Sustainable Agriculture Marketing Education for Nebraska

Final Report for ENC99-043

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1999: $42,968.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Cris Carusi
Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society
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Project Information


Farmers and ranchers can increase their profits and improve their quality of life through value-added marketing. The objective of this project was to build the capacity of Nebraska Extension Educators, NRCS Resource Conservation and Development District (RC&D) staff, and other technical resource providers to help farmers and ranchers adopt profitable direct marketing and value added strategies for sustainably–raised foods.

The primary audience for this project was University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Educators, because they are well-positioned to help farmers and ranchers adopt innovative marketing models. Farmers and ranchers were an integral part of every training event and were involved as both teachers and learners.

During the winter and spring of 2000, a series of three workshops were conducted. The first one, held just prior to our annual Healthy Farms Conference, was led by farmer and author Joel Salatin. Joel spoke on his marketing models for pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, and other products. He also explained some of the marketing points of his production methods as well as the nearly limitless opportunities that he has not yet explored. This program was rounded out by the involvement of Nebraska producers utilizing these models. The second workshop, led by Billene Nemec, manager of the Haymarket Farmers’ Market in Lincoln, was on organizing and starting farmers’ markets.
Billene provided detailed information on working with vendors, complying with regulations, and the economic development funding required to start a market. Again, this program was rounded out by presentations from four Nebraska producers with vending experience. The third workshop was led by Robert Karp and Shelley Gladwell of the Practical Farmers of Iowa and two Nebraska CSA farmers. Information was provided on the history, philosophy, and practice of the CSA marketing model.

During the summer of 2000, two “hands-on” field days were conducted by the Extension Educators and producers participating in the project. The first one involved trainees in the set-up, harvest, and distribution of produce through a CSA. The second one involved trainees in the processing and distribution of pastured poultry.

Finally, UNL Extension Educator Paul Swanson, prepared three NebGuides that summarized the learnings of the three marketing models presented through workshops and field days.. These have been distributed to workshop participants, are available through each county extension office, and are publicized through our newsletter.

This project was and is being well received by educators, resource providers and farmers alike. Though registered, direct participation was affected by unforeseen conflicts and weather events, the projected outcomes were met and exceeded. This is observed during discussion at complimentary events held on a regular basis by NSAS. There is no doubt that the knowledge level and the capacity to share that has been positively impacted. The real proof is in the proliferation of new direct marketing discussions and efforts. This project, in concert with many other good efforts during this time is providing hope and optimism to dozens of Nebraska Producers.

Project Objectives:

The overall objective of this project was to build the capacity of Nebraska Extension Educators, NRCS Resource Conservation and Development District (RC&D) staff, and other resource providers to help farmers and ranchers adopt profitable direct marketing and value-added processing strategies for sustainably-raised foods. This training will build collaborative partnerships between educators, technical resource providers, farmers and ranchers. Specific objectives include:

• Build trainees’ knowledge of consumer-direct marketing models which increase farmers’ profits and provide economic incentives to adopt sustainable farming systems, through a series of workshops. Marketing models to be covered include processing and direct marketing of “healthy” meats, farmers’ markets, and community supported agriculture.

• Train participants to facilitate farmers’ and ranchers’ adoption of these consumer-direct marketing models, through hands-on, experiential learning at field days.

• Develop three NebGuide resources for Nebraska Extension Educators and other technical assistance providers on consumer-direct marketing models.

Education & Outreach Initiatives



The primary target audience for this project is University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Educators, because they are well-positioned to help farmers and ranchers adopt innovative marketing models for sustainably-raised products. Farmers and ranchers have been an integral part of every training event and have been involved as both teachers and learners. We have also drawn participants from a variety of other audiences, including field staff for the NRCS Resource Conservation and Development District (RC&Ds) and other organizations that serve farmers and ranchers.

This project created a series of workshops and field days to provide trainees with the skills and knowledge needed to help farmers and ranchers implement value-added marketing strategies for high-quality, sustainably raised foods. The workshops and field days emphasized hand-on learning and drew from experienced farmers’ and ranchers’ expertise.

About 100 people attended all or some of the training events scheduled through this project. Workshop trainees were encouraged to attend the corresponding field day so that they could gain an in-depth, hands-on experience in each but at least one marketing model.

In Nebraska, Extension Educators have over 150 training opportunities available to them each year. This creates a great deal of competition for their time and interests. To attract Extension Educators to these training events, we used a participatory agenda design process. In the fall of 1999, surveys were sent to Extension Educators and RC&D field staff. The surveys gauged their interest in specific topics related to production, marketing, and value added processing. These surveys were developed and analyzed by the project coordinator, the state sustainable agriculture training coordinator, and the director of the Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems. Workshop/field day agendas and locations were based on survey responses.

During the spring and winter of 2000, three workshops on consumer-direct, value-added models were conducted. The workshops utilized participatory learning as much as was possible. Farmers and ranchers using these marketing models were invited and participated so that real-life case examples could be used. Workshop topics included:

Consumer-Direct Marketing of Healthy Meats: Farmer, author, and speaker Joel Salatin presented a two day workshop on his marketing models for pastured poultry, grass-fed “salad bar” beef, and several other products. Attendance by technical assistance providers, practicing producers, and potential producers was very good.

Organizing Farmers’ Markets: Billene Nemec, organizer and manager of the Haymarket Farmers’ Market in Lincoln, led this workshop. Several farmers who sell products through these markets participated in the presentation. Agenda items included the health regulation, weights and measures requirements and economic considerations in starting a farmers’ market.

Community Supported Agriculture: Robert Karp, Shelley Gladwell, and other members of the Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Field to Family Project, along with CSA farmers from Nebraska led this project. Information was presented on the history, philosophy, and practice of the CSA model. Participants were instructed on organizing a CSA, attracting and retaining members, tapping into the volunteer power of core groups, organizing harvest and distribution days, and setting up their financial plans.

During the summer of 2000 two field days were organized and conducted to provide hands-on experience. One field day focused on consumer direct marketing of pastured poultry and the other focused on community supported agriculture. The field days were organized by NSAS, and conducted by the Extension Educators and producers. The pastured poultry field day included gathering of the birds, processing in a portable processing unity, and pickup by consumers. The CSA field day included harvesting, packaging and distribution of vegetables.

NSAS contracted with UNL Extension Educator Paul Swanson to prepare three NebGuide publications on the three marketing models. NebGuides are brief, 2-4 page University publications that include basic information on selected topics. These publications will be distributed to workshop and field day participants and through the regular channels of the University of Nebraska. We will publicize these resources through the newsletters that reach NRCS and RC&D staff, and various non-profit organizations.

Planned Project Outcomes

• At least 100 trainees will complete all or part of the training program

• Trainees will be able to facilitate the adoption of consumer-direct marketing models by farmers and ranchers

• Trainees will understand why sustainable production systems are critical to the success of these marketing models, and they will be able to help farmers adopt these kinds of production systems.

• Three NebGuides on value-added, consumer-direct marketing will be published and distributed.

Outreach and Publications

The primary information products from this project will be the three NebGuides. They will be available in every county through the County Extension Office and in many counties through the RC&D and the NRCS Offices. NSAS will have these available at all major activities and will periodically advertise them in the newsletter. I believe the best information product from the projects will be the informed technical assistance providers. I expect that these folks will freely share their information and enthusiasm with producers and consumers alike that will allow them an opening.

Farmer Adoption, Impact, and Involvement

At least 50 farmers were directly impacted by this project and probably many more. Joel Salatin presented at our annual meeting which was on February 25th, the next day after the direct marketing of healthy meats seminar, and though that was not included as part of this project, it did impact an additional 200 people. In addition, the NebGuides will be a long- term source of information for interested farmers. My observation is that farmers have received and implemented this information in a variety of ways. There are some who went out and began direct marketing during the year 2000. There are others that used their new- found knowledge to improve their existing efforts. Others became mentors to the younger generation. My recommendation to farmers would be to begin implementing some of the concepts that they learned even if it is on one acre, one weekend, or one dozen eggs at a time. If it is enjoyable and profitable you can expand.

Involvement of Other Audiences

Extension Educators, RC&D staff, and producers were the primary audience. NSAS has involved a lot of interested consumers. Though we are all consumers, I believe that probably 10-15% of our audience were non-producing, non-ag-professional consumers. We have found these folks to be quite valuable as mentors and promoters of sustainably produced foods.

Outcomes and impacts:

This project was substantially completed during the spring and summer of 2000. The NebGuides are at various stages of completion but should be completed, published and distributed during the spring of 2001. This delay was experienced due to the fact the Extension Educator that had originally committed to do the NebGuides moved away and so the work was reassigned and rescheduled.

The workshops were evaluated and summarized by Charles Francis, Center for Applied Rural Innovation, University of Nebraska, as follows:

General Comments: Evaluation sheets were distributed during the last session of each workshop, and people were encouraged to fill this out so that we could learn about what was accomplished and how they intended to use the information provided. Participants were asked to rate their level of knowledge before and after the workshop, how useful they found the information for farmers in their region, and how likely they were to implement what they learned. We also asked them to rank the challenges they perceived in adoption of the information, but the results from this section were a complete scatter and we decided that they were of limited value. The comments of participants were also noted, as this qualitative part of the evaluation can provide valuable hints about the effectiveness of the workshops.

Value-Added Meat Marketing: Aurora, Nebraska, February 24-25, 2000. (35 attended, 26 evaluations returned)
Summary: the level of knowledge about meat marketing apparently went up substantially from before the workshop to after. Participants found the information useful to highly useful for them. They reported being somewhat likely to highly likely to implement what they learned.

• Great workshop that challenged my thinking
• Ideas were wonderful and simple, maybe too simple for many to adopt
• You have to believe in stewardship to practice this
• Need a list of producers in the state practicing these methods.
• Super, thought-provoking workshop
• Need more on market analysis and business planning
• More is need on networking
• Workshop should have been condensed to one day
• Finding appropriate slaughter facilities is essential
• Local examples would be useful
• University departments need this information

Community Supported Agriculture: York, Nebraska, April 4, 2000. (15 attended, 9 evaluations returned.)
Summary: All of the participants reported that they increased their knowledge as a result of the workshop. All but one found the information somewhat to highly useful. And all considered it somewhat likely or likely that they would adopt information gained from the workshop.

• We need more vegetable production experience
• There is a need for more practical publications from NE extension
• Workshop was informative and interesting, good chance to meet others
• Need to recognize that conventional farmers are not very receptive to these ideas.
• Networking among involved players is essential
• The examples from farms were most useful
• More people should attend these workshops
• There is a need for a central source of information and assistance
• More specifics on economics and tools to educate consumers are needed
• Presenters were excellent, handout materials were thorough & useful

Farmers’ Markets: Agricultural Research & Development Cntr., Mead, Nebraska, April 18, 2000. (20 attended, 11 evaluations returned)
Summary: The participants reported that they had more knowledge after the workshop than when they arrived; all reported some to high knowledge at the end of the activity. They found information to be useful to highly useful, and were likely to highly likely to apply the information learned in the workshops.

• good information for classes, also to answer extension calls
• need more written case studies, slides, pamphlets describing the programs
• one participant is currently in process of organizing a farmers’ market
• mentoring would be valuable, a chance to talk with someone already involved
• need more details on rules and regulations
• keep the markets going in a positive direction and have good networking
• need more of these workshops
• great workshop – keep up the wonderful work
• speakers were informative and appropriately brief
• diagrams or flow charts showing the certification or inspection process
• good to hear producers stories
• need copies of the rule guidelines for farmers’markets

The CSA/farmers’ market field day was held in June 2000, at Libby Creek Farm near York.. There were only 6-8 attendees so the field day became more of a “shadowing” experience. Attendees had either attended the workshop or had a casual understanding of CSAs’and farmers’ markets. An informal discussion and evaluation revealed that the attendees had added to their knowledge and were extremely interested in promoting and/or implementing parts of these marketing models.

The pastured poultry processing and marketing field day was held August 2000, at the Bill Henkel farm, near Hastings, NE. Attendees were already familiar with this model but seemed to have come to “compare notes”. An informal discussion and evaluation over lunch revealed that everyone learned something. Again, these attendees were excited about promoting and or implementing what they had learned.

Project Outcomes


Future Recommendations

Expansion of Project

This project could easily be expanded by changing the primary audience to consumers. This would be valuable for consumers, health care givers and producers alike. Also this project could be expanded to include other workshop locations.

Potential Contributions

Statements concerning potential contributions of an informational and educational project are necessarily based on a variety of observations and discussions. My comments are coming from the perspective of a producer and direct marketer who interacts with many other producers and marketers throughout the state. Additional insight comes from my responsibilities as the Director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society in which I interact with producers and consumers alike at activities as well as by phone and e-mail.

Just as the direct marketing models are based on relationships, so is the promotion and education of the models. The kinds of folks attending these workshops are interested in food production and distribution systems that correct many of the ills that they see in the conventional systems. These folks generally are excited to assist producers and consumers in implementing these models. Discussions have revealed to me that the average attendee will share much of the new knowledge with between 10 and several hundred people over the course of the year. These are the kinds of people that organize or attend farm tours, write articles for newsletters, and /or make presentation to various groups. Producers implementing these models are having a marked effect on their communities. They provide encouragement for their neighbors to think “outside of the box”. In other words, I believe that these kinds of educational programs are far reaching and impact hundreds of people beyond the attendance. 

More specifically, I have observed more farmers’ markets and more vendors at the markets. The vendors are doing a better job as well. CSA growth in Nebraska is a bit slower. However, the existing CSA’s are growing and getting more skilled. In addition several on-farm marketers are employing variations to the CSA model such as urban pickup points, home delivery, etc. which seem to work well in Nebraska. The growth of “healthy” meat and poultry production in Nebraska seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. I believe that the workshops gave some producers the confidence to proceed with their dreams in this area.

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.