Expanding and Diversifying Farmer-Educator Capacity through Ambassador Academies

Progress report for ENC19-186

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $89,789.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Practical Farmers of Iowa
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Sally Worley
Practical Farmers of Iowa
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Project Information

Abstract:

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.

 

Project Objectives:
  • 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
    • photos
    • videos
    • animations
  • 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. 

 

Cooperators

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Education

Educational approach:

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.”

Three of the six total ambassador academies have taken place and 28 farmer-educators have participated. Each of the ambassador academies has been formatted to take place online over two mornings and include farmers with 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.

Of the remaining three academies, one is complete and four more are on the calendar for March and potentially the first week of April, depending on farmer availability. 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 final two academies will be split into four separate trainings to accomplish two goals: fewer participants in a media-focused training allows the time and space to give each participant the attention they deserve, and, being in-person again, the trainings can be distributed geographically and made more accessible. The first pair of trainings will be similar to the November training. 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. One training will be in Blair, NE and the other in Eddyville, IA. We looking forward to using this opportunity to leverage additional external expertise (i.e., media coaches from a firm in Kentucky) to facilitate the training and extend the training opportunity to Nebraska members. We are excited to elevate the caliber of our training and use the experience to inform future trainings. The second pair of trainings will provide tools and training for farmers to share their stories and insights through video. We'll cover 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 impact on inputs, among other things. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Ambassador Academies
Objective:

Train farmer-educators to be better presenters/media interviewees

Description:

The ambassador academies varied over the course of the grant to conform to limitations from the pandemic and to highlight different outreach skill sets related to communication and education. In total, the intended six trainings were divided up into ten 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 ten trainings are media focused. Participants learn 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 the goal is to train an additional eight over the course of the last two trainings in March.

During the final set of trainings, approximately 15 farmers will receive tools and training to share their stories and insights through video. We'll cover 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. 

 

Outcomes and impacts:

Following each of the academies, participants are asked to set outreach goals for themselves. These goals are shared with Maggie Norton, PFI’s farmer outreach coordinator. Over the next year following the the academies, Maggie checks in with participants to encourage and support their goal-reaching efforts. Feedback and evaluations have been positive and appreciative of the professional growth opportunity. Overall, the ambassadors have successfully secured various outreach opportunities. To date, 19 ambassadors have received additional one-on-one coaching in preparation for specific opportunities that include radio interviews, a TedX talk, PFI's film, Livestock on the Land, storytelling at PFI's annual conference and general event presentations.

Non-Profit Staff Training
Objective:

Train PFI (agricultural non-profit staff) to be better presenters

Description:

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.

Outcomes and impacts:

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

183 Consultations
14 Online trainings
93 Published press articles, newsletters
75 Webinars / talks / presentations
14 Workshop field days

Learning Outcomes

24 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
Additional Outcomes:

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.

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.