Expanding and strengthening a network of farmers to support a local foodshed

Final Report for CNE08-047

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $5,660.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Laura Hunsberger
University of Maryland Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

In order to increase the number of farmers and acreage on the Delmarva Peninsula dedicated to sustainable agriculture, several workshops were held to educate the targeted audience. The workshops covered topics such as: (1) Equipment for Small Acreage Farmers; (2) The Basics of Drop Irrigation; (3) What to Plant When?; (4) Devising Your Farm Plan and Crop Budgeting; (5) Cover Crops and Composting; (6) Pastured Animal Conference; and (7) Skills Scale and Sustainability. A total of 71 existing and potential organic farmers attended these trainings. Resources given to participants include “The Rodale Book of Composting,’ ‘On Farm-Composting,’ ‘Managing Cover Crops Profitably,’ Grass-Fed Cattle,’ ‘Backyard Poultry Naturally’ and Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market.’ This increase in potential organic farmers results in an approximate doubling of farmers providing sustainably produced produce to the Delmarva Peninsula.

Project Objectives:

In order to increase the number of farmers and acreage on the Delmarva Peninsula dedicated to sustainable agriculture, several workshops were held to educate the targeted audience.

In April a day and a half workshop was held on a working organic farm. Shane LaBrake, an Independent Consultant formerly of the Accokeek Foundation and Ecosystem Farm, taught the day-long Equipment Workshop. He discussed different hand tools, as well as motorized machinery, attachments and specific alterations. The second day Jay Martin, Organic Farmer and Owner of Provident Organic Farm and CSA, covered drip irrigation and farm planning. He shared his decision-making tools of how to determine if a crop was profitable as well as crop scheduling. 17 new and existing farmers attended both days of the workshop and were given a binder ‘Organic 101’ covering the basics of transitioning to organic production. This binder was previously created for the Future Harvest-CASA Annual Conference in 2008.

In August 2008, a Twilight Tour was held at the Lower Eastern Shore Research and Education Center (LESREC) in Salisbury, MD. Matt Ryan representing both the Rodale Institute and Penn State University spoke on using cover crops to manage weed populations on organic farms. He discussed difference cover crop rotations as well as using a cover crop roller. Dr. Kate Everts, Vegetable Plant Pathologist for the University of Maryland spoke on using cover crops to suppress diseases. The second portion of the evening covered making and using compost/crop amendments. The ‘how-to’s’ of the compost-making process, and commonly made mistakes were covered.

Thirty existing and potential organic farmers attended the meeting. They were given a survey on their interests and needs concerning future trainings and workshops. They were also given two resources: Managing Cover Crops Profitably and one of two composting books: The Rodale Book of Composting or On-Farm Composting (NRAES).

A day-long Pastured Animal Production Conference was held at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in the Spring of 2009. Support was offered by LESSON to provide attendees with books. The day was divided into two tracks: 2-legged creatures and 4-legged creatures. Pasture, supplemental nutrition and breed selection were discussed.

In March 2009 a workshop on how to start Organic Transplants was held at Provident Organic Farm in Bivalve, MD attended by 12 farmers and gardeners.
Topics included:
Heated vs non-heated greenhouses
Soil mixes and fertility requirements
Transplant scheduling
Sowing and growing
Pest Management

In November 2009, a 2-day workshop entitled ‘Skills, Scale and Sustainability’ was offered to small acreage farmers/landowners blending philosophy and pragmatic advice with hands-on training and real-life problem solving, for greater success in their small-scale agricultural endeavors. Based on lessons learned from a lifetime of work and travel in food and farming, Shane LaBrake provided unique insights from his practical experience of reconciling idealism with the nitty-gritty, day-to-day reality of maintaining a viable and sustainable farming life.

On-site and hands-on demonstrations with scale-appropriate tools, equipment, and gear allowed workshop attendees to make better decisions for their own operations. Classroom lectures and discussions explored the rhythm and evolution of a season, and offered tips and ideas for better management of time and resources.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Patti Erickson
  • Jay Martin

Research

Materials and methods:

Programs were designed to give potential and new farmers a broad background of usable skills. Topics such as hands-on equipment training, planning for the seasons, drip irrigation and budgeting, gave both practical and applicable training opportunities. This resulted in the participants being able to choose the topics and learning methods that best suited them.

Research results and discussion:

Through these programs, the ‘Network of Farmers’ that can potentially supply local produce and meat to the the Delmarva Peninsula has expanded. Additionally, and more surprisingly, a new group of ‘’newby’ famers have emerged, eager to learn about sustainable farming techniques.

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Educational content was provided to beginning farmers to: (1) expose them to new farming techniques; and (2) to encourage a cropping strategy shift. Content directed towards landowners, some of whom are considering future agricultural careers, was provided regarding: (1) basic farming techniques, equipment and seasonal planning; and (2) operational scale management. Several new farmers were also encouraged by the education on hand tools. It allowed them to either reduce the number of tools they thought they would need, or to purchase one specific tool that would reduce their (physical) inputs.

All participants benefitted from the resources provided to help assess their skills and potential. Many existing (beginning) farmers needed assistance expanding their operations to include growing their own transplants. This was such a popular topic that this training will be repeated Spring 2010.

The number of potential farmers has increased dramatically as a result of these trainings. The interactions between farmers/potential farmers may allow for an easier segue into a new career. It appears that the participant interaction from these trainings could result in mentor/mentee relationships.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

In the larger scale of the Delmarva Peninsula, where the small, diversified vegetable farm is dwarfed by the larger, conventional grain farming operation, the resulting growth of this demographic is significant. The increase in potential farmers growing either produce or raising animals to provide the region with locally raised food has almost doubled. The number of existing small scale farmers who have changed cropping technique or altered an approach to farm management or soil building has increased by approximately 30%.

This increase is a springboard for additional funding to be secured by LESSON, to further train and expand the number of farmers providing a ‘complete meal’ to the Delmarva Foodshed. The number of collaborators LESSON has become involved with as a result of both increased farmer involvement and peripheral institutional interaction has increased significantly. Currently there is action underway to double the amount of farmer training for 2010 to include land leasing options for new farmers, facilities for value-added product development and for organic grain processing.

Future Recommendations

The above mentioned projects being explored and initiated by LESSON will help broaden the scope of sustainable agriculture on Delmarva. Additional funding secured by private, educational and non-profit organizations will allow for more farmers to be: (1) educated (formally or informally); (2) sent to trainings, meetings, and conferences and (3) given the opportunity to interact with farmers in regions who have successfully expanded their sustainable farming acreage.

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.