Final report for ENC19-186
At Practical Farmers of Iowa, our theory of change is simple. We are farmer-led. We know from our 30+ years working alongside farmers that they most want to learn from each other and we provide the opportunity for farmers to implement changes on their landscapes by learning from the successes and failures of their peers.
To increase the shared learning opportunities and impact of our farmer voices, this project will develop 60 PFI ambassadors who are trained for effective communication on key content areas and conservation in the agricultural sector. This project will help support the addition of a PFI farmer outreach coordinator who will coordinate 6 training academies based on the success of our small grains boot camp funded in a previous PDP project. In addition, the farmer outreach coordinator will consult with 25 of the trained ambassadors with one-on-one follow up sessions to further enhance their skills. Developing these ambassadors will create a pool of farmer-educators who are trained in finding and presenting relevant research, confident, and willing to educate other farmers.
The farmer outreach coordinator will integrate the ambassadors into a variety of PFI events and work with our agricultural partners to identify speaking opportunities to broaden our reach, ranging from presentation at meetings with key groups to interviews with local, regional and national media outlets, to being featured in podcasts and online videos. The farmer outreach coordinator will track speaking events, giving us the data necessary to increase our presence throughout Iowa and the Midwest.
- One-day intensive workshop for PFI staff on presentation and coaching skills: 24 staff will participate in this training to improve their presentation and coaching skills using the coaching toolkit created in the previous SARE PDP. The additional training will provide experienced staff an opportunity to build on skills previously acquired and for new staff (approximately 10 new staff since initial training in 2017) to receive the appropriate training for coaching our farmer-leaders moving forward.
- 6 in-person “ambassador academies” will train 60 farmer-educators on presentation skills focused on the following topics: Field Crops, Fruit/Vegetable, Livestock/Regenerative Grazing, Farm Transfer, Beginning Farmer, Conservation. These farmer-educators will be identified by PFI program staff who work closely with the members in each content area listed above. In addition, we will target members who indicated they were interested in being an active PFI leader based on our latest membership survey.
- One-on-one training for 25 of the ambassadors to expand their skills and comfort in public speaking and farmer education
- The farmer-educators we train through the ambassador academies will speak at 50 events annually(conference sessions, workshops, other meetings) on a diversity of topic areas. The farmer outreach coordinator will assist in identifying speaking opportunities and tracking results.
- The farmer-educators we train through the ambassador academies will be featured in 60 media pieces annually. The farmer outreach coordinator will assist in identifying and creating media pieces that feature our PFI ambassadors.
- Content development for farmer presentations/interviews:
- PPT templates
- message/story banks
- Certificate of Completion for academy participants. All participants who complete the academy will receive a certificate to reflect their expertise in this area. Additional levels of certification will be offered based on number of events they participate in.
In September 2020, Tina Bakehouse led an online workshop for PFI staff. The workshop covered presentation and coaching skills for staff to use when preparing for presentations and public speaking engagements and while preparing farmers for events. The workshop outlined the importance of crafting a clear and compelling message, delivering it with confidence, and guidance for giving and receiving meaningful feedback. The 24 participating staff were asked to complete pre and post evaluations. The evaluation asked respondents, using a 1 to 5 agreement scale, to reflect on statements about their confidence constructing a presentation, delivering a presentation in front of a group, their flexibility to adapt the presentation to varying formats and audiences, and giving and receiving feedback. Overall, agreement scores increased by 13% in the post-training evaluation. In a separate scale question (1 to 10, 10 highest) about general comfort level around public speaking, the average response increased by 1.08 points following the training. As one staff included in the open comment of the post evaluation, “Some trainings are not worth doing. Tina's are very much worth the time, and good for getting the whole team on the same page.”
Nine separate trainings were conducted in response to the SARE-PDP project; three more than initially planned. In total 59 farmer-educators have participated. Each of the trainings, or academies, has been formatted to meet the needs at the time and make adjustments based on previous experiences. The first three academies were online and took over two mornings with farmers of similar operation types. The first academy in October included livestock farmers and the two January academies were largely row crop farmers and fruit and vegetable famers, respectively. Messages around conservation and diversity on the landscape were central to all academies.
On the first morning of each academy, participants learned the fundamentals of crafting and delivering compelling messages. In the afternoon following the first training session, each of the participants was given a personalized speaking scenario to reflect on prior to the workshop portion of the training the following morning. The scenarios outlined a topic, audience and format context, along with exercise instructions and were designed to be realistic while also challenging the participants to adapt to new audiences or contexts. On the second morning, participants were broken up into pairs or small groups to discuss their scenarios with one another before coming back to the larger group. Back in the larger group, the smaller groups shared back their ideas and challenges to receive feedback and guidance. At the conclusion of the second morning, participants were challenged to think about their speaking goals for the next year. Participants shared their goals with Maggie Norton, PFI’s farmer outreach coordinator, afterward. Maggie will check in with the participants at six months and a year to encourage and support their goal-reaching efforts. Feedback and evaluations have been positive and appreciative of the professional growth opportunity.
The following trainings were structured differently from the initial three both logistically and content framing. Two focused on the principles of good communication and how to apply them to media interactions. One emphasized storytelling through video and two others supported members preparing to tell personal stories to a live audience during the 2021 (vistual) and 2022 (in-person) annual conferences.
In November 2021, ten farmers arrived ahead of the annual Cover Crop Boot Camp in Ankeny, IA to learn more about communicating with the media. During the three-hour event, participants learned the basics of the media landscape, four keys to winning with the media, interview planning and preparation strategies, block and bridging techniques to stay on message and one-on-one interview practice in front of a camera. The farmers were able to ask questions about their messages, engaging with reporters, share previous experiences with media and received a set of talking points related to cover crops as a point of reference. The fundamental communications strategies covered in the training are applicable to any public speaking or education engagement. As with the previous academies, participants set media and speaking goals for themselves to achieve over the next year. Feedback in evaluations remained positive and appreciative of the professional development opportunity despite a shift in format and focus.
The next two academies took place in Blair, Nebraska and Oskaloosa, Iowa and were facilitated with the help of Dan Hartlage of Gurthrie Mayes Public Relations. Practical Farmers was approached by the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC) early this year about coordinating media trainings for farmers implementing conservation practices and diverse rotations. MRCC offered to provide a trainer and we used this opportunity to rethink the academy structure. Primarily, realizing fewer is more in any communications trainings, only four farmers were set to attend each, however in both trainings, one farmer was unable to participate last minute. Fewer participants in a media-focused training allows the time and space to give each participant the attention they deserve, and, being in-person, the trainings had more value when discussing and practicing body language best practices.
The structure of these two trainings involved an initial interactive lecture that discussed the fundamentals of clear and compelling communication. Then participants completed either a mock TV or sit-down interview. The group then watched footage of the interviews together to discuss challenges and Dan was able to give constructuve feedback. Another segment of content was discussed before the group split to complete the opposite category of interview before once more watching and discussing the recording. The training ended with robust discussion between farmers and Dan that catered to their nuanced situations and previous media experiences if any. Hands-down, this was the most rewarding academy experience participants and for the farmer outreach coordinator, who was also able to participate.
For the communications training in support of the storytelling session at the 2021 and 2022 annual conferences. A diverse range of farmers were recruited in the previous fall to begin developing a story to share live in January. Tina Bakehouse (2021) and Mary Swander (2022) help one-on-one coaching sessions with the ten (five each year) farmers. Prior to working on their stories individually, each cohort met together for an initial kick-off training to get members on the same page and excited about the project. All participants flourished during the live event and remarked on their good fortune to work individually with an experienced coach.
The final training pivoted again to focus sharing stories and insights through video. With a group of five farmers, PFi staff covered best practices for being interviewed on camera, capturing your own narrative footage, tips for filming from a phone and provided a set for the farmers to discuss their operations and production strategies individually for practice and for future use in a PFI video series. The video series follows farmers in the training, among tohers, who are using cover crops and small grains in the corn belt as a means to diversify their operation, decrease input use and protect natural resources.
The SARE-PDP project opened the door to an exciting and rewarding experience allowing PFI staff to identify the various approaches to communications support that empower members to share their stories and perspectives in an effort to build momentum towards a more diverse and resilient landscape and food system. Across all trainings, it is clear that smaller groups with more focused feedback is preferred and allow richer experiences. Virtual and in-person each have their strengths and set-backs and neither should be touted as superior when the goals can shift group to group. The first three academies and storytelling were all virtual while the media and video-focused trainings were in-person. Based on observation and feedback, the most prevalent and beneficial insight for participants included an appreciation for the power of preparation! Given some basic framework for considering the audience and narrowing a message down to key points ahead of time increased a sense of confidence and more compelling and clear communication in practice
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Train farmer-educators to be better presenters/media interviewees
The ambassador academies varied over the course of the grant to conform to limitations from the pandemic, to highlight different outreach skill sets related to communication and education and to adjust based on lessons from previous trainings. In total, the intended six trainings were divided up into nine separate trainings.
The first three of the six total ambassador academies trained 28 farmer-educators with similar operation types and took place online over two mornings. The first academy in October included livestock farmers and the two January academies were largely row crop farmers and fruit and vegetable farmers, respectively. Messages around conservation and diversity on the landscape were central to all academies. During the first morning of each academy, participants learned the fundamentals of crafting and delivering compelling messages. Each participant was given a personalized speaking scenario to workshop the following morning. The scenarios outlined a topic, audience and format context, along with exercise instructions and were designed to be realistic while also challenging the participants to adapt to new audiences or contexts.
The following pair of academies trained ten farmers (five farmers in each cohort) to share an approximately ten-minute personal agriculture experience in front of a live audience at PFI's storytelling session at the annual conference. In each case, the initial kick-off training included an overview of the event vision, components of a compelling story, brainstorming ideas of personal stories to share and building rapport with a storytelling coach for future one-on-one consultations. During individual consultation sessions, the farmer storytellers were challenged and encouraged to think about the essential elements of their experience and how they weave together to communicate a cohesive story or lesson. Tina Bakehouse and Mary Swander, with assistance from Maggie Norton, lead the individual coaching sessions and helped prepare the storytellers for a live performance. Tina Bakehouse was involved heavily in the first three academies. Mary Swander is the Poet Laureate of Iowa, the Artistic Director of Swander Woman Productions, and the Executive Director of AgArts, a non-profit designed to imagine and promote healthy food systems through the arts.
Three of the nine trainings were media focused. Participants learned the fundamentals of the media landscape, keys to winning with the media, interview planning and preparation strategies, block and bridging techniques to stay on message and one-on-one interview practice in front of a camera. The first of the three trained ten farmers and six more received training from Dan Hartlege at Guthris Mayes Public Relations.
During the final training, five farmers received tools and training to share their stories and insights through video. The group covered best practices for being interviewed on camera, capture interview footage, cover tips for filming from a phone and provide a space for the farmers to discuss their operations and production strategies. The collected interview footage will be used in a video series highlighting the various ways cover crops and small grains are grown in the corn belt, the benefits of diversification and input reduction, among other things.
Overall, feedback and evaluations were positive and demonstrated an increase in confidence and knowledge change. Members were also appreciative of the professional growth opportunity. When asked to select a level of agreement with various statements during pre- and post-training evaluations, the two highest changes in agreement were related to having the tools and foresight to feel prepared ahead of a speaking engagement.
Following each of the academies, participants were asked to set outreach goals for themselves. These goals are shared with Maggie Norton, PFI’s farmer outreach coordinator with the intention to check in with participants over the following year for general support. In practice, this was a challenging task based on availability and the fast-paced nature of responding to other incoming speaking requests. Without a doubt, the rapport built between the farmer outreach coordinator and members was incredibly helpful to connect those individuals to incoming outreach opportunities. There is a spectrum of commitment represented following the trainings and for those that were eager and proactive about outreach, it was easy to plug them into opportunities. For those that may not be as vocal or enthusiastic when opportunities came up that suited them, it was unfortunately easy to quickly move on to the next farmer on the brainstorm list that was more engaged previously. That built in some bias towards the continued level of support participants received.
Of the 59 ambassadors, 26 received additional one-on-one coaching from PFI’s farmer outreach coordinator in preparation for specific upcoming outreach experience. However, Maggie and ambassadors connected regularly in an effort to respond to may other outreach requests. Opportunities have ranged from radio and podcast interviews to a TedX talk, and from PFI's Livestock on the Land film to speaking at conference events.
Train PFI (agricultural non-profit staff) to be better presenters
On September 3, 2020, Tina Bakehouse led an online workshop for PFI staff. The workshop covered presentation and coaching skills for staff to use when preparing for presentations and public speaking engagements and while preparing farmers for events. The workshop outlined the importance of crafting a clear and compelling message, delivering it with confidence, and guidance for giving and receiving meaningful feedback.
The 24 participating staff were asked to complete pre and post evaluations. The evaluation asked respondents, using a 1 to 5 agreement scale, to reflect on statements about their confidence constructing a presentation, delivering a presentation in front of a group, their flexibility to adapt the presentation to varying formats and audiences, and giving and receiving feedback. Overall, agreement scores increased by 13% in the post-training evaluation. In a separate scale question (1 to 10, 10 highest) about general comfort level around public speaking, the average response increased by 1.08 points following the training. As one staff included in the open comment of the post evaluation, “Some trainings are not worth doing. Tina's are very much worth the time, and good for getting the whole team on the same page.”
Educational & Outreach Activities
While we didn't have the opportunity to train and deploy a network of ambassadors in early 2020, we led the way among farming organizations in pivoting to online event and education delivery. At the outset of the pandemic, we designed an event delivery mechanism using Zoom and Facebook Live and hosted 21 meetups, two cover crop workshops exceeding 150 participants in each, 66 virtual field days and planned a virtual annual conference. Because we were fortunate enough to develop these formats early on, we shared our knowledge with other networks and organizations. In 2020, we presented to 10 groups with a cumulative attendance exceeding 380 people. Two trainings in mid-June were organized for North Central SARE grantees: one for ag professionals and educators and the other for farmers and ranchers.