Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems in the Heartland

Final Report for ENC06-089

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $75,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Gerad Middendorf
Kansas State University
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Project Information


This project has targeted professional educators and technical service providers in Iowa and Kansas within Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies. Multicultural training sessions and experiential learning have provided participants with an increased awareness of the Latino culture and community, particularly in relation to local food systems. Immersion experiences for participants included regional site visits to meet local people from the immigrant, business and agricultural communities. These activities provided participants an opportunity to improve their skills in engaging Latino audiences, identifying local markets and developing strategies for sustained support programs for Latino farm families.

Project Objectives:

The expected outcomes for this project have been framed as short-, intermediate- and long-term, and are listed here:

1. Short-Term Outcomes. Professionals will gain the following awareness, knowledge, attitudes and skills:

  • Increased awareness of Latinos as valued community members and current/future farmers,

    Improved skills in engaging Latino audiences
    Awareness of economic opportunities in local food systems,

    Improved understanding and skills in assessing, analyzing and gaining resources for local food production systems,

    Improved understanding and skills in marketing and business development strategies, including value added, appropriate to local food systems,

    Ability to integrate knowledge and skills described above to develop a strategy for sustained support programs.

2. Intermediate-Term Outcomes. As a result of new awareness, knowledge, attitudes and skills, professionals will develop the following new behaviors, practices and policies, in collaboration with Latino farm families and local leaders:

  • Identify and respond to the goals of local Latino farm families,

    Develop and implement a farmer mentoring system,

    Develop and implement production practices that contribute to local food systems,

    Identify and connect to local markets,

    Develop strategies for maintaining engagement, education and technical services in support of Latino farm families,

    Develop and maintain new, multi-stakeholder partnerships engaged in local food system development.

3. Long-Term Outcomes (systemic changes, not within the time-frame of this project). Changes in educator behavior, practices and policies will, in the long term, lead to the following systemic changes (in the next 3-5 years but not in the time-frame of this project):

  • Successful Latino farmers engaged in local food systems,

    Sustained institutional engagement in education and technical services in support of Latino farm families.


Latinos are now the largest and fastest growing minority group in the US. Moreover, Latino farmers are the fastest growing group of minority farmers in the country. According to the Census of Agriculture, the number of Latino farmers in the US grew from 33,450 in 1997 to 50,592 in 2002, an increase of more than 50% (NASS 2006). In Iowa and Kansas respectively, there are 500 and 560 farms with operators of Latino origin (Note: The full Census heading is “Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino Origin Operators.”). Taking these two states together, they experienced a 57% increase in Latino farmers between the 1997 and 2002 Census, slightly faster growth than the national average.

In addition to these established farmers, which may represent second and third generation, there are many recent immigrants in Iowa and Kansas who have farm experience from Mexico or other Latin American countries. Some of these more recent arrivals may be engaged in agriculture, though they infrequently seek assistance from Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), or other professionals and technical service providers. Recent research suggests that Latino immigrant farmers are undercounted by the Census for a number of reasons, including their absence on USDA mailing lists, limited knowledge of the Census, language barriers, and immigration status (García and Marínez 2005). García and Marínez (2005a) show that Mexican immigrants in Michigan have been transitioning to become farmers, even though they sought little assistance from the USDA and other government agencies.

While new immigrant farmers are generally not connected with Extension, the NRCS or FSA (Farm Service Agency), they could become exemplary sustainable farmers with adequate access to support from agricultural agencies, especially given their experience and skills in low-input diversified farming and opportunities that exist for developing local food systems. However, there are a number of challenges in working with the Latino community.

Around the US, there has been some effort among Extension specialists to gather information about local Latino communities in order to develop focused, culturally attuned programs for growing Latino audiences (e.g., Malek 2002; Hobbs 2004; Viramontez Anguiano and Kawamoto 2003). Indeed, some training materials have been developed and this project will utilize those materials as a basis where possible. Yet, currently there remains a lack of adequate cross-cultural knowledge, skills and materials for agricultural professionals in Iowa, Kansas and elsewhere in order for them to effectively engage Latino families in local food production and marketing. In Iowa and Kansas, very few agriculture professionals have had training in working with multicultural audiences.

Literature cited

García, Victor and Juan Marínez. 2005. “Exploring Agricultural Census Undercounts Among Immigrant Hispanic/Latino Farmers with an Alternative Enumeration Project.” Journal of Extension 43(5): 1-10.

García, Victor and Juan Marínez. 2005a. “New Latino Farmers in the US Heartland: Social Networks, Social Capital, and Blueberry Farming in Southwestern Michigan.” Paper presented at The Second Cumbre of the Great Plains: Re-Visioning Latino America, New Perspectives o n Migration, Transnationalism and Integration. April 22-24, 2005, Omaha, Nebraska.

Hobbs, Beverly B. 2004. “Latino Outreach Programs: Why They Need to Be Different.” Journal of Extension 42(4): 1-4.

Malek, Faye. 2002. “Using the Focus Group Process to Assess the Needs of a Growing Latino Population.” Journal of Extension 40(1): 1-3.
National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2006. Quick Stats, 2002 Census of Agriculture (Accessed: June 19, 2006).

Viramontez Anguiano, Ruben P. and Walter T. Kawamoto. 2003. “Serving Rural Asian American and Latino Families and Their Communities: A Call for a Rural Paradigm Shift.” Journal of Extension 41(1): 1-3.

Education & Outreach Initiatives



A variety of activities were offered through this project. The kick-off event in both Iowa and Kansas was a one to two day workshop in multicultural outreach and how to engage Latino farm families. On-going training and workshops provided participants an opportunity to learn more about the Latino culture, local communities and local food systems. Groups of professionals in each state participated in experiential learning components which involved visiting Latino and/or immigrant-owned businesses, farms and immigrant farmer programs and site-specific training in local food systems development.

Outreach and Publications

As part of the grant, project personnel gave a presentation to the USDA Farm Services Agency State Leadership meeting in Manhattan, Kansas in May 2008. The session provided an overview of the project, including a description of the planned activities and outcomes. The intent of the presentation was not only to disseminate results of project activities and outcomes, but also encourage broader participation in the state.

Outcomes and impacts:

Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems project was designed to provide Extension educators and other agricultural professionals in Iowa and Kansas with the knowledge and skills to identify and respond to the needs and goals of Latino growers and producers and their families. Through a series of professional development activities over the course of the project, participants have had the opportunity to further develop the knowledge and skills needed to serve their communities.

1. Short-Term Outcomes focusing on awareness, knowledge, attitudes and skills

Project activities for the first year aligned with the short-term outcomes for the project and were mostly focused on the Multicultural Workshops that were delivered in both Kansas and Iowa. The purpose of these workshops was to improve participants’ understanding of how to communicate and build trust across cultural and language differences. It also provided an overview of the need for outreach through Extension, NRCS, FSA, farmer organizations, and NGOs to Latino farmers, and effective methods for reaching this audience. The session was conducted by Diane Finnerty, Director of Cultural Competence Initiatives at the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice at University of Iowa’s School of Social Work, and Juan Marinez, Regional Director for Outreach with Cooperative Extension at Michigan State University.

Project personnel outlined the content for the sessions and identified Extension educators and other agricultural professionals in both states to invite to workshops. The Iowa workshop took place at Iowa State University on September 27, 2007. The Kansas workshop was held October 18-19, 2007 at Kansas State University. A total of 69 participants attended the workshops in the two states.

Participants in Iowa attended a series of workshops involving hands-on activities, visits to local Latino businesses and opportunities to network with extension educators and others to think strategically about building long-term partnerships between community and agricultural organizations and Latino community members. Sessions also focused on raising participant awareness of what defines a local or regional food system, how these food system alternatives are being developed in communities throughout Iowa, and what steps to take to create a local food system. These workshops continued through the second year of the project and covered topics such as entrepreneurial farm business, value chains, market gardening, and working with Latino producers and consumers.

As a part of these workshops, the participants not only had the opportunity to visit various business and operations, but they were able to take part in discussion and reflection sessions. Working in both small and large groups, participants discussed questions such as:

  • Reflecting on the communities where you live and/or work, in what ways are local farmers and/or small/medium-scale food processors connecting to local markets?

    Are Latinos involved in these activities? If not, how could you see them playing a role? What did you learn from your interviews (in October 2007) about how Latinos are or could be involved?

    Name 2-3 things that could make the local-food-system-related activities going on in your community even better.

    What relevant assets (people, institutions, networks, physical space, land, programs, etc.) does your community have to build upon toward this vision?

These discussions allowed the participants to share what they found most useful or intriguing about what they had learned during the day, as well as thinking about what they could do next in their own community.

Participants in the Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems project were also invited to participate in the USDA-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension New American Farm Conference 2008 in Kansas City, Missouri as part of the project’s activities. Nine Kansas participants, with representatives from both Extension and NRCS, attended the conference. Program leaders reviewed the list of conference sessions and highlighted the ones that contributed to the project’s professional development goals for gaining knowledge and understanding of local food systems. The conference also offered a variety of tours to local farms and businesses. The leaders identified three tours for project participants to provide experiential learning opportunities related to local food systems and/or working with minority farmers. As a wrap-up session for these activities, the grant participants met after the tours for discussion to synthesize learning and plan the next steps for a local level engagement project with Latino community members/farm families.

2. Intermediate-Term Outcomes focusing on behaviors, practices and policies

Activities offered in the second year of the Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems project were designed to support the intended intermediate-term outcomes focusing on behaviors, practices and policies. Two key events were held during the summer.

The first was a meeting in Iowa with Extension Vice-Provost Dr. Jack Payne. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and propose strategies for strengthening Extension outreach to Latino communities. Feedback collected at a workshop in May was used to develop a proposal for how to move forward with strengthening outreach efforts. This proposal provided the foundation for the meeting with Dr. Payne.
Dr. Payne was supportive of key points in the proposal. These include encouraging recruitment of Latinos to Extension Council positions, offering to co-sponsor a conference (Cambio de Colores), and supporting inter-agency networking around Latino programming. Based on this response, project leaders in Iowa followed up with Dr. Payne in a memo requesting his support for these actionable items:
1) Encourage him to remind County Extension Education Directors (CEEDs) to consider diversity when recruiting candidates for their county extension councils;
2) Find out what would be involved in co-sponsoring Cambio de Colores; and
3) Establish a periodic conference call program involving individuals from a broad range of organizations to discuss issues and ideas related to Latino programming. Dr. Payne was skeptical about Extension’s ability in the near term to fund a fulltime Latino community specialist, although believed this might be a worthy future pursuit.

The second key event from summer 2008 was a two-day immersion event. Based on discussions at the SARE conference in Kansas City, participants indicated it would be useful to organize an experiential visit to a community in which such work was already under way. The visit would provide an opportunity for educators to meet others interested in similar work, see how connections to multicultural communities and organizations were made and developed, to see how projects have been developed, and perhaps most importantly to see how cross-cultural understanding is being fostered. As a result, plans were made to visit Garden City, a diverse community of 26,000 in southwest Kansas.
The community visit took place June 27-29. The overarching goal of the event was to provide an immersion experience that included meeting local people from the immigrant community, the business community, and the agricultural community (educators and others interested in agriculture). Thirteen participants attended the event. Specific objectives for the visit included: developing a greater awareness of characteristics, needs and cultural norms of Latino farmers, families and communities; increasing knowledge of effective methods to reach Latino farmers, youth, families, communities; and improving skills to assist Latino farm families and agricultural workers to identify their needs and access solutions via programs offered by Extension, NRCS, and other organizations. Specific activities during the two-day event included: cultural presentations; panel discussion of farm life in Mexico and the US; ethnic grocery store visits, a visit to a Latino neighborhood community center, stories from immigrants and their families, and presentations by local leaders, including the current Garden City mayor and the former mayor, who is now on the Kansas Board of Regents.

In February of 2009, a group of project participants had the opportunity to take part in a twelve-day experiential learning field trip in Mexican rural communities in coordination with Universidad Autónoma Chapingo. They participated in a hands-on field trip in Mexican rural communities in the states of Oaxaca and Edo. de Mexico. The purpose of this Professional Development Program (PDP) was to enhance the capacity of educators and farm leaders to work with socially disadvantaged Latino farmers by means of an educational model that integrates an Experiential Learning Curriculum that is focused on Mexican cultural values and sustainable farming systems.

Participants were immersed directly into the culture and values of traditional rural Mexican communities, from which many of our new US farmers derive. Under this learning model, extension educators increased their consciousness of the barriers faced by individuals who belong to this demographic farming group, in an environment where the language, values, and traditions are different from their own. Five educators from Kansas participated in this program.

3. Long-Term Outcomes (systemic changes, not within the timeframe of this project).

Long term systemic changes were beyond the timeframe of this project. However, we expect that educators in the various institutions that participated will continue to learn about issues related to engaging Latinos in their communities, and will incorporate these activities into their strategic plans.

After attending the USDA-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension New American Farm Conference 2008, project participants were asked to reflect on what they learned in these sessions and how this information relates back to their needs in engaging Latinos in their professional work setting. One of the participants reported,
“The information shared at this conference got to the heart of food systems for a healthier way of living, eating, and leaving a legacy. I thought it would only be about farming, but the social messages incorporated into all the sessions made the conference very well-rounded.”

Other participants also talked about the how they plan to use the information they learned. One extension professional stated, “These resources will be used in my daily life and as I work with the diversity team.” Another had specific ideas, commenting, “[I want to] link Spanish publications to K-State listserv…find local CSA's and their membership needs- if any. Contact local food pantries to determine what produce their Latino clientele want/need. Encourage community gardens to plant a row for the hungry of this produce to donate.” One of the participants summed up the experience by saying, “I am very happy that I got to attend the conference and was shocked at how much I thought I knew. It was very educational and made me see a much larger picture.”

The two-day immersion event in Kansas provided participants with additional awareness, knowledge and skills in working with Latino communities, the experiential learning also helped participants plan for activities in their local communities. Several participants discussed the possibility of having or developing a directory of people/agencies currently working with Latinos in communities such as Garden City that could serve as conduits for information regarding farm loans for new producers. Expanding on this idea, participants went on to suggest that those contacts could be a starting point for outreach and dissemination of information. In general, the participants reported that seeing what was being done in other locations helped them think about projects that could be done in their own communities.

As part of the project evaluation, participants in both states completed a survey to capture baseline information regarding their views, knowledge, and experiences of interacting with members of the Latino community. The participants at the end of the project took the same survey, and the results were reviewed to see if there were any pre-to-post changes. For example, challenges of engaging Latinos in work, outreach and/or educational programs identified by Kansas and Iowa participants at the beginning of the project included:

  • Language,

    Cultural Differences,

    Building trust and understanding,

    Identifying needs of the Latino community,

    Immigration status (fear of government,

    Lack of experience (on both sides) of working with each other.

By the end of the project, language was still seen as the major barrier for outreach efforts. However, while more than half of pre-survey respondents indicated that “understanding cultural differences” was or could be a barrier for them in communicating with the Latino community, only about one-third of participants who took the post survey saw this as a barrier. This may be an indication that the activities over the length of the project gave participants a better understanding of cultural differences, thereby removing this perceived barrier to effective communication with Latino community members.

Participants also shared some of the changes they have made to their practice as a result of taking part in this project. These comments included:

  • “The project definitely helped me move an existing Latino community outreach project forward, by what I learned and resources/people I was exposed to. This is and will continue to provide assistance to a population that has been in the community for almost 20 years and hasn't received much in the way of service or assistance.”

    “I am more aware of Latinos in my day to day interactions in the community. I am trying to watch and observe where these people are, what they are doing, and what they value. Until I can positively determine a need for food production, I have looked at local food consumption. Calling several area food pantries, I gathered demographics of their clientele and their produce preferences. Latinos often rank high on the user list. I have made profile pages of these different food pantries, providing a list of preferred produce based on their clients’ requests. These have been distributed to local community gardens and were featured in our office newsletter last summer. Even though I am not yet creating programming to engage Latinos in food production, I can at least get local gardeners thinking about this population.”

    “The initial 'homework' assignments involved meeting Latino business owners -I did and have worked much closer with them since the beginning of this project!! Thanks for pushing me!!”

    “Much more engaged with the Latino community in our county! Our focus is on business and economic growth in general, rather than so much on local food systems. We are partnering with the Latino community center to work toward a Latino Chamber of Commerce initiative.”

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Professionals who participated in this Professional Development Program developed new partnerships among colleagues due to the diverse cross section of participants from across two states. Participants gained new skills and knowledge and have been working to apply these in their home areas.


Future Recommendations

The activities offered through this project provided opportunities for educators and technical service providers in Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies in Iowa and Kansas to learn about local food systems, Latino culture, and Latino growers and producers. However, there is always more to learn. At the end of the project, participants were asked for suggestions on future training they would like to have. These ideas focused on:

  • Follow-up/ Additional meetings and interaction with Latino population,

    Basic Language and Culture training,

    How to directly help Latino population,

    Training in Food Systems.

Specific comments from the participants included:

  • I would like to see this type of training in each state, for people in city and county government, as well as chambers of commerce, and NGO leadership. Rural communities need to have a better understanding of the opportunities new citizens bring. We need to find a way to start removing the perceived threat.

    I would like to see on-going food systems training aimed at increasing the number of producers AND consumers and also a focus on urban gardening and urban agriculture.

    I don't think training in a class room structure can really teach the unwilling or the hesitant. I think we need more hands-on, experiential opportunities. Whatever we do, we must keep multicultural topics in front of our educational systems. We must continue to seek opportunities to work together in the pursuit of raising awareness and understanding. Also, we must learn to look at the world through other lenses beside our own middle-class, Anglo-dominated values.

    Similar agenda to [this]. To address a need for me in my occupation -- I need to know how to connect with a Latino contact that is in my area/county that is a farm producer, meaning an ag land owner or farm operator. If we were aware of any we would find ways to educate and/or inform them of the services we have in our agency that may be beneficial to that individual.

    More, more, more. I don't feel I can ever learn enough!

    More of the same: meeting with producers and workers and finding out their issues and goals and working together to try to meet them. This really only touched the surface of issues that Latinos face in Iowa related to local food systems.

    Without contacts to set up situations where we could build relationship and trust I don't see anything changing. Somehow we need to develop and keep contact with these individuals on a regular basis. This is needed in order to keep it moving and not allow it to be a 'neat' event but with no long term changes or results. Attend Hispanic chamber of commerce meetings in communities where they exist.

    I would like to see efforts such as the one in Garden City kept as an on-going outreach effort but move it around to different areas of the state for more interaction and increased visibility throughout the state. It helped me greatly deal with program activity in the 7 county area where I work!

    Bring the community leaders together to find out if there is a need for FSA ag loans in their communities. Do they have displaced farmers from Mexico that would like to farm in SW KS and need credit source to get started.

    I would like a one-day follow-up (either in person or perhaps by conference call) on an annual basis--giving us the chance to talk about what is working/what we're doing in each county.

Given the comments above, it seems clear that there is a need for on-going professional development programs such as this one. Educators are interested in further opportunities to learn about local food systems, Latino culture, and Latino growers and producers.

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.