Alternative Information Networking to Support Sustainable Agriculture on Small Farms

Final Report for ENC98-028

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $32,950.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
John Ikerd
University of Missouri Columbia
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Project Information

Abstract:

This four-state program gave Extension Agents, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, and other information providers in the North Central SARE region quick and easy access to a full range of sustainable agriculture resources through development of the Sustainable Small Farm Information Network (SSFIN). SSFIN consists of members of the North Central Region Small Farm Task Force who are continuing to develop an internet site that catalogs small farm information from their corresponding states.

Small farm families clearly need this information so they can explore alternatives to traditional enterprises and ways to fit new alternatives into sustainable whole-farm systems. The 1997 USDA Small Farms Commission hearings confirmed that traditional agricultural extension programs are not meeting the needs of small farmers. This program will continue to help information providers supply families on small farms with the most effective alternative agriculture information and education programs available.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of this program is to provide quick and easy access to the resources extension agents and other information providers need to provide families on small farms with the most effective sustainable agriculture information and programs.

1) To develop a North Central Sustainable Small Farm Information Network (NC-SSFIN) that gives every extension worker and information providers in the region quick and easy access to the full range of sustainable agriculture resources available for small farm families

2) To develop prototype information resources that will be used by the network, including an up-to-date and easy-to-use Sustainable Agriculture resource Guide that lists organizations, educational opportunities, and grants that support non-traditional farm enterprises and sustainable agriculture strategies that are of particular value to small farm families.

Introduction:

A comprehensive professional development experience was carried out in conjunction with the 1998 National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference (SFT) in Columbia, Missouri. The Small Farm Trade Show is an annual event sponsored by Small Farm Today magazine, and is held in Columbia, Missouri 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 2,800 people from more than 20 different states attended the 1998 conference.

A special professional development program (PDP) preceding the opening day of the SFT featured Desmond Jolly, Director of the Small Farm Center University of California-Davis. Participants were then presented with an initial Sustainable Small Farm Information Network (SSFIN) proposal, developed by participants from the four lead states: Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and members of the North Central Region Small Farm Task Force. The presentation was followed by a Reaction Panel discussion. The panelists leading the discussion included a representative from Missouri’s Small Farm Family Program, farmers, and PDP participants from other states. All workshop participants were given the opportunity to discuss and comment on the proposal.

PDP workshop participants were then divided into ten teams of three to five people. The teams were assigned to interview farmers and extension educators attending the SFT, and complete a survey identifying small farmers’ information needs. Workshop participants gathered additional data about the sustainable small farm information needs of farmers by attending seminars, and interviewing trade show exhibitors. Farmers from the Sustaining People through Agriculture Network (SPAN), a Missouri farmers’ group, assisted in completing surveys.

The PDP workshop teams included a mix of Extension, Small Farm Family Educational Assistants, farmers, and non-profit and agency information providers. Each team included representatives from at least three states. A total of 46 people from 9 different states attended the PDP—not including speakers. Participants provided a verbal evaluation of their participation in this PDP when they gave their final reports. Comments were positive and included statements like this one from David Swaim of Swaim and Associates in Crawfordville, Indiana: “The SAN folks really appreciated the opportunity to be involved. Harry Wells had a great time and really enjoyed the interviewing.” (Harry Wells, Agriculture Coordinator of the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division at EPA stated, “I would do this again in a heartbeat!”). SPAN farmers also enjoyed a very positive experience interviewing other farmers. They completed many more surveys than the ten surveys originally requested per person.

Each team prepared a summary of their interviews to present to the rest of the group on the final day of the PDP. During the presentations, participants discussed how to use the survey information to develop a prototype SSFIN. Following the PDP, participants from the four lead states worked with staff from Missouri’s Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board (AgEBB) to develop an SSFIN prototype, and make public in late 2000.

Cooperators

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  • Dyremple Marsh

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

A comprehensive professional development experience was carried out in conjunction with the 1998 National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference (SFT) in Columbia, Missouri. The Small Farm Trade Show is an annual event sponsored by Small Farm Today magazine, and is held in Columbia, Missouri 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. Moe than 2,800 people from more than 20 different states attended the 1998 conference.

A special professional development program (PDP) preceding the opening day of the SFT featured Desmond Jolly, Director of the Small Farm Center University of California-Davis. Participants were then presented with an initial Sustainable Small Farm Information Network (SSFIN) proposal, developed by participants from the four lead states: Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and members of the North Central Region Small Farm Task Force. (The Small Farm Task Force is composed on University extension professionals representing the twelve north central states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin. The task force is developing a coordinated effort across the north central area to meet the needs of present and future small-scale agriculture. A major part of this effort is the development of the Sustainable Small Farm Information Network.) The presentation was followed by a Reaction Panel discussion. The panelists leading the discussion included a representative from Missouri’s Small Farm Family Program, farmers, and PDP participants from other states. All workshop participants were given the opportunity to discuss and comment on the proposal.

PDP workshop participants were then divided into ten teams of three to five people. The teams were assigned to interview farmers and extension educators attending the SFT, and complete a survey identifying small farmers’ information needs. Workshop participants gathered additional data about the sustainable small farm information needs of farmers by attending seminars, and interviewing trade show exhibitors. Farmers from the Sustaining People through Agriculture Network (SPAN), a Missouri farmers’ group, assisted in completing surveys.

The PDP workshop teams included a mix of Extension, Small Farm Family Educational Assistants, farmers, and non-profit and agency information providers. Each team included representatives from at least three states.

Each team prepared a summary of their interviews to present to the rest of the group on the final day of the PDP. During the presentations, participants discussed how to use the survey information to develop a prototype SSFIN. Following the PDP, participants from the four lead states worked with the staff from Missouri’s Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board (AgEBB) to develop a SSFIN prototype.

Funds remaining in the project budget following the 1998 Small Farm Conference were used to compile and distribute survey results, develop and modify the SSFIN prototype, and support a follow-up project. This project consisted of bringing people from the region to the Second National Small Farm Conference in St. Louis, Missouri in October 1999 to exhibit the SSFIN prototype and survey Conference participants about their reaction to the SSFIN. Funding was also used to exhibit the SSSFIN prototype and conduct surveys at the National Small Farm trade Show and Conference held in Columbia, Missouri in November 1999.

In June 2000, the SSFIN prototype was presented to North Central Region Professional Development Program (NC-PDP) Coordinators at their semi-annual meeting held at Osage Beach, Missouri. John Travlos of AgEBB, presented the prototype to increase awareness of the project, solicit feedback on its design, and to encourage states to offer entries.

The web site received its own domain and address: http://.ssfin.missouri.edu.
Debi Kelly, of Missouri Alternatives Center, was named overall manager of the SSFIN web site. Coordinators from several NC Region states volunteered:
Deborah Cavenaugh-Grant, Tom Hansen, Diane Mayerfield, Tom Parslow, Susan Smalley,Dave Varner,Dave Swaim, and Bill Wilke. These coordinators are responsible for inputting resources and contacts from their states. They are also developing sub-categories that will fine-tune searches for site users.

At this time, a farmer or educator can utilize the SSFIN site to search for resources and contacts. Searches are refined by:

1) Category: Animal Production, Community Development/Home-Based Businesses, Crop Production, Economics and Marketing, Education and Training, Integrated Farming Systems, Natural Resources and the Environment, Pest Management, Quality of Life/ Food Systems, and Soil Management/Soil Quality.

2) Information type: Articles, Audio, Bibliography, Books, CD-electronic (not web), Educational programs, Guide/Fact sheets, Internet web sites, Magazine/Journal, Newsletter, People/Contacts, Proceedings/Conferences, Slides, and Video.

3) Information Source: Other, University, USDA

The generous donation of time and resources from AgEBB staff, small Farm Task Force members, and PDP representatives from the four lead states has allowed us to continue developing and marketing the SSFIN, taking it beyond the prototype stage.

Outreach and Publications

SSFIN is a work in progress. As the web prototype continues to be developed, NCR Extension educators will publicize it through educational programs, websites, newsletters, and other media. Continued collaboration among educators from the NCR and the Small Farm Task Force through SSFIN will strengthen relationships and the exchange of information. This will ultimately lead to high quality programs, with cross-state collaboration, that will serve all farmers and educators in the region.

Outcomes and impacts:

The SSFIN PDP was carried out during November 5-7 1998. A total of 6 people from 10 different states attended the PDP- not including speakers. The 9 states represented at the PDP were Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The PDP group was approximately one-third farmers, not including Extension workers who also farm. The remaining two-thirds consisted of Extension and Small Farm Family Program educators, and a few representatives from government and non-government agencies. 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 ‘teaching’ during this PDP.

As a result of this PDP, collaborative relationships were strengthened between those working with the sustainable agriculture/ small farm Extension programs in the North Central Region, between NCR Extension programs and the Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board (AgEBB); between the Missouri Alternatives Center (MAC) and the Sustainable Agriculture Extension Program (SAEP); between the NCR Extension programs, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SANET), and the National Agricultural Library (NAL); and between Small Farm Today, and private organization, and the NCR Land Grant University community.

Survey results and feedback from participants in this PDP reiterated the need for a regional Sustainable Agriculture Information network designed specifically to meet the needs of families on small farms. Survey results revealed that marketing is by far the most important information needs at the present time. In order to serve these needs, the remaining grant funds were used to further refine the SSFIN prototype and publicize it at meetings and conferences.

Results from SSFIN are ongoing. In November 2000, the site will be officially launched and marketed to the public through meetings, conferences, educational events, printed materials, and web-based materials through Extension programs of the North Central Region states. In addition, the site will be marketed at the March 2001 North Central Region Small Farm Conference: Small Farms, A Renewed Opportunity, held in Springfield, Illinois, and the 2002 National Small Farm Conference. As the site is utilized by more farmers and educators, it will continually be improved to serve their needs.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

In the first two years, SSFIN has been taken beyond the prototype stage to a publicly available web site. The overall goal of this program has been to give extension agents, and other information providers quick and easy access to the best sustainable agriculture information and education programs available to meet the needs of people who live and work on small farms. This includes giving farmers direct access to the SSFIN. Additional funding could enhance SSFIN, and insuring its continued growth and utilization.

SSFIN will continue to be developed as existing human and financial resources allow.

Specific tasks that could further SSFIN include:
1. Catalog SSFIN information from all participating NC-SARE Regions
2. Identify electronically accessible lists of farmers who are willing to share sustainable agriculture information with others—such as those in the SARE Directory of Expertise- to serve as farmer-to-farmer links through the SSFIN. The SSFIN planning group would consider building their own list, or linking with existing lists.
3. Develop a network of web pages for all participating states. All SSFIN information would be accessible electronically—although in some cases available only by mail, fax, or phone—through the interconnected network of web sites.
4. Provide direction for a Lincoln University Regional Small Farm Center as a means of securing long-term support for the SSFIN.

These tasks could be accomplished using the following approach and methods:
• The 1998 project lead states, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and other would continue to implement and publicize the SSFIN, as they are currently doing.
• Employing an SSFIN Manager coordinate SSFIN information and maintain the web site.
• Establish a review committee to help the SSFIN manager evaluate and categorize materials that will be placed on the SSFIN.
• Make competitive mini-grants available to offset local costs involved in cataloging information, setting up web sites, and otherwise making potentially valuable information accessible through SSFIN.

Potential Contributions

As stated in the Results section, SSFIN has nurtured collaborative relationships between those working with the sustainable agriculture/ small farm Extension programs in the North Central Region, between NCD Extension programs and the Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board (AgEBB); between the Missouri Alternatives Center (MAC) and the Sustainable Agriculture Extension Program (SAEP); between the NCR Extension programs, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SANET), and the National Agricultural Library (NAL); and between Small Farm Today, and private organization, and the NCR Land Grant University community.

SSFIN is a tool that educators and farmers alike can utilize to find the most current information and resources from our region at their fingertips.

Additional impacts of the SSFIN will be seen as the site is made public, and its resources expanded over time

Farmer Adoption, Impact, Involvement

The purpose of this PDP was to evaluate the needs of small farmers, and create a Sustainable Small Farm Information Network (SSFIN) based on their needs. The participation of 46 extension educators, farmers, and agency staff members showed the high level of interest in creating a SSFIN. The 312 surveys collected during the 1998 National Small Farm Today Trade Show and Conference provided a detailed evaluation of farmers’ needs. (Of the surveys collected, 91 were MO residents, 47 were from outside MO: 2-AL, 2-AR, 1-CA, 3-CO, 1-GA, 6-IL, 1-IN, 4-IA, 10-KS, 1-MD, 1-NE, 1-NC, 2-OH, 2-OK, 1-TN, 1-TX, 2-WI. The rest did not give their name or mailing address.)

Utilization of the SSFIN by farmers will be tracked, as time and resources are available, after the prototype is officially launched.

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.