A comprehensive professional development experience was carried out in conjunction with the 1997 National Small Farm Today (SFT) Conference and Trade Show in Columbia, MO. The Small Farm Conference is an annual event sponsored by the Small Farm Today magazine and is held in Columbia, MO each November. The conference included nationally known speakers and experts on various aspects of farming, however, most speakers are just plain small farmers who are making their farming systems work. More than 2,500 people from more than 20 different states attended the 1997 conference.
A special professional development program (PDP) preceding the opening day of the SFT seminar and trade show featured Diane Kaufmann, president of the National Pastured Poultry Assn, and Ed Fletcher of Wilcox Natural Products (Medicinal Herbs). Presentations and discussions were followed by a reaction panel discussion that included two Missouri Small Farm Educational Assistants and two PDP participants from other states.
Small groups of PDP workshop participants were then given team assignments based on case studies representing different small farm situations. The assignment included (a) listening to seminar speakers, talking with trade show exhibitors, and asking questions, (b) making individual and collaborative assessments of the economic, ecological, and social sustainability implications of different ideas, enterprises, methods, or products at the seminar and trade show, and (c) developing a team report concerning new opportunities they discovered for the families on their case study farms.
Each team included two or more Small Farm Family Educational Assistants, a Extension Specialist, and as diverse as possible with respect to home-state, farmer/ non-farmer, and by discipline, commodity, or type of farming. The presence of SFFP Ed. Assts. on each team helped create a co-learning situation between those with stronger backgrounds in sustainable agriculture and those experienced in addressing the unique information and educational needs of small farm families.
A total of 42 people from 7 different states attended the PDP — not including speakers. Participants were asked for written evaluations at the end of the program. Evaluations were very positive with many complementary comments B some of which are included as an appendix to this report. In addition, participants were asked to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being highest) (a) what they gained in understanding and knowledge and (b) the usefulness of what they learned in carrying out their work back home? The average rating for understanding and knowledge was 8.3 and the rating for usefulness was 8.3 as well — indicating a highly positive evaluation in both categories.
Funds remaining in the project budget following the 1997 Small Farm Conference were used to support a follow-up project, bringing people from the region to the 1998 SFT Conference to design a NC Regional Sustainable Small Farm Information Network.
The objective of the PDP was to increase awareness among extension workers and other information providers on information delivery methods and new opportunities for enhancing the economic viability of small farms by focusing on ecologically sound and socially responsible farming and marketing alternatives which fit well with small, family farming operations.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
During the 1997 SFT PDP initial plans were made to develop a four-state SARE PDP proposal to initiate a Sustainable Small Farm Information Network that would link MAC and other similar information resources in the region with small farm extension workers throughout the region. The proposal was approved for funding by the SARE Administrative Council and is being implemented in collaboration with the newly formed NC Regional Small Farm Task Force. Funds remaining in the 1997 PDP project will help pay travel expenses for farmers to attend the 1998 SFT Conference to participate in a planning session for the new Sustainable Small Farms Information Network which will take place during the 1998 conference.
(Repeated in part from the Summary)
The PDP was carried out during November 6-8, 1997. A total of 42 people from 7 different states attended the PDP — not including speakers. The seven states represented at the PDP were Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, Ohio, and Missouri. The PDP group was approximately one-fourth farmers, not including Extension workers who also farm, and three-fourth extension workers. The number of farmers who served as teachers is difficult to quantify, in that participants were asked to confer with those with displays at the trade show, those making presentations during the SFT conference program, and with conference participants in carrying out their workshop assignments. All of these groups were made up predominantly of farmers. So it is fair to say that farmers did the vast majority of the ‘teaching’ during this PDP.
As a result of this PDP, collaborative relationships were strengthened between those working with small farm Extension programs in the North Central Region, between the Missouri Alternatives Center (MAC) and the Sustainable Agriculture program, and between Small Farm Today, a private organization, and the NC Land Grant University community. These new collaborative relationships are reflected in the ‘Linkages to SARE’ section of the report below.
Feedback from participants in this PDP indicated the need for a regional Sustainable Agriculture Information Network designed specifically to meet the needs of families on small farms.
Consequently, funds remaining in the project following the 1997 Small Farm Conference were used to support the development of a follow-up project. The follow-up project brought extension workers and information providers from throughout the North Central Region to the 1998 SFT Conference to participate in the SFT conference, to interview farmers and other information users, and to help design a NC Regional Sustainable Small Farm Information Network. This program was carried out in collaboration with the NC Regional Extension Small Farms Task Force which was emerged from discussion among ANR program leaders at the 1997 conference.
The 1997 PDP evaluation included a question for those who had attended a similar workshop in 1996 asking them to evaluate the extent to which they used what they learned at the 1996 PDP over the past year. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being not at all and 10 being a lot, those responding rated their use of information at 7.76. We would expect a similar adoption and use of information gained during the 1997 PDP.
Those attending the Missouri PDP from Indiana prepared and submitted a SARE proposal modeled after their Missouri PDP experience. The Indiana proposal was also funded and their first conference was held in 1998.
A follow-up project, ‘Alternative Information Networking for Sustainable Agriculture on Small Farms,’ was submitted to the NC Regional SARE PDP program and was funded with a beginning date of Sept. 1, 1998. This new information project was a direct outgrowth of the ‘New Opportunities for Families on Small Farms’ project.
Participants were asked for written evaluations at the end of the program. Evaluations were very positive with many complementary comments — some of which are included as an appendix to this report. In addition, participants were asked to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being highest) (a) what they gained in understanding and knowledge and (b) the usefulness of what they learned in carrying out their work back home. The average rating for understanding and knowledge was 8.3 and the rating for usefulness was 8.3 as well B indicating a highly positive evaluation in both categories.
Evaluation follow up Sustainable Small Farms Information Network program is being submitted with the report for that project.
In general, public research and education programs specifically related to small farm issues are seriously neglected and under funded. The USDA Small Farms Commission confirmed this fact in their hearings with farmers from across the nation. The Small Farms Commission report also highlighted Sustainable Agriculture as the one approach to farming that held real promise for those who choose to live and work on small farms. The small farm issue is not so much about size as about philosophy or how one thinks about farming. Those who think they must continue to get larger, managing more land and more capital, in order to survive and prosper, are thinking like ‘big farmers’ no matter how small their current operation. On the other hand, those who think their best bet for survival and prosperity is to manage less land and less capital more intensively, getting smaller rather than larger, are thinking like small farmers, no matter how large their current operation.
Nearly all publicly funded research and education programs over the past several decades have been targeted to development and dissemination of technologies to allow farmers to increase profits by expanding production — to allow each farmer to manage more land, labor, and capital more effectively. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program is the one notable exception. For example, to the extent that SARE programs focus on reducing reliance on off-farm inputs by intensifying the management of internal resources, such programs create information and knowledge that is of use to those who think like ‘small farmers’ no matter the size of their operation.
The old LISA (Low Input Sustainable Program) was criticized soundly by many as being too restrictive in its approach to sustainable agriculture. Perhaps the criticism had some validity when considering agriculture in general, but LISA systems are the only hope for sustaining a desirable quality of life for families on small farms.
The USDA National Small Farms Commission and a similar Missouri Small Farms and Value Added congressional committee formed in 1998 have focused state and national attention to many of the issues addressed by the ‘New Opportunities’ SARE PDP project. Reports submitted by both groups validated the importance of sustainable agriculture as an approach to farming that is particular relevance and importance to families on small farms.