Educational Methods for Farmer Self-Organizing

Progress report for ENC22-209

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $88,978.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Lori Stern
Expand All

Project Information


The MOSES 2022 Organic Farming Conference planning process that engaged production-based Grower/Affinity Groups of farmers to identify content and potential speakers (43 of the 60 sessions and roundtables were created through this process), we see more deeply engaging these groups on site in a day-long convergence that relies on Open Space Technology as a way of organizing farmers while also providing content that is most relevant and current. To effectively achieve this with close to 14 farmer groups, funding will provide training to both Agricultural Professionals and farmer leaders that covers both popular education pedagogy and Open Space Technology meeting facilitation. Utilization of this training and pedagogical philosophy would extend beyond the convergence day (which would be a day of praxis and reflection for the trained Agricultural professionals) and into ongoing work with farmer groups in communities across the North Central Region. 

Current Grower/Affinity groups will be invited to attend and expand their numbers with minimal registration fees to cover the cost of food only and ensure attendees have a perception of value while keeping the cost low and affordable. We are estimating that each of the 10-14 groups will have 40-60 farmers for an anticipated total attendance of 600 farmers. A recent gathering of poultry producers where MOSES supported event registration and logistics, had 80 attendees. These producers form a pastured poultry Affinity group and are planning to join the convergence day in 2023 and beyond.


Project Objectives:

Training for Agriculture Professionals and farmer leaders: A training will be developed that addresses both the key principles of Popular Education, drawing from the work of Paolo Friere and Jane Vella as well as Open Space Technology Facilitator training and the link between the philosophy and practice of both. We estimate training at least 60 Ag professionals and 20 farmer leaders. Farmer leaders will be recruited from the MOSES Farmer Advancement Project that serves beginning farmers with an additional focus on socially disadvantaged farmers. Each year we pair an average of 24 farmers with mentors and the project also employs five organic farmer specialists from historically underserved communities. Farmer leaders will also be recruited from the Ag Solidarity Network Affinity Group moderators.


Ongoing Support for self-governance and coordination of effort through self-governance, self-directed learning models: The Ag Solidarity Network and the Convergence Day will strengthen current communities of practice while cultivating new ones. An anticipated conversation at the Convergence Day will be ongoing efforts to build a more just food and farming system. Each Grower Affinity Group might approach this differently or have different needs. Each of these approaches will be documented with lessons learned. Currently the Grower Affinity Groups are centered in the North Central Region, but the Ag Solidarity Network Platform and App enables farmers to connect across the country and across regions.  Moderated groups on the Ag Solidarity Network will increase in membership and number by 50% during the project time period.


Increased farmer engagement in cross-cutting farm enterprise issues that include policy, infrastructure, and market solutions: The Convergence Day and the Ag Solidarity Network both create structures for farmer engagement in issues beyond production. Organizationally we are attempting to address issues around land access, farmer equity and credit, climate smart farming and organic integrity. These issues go beyond production type and on-farm organic systems. Gathering in community, whether in person or online, with moderation and facilitation, will build energy for addressing these larger systemic issues related to farm viability and healthy communities. At least 9 farmer leaders will moderate groups on the Ag Solidarity Network. In addition, the farmer facing organizations that came together to design the platform will also continue to engage their farmer memberships. These include Fairshare, Organic Farmers Association, Artisan Grain Collaborative, and OGRAIN at University of Wisconsin.

Convergence Days for Grower Affinity groups: This project will create a model for hosting Farmer Led Convergence Days. Hosting the Convergence Day within the popular, annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference will ensure participation while creating a more affordable access as well. We anticipate close to 800 farmers by the second year of the convergence.



Educational approach:

This project relies on the foundations of adult learning theory with an emphasis on popular education methodology and democratic educational approaches. During this project year, Marbleseed hosted a Training of Trainers for farmers and agricultural professionals from non-profits and Extension employing and demonstrating these methods. 

The Marbleseed Organic Farming Conference also hosted a "Farmer Convergence" on Farm Viability as a theme that utilized Open Space Technology as the educational methods. This was the implementation of the democratic educational design highlighted in the Training of Trainers. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Teaching for Transformation

Enduring Understandings:
Adults will get the information they need from a learning environment that is
more engaging than didactic.
To know something, does not indicate intent to act on that knowledge.
Know and Do:
1. Identify multiple strategies to engage learners in required content
2. Identify processes to enable learners to identify content…how to know what you don’t know
3. Prepare for a role at the OFC Convergence-Open Space


This day-long training highlighted the process of designing educational environments for adult learners. Based on popular education with its focus on dialogue and interaction versus presentation of information. This was a day of interaction, practice and reflection. Participants explored building communities of practice and creating educational resources for adults within the context of required content.

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants reflected on their own learning styles and needs as adults. They then offered challenges they face in teaching adults, including the need to address grant specific content and objectives that may not have been identified by the farmer-learners.

Enduring Understanding and Backwards Design was taught as a way to address some of these challenges in creating relevant learning environments.

The training presented interactive teaching methodologies and then utilized research from NORA on farmer identified topics of interest. Small groups then applied interactive methods to the desired content topics and shared out with others in a gallery style. 

Open Space Technology was introduced and participants in the training were given the opportunity to come to the Marbleseed Organic Farming Conference as  participant/facilitators of the Farmer Convergence. 

Farmer Convergence

Explore farmer and farm viability using farmer to farmer and affinity groups within an Open Space Technology.


Concluding the Organic Farming Conference was a 3.5-hour workshop using a method called Open Space Technology. Participants were invited to convene 1-hour discussion sessions on a topic of their choice, which were documented to ultimately prepare a Book of Proceedings.

Outcomes and impacts:

Farmer passion, creativity, ideas, and experiences guided and shaped this dynamic session.  The Convergence gathered  farmer peers of all ages and backgrounds to address farm viability in a broad way.  Collective past experiences, present realities, and future potentials were documented in a book of proceedings that was made available through the Ag Solidarity Network and the Marbleseed website. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
5 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Workshop field days
1 Other educational activities: Farmer Convergence at the Marbleseed Organic Farming Conference; an Open Space Technology gathering on Farmer Viability.

Participation Summary:

26 Extension
3 Researchers
16 Nonprofit
40 Farmers/ranchers
2,200 Farmers participated

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

5 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Agricluture professionals utilized democratic principles in education with farmer groups evidenced by follow up evaluation/survey after the training and then the Convergence Day. 

Ag professionals indicated that they are more prepared to present and create space to address cross cutting policy and infrastructure issues. Surveys of extension educators indicated that their expertise may be more focused on specific production or business aspects of farming (soil, rotations, budgets, etc.) but they are less knowledgeable about the policy and systemic issues that need to be addressed for small-medium scale organic farms to be successful. The lack of expertise in this area leads to a dearth of information for farmers as well. The Farmer Viability topics addressed at the Farmer Convergence in 2023 provided a cross-cutting topic and content that was relevant for farmer participants and ag professionals. 

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
42 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Success stories:

Positive feedback from the Farmer Convergence at the Marbleseed Organic Farming Conference included:

-Feedback from participants:

  • Felt it was a safe space 
  • Appreciation of guiding principles clearly posted around the room 
  • Felt listened to about topics they are passionate about 
    • People reported feeling comfortable engaging in conversations with people they probably otherwise wouldn’t have. 
  • Felt good about wanting to keep in contact with one another to keep the discussion going 
  • I didn’t bother going to other presentations and was there specifically for the Convergence. 

Information Products

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.