Reaping the Rewards of Our SARE investment: The Multi-State Farmer Linkage Program

Final Report for ENC04-076

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $24,753.75
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $11,050.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Elaine Cranford
Nebraska Cooperative Development Center
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Project Information

Abstract:

Reaping the Rewards of Our SARE Investment: The Multi-State Farmer Linkage Program addressed the professional development needs of educators in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development. Key agriculture professionals (educators) were targeted from Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota, and the Dakotas to receive training direct from farmers and ranchers. Farmers/ranchers who had received SARE producer grants from 1992-2003 shared with the selected educators their personal experiences, goals, and identified priority needs for research and education. This unique opportunity for educators to learn first hand from those who are farming and ranching created an environment where new research and education ideas could develop.

Project Objectives:

Short Term

•Educators will become aware of the farmers/ranchers in their states who have received SARE Producer Grants and how these grants have impacted their farm or ranch.
•Seventy-five educators including five state SARE coordinators will have direct feedback from fifty farmers and ranchers.
•Educators will have a better understanding of the resources that are available for future PDP training.
•Farmers/ranchers themselves will make contacts with other farmers/ranchers and educators for future support.
•Educators will become more knowledgeable about what others have been doing, and will be eager to provide future assistance.
•These networks will carry on into the development of new and revised assistance programs.

Intermediate

•Network building will motivate educators to modify their current assistance methods to better fit the farmers/ranchers.
•State SARE Coordinators along with Administrative Council members will have specific information from networking and breakout sessions which will help them identify and support priority needs in their state and region.
•Greater awareness of farmers/ranchers SARE grant experience, may suggest promotional concepts that have been overlooked.
•Four local farmer support discussion groups which will serve as an ongoing pool of direct feedback from farmers/ranchers to educators.
•North Central SARE and other educators will respond to the needs of farmers/ranchers by considering ten research and education priorities from five different subject areas. These priorities will then be taken back to the SARE Administrative Council members in each state, where they will be narrowed down to two priorities.
•North Central SARE will then develop and implement these two priorities.
•Four State Coordinators will tailor the current programs in their state in response to what they learn from farmers/ranchers.

Long Term

•North Central SARE will designate two priorities for the Research and Education call for proposal ideas as they are identified by discussions in the various breakout sessions.
•Farmers/ranchers will take a more active role in local and regional sustainable agriculture programs and organizations which will continue to support the educators in their areas.
•Future Professional Development Programs sponsored by four State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinators will have three farmers or ranchers who will provide training.

Introduction:

Why Reaping Our Rewards? From 1992 to 2005, 586 research and development grants were awarded to farmers and ranchers in the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program’s North Central Region (NCR SARE). Two hundred were granted in the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, alone. Farm/ranch research ideas for crop and animal production, processing, and marketing were innovations in their communities and regions. They were also relevant to farmers’ and ranchers’ day-to-day lives, questions to which they needed answers, in part because the information was not accessible through traditional agricultural education means.

These farmer/rancher researchers learned a great deal from their projects, engaged in local outreach, and filed their reports with the regional office. But, the information didn’t seem to effectively percolate up to SARE decisionmakers, State SARE Coordinators, Land Grant University Extension Agents, NGO staff and others, where it could guide future work and funding priorities.

Not just another conference. In March 2005, a group of Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota NCR SARE State Coordinators, educators, NCR SARE board members, and others created a conference in Sioux City, Iowa to gain knowledge from regional farmers and ranchers who had received SARE research funding. Reaping the Rewards of Our SARE Investment: The Multi-State Farmer Linkage Program was a NCR SARE Professional Development Program-funded, one and a half-day conference structured so that farmers and ranchers would identify:

•specific emerging needs for research and
education in the North Central region,

•holes in research related to their interests,

•priorities for research and education planning,

•how best to deliver this information to farmers, and

•ways agricultural educators and farmers/ranchers can work more closely in the region and individual states on sustainable agriculture efforts.

Techniques that allow for more listening. In many meetings, even those held to gain community input, academics overpower members of the community, diminishing their voices. The “fishbowl” creates space for the on-the-ground experts: community members, to inform research and practice. In Reaping Our Rewards, masters-level social workers, acting as third-party facilitators, used fishbowl techniques to create common ground between educators and farmers/ranchers. The result? Answers to all the above, plus

•enhanced networking between farmers/ranchers, educators, and researchers,

•state SARE plans of work utilizing identified research and education priorities, and

•suggestions for improvement of the NCR SARE farmer grant program.

After Reaping Our Rewards was over, we started getting calls and e-mails from people who wanted to replicate this process in their own communities. Organizers had committed to writing a standard report for the conference, but re-thought that idea and decided to turn the report into a tool for future work – in essence, Reaping Our Rewards squared. So, this manual/report is organized such that each chapter provides techniques and guidance on how to create a productive listening experience, weaving together how-to’s with on-the-ground experience, data, and outcomes from the Reaping Our Rewards Conference.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

From the get-go, the tone of Reaping Our Rewards was on valuing and honoring farmer and rancher experiences: From the brochure: “Since 1992 nearly 200 SARE Producer grants have been awarded to farmers and ranchers in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. This represents a wealth of knowledge and expertise that can benefit all those involved in agriculture.”

Cost & Recruiting: The meeting was designed to be cost-free for farmers and ranchers. Travel, lodging, and childcare expenses were covered by NCR-SARE Professional Development Program funds. Should the response be more than was expected, some state SARE Coordinators offered funding from their budgets to cover the rest. State SARE Coordinators were key recruiters for this conference, sending out e-mail and letters.

The setting was the beautiful Briar Cliff University Assisi Center which featured multiple comfortable breakout rooms. Conference food was locally grown or brought in by participating farmers, and then prepared by the Briar Cliff chef. Restrooms were plentiful, notepaper, newsprint, markers, pens and pencils were all provided.

Reaping Our Rewards’ agenda was structured to move right into establishing connections between participants. After a very brief welcome by Bill Wilcke, the Regional Coordinator for NCR-SARE, participants went immediately to break-out sessions based on interest group. In these groups, independent facilitators led them through an introductory exercise and explained the process for the rest of the conference.

For the Reaping Our Rewards conference, agricultural educators and researchers were in the listener-observer group, while the farmers and ranchers were in the inner circle, engaged in a discussion facilitated by an independent party. In this version, there was one empty chair that could be used by observers to enter the circle, ask a question, and then leave again, once the question was answered. Facilitators managed the process, guiding the conversation so that all the farmers and ranchers could participate. They also preserved the boundary between the farmer-rancher speakers and the researcher-educator listeners. That proved to be tricky at times because researchers and educators are not used to being in a listening role, and wanted to add their comments and questions as time went on.

To achieve the goals of Reaping Our Rewards, farmers and ranchers needed to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and experience while researchers and educators listened. The fishbowl was chosen as the best way to do that within limited time and space resources. Using the fishbowl for four tracks (crops, animal production, horticulture and marketing) required four facilitators who were familiar with the technology, but not necessarily with the topic to be discussed. The lead facilitator created a guide to the process, and a script used with each group. Each facilitator introduced the fishbowl idea the first night of the conference, and then revisited it during the first session on Day Two:
Workshop 2: 9:00 – 10:15 am, Saturday, March 5 – Fishbowl: farmers talk only, with educators and researchers observing.

9:00 – 9:10 Facilitator Welcome and Rule Overview
(Chairs are already set up in a fishbowl arrangement.) Facilitator greets participants and guides farmers and ranchers to the inner circle, and researchers and educators to the outer circle. This is easier if everyone comes into the room on time, so it can be clearly explained once. After that, the facilitator has to gracefully invite latecomers to sit in the correct places.

The purpose of this meeting is to learn what motivated the farmers in to apply for SARE research funding and carry out their projects, how they found the process, and what they think is necessary to move sustainable agriculture along.

Outreach and Publications

These References were used in the creation of: Fish Bowls in the Field, a publication which resulted from this grant.

Rankin, P.T. (1928). The importance of listening ability. English Journal (College Edition), 17, 623-30.

Gilbert, M.B. (1988) Listening in school: I know you can hear me – but are you listening? Journal of the International Listening Association, 2, 121-132.

Polson, J.G. (1999). Using video of a master farmer to teach others. Journal of Extension. 37 (2).

Matalene, H.L. (1984). The interactionism of the ancient regime: Or, why does anybody ever bother to listen to anybody else? College English, 46(1), 23-31.

Peters, T.J. & Waterman, R. H., Jr. (1982). In search of excellence: Lessons from America’s best-run companies. New York: Harper & Row.

Saleeby, D. (1994). Culture, theory, and narrative: The intersection of meanings in practice. Social Work, 39(4), 351-359.

Spradley, J.P., & McCurdy, D.W. (1972). The cultural experience: Ethnography in complex society. Chicago: Science Research.

Purdy, M. (1991) Listening and community: The role of listening in community formation. International Journal of Listening, 5, 51-67.

Sutter, R.E. (1986). The next place you come to: A historical introduction to communities in North America. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Sen, R. (2003). Stir it up: Lessons in community organizing and advocacy. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Stewart, J. (1986) Introduction to the editor and the assumptions behind this book. In J. Stewart (Ed.) Bridges not walls: A book about interpersonal communication. (4th ed., pp.3-11). New York: Random House.

Grouplead. European Center for Modern Languages. http://www.ecml.at/mtp2/GroupLead/pdf/C8Working.pdf. Downloaded October 26, 2006.

Building Dynamic Groups: Fishbowl. Ohio State Extension, http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~bdg/pdf_docs/d/F03.pdf; downloaded October 26, 2006.

Farkai, John. Meeting Facilitation. University of Hawaii at Manoa. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~barkai/HO/FAC-HO.doc. Downloaded October 26, 2006. Ibid.

Krueger, R. A. (1994). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research, (2nd ed.). Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Simply Best! Customers in focus: A guide to conducting and planning focus groups. http://www.workforce-excellence.net/pdf/focus.pdf; downloaded November 20, 2006. Ibid.

Kiernan, Nancy Ellen (2001). Process Evaluation: Tipsheet #3, University Park, PA: Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Basic Guide to Outcomes-Based Evaluation for Nonprofit Organizations with Very Limited Resources http://www.managementhelp.org/evaluatn/outcomes.htm

Banach, M., Zunz, S., and LaPointe, N. (2006). Community collaboration: Effective partnerships with steering committees. Journal of Extension, 44 (1).

Conone, R. (1991). People listening to people . . . or are we really? Journal of Extension, 29 (3).
Morse, R. Brown, P. & Warning, J. (2006). Catalytic leadership: Reconsidering the nature of Extension’s leadership role. Journal of Extension, 44 (2).

Outcomes and impacts:

Short Term

•Educators became aware of the farmers/ranchers in their states who have received SARE Producer Grants and how these grants have impacted their farm or ranch. They also became aware of farmers and ranchers in their state and region who are incorporating sustainable agriculture practices on their farm/ranch.
•Thirty-one educators including four state SARE coordinators received direct feedback from thirty-one farmers and ranchers.
•Educators have a better understanding of what resources are available for future PDP training.
•Farmers/ranchers themselves made contacts with other farmers/ranchers and educators for future support.
•Educators became more knowledgeable about what others have been doing, and are eager to provide future assistance.
•These networks have carried on into the development of new and revised assistance programs by some SARE State Coordinators.

Intermediate

•Network building has motivate educators to modify some of their current assistance methods to better fit the farmers/ranchers they learned from.
•State SARE Coordinators along with Administrative Council members have specific information from networking and breakout sessions which has helped them identify and support priority needs in their state and region.
•Four local farmer support discussion groups which will serve as an ongoing pool of direct feedback from farmers/ranchers to educators.
•North Central SARE and other educators have responded to the needs of farmers/ranchers by considering the research and education priorities from different subject areas. These priorities have been shared to the SARE Administrative Council members in some states, and were narrowed down.
•Four State Coordinators have tailored their current programs in response to what they learn from farmers/ranchers.

Long Term

•North Central SARE could designate two priorities for the Research and Education call for proposal ideas as they are identified by discussions in the various breakout sessions.
•Farmers/ranchers have taken a more active role in local and regional sustainable agriculture programs and organizations which will continue to support the educators in their areas.
•Future Professional Development Programs sponsored by four State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinators have had farmers or ranchers provide training.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

As a result of this program we have created a publication: Fishbowls in the Field: Using Listening to Join Farmers, Ranchers, and Educators in Advancing Sustainable Agriculutre. Paper copies of this publication can be mailed at cost from the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, and downloaded for free at http://ncdc.unl.edu

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

There is great potential for this program to be replicated in other states. We have been contacted by a SARE State Coordinator who is planning on conducting this program in the near future. In addition, we have been requested to provide training on this faciliation process at various trainings/retreats.

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.