Soil Health and Nutrient Management Training for Immigrant and Minority Farming Communities

Final report for ENC15-145

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $74,760.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Minnesota
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Julie Grossman
University of Minnesota
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Project Information

Abstract:

The University of MN partnered with the Good Acre, a non-profit food hub, to create a soil health train-the-trainer workshop targeted to immigrant growers. Immigrant farmers represent a growing population of food producers in Minnesota and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest. Many immigrant populations in our region are farming in urban or peri urban settings, which often means contending with poor soils that are compacted, low in nutrients, or lacking sufficient organic matter. This project is creating a comprehensive, culturally relevant soil management curriculum for immigrant growers that can be presented as a 2-day train-the-trainer workshop, or used 1:1 with growers.

Project Objectives:

Outcome 1 & 2: Develop curricula for 2-day training session using existing and new material.

Output 3: Webinars and online resources.

Output 4: Instruct 40 trainers.

Output 5: Build partnerships between immigrant farmer organizations, The Good Acre, and the UMN College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences.

Introduction:

Minority and immigrant farmers are making up an increasingly larger slice of the farming population nationally, yet few resources exist for them to learn advanced skills in soil health and nutrient management to help support their crop production. Such groups include individuals who farmed in their home countries and seek opportunities to successfully recreate this livelihood through the local food and organic movements in the U.S. This project will advance the management capacity of both new and seasoned immigrant and minority growers by developing adaptable curriculum to meet culturally and ethnically diverse end-users' needs. This project will develop hands on courses and online resources to teach soil and nutrient management, with immigrant farmers as the target audience. To this end, we will develop 1) two 2-day hands-on workshops emphasizing soil health and nutrient management in organic systems, 2) online resources to provide culturally specific follow-up training and practice exercises, and 3) two networking events among leaders of immigrant farmer organizations.

Why Soils? Soils form the cornerstone of successful organic production, with many of the nutrient cycling processes that feed crops hinging on healthy soil and microbial activity. Since nutrients are released from decomposing organic materials such as manure, cover crop residue, or commercial certified-organic inputs, soil microbial activity is essential. Interest in soil quality and nutrient management specific to organic production is increasing among immigrant farmer organizations, yet no resources exist to provide training and practical information. This project would serve to meet this need. In addition to nutrient management, advanced approaches to cover crop management, organic matter maintenance, tillage/cultivation equipment operation and season extension technology application would be useful skills to add to growers' toolboxes.

Many of the minority farming populations in Minnesota are immigrants, consisting primarily of Hmong, Latino, Somali and Karen refugee populations. Some of these growers have been trained through our partner Minnesota Food Association's successful immigrant farmer training program, of which graduates have been recipients of farmer-rancher grants (FNC08-734). Such programs provide an excellent foundation for beginning farmers wishing to farm. Additionally, many immigrants come to the U.S. with pre-existing agricultural knowledge and skills. Extending advanced soil science concepts would allow both beginning and seasoned immigrant farmers to enhance soil quality as well as productivity of their organic systems. Yet, such information can be conceptually difficult to navigate and apply without mentoring and guidance, and cultural barriers might influence application of such practices. The need for advanced organic soil management resources for immigrant farmers in the Upper Midwest is clear.

Just within the past two months, the PI on this proposal was invited to share organic nutrient management information via Introduction to Organic Nutrient Management workshops with two immigrant groups, including the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) and the Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference (IMFC). The IMFC has been held annually in the Twin Cities for the past 10 years, and serves as a networking event for farmers and farmer-serving organizations. Through these interactions, it has become evident that there is great interest and room for development of detailed soil and cover crop management courses, which serves as the springboard for this proposal. Such information is both timely and relevant, and would provide a unified platform of information from which educators could draw well into the future.

In reviewing previously funded SARE proposals, we identified other programs targeting immigrant and minority farmer serving organizations, but none developing soil health and cover crop management resources as we propose. Our project will contribute soil management educational resources that can be used with other beginning and immigrant farmers previously supported by SARE grants (i.e. LNC07-286 in Nebraska; ENE13-129 in New York), as well as replicating successful approaches to link immigrant farmers to financial resources, such as EQIP funding (ONE13-195, Maine), allowing growers to identify funding to enhance soil conservation practices, obtain organic certification, or build season extension structures such as high tunnels. Farmers could also utilize the information to make informed decisions when purchasing or leasing land.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Emily Hoover
  • Dr. Mary Rogers
  • Rhys Williams

Education

Educational approach:

In year one, this project developed a new curriculum targeted toward immigrant and minority growers on the topics of soil health, nutrient management, and cover cropping.  This curriculum was then presented to growers during a 2-day workshop held at The Good Acre in September, 2016. Classroom activities included a combination of lectures and hands-on activities, with simple language designed to be widely approachable for a non-scientific audience, some with limited English language fluency. Outdoor cover crop demonstration plots were planted nearby with appropriate timing to demonstrate cover crop stature and termination techniques with a variety of equipment. 

In year two, the project team was contacted by Red Lake Nation requesting an educational program on topics related to the curriculum developed in year one. We adapted the curriculum developed in year one to be appropriate for a non-immigrant audience, maintaining the approachable language for a non-scientific audience. The year 2 workshop was offered in collaboration with the Red Lake Food Summit and attracted indigenous growers from across the Midwest. The 2 day workshop was again paired with a field-based cover crop demonstration and included hands-on demonstrations throughout the training. 

NRCS staff participated as guest speaker collaborators during both year one and year two workshops, sharing hands-on slaking and soil aggregation demonstrations, as well as the rainfall simulator in year two.

In addition to the 2-day workshops offered in 2016 and 2017, a growing partnership with the Hmong American Farming Association led to the organization of a field day in March 2017. Hmong farmers visited one of the UMN research sites and learned about winter legume cover crop use and high tunnel management. In March 2018, the soil health and cover crop curriculum was adapted for a 2 hour workshop for beginning and immigrant farmers as part of the Minnesota Food Association training program. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Soil Health and Nutrient Management Immigrant Farmers
Objective:

-Create soil health and cover cropping resources that are accessible to an immigrant audience.
-Create train-the-trainer materials that can be used in both a classroom setting as well as informally, such as 1:1 conversations in a field between a grower and a mentor or community leader.

Description:

A 30 page soil health and cover cropping handbook was developed  as a train-the-trainer resource for educators, mentors, and community leaders working with immigrant growers, along with a companion slide set The curriculum was presented as a 2-day train-the-trainer workshop held at The Good Acre in St. Paul, MN in September, 2016.

Participant Learning Objectives:

  • Understand basics of soil structure and how soil type impacts management
  • Understand how organic matter impacts soil, ways to add organic matter and improve soil structure, and benefits of improved soil structure.
  • Know why and how to collect and submit a soil test, how to read a soil test report, and make management decisions based on soil test results.
  • Understand how cover crops are different from other inputs including manure, compost, and synthetic amendments and fertilizers.
  • Understand what a cover crop is, why you would use a cover crop, and how to choose and use specific cover crop species
  • Understand how to estimate the nitrogen contribution of cover crops
  • Know how to plan cover crop use on your farm, how to identify planting windows, choose species, and terminate cover crops effectively.
Outcomes and impacts:

In a post-session evaluation, approximately 89% of attendees at the September 2016 train-the-trainer responded that the training was “very” or “extremely” worth their time. 100% of participants said the training will help them share soil health and cover crop topics with growers. In a follow-up survey 2 years after the original workshop, 70% of participants stated that they knowledge of soil health and cover cropping had increased since and as a result of the workshop. In addition, 70% of respondents said they had used information gained in the workshop to teach or mentor other growers or educators, reaching an additional 75 growers. 

In a post-session evaluation, all participants indicated that this training would help them share soil health and cover crop topics with other growers. In addition, respondents listed many specific ways that they intended to use the knowledge gained in the workshop to adjust their own farming practices including: 

  • Cover crop management
  • Tailoring the cover crop to the vegetables planted
  • Calculating nitrogen inputs
  • Minimizing tillage
  • Soil testing information

 

Soil health and cover cropping for Indigenous Growers
Objective:

-Create soil health and cover cropping resources that are accessible to an indigenous audience.
-Create train-the-trainer materials that can be used in both a classroom setting as well as informally, such as 1:1 conversations in a field between a grower and a mentor or community leader.

Description:

The curriculum was slightly revised in 2017 for a non-immigrant audience and presented in collaboration with the Red Lake Food Summit and attracted indigenous growers from across the Midwest. The 2 day workshop was again paired with a field-based cover crop demonstration and included hands-on demonstrations throughout the training. NRCS staff participated as guest speaker, sharing hands-on slaking and soil aggregation demonstrations as well as the rainfall simulator.

Participant learning objectives:

  • Understand basics of soil structure and how soil type impacts management
  • Understand how organic matter impacts soil, ways to add organic matter and improve soil structure, and benefits of improved soil structure.
  • Know why and how to collect and submit a soil test, how to read a soil test report, and make management decisions based on soil test results.
  • Understand how cover crops are different from other inputs including manure, compost, and synthetic amendments and fertilizers.
  • Understand what a cover crop is, why you would use a cover crop, and how to choose and use specific cover crop species
  • Understand how to estimate the nitrogen contribution of cover crops
  • Know how to plan cover crop use on your farm, how to identify planting windows, choose species, and terminate cover crops effectively.
Outcomes and impacts:

Due to the nature of the conference at which this workshop was hosted, many participants attended a portion of the 2-day workshop, making complete evaluation of all participants challenging. However, approximately 20 growers, including 10 self-identified mentors and educators attended all or most of the workshop and completed a post-session evaluation. 100% of evaluation respondents said the workshop was “very” or “extremely” worth their time. All participants rated the materials as “good” or “very good” and all said that the training will help them share soil health and cover crop topics with growers. 

Growing Healthy Soil
Objective:

Create a condensed 2-hour workshop to support new growers in collaboration with the MN Food Association's Farmer Education Program

Description:

An abbreviated 2 hour presentation was prepared from an except of the longer 2-day workshop to fit the needs of MFA's Farmer Education Program. The 2 hour presentation covered the the basics of building a healthy soil and using cover crops to achieve soil management goals. 

Outcomes and impacts:

In the post-session evaluation, over 90% of participants said said the workshop was “very” or “extremely” worth their time and rated the topics, information presented, and materials as “good” or “very good.” Participants also responded that they intended to use many of the practices taught in the workshop, including cover cropping, erosion mitigation measures, reduced tillage, living mulch pathways, and species selection to provide pollinator habitat.

High tunnel cover crop field day with the HAFA
Objective:

Hands-on program demonstrating winter annual cover cropping systems in a high tunnel environment, specifically tailored to Hmong growers.

Description:

A field day was held at the University of MN research and outreach center in Rosemount, MN, in collaboration with the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). Approximately 30 Hmong growers and 5 educators attended the field day to learn about winter annual legume cover crops in high tunnels. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Though written evaluations were not possible with this audience, HAFA organizers reported that growers were pleased with the field day and found the information presented to be engaging and beneficial to improving their farming practices. This event also solidified a collaborative relationship with HAFA and was instrumental in building the relationships necessary for on-going work, including a successful application to the Healthy Food, Healthy Lives program to support farm-based research into living mulch pathways in the "Building Hmong Farmers’ Capacity and Self-efficacy To Tackle Soil Fertility Issues" project, funded in 2018.

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours
4 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

2 Extension
3 NRCS
5 Researchers
10 Nonprofit
5 Agency
5 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
70 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

100 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
30 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

In the first year of this project, we saw positive impacts, both in grower knowledge of soil health concepts as well as partnership development. Approximately 89% of attendees at the September 2016 train-the-trainer responded that the training was “very” or “extremely” worth their time. 100% of participants said the training will help them share soil health and cover crop topics with growers.

We saw similar results in the second year of the project when the workshop was presented at Red Lake Nation. 100% of evaluation respondents said the workshop was “very” or “extremely” worth their time. All participants rated the materials as "good" or "very good" and all said that the training will help them share soil health and cover crop topics with growers.

At the 2018 condensed 2-hour workshop offered in collaboration with the MN Food Association, over 90% of participants said said the workshop was “very” or “extremely” worth their time and rated the topics, information presented, and materials as "good" or "very good." 

Accomplishments

Outcome 1 & 2: Develop curricula for 2-day training session using existing and new material. A 30-page curriculum handbook titled “Soil Health & Nutrient Management for Immigrant Farmers” was developed. This resource is designed to be culturally appropriate for immigrant growers and uses approachable language and technical concepts. The handbook is intended to serve as both a stand-alone resource for introductory soil science and soil fertility concepts as well as a teaching tool that can be used in classrooms or 1:1 interactions. The curriculum handbook was presented during a 2-day training in September 2016 and is accompanied by a full set of PowerPoint slides.

The curriculum was slightly revised in 2017 for a non-immigrant audience and presented at the 2017 Red Lake Nation Food Summit. In the spring of 2018, the curriculum was again revised to create a condensed 2 hour workshop to meet the needs of the MN Food Association Farmer Education Program. 

NRCS staff was able to attend both the September 2016 event at The Good Acre and the September 2017 event in Red Lake to share soil filtration and slaking demos, as well as the rainfall simulator in Red Lake. The handbook developed as part of this project includes several soil health and cover crop resources that complement the newly compiled materials, including fact sheets form NRCS, SARE, and others. 

Output 3: Webinars and online resources.  Conversations with growers and leaders within the immigrant farming community concluded that a Moodle website, as was originally proposed, would not be perceived as an accessible online platform on which to share soil heal resources. During the 2 day workshop held in September 2016, the trainers in attendance agreed that the Sustainable Farming Association website would be a preferable place to host the materials. Following grower’s input, the Resource handbook, as well as supplemental materials, have been posted to the SFA website and are publicly available.

In addition to hosting the curriculum and supporting materials on the SFA website, electronic and paper copies of the curriculum have been made available to educators and growers through the Hmong American Farming Association (HAFA), the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA), the Minnesota Food Association (MFA), and Red Lake Nation.

Output 4: Instruct 40 trainers. in 2016, twelve participants, and an additional 6 speakers participated in the highly interactive train-the-trainer session.  Participant recruitment for the training was extremely challenging, presumably due to the narrowly focused target audience and cultural challenges associated with reaching immigrant grower communities.

Due to challenging participant recruitment in 2016, the 2nd year workshop in 2017 was moved to Red Lake, in response to their request for a similar educational program. in 2017, recruitment was completed through conference promotional materials and 20 participants participated in the 2-day workshop. Ten participants in the Red Lake session self-identified as community leaders and mentors and reported that the workshop session would help them share soil health and cover crops topics with other growers.

In addition to the highly structured 2-day workshops, a field day was held in March, 2017 in collaboration with HAFA to discuss winter legume cover crops, especially in high tunnel environments. This event attracted over 30 Hmong growers and 5 educators. Finally, a condensed 2 hour workshop was offered in the spring of 2018 in collaboration with the MN Food Association's Farmer Education Program to 13 growers and 3 educators. In total, we estimate that this project reached approximately 30 trainers and 70 growers.

Output 5: Build partnerships between immigrant farmer organizations, the Good Acre, and the UMN College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. This partnership has already led to increased collaboration between the University of MN, The Good Acre, and immigrant and indigenous farming organizations with follow-up grants and collaborative projects. Grant projects include a NCR SARE Partnership Grant “High Tunnel Immigrant Farmer Training and Demonstration Plot,” which was funded in Spring 2017 and includes The Good Acre, The University of MN, and three immigrant farming organizations, the Hmong American Farmers Association, Frogtown Farm, and Cala Farm, as partners. An additional grant proposal building on cover crop research partnerships between UMN and HAFA was funded in 2017. On-farm research collaboration with the Red Lake Band, and colleagues at the White Earth Land Recovery Project have also developed as a direct result of this project. 

30 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
70 Farmers reached through participant's programs
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.