I grew up in a rural Missouri community just north of St. Louis. I spent much of my time on my grandparent’s farm which was the hub of rural family life. I grew up appreciating nature and the struggle of small-scale farm families to eke out a living while coexisting in harmony with the environment. This fueled my desire to develop better ways of ‘doing’ agriculture at small scales. I attended Northwest Missouri State University as a molecular biology student, determined to develop the next miracle crop. I LOVED biology, but recognized much of what we do in the lab is done in isolation of the end-user—farmers. As researchers we weren’t asking questions about the needs of those who would most benefit from these new technologies. As a result I also added a sociology major; to help me understand the role of social processes in shaping our interactions with the environment. In 2009 I graduated from Northwest with a B.Sc in both biology and sociology.
At the recommendation of my major advisors I sought out anthropology as my next step. It blended my interests in bio-physical and social processes and my new mentor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was keen to put a student in a new study sight in Ethiopia! While at UNL I was able to work with refugee groups, conduct field research in the beautiful highlands of the Simien Mountains, and continue my pursuit of environmental issues. My time in Ethiopia was transformative in many ways. In these rural villages I saw firsthand the devastating effects extreme poverty can have on both human well-being and the environment. Despite the surplus of agricultural technologies, aid dollars, and information on environmental conservation, these farmers were starving and working an exhausted landscape simply to mitigate the constant hunger. I decided then that in order to truly address environmental issues, I would also have to work on issues of food security and poverty. After graduating with my MA in anthropology in 2011 I pursued a degree program that allowed me the flexibility to pursue these interests.
In the fall of 2011 I enrolled as a doctoral student at the University of Missouri, in the Department of Rural Sociology. At MU I was encouraged work on domestic issues, in addition to my international study, and was given the space to explore the implications of the interactions between national and state-level policy, inequity in food price and access, and federal entitlement systems. Combined with investigation into the emergency food system, this research is a significant component of my scholarly work. I was also able to secure a Borlaug Fellowship in Global Food Security to continue my research in Ethiopia. I returned to those same communities I worked in during my MA and examined intersecting issues of poverty, food security, health, and agriculture from a systems approach. I specifically looked at how the various institutional arrangements at the national, state, and community level shape farmers’ decision making processes and willingness to adopt sustainable intensification (related to conservation agriculture) practices.
My research uses a systems approach (perhaps a legacy from my biology days) to examine social change around food procurement, agricultural systems, environmental sustainability, and health/nutrition at the community level, both domestically and internationally. These problems are complex in nature and require adaptive, context specific solutions, earning them the title ‘wicked’ problems. To examine these problems and work toward sustainable solutions to these problems I consistently work across disciplinary boundaries—engaging plant scientists, geographers, veterinary medicine specialists, economists, and public health professionals. I also have a (growing) interest in scholarship of teaching. I believe my research should inform my teaching, and I consistently work to bring research experiences and findings into the classroom. I also believe students learn best in an active learning environment guided by inquire based teaching. My goal is to help students develop a toolkit which includes critical thinking, logical reasoning, and a sociological imagination, regardless of background. I also teach courses which include a service learning component as a way of helping students develop empathy and practical research skills related to scientific inquiry.
2017. Michelle Kaiser & Anne Cafer. “Exploring Long-Term Food Pantry Use: Differences between Persistent and Prolonged Typologies of Use.” Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. doi:10.1080/19320248.2016.1157554
2016. Anne Cafer & Michelle Kaiser. “An Analysis of Difference in Predictors of Food Affordability between Rural and Urban Counties.” Journal of Poverty 20 (1): 34-55. doi:10.1080/10875549.2015.1094760
2015. Anne Cafer, Mary Willis, Shimelis Beyene, Martha Mamo. “Growing Healthy Families: A Survey of Household Production, Food Security, and Well-Being in South Wollo, Ethiopia.” Culture, Agriculture, Food, and Environment 37 (2): 63-73. doi:10.1111/cuag.12053
2014. Anne Cafer, Kara Riggs, Fridah Mubichi, and Leah Sandler. “A Socio-Cultural Perspective on Agricultural Development within a Sub-Saharan African Context: Paradigm Shifts and Interdisciplinary Engagement.” Agrarian Frontiers: A Rural Studies Review 2 (1):35-47. https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10355/43715/AgrarianFrontiersVol2No1.pdf