Building community health, farm viability, and food equity through Community Supported Agriculture

Final Report for CNE07-020

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $5,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Lael Gerhart
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County
Elizabeth Karabinakis
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County
Monika Roth
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County
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Project Information


The “Healthy Food For All” subsidized Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCETC) in order to provide low-income households access to fresh, nutritious, high quality, organic produce at a price they can afford for a minimum of 12 weeks throughout the summer.

Program participants were enrolled in free cooking and nutrition classes taught by Cooperative Extension Nutrition Educators to learn easy and delicious ways to prepare the produce they received. Many had no experience with fresh produce direct from the farm.

Participants must be food stamp eligible to qualify. The program subsidized half of the cost of a share. Participants paid $32/month paid with cash or food stamps. Farmers received the full share payment through additional funds we had raised.

In 2007, the program served 36 households and a total of 107 individuals. In 2008, with additonal funding and outreach, we served a total of 62 households and 187 individuals.

Farmers, often WIC and food stamp eligible themselves, gained additional members and income by participating in this program. As a result, local sustainable, organic farmers were able to provide food for a segment of the population they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to serve. Two CSA farms participated in the program in 2007 and in 2008, two additional farmers joined the program.

Farmers were paid the full value of the CSA share paid by program participants and matched with funds that were raised. In 2007, the two CSA farms earned a total of $8,832 in additional income; for 2008, the figure will be close to $14,000 for 4 CSA farms. The money paid each farm was based on the number of low-income CSA members joining their CSA.

The strength of our local food system was enhanced by providing improved access for residents who are often unable to purchase adequate amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits for themselves and their families.

Project Objectives:

2007 Objectives
-To double program participant enrollment from 2006 to 2007 (18 to 36) - achieved
-To diversify our participant pool to ensure we are engaging audiences that are not familiar with the CSA model and who may not have had any exposure to local foods - achieved
-To involve at least one additional CSA Farm in the program in order to create more pick up options and choice for program participants as well as to involve more local farmers - achieved
-To enable CSA farmers to be paid the full value of a share rather than lowering their income - achieved
-To increase income for farmers - achieved
-To make the program more financially accessible to low-income audiences by accepting food stamps as payment - achieved
-To raise additional funds to allow program participants the option of receiving produce for an additional 5 weeks outside of the established 12 week program delivery timeframe - achieved
-To provide a positive experience with fresh nutritious produce to a diversity of low-income households so that these audiences are equipped to make healthy dietary choices - achieved through cooking classes

2008 Objectives
-To increase the numbers of households served from 36 to 60 - achieved (62 households involved)
-To increase the numbers of low income households that are "new first-time "CSA members - achieved
-To increase the number of CSA farms involved in the program by 2 - a total of 4 farms participated in 2008
-To raise additional funds needed to offer the program to 60 households for at least 12 weeks and to offer an extended season 5 week share - achieved
-To increase farmer involvement in fundraising to increase sustainability of the program and raise their level of involvement and ownership - achieved
-To help first time CSA members have a successful experience through cooking and food preservation classes - achieved
-To provide additional exposure to local foods via farm field trips - achieved


Problem to be addressed
The current American diet, comprised of many high fat, high sugar and processed foods has been associated with the rise of obesity and cases of Type 2 diabetes. According to a projection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), one in three children born in the United States five years ago are expected to become diabetic in their lifetimes. CDCP estimates that 57% of New York State adults are overweight and 28% of New York high school students are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. The American Diabetes Association reports that the disease may lower the average life expectancy of Americans for the first time in more than a century. These well-documented numbers indicate that as a nation, we are in the midst of a public health crisis.

Low-income populations are thought to be at particular risk of becoming overweight and for developing diabetes. Currently, 20.7% of Tompkins County residents are living below the poverty line. Between 2000 and 2005 the number of meals served by food pantries and soup kitchens in Tompkins County increased by 47.7 % and 109,996 requests for food were made in 2005, with 26% of those for children. These numbers indicate that the amount of Tompkins County residents in need of food assistance has continued to increase.

At the same time, between 2000 and 2006 the number of farms in Tompkins County has increased by 35 - much of this due to the increase of alternative market outlets such as direct marketing and Community Supported Agriculture programs. These alternative forms of marketing are crucial components in providing economic viability for small scale sustainable farmers.

Many communities throughout the United States have developed programs to connect low-income residents to subsidized Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and fresh local produce. Programs vary nationwide and are adapted to fit the unique needs and capabilities of each community. Just Food in NYC has a model that is closely aligned with the program we wish to develop.

Farmers –Many farmers recognize the cost of local produce is often prohibitive for community members with limited financial resources. Unfortunately, the farmers themselves are often constrained financially and are not able to reduce the cost of their food for those that cannot afford it. Through participating in our proposed project farmers will connect to community members with limited income and receive additional income by expanding their CSA membership to incorporate subsidized shares for low-income families.

Low-income community members – often have a difficult time accessing fresh produce because of lack of financial resources and/or lack of transportation. Although the Ithaca Farmers Market accepts food stamps, the redemption rate at the Ithaca Market is low due to a perception that the food there is too expensive. Low-income community members will be offered fresh local produce at a price they can afford and have the ability to pick up at a convenient location. Unfortunately, people from all income levels are losing the knowledge of how to prepare healthy meals utilizing produce. Our program will help low-income participants gain the skills to incorporate healthy foods into their diets through our programs cooking class.

During the 2006 growing season Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCETC) initiated a pilot program in partnership with the Full Plate Farm Collective to offer subsidized CSA shares for low-income residents. Financial support was granted from the United Way of Tompkins County, the Ithaca Health Alliance, and Full Plate CSA member donations to subsidize shares. The pilot program provided 18 low-income families access to a variety of fresh local produce for 12 weeks through subsidized CSA shares that were received in conjunction with a free cooking and nutrition class taught by CCETC nutrition educators. Class participants learned how to prepare the vegetables included in their shares and received lessons on nutrition and food safety. Additionally, a childcare nutrition curriculum was developed and 20 children learned about food groups and prepared easy nutritious snacks every week.

With SARE funding, we have been able to expand this program, build upon its success, and create a model that can be replicated yearly. To extend the program benefits to more community residents, SARE funding has supported staff time for recruiting additional farmers, securing funding to offer additional subsidized shares, and to ensure program sustainability, building more intentional partnerships with community based organizations such as community centers, churches, and food pantries that work with underserved populations. CCETC staff acted as a program facilitator and supply overall logistical and program support to farmers and community organizations.


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Materials and methods:

Outreach Efforts for Recruiting Participants
One of our goals was to increase participant diversity (ethnicity/race/income/ability)and to reach people who had no means of accessing fresh locally grown produce. To achieve this goal, we connected with several community-based organizations and programs that work with underserved populations. In partnership with these organizations we conducted outreach at the following locations and programs: Ithaca Health Alliance, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, The Beverly J. Martin after school program, Urban 4-H at West Village and Parkside Gardens Housing Projects, and the First Baptized Church Food Pantry in 2007. In 2008, we added Catholic Charities, Southside Community Center, Loaves and Fishes Meals Program, Dept. of Social Services, Tompkins Community Action Head Start, Ithaca Youth Bureau, and Ithaca Housing Authority as partners for outreach to audiences who would qualify for this program. CCETC nutrition educators also conducted additional outreach at WIC clinics.

CCETC supplied collaborating organizations with flyers containing program and contact information for display and to distribute to clientele. For direct outreach, CCETC developed a poster featuring photos of produce that would be offered through the program, the farms from which the food comes, and of pictures of past participants in the cooking class. While conducting direct outreach CCETC also provided food samples featuring produce that would be available through the subsidized share and the corresponding recipes used in the cooking class, information about the CSA’s from which people could choose, and a harvest calendar so participants would know when to expect certain produce items in their CSA share box.

CSA Farms Involved
In 2006, CCETC worked with the Full Plate Farm Collective, a group of three organic farms, to initiate the low-income CSA share program. In 2007, the Full Plate Farm Collective continued to be involved and Early Morning Organic Farm also joined providing CSA membership shares for the program. CCETC met with the Full Plate Collective Farmers and the farmer from Early Morning Organic Farm in February of 2007 to create an equitable means of share allocation between farms.

As a group we decided that the number of subsidized shares for each farm would be based on the farm’s total CSA membership the previous growing season. This ensures the farms have the capacity to produce for the additional subsidized shares and creates an equitable share distribution system. The Full Plate Collective had a total of 250 members in 2006 and the Early Morning Organic Farm had 50 members. For the 2007 season, the Full Plate Farm Collective received 30 subsidized shares and the Early Morning Organic Farm received 6 subsidized shares due to their participation in this program.

At the end of the 2007 season, we met with the farmers to evaluate the program and made recommendations for 2008. One of the goals established by the farmers was to grow the program by involving more CSA farms to serve additional low income households. In January 2008, we hosted a meeting for all CSA farmers in the area to provide information on how the program operates. A key discussion was how to raise additional funds to support the subsidy for additional households. Farmers pledged to raise funds via membership renewals and through fundraising events. After developing a budget, it was estimated that a total of 60 households could be served in 2008. After additional planning meetings in February and March, a total of 4 CSA farms committed to participation in the program in 2008. The farms included the two original farms: Full Plate Collective and Early Morning Farm, and two new joining farms - Sweetland Farm and Three Sisters.

By involving more CSA farms in 2007 and 2008, program participants were able to have more choices for how and when they picked up their produce.
The Full Plate Farm Collective offered 4 pick up options – two on farm and two pre-boxed:
-Wednesday on farm pick-up at Stick and Stone Farm located about 4 miles from downtown from 2-7pm
-Saturday on farm pick-up at Three Swallows Farm located on a few miles past Ithaca College from 10am-3pm.
-During on farm pick ups, produce was displayed in a farmers market style set up. This allows CSA members greater choice in selecting produce that they prefer, for example, more beets than lettuce.
-Additionally, all Full Plate Collective members are provided with anytime access to the U-pick fields at the farms. This allows members to pick flowers, herbs, and stock up on other items like tomatoes, okra, beans etc. This is a wonderful option that allows people to freeze, dry, and can additional produce for the winter as well as experience harvesting food for themselves.
-Thursday Pre-Boxed Shares were delivered to either Ludgate Farm Store on Hanshaw Rd. or Cooperative Extension on Willow Ave from 2-6:30pm.

Pre boxed shares were packed by the CSA manager with a variety of the produce harvested that week. The pre-boxed delivery option does not offer the same opportunity to select more or less of certain produce items as with farm pick-up.

Early Morning Organic Farm offered three flexible Ithaca Farmers Market pick-up options:
-Tuesdays from 9am-2pm at the Ithaca Farmers Market at Dewitt Park (this is a very convenient location for downtown residents)
-Saturdays from 9am-3pm at the Ithaca Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing
-Sundays from 10am-3pm at the Ithaca Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing

Early Morning CSA members choose from the variety of produce available at the Early Morning Farm farmers’ market stand. They may also pick up on any or all pick up days from week to week. There is no U-pick option with Early Morning Farm because their farm is located 20 miles away in Genoa, NY.

Sweetland Farm offered two pick-up options:
-one on Fridays at their Farm in Trumansburg
-a second pick up in downtown Cortland on Tuesday
Sweetland Farm moved from Cortland to Trumansburg but wanted to keep their Cortland customers so they continued to offer that pick-up location.
By adding Sweetland Farm to the program we were able to offer shares to low income rural customers in NW Tompkins County and in Cortland where there is significantly higher poverty.

Three Sisters is a very small CSA and they were cautious in signing up for only a few subsidized shares. One significant advantage for program participants was that they offered a pick up at a City of Ithaca Youth Center (GIAC) that is heavily used by low income families.

Shares in 2008 were allocated as follows:
Full Plate Collective - 34 shares
Early Morning Farm - 15 shares
Sweetland Farm - 12 shares
Three Sisters Farm - 1 share

Funding for Subsidized Shares
The full cost of a farm CSA share for 12 weeks was $243 (full season shares cost $426 for 24 weeks). Our plan was to raise funds to pay half of the cost of the share and that the program participant would pay for the balance. The cost to the participant for a 12 week subsidized share was $121.50 in 2007, and $128 in 2008. This could be paid on a monthly basis using foods stamps or by cash/check paid directly to the farmer.
Funds raised in 2007, to subsidize half of the cost of a 12 week share came from the following sources:
United Way – $1,822.50 for 15 shares
Ithaca Health Alliance – $800 for 6.6 shares
Greenstar Cooperative Market - $607.50 for 5 shares
Cargill grant - $1,500 for 12.3 shares
Total grant funds: $4,730 for 38.9 shares (supported 36 participants with the balance being used for share season extensions - see information below)

In 2008, funding for shares came from:
United Way - $5,000 for 39 shares
Ithaca Health Alliance - $800 for 6.2 shares
Cargill Grant - $1,500 for 12 shares
Private Donations - $300
Total: $7,600 (funding for 59 shares)

Funds that were raised were paid directly to participating farmers so that they received the full value of the share; half paid by the participant, and half paid by the share subsidy provided by the above funders.

Accepting Food Stamps
CCETC worked with the Ithaca Farmers Market manager and participating CSA farmers to make it possible for food stamps to be accepted as payment for the participants portion of their CSA subsidized share. The Full Plate Collective farmers, Early Morning Organic Farm, and Sweetland Farm are all members of the Ithaca Farmers Market. The Ithaca Farmers Market is equipped with the EBT machine that processes food stamp payments. “Healthy Food For All” participants eligible and choosing to pay with food stamps went to the Farmers Market once a month on a Saturday or Sunday and paid the Farmers Market Manager using their EBT card.

Raising additional funds - extending the season
Farmers and the CCETC staff set a goal of raising enough funds to allow all “Healthy Food For All” CSA members to have the option of extending their shares for the full regular CSA member season – an additional 5-6 weeks. The “Healthy Food for All” program subsidized CSA membership for 12 weeks. In 2007 farmers solicited donations from past and new CSA members on their membership sign up forms, on their websites, and at the Ithaca Farmers Market. In addition, a large music benefit was held on a farm in Newfield (Farmageddon) to raise funds for the share subsidy, as well as a Farmer' Ball that also featured local musicians. For 2008, farmers have planned "Dinners at the Farm" (chef catered with local foods and wine held in the field) for Fall 2008.

Nutrition and Cooking Classes
CCETC offered free 6-week cooking and nutrition classes to all “Healthy Food For All” program participants. The classes focused on vegetable identification, preparation and preservation of produce for meals, and nutrition education.
In 2007, CCE offered two cooking classes. Each class met every other week. In 2008 we held only one class per week but moved to a larger facility.

CCETC Nutrition Program Educator (NPE), Karen Robinson, and Operation Frontline Coordinator, Julia Hastings-Black, organized the classes. Ralph Payne, a long term local Culinary Expert, volunteered to assist with the program. We had a number of other volunteers emerge to help with the program. Roxanna Johnston, who has a great background in growing and preserving foods and Josh Carlsen, who is particularly interested in teaching cooking to youth and families, volunteered to help with the cooking classes. Lucy Garrison-Clauson of Stick and Stone Farm/Full Plate Collective attended most classes adding value to the program, as she was able to talk about the varieties of produce in the CSA share telling participants how they grow and how she uses the product.

Two CCETC Student Interns coordinated and provided childcare for this program. Each week the interns involved the children in preparing a healthy snack and in drawing or reading activities involving healthy food concepts. Older children joined their parents in the cooking and nutrition class. At the end of each cooking classes, the children joined their parents in sampling the foods that were prepared in the class.

Nutrition and/or food safety lessons were delivered during each class session. Lessons included: food safety in washing produce, refrigeration, and FightBac concepts; the new Food Pyramid and My Pyramid that emphasizes eating a variety of colors; exercise and water consumption; portion sizes, proportions of different food groups, protein and non-meat sources of protein, whole grains; and reading nutrition labels.

All class participants shared a meal together at the end of each class. During mealtime, Lucy from Stick and Stone Farm described the contents of the week’s box share.

Evaluation activities
Program application forms provided some demographic information about the population being served. All cooking class participants filled out an extensive survey about eating habits before and as a result of the class. In 2008, we collaborated with a Cornell research project to conduct a pre- and post- survey of CSA members and in particular the low income participants. This data will be analyzed at the end of 2008 and should provide more concrete information about the dietary impact of a summer CSA program.

Research results and discussion:

People served
After a successful pilot year in 2006 and with additional funding, the “Healthy Food For All” program from 18 to 36 households serving a total of 107 individuals including 56 children in 2007 and from 36 to 62 households serving a total of 187 individuals and of that number 94 were children.

Sixteen of the 36 program participants in 2007 used food stamps to pay for their produce. In 2008 17 participants paid with food stamps. These participants said the ability to use food stamps for payment was what allowed them to join the program.

Diversity achieved through outreach efforts
Through outreach efforts to organizations serving low income audiences and minorities, we were able to attract a diverse set of people in our community to join this program. In 2007, 15 of our 36 households representing people of color, recent immigrant families, and differently-abled populations.
In 2008, of the 62 households, 22 or 35% of the shares went to non-white households. The ethnic/racial breakdown among low-income shareholders included: 11 African American; 5 Asian (3 Burmese, 2 Chinsese, 1 Japanese); 3 Hispanic/Latino; 2 Middle-eastern. Additionally few shareholders served were differently-abled.

Diversifying overall CSA membership also helped create a bridge between people from disparate socio-economic backgrounds. In our final evaluation survey one program participant said, “Before this [program] I thought people who got food from CSA’s would have more disposable income than me and I’d feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t.” Another participant had similar feelings, “It [the program] was more than I ever expected. I was amazed by the respectful way family and myself were treated by the CCETC staff and the farmers. They were nothing but sincere and wonderful. And I never expected to have salad every week.”

Through the outreach process, we were able to establish relationships with 16 community-based organizations and programs. Establishing these relationships strengthens our capacity to work together to address food security and extends services that benefit low-income audiences throughout the community. Additionally, by working through community organizations, we are able to achieve a higher level of program sustainability through funding and outreach these groups provided.

Cooking and Nutrition Classes
Fourteen “Healthy Food for All” program participants were active in the cooking and nutrition class in 2007. The number of persons in represented at classes was 32, 14 of these being children. Seven cooking class participants were receiving food stamps and two were receiving WIC. Three cooking class participants were breastfeeding. In 2008, a total of 17 program participants joined the cooking classes.

During each class, participants washed produce and shared the responsibilities of preparing recipes for the class meal that varied from week to week depending on the produce delivered in the CSA shares. Participants learned to prepare everything from sautéed kale with apples and onions, to brown rice pilaf, to the very popular (especially with the kids) carrot beet pancakes.

Dietary impacts
As a result of the classes, the percent of participants eating two or more servings of fruit per day increased from 60 to 70% between start and end of the classes (based on 2007 data--2008 classes and evaluations are not completed). The percent of participants eating three or more servings of vegetables per day increased from 70 to 80% between start and end. Seventy percent of participants showed improvement in one or more food resource management practices (i.e. plans meals, compares prices, does not run out of food, or uses grocery lists). Surveys responses indicated that many participants felt a real difference in their health and eating habits due to the program.

Impact on food purchasing
CCETC sent out surveys and made phone calls to participants following program completion to gauge their satisfaction with the program. Nineteen out of 20 respondents said they would join a CSA again next year and, if their resources increased, they would purchase a full price share.

Additionally, participating farmers raised enough money to allow program participants to have the option of receiving produce for an additional 2 months beyond established 12 week program funding capacity. Two-thirds of the participants eligible to extend their shares chose to do so.

Farm Income
Farmers were paid the full value of the CSA share paid by program participants and matched with funds that were raised. In 2007, the two CSA farms earned a total of $8,832 in additional income; for 2008, the figure will be close to $14,000 for 4 CSA farms. The money paid each farm was based on the number of low-income CSA members joining their CSA.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

A final report was prepared in 2007. This has been circulated to our funders and to program collaborators. Similarly, at the end of the 2008 season, we will prepare a final report to share with funders and collaborators.

During 2008, we have been engaged with a Cornell research project called "Eat Your Vegetables" conducted by Jennifer Wilkins and Anu Ranjarajan.
A survey was developed and adminstered to a randomly selected group of Full Plate CSA members, and a more intensive survey was adminstered to the Low Income CSA program participants at our first cooking class. A post-class survey will be adminstered in fall 2008. The goal of the survey is to measure dietary changes resulting from CSA membership. The final report from this study will be completed in early Winter 2008. This report will not only inform us about the impact of our program but will more broadly demonstrate how CSA membership influences dietary change.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Major Accomplishments include:

-Raising funds from community organizations and through fundraising efforts to be able to offer low income CSA Shares at a reduced price. A total of $4,730 was raised in 2007 and in 2008 $7,600. One of those funders, United Way more than doubled their funding for the program from 07 to 08.

-Making fresh local produce avaiable to a community of residents who otherwise would not be able to afford the full share cost.

-Making it possible for low income residents who were eligible to use their Food Stamps to pay for the CSA shares.

-Serving 36 households in 2007 providing fresh local produce to a total of 107 individuals (51 adults, 56 children) in those households.

-Increasing the numbers of households served by the program in 2008 to 62 households (93 adults/93 children).

-Serving under-represented members of the community who had never heard of the CSA concept or experienced farm fresh produce before.

-Motivating program participants to join a CSA in the future, if resources permitted. Two thirds of the participants chose to extend their share in 2007 for 5 additional weeks beyond the 12 week program.

-Through weekly cooking and nutrition classes, helping people make effective use the produce in their CSA share, thereby making the experience more successful for those who had never cooked with so much produce each week. 14 participants joined the classes in 2007, and 17 in 2008.

-Through targeted outreach, ensuring that a diversity of the community was reached by this program including 17 minority and ethnic races in 2007 and 22 in 2008.

-A total of 16 participants were able to pay for their share with food stamps in 2007, and 17 did so in 2008.

-Reaching out to community organizations to assist with participant recruitment and funding. This has helped to make the program more sustainable reducing staff workload and transferring responsibility to other partners. We worked with a total of 14 community organizations on outreach.

-Enabling participating farmers to serve a new audience thereby meeting their own goals of social equity, and providing them with the full cost of the share rather than requiring that they provide the subsidy directly through lower price shares.
In 2007, this program provided $8,832 in additional income to farmers. For 2008, the additional income thus far (for 12 weeks) will be $11,902. With additional funding to extend shares beyond 12, we anticipate income for farms will increase to about $14,000. This is shared among the farms according to the number of program participants joining their CSA.

-Building an empowerment model for improving diet and health and food security based on having the participants share in the cost of the food they purchase through a subsidized share arrangement, having them make a concious choice to include more produce in their diet and eat healthier foods and empowering them through a unique opportunity to build a relationship with where their food comes from and the farmer that produce it.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Because this program is based on empowerment, we have received alot of interest from other community organizers interested in improving diet and health of low income residents by improving access to fresh produce from local farms. This is one of only two subsidized CSA share programs in NYS. While some CSA farms offer shares on a sliding scale, this approach generally reaches only those people who are already familiar with CSA farm shares. This program intentionally reaches individuals who have little experience with buying local produce and have never been a member of a CSA farm and most often have never heard of the concept. Additionally, the farmers have been very engaged in developing this program and in helping to secure share funds through their own fundraising efforts.
We are happy to share the experiences with this model program with other community organizers.

Future Recommendations

A key challenge for a program like this is sustainability. The groundwork for making it sustainable has being laid. While CCETC staff provide lead coordination, we are increasingly dispersing the workload among agencies serving low income clientele, building in client responsibility, and transferring the fundraising burden onto farmers. A coordinator is needed to act in a "clearning house" role but the responsibilities can be shared among all beneficiaries. The program has been very staff intensive during the outreach process but we are turning the burden of client recruitment to agencies who serve the target audience by providing them with a solid orientation to how the program works along with promotion materials and applications, then they can do the outreach for us.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.