Training extension professionals, high school educators, and local food coordinators on basic and advanced aspects of sustainable vegetable production

Progress report for ENC19-180

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $79,159.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University
Expand All

Project Information


The primary objective of this proposal is to train and educate extension educators, county horticulturists, FFA teachers, local food professionals, food systems working group members, industry and community leaders, and personnel from NRCS and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship on both basic and advanced concepts and applications of sustainable vegetable production. These individuals are often at the forefront disseminating information to commercial vegetable growers, farmer’s market managers, students, food hub coordinators, market gardeners, public, and policy makers. Building capacity in these individuals in the area of soil management, cover cropping, crop rotation, specialized tools and machinery, cultivar/variety selection, pest identification, and disease diagnostics will significantly enhance services they provide to their clients and stakeholders. A long-term outcome of this project would be creation of a workforce comprising who have advance knowledge and understanding of sustainable vegetable production and are better prepared to address stakeholder/grower issues and challenges. Empowering FFA teachers will strengthen agriculture curriculum in the classroom and lead to high school students who have a better understanding of sustainable agriculture. In order to effectively engage participants, the project will organize training workshops, field days, and educational trips to regional vegetable conferences in the north central region. The project will also create an online e-learning course on sustainable vegetable production to reach out to distance learners and multiply the outreach of this project. These activities will provide increased training and learning opportunities to our target audience and enhance their knowledge and understanding of sustainability in vegetable crop production.

Project Objectives:

Education materials: Program outputs will include survey results (highlighting challenges and obstacles in vegetable cropping systems), educational materials, and resources developed for workshops and online course. An extension bulletin will highlight concepts of sustainable vegetable production, tools available and effective ways of managing a successful vegetable production enterprise.

Vegetable production workshops: We plan to organize six statewide vegetable production workshops that will address key production topics such as cultivar selection, planting schedules, spacing and fertility, pest management, cultural practices, harvesting parameters and schedules, and post-harvest handling. We expect 120 participants a year attending our workshops (15 different participants at each workshop).

e-Learning online course: The online course will reach out to a wider audience in the region. We anticipate several county horticulturists, extension professionals, and high school FFA teachers would enroll for the course. The project will also record presentations made at workshops and upload them on Sustainable Vegetable Production Lab webpage (

Strategic Partnerships: An important aspect of this project is the development of strategic partnerships between extension and government staff, grower organizations, county extension personnel, FFA teachers, and farmers who serve as educators. Such partnerships are critical to build a strong foundation and to leverage more support and funds in local food production. The project also benefits students enrolled in FFA programs through an enriched curriculum that expands on sustainable vegetable production.

Case studies: Workshops and on-site activities will be utilized to develop one-two case studies that could be potentially be used in classrooms at Iowa State University and for the online course. These case studies will enhance student understanding of tools and management strategies growers and extension personnel use in the real world.


Educational approach:

The 2020 year report was significantly impacted due COVID-19 pandemic. The project could not implement several programs that were outlined in the proposal due to campus shutdown, restricted activities in the state, and safety concerns for clients, stakeholders, growers, and local food partners. Activities that were impacted include in-person workshops, field days, Amish/Mennonite produce walks, listening sessions of the Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, and the in-person professional development trip for the extension staff, regional food systems personnel, FFA teachers, and growers to the Great Lakes Expo, Grand Rapids, MI and Great Plains Growers Conference, St. Joseph, MO.

The project originally had planned for a multi-instructional approach which included face-face, online, and hands-on activities. Given the pandemic we re-tooled our programs to virtual offerings/format to reach a diverse group of clientele across Iowa and the Midwest region. We utilized services of the ISU Extension and Outreach videography personnel for recording and professional editing of recorded educational videos.  The virtual/online methods consisted of webinars, YouTube videos, Zoom discussions, emails, and virtual field days helped maintain the continuity of the grant during the pandemic. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

e-Learning: Online Vegetable Production Course

1. Educate and train county horticulturists, extension educators, local food coordinators, and field specialists on sustainable vegetable production topics. This online course is designed to provide an introduction to vegetable crops and principles and practices of vegetable crop production. Topics included crop classification; planting methods; crop climatic conditions, physiological growth and development; soil, water, and pest management; organic production; cover cropping; crop rotation; season extension strategies; postharvest handling/management and food safety.

2. Provide latest and up to date information on sustainable production techniques and approaches such cover cropping, conservation tillage, and integrated pest management techniques.


Online Vegetable Production course was offered with the help of The Brenton Center for Agricultural Instruction and Technology Transfer. The course was specially designed for county horticulturists, extension professionals, and high school FFA teachers. Below is the list of individuals who took the course.

Name Organization
Samuel Genson ISU Extension and Outreach
Joshua Day Muscatine High School
Vanessa Preast Food Corps
Megan Will Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Dallas County
Josephine Stabenow Cora B. Darling Elementary
Dawn Henderson ISU Extension and Outreach Lyon County
Alexandria Clough Winfield United
Shannon Bielicke ISU Johnson County Extension and Outreach
Carol Camp Iowa State University
Pauric Mc Groary Waypoint Analytical
Kenneth Weber Weber Farms
Ed Moreno Gentle Family Dentists
Warren Gall University of Dubuque
Nancy DewLocal Local Foods
Hilary Lanman ISU Extension and Outreach
Outcomes and impacts:
  1. Participants learned about principles and practices of vegetable crop production including the what, where, when and how of growing specific crops.
  2. In-depth information presented on crop classification; planting methods; crop climatic conditions, physiological growth and development; soil, water, and pest management; organic production; cover cropping; crop rotation; season extension strategies; postharvest handling/management and food safety.
  3. Participants received detailed information on site selection, identifying nutrient deficiency symptoms, soil fertility approaches, and fertility recommendations
Virtual Cover Crop Field Day

1. Address grower questions regarding integrating summer cover crops in commercial vegetable production
2. Highlight several cover crops in the field and their growth stages so growers feel comfortable utilizing them in their fields
3. Show differences in cover crop growth habits, biomass, and weed suppression properties
4. Demonstration of flail mower for cover crop termination.


A cover crop demonstration study was seeded mid June at the Horticulture Research Station, Ames, IA. The cover crop species included buckwheat, brown top millet , teff grass, sorghum sudangrass, sunn hemp, mung bean, cowpea, and golden flax (Figure 1). 

Fig. 1. Cover crop species seeded and view of the entire plot.

The original intent was to organize an in-person cover crop demonstration in July 2020, but due to the pandemic, a virtual cover crop video was developed (



Outcomes and impacts:
  1. The virtual cover crop field day demonstrated the feasibility of growing some unique cover crops under Iowa growing conditions.
  2. The virtual field day provided a firsthand assessment of the growth, establishment, and performance of summer cover crops under Iowa weather.
YouTube video (vegetable production)

Create instructional YouTube videos for commercial vegetable growers, community garden volunteers, FFA teachers, and extension staff


YouTube videos were created to demonstrate the importance vegetable production tools and techniques.  These videos were shared with grower members of the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and Practical Farmers of Iowa. Below are topics that were discussed

  1.  Installation of soil moisture sensors
  2. Assessing and inter interpreting soil moisture sensors (
  3. Plastic mulch puller (
  4. Compost spreader in vegetable production (
  5. Iowa Vegetables: Pest management (

Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 Online trainings
2 Published press articles, newsletters
14 Webinars / talks / presentations
100 Other educational activities: Phone calls, emails, and other consultations in 2020.

Participation Summary:

15 Extension
5 Researchers
5 Nonprofit
1 Agency
2 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
10 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

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

In 2020, the project could not be fully implemented due to the pandemic, however, the project utilized virtual programming and platforms to engage vegetable growers, extension staff, and other stakeholders and provide professional development opportunities. The online vegetable production course was a success. Participants took a 15-week course that provided relevant information on various topics on sustainable vegetable production. Many participants were extension staff who wrote in their feedback that they will utilize the content provided in their own extension programs. Other virtual offerings such as Virtual Cover Crop Field Day, Webinars, YouTube videos have been viewed collectively more than 3,500 times and show the interest among growers in these topics. Feedback provided by county horticulturists is promising as they were already using the materials and information provided to answer client questions in their respective counties. 

The project is also supporting and providing educational, training, and leadership opportunity to a graduate student. The student worked on cover crop demonstration plot establishment and assisted the PI to develop education material for webinars, online learning management system, and grading case studies and class exercises for the online vegetable production course. 

4 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
10 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.