard to inclusivity of all the three pillars of sustainability, as well as hierarchically structured to enable organization of information in order of sustainability level and includes the qualitative criteria for a sustainable agricultural system, such as soil, water and air quality, as well as the quantitative measurements needed to assess these conditions. However we have also adapted to better suit YA’s needs and have added indicators from reliable sources, such as those proposed by van der Werf, Hayo and Patit (2001) and from the Regional Food Systems Working Groups (RFSWG) economic 2013 impact report. We also recommended an impact dashboard design based on the one used by Five Borough Farm’s impact dashboard. Although this is a dashboard for the impact of urban farming, we like it, because of it can be easily read and interpreted, and because we think it could be easily adapted to account all of the ongoing activities in agroecology.


In this project, we wanted to find indicators of sustainability that will help Young Agrarians to create a sustainability dashboard to promote agroecology. We found several indicators for each of the pillars of sustainability that we framed using the SAFE approach. Based on our research we also recommend a dashboard design similar to that of Five Borough Farm. We are also recommending several next steps to YA. First, to further analyze methods for data collection for each indicator. Second, to analyze on-farm activities that could be presented on the final sustainability dashboard. Lastly, to further analyze reference values for the chosen indicators that will allow comparison to a desirable level of sustainability.

The “What, So What and Now what” analysis has served a powerful approach to reflect on our learning experience

What? b Our final project is a bit different from what Sara has originally communicated to us in terms of both content and scope.

So what? Sara, our community partner, explained that wanted an environmental impact dashboard, but we have provided indicator for a sustainability dashboard. Because agroecology is guided by principles that aim for sustainability in all three pillars- environmental, social and economic we agreed that it would be a good idea to account for all three pillars, instead of just the environmental pillar. This meant that instead of creating an environmental impact dashboard, we have created a sustainability dashboard. We have also realized that creating a dashboard is a complex process that require more time than we have in the term to complete the project, so we needed to limit the scope of our project to just recommendations of indicators.

Now What? Our work on the project has taught us several things: first, when working in the community, it is important to use an asset based community development approach. We have used this concept many times throughout this term, but here we want to apply to both the need to listen to your community partner’s needs in order to be able to produce a positive outcome for them, as well as to need to acknowledge our strengths (and limitations) and utilize these to produce the best outcome possible by the group. We feel that the knowledge and skilled that we learned during our work on the project will benefit us in future work with communities, as we work to increase food sovereignty and food security.

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van der Werf, Hayo M.G, & Petit, J. (2002). Evaluation of the environmental impact of agriculture at the farm level: A comparison and analysis of 12 indicator-based methods. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 93(1), 131-145. doi:10.1016/S0167-8809(01)00354-1

Young Agrarians – Growing the next generation of farmers and food lovers in Canada! (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2016, from