Making the Connection: Enhancing Agricultural Understanding in an Urbanizing Area

Final Report for CS02-003

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2002: $7,300.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Suzanne Heflin
Prince William County Farm Tour
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Project Information

Abstract:

Producing and distributing a 4th grade activity book in conjunction with the Prince William County Farm Tour proved to positively impact the educational efforts of the farm tour, but had little impact on event attendance. Refinements in book distribution and production of teacher materials will elevate awareness and utilization of the activity book in the future.

Introduction

Prince William County, Virginia is a rapidly growing county in Northern Virginia. Despite the development pressure, the County maintains a vital and vibrant rural farming economy. The western part of the county boasts several successful dairy farms, expansive sod, hay and grain acreage, innovative direct marketers of vegetables, bustling horse barns and a myriad of beef cattle operations. Unique alternative agricultural enterprises such as alpacas, emus, petting zoos and agri-tourism flourish.

The continued viability of farming and agriculture is threatened by the rapid loss of farmland, increased farm/non-farm conflict in rural areas and negative impacts of un-farm-friendly county policies. Recognizing these challenges and the opportunity for a community building effort a group of farmers and citizens initiated a public tour of farms in Prince William County.

The first annual Western Prince William County Farm Tour was held September 22 and 23, 2001 with the following goals: 1) Celebrate and recognize agriculture’s contributions to the County’s economy, environment and quality of life, 2) Heighten awareness of traditional and alternative agricultural resources in the County and 3) Allow citizens to spend a day in the country and experience agribusiness in a hands-on environment.

The tour was a tremendous success with approximately 3000 children and adults attending. Participant feedback was extremely positive, especially regarding one-on-one conversations with the farmers themselves. Farm tour organizers continue to seek enhancements to reach the established goals of this successful agricultural outreach campaign in Prince William County.

Project Objectives:

Goals for the 2002 farm tour were to

1) double participation in the farm tour emphasizing involvement of greater ethnic and social diversity and,

2) further develop educational efforts of the farm tour.

Farm tour organizers planned to support these goals with the following objectives:

1) Promote participation in the farm tour through the County’s public and private schools. Work with Prince William County Schools Multicultural Education Specialists to embrace and serve the wider spectrum of the County’s citizens.

2) Produce an activity book that will reinforce the farm tour themes and messages independent of participation in the farm tour.

3) Evaluate the effectiveness of the farm tour and the activity book at meeting the goals and purposes of the farm tour.

Research

Materials and methods:

The Prince William County Farm Tour Activity Book was distributed to fourth grade students in 45 public and 4 private elementary schools and to children of all ages on the farm tour. The book highlighted each farm with information on basic farm production principles, conservation practices, the diversity and abundance of local farm products and the importance of agriculture to the County’s economy and way of life. Age appropriate writing activities, word puzzles and mazes were incorporated to provide for active learning correlated to statewide Standards of Learning. Book specifications are: Approximately 6300 copies distributed in September 2002, 16-page coloring/activity book, 11 X 17 paper folded to 11 X 8.5, stapled seam, one color print, yellow 67 # stock cover, 60 # interior pages (see Activity Book attached.)

A farmer participating in the farm tour coordinated book production and distribution, wrote text and created the activities. A local artist contracted to provide line drawings from each farm tour stop, coordinated with the message for that page. The book was evaluated with additional contracted services of an information specialist and surveyors. Local Soil and Water Conservation District staff proofed the book and provided a page on farm practices used to protect water quality.

The activity books were distributed the first week of September using the public school distribution system to 4th grade science coordinators in each elementary school. The science coordinators were responsible for forwarding books to the individual classrooms. Private school administrators were contacted and mailed copies as requested.

Activity books were available on the farm tour while supplies lasted.

Research results and discussion:

The activity book has demonstrated an ability to solidify the education efforts of the farm tour. Farm tour themes and messages are articulated and explored with the potential to reach all age ranges countywide.

Although the activity book may never have a tremendous impact on event attendance, the book certainly provides the needed outreach component to enhance educational efforts regardless of attendance on the farm tour.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Publications:
Prince William County Farm Tour Activity Book,
Survey Results Report

The following project outreach was conducted:

The activity book is available online for download along with project overview information (http://www.pwcfarmtour.com/activity.html). The site was featured in VaAgInfo, an email newsletter highlighting media coverage and online resources for Virginia agriculture (September 2002 circulation: 600+ Virginia agriculture leaders.)

A grant project overview article was sent to local media; Bull Run Observer, Old Bridge Observer, Manassas Journal Messenger, Potomac News, Prince William Times and Brentsville Journal. The article was also carried in the Farm Chronicle, a multi-state farm publication.

One copy of the book, article and evaluation materials were mailed to all coordinators of farm tours in Virginia (Fauquier, Loudoun, Albemarle, Bedford, Culpeper, King William, King and Queen and Essex counties.) Virginia Tech’s Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics and Virginia Farm Bureau’s Agriculture In the Classroom were also sent the outreach packet as they administer agriculture education projects for 4th graders.

Project Coordinator interviewed for an article in the SARE newsletter, Common Ground, regarding agricultural economic development and education efforts in urbanizing areas.

USDA-SARE listed as farm tour sponsor on the farm tour website, fliers, posters, event signs and advertisements.

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.