The purpose of this project was to improve the awareness, knowledge, and skills of USDA and other agricultural service professionals to understand and serve the small-farm sector in the Northeast to insure its long-term viability. Multi-sector teams in 12 Northeast states were invited to propose a state-level training that replicated and customized the successful region-wide Professional Development Program and Small Farm Coordinator training that took place in 2001 (ENE 00-54). Seven states were selected by the project team to receive funds for state-level training. Over 400 agricultural service professionals were affected by the training–nearly twice the projected target. Eighty percent of training participants reported better understanding; 60% reported increased and improved outreach and program delivery as a result of the training.
Out of 353 agricultural service professionals in ten states, including Cooperative Extension educators, USDA agency personnel, NGO staff, and state agricultural agency staff reached by this project, 220 will develop enhanced understandings and new skills, employ innovative program resources and delivery strategies, and serve small farm constituents.
This project built from “Training Agricultural Professionals to Meet the Needs of Northeast Small Farmers,” a one-year project funded by Northeast SARE and launched in 2000. In this Phase II initiative, seven state teams adapted, at the state level, the 2001 regional training of the Professional Development Program (PDP) Coordinators and Small Farm Contacts (SFC) along with USDA/NRCS and FSA professionals and NGO representatives. The purpose of the state trainings was to foster increased awareness, understanding, and skills to better serve the small-farm sector in the Northeast to ensure its long-term viability. Project leaders at Cornell University and the New England Small Farm Institute, along with an established 11-member project team oversaw the replication of the regional training at the state level for extension agents, USDA line staff, NGO participants, and others. In addition, a one-day followup training was held at the annual (2002) Northeast PDP meeting, which was attended by state SFCs supported by this project.
The state-level trainings met and in some cases dramatically exceeded projected outcomes. Participants in state-level workshops reported gaining new knowledge and skills to improve service delivery to directly impact the end user –that is, the Northeast’s diverse small farm sector. Outcomes include:
Increased understanding of the diversity of the small farm sector
Greater appreciation for the learning styles that are effective in the small farm sector
New or improved skills in facilitating farmer to farmer learning in small discussion groups and other settings
Application of new knowledge and the skills to expand programs addressing the specific needs groups of farms within the small farm sector
The design of this project was based on a train-the-trainer model, wherein state teams that participated in the March 2000 regional training about the small-farm sector were given the opportunity to train other professionals in their own states. Teams that attended the regional training were invited to submit proposals for a state or multi-state training. Approved proposals received a portion of project funds to offset expenses associated with the training event.
The first step in implementing this project was to convene the project team. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the criteria and protocol for the selection of state team proposals to receive project support to hold state-level training events. The project team met for two days and developed the required elements of a successful state team proposal. Such elements included:
A multi-sector state project team, including farmers, and other groups important in the particular state. In some cases, this meant inviting additional members
Clear evidence that the team is fully engaged in all phases of the state project
Comprehensive focus on extension, USDA, NGOs and other ag professionals
Outcomes approach that stressed increased understanding of the small-farm sector and improved skills to better serve the small-farm sector in that state
An adequate evaluation plan
Replication, with or without modification of the regional training
Inclusion of a resource packet to support the workshop
The project team also designed procedures to invite proposal submittals, and to review them. It was agreed that the process was not competitive; in other words, there were sufficient funds in the budget to fund all state teams or multi-state teams. The strategy would be to encourage and help shape successful proposals, rather than reject any. The project team worked closely throughout the design and selection process, employing several feedback and approval loops.
A project coordinator and project leaders served as contacts and coaches for the state teams during the proposal development phase. Nine states submitted proposals. One proposal was a two-state collaboration (Deleware and Maryland). The project team reviewed them and in some cases made suggestions to strengthen the proposals. Generally, suggestions centered on encouraging more and sustained farmer involvement, more targeted focus on characterizing the small-farm sector, and improving the skill-building sections of the proposed training. Some proposals were modified, and all were approved by the project team. Two states (Massachusetts and Rhode Island) declined the invitation to hold state-level trainings, and one state (West Virginia) indicated commitment to submit a proposal, but in the end did not. Two states (Connecticut and New Jersey)submitted proposals, but due to various factors, were not able to follow through with planning. The other states (Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maine, Delaware, and New Hampshire) successfully moved forward to implement their trainings.
In each proposal, each state included a budget for the training events, including planning expenses. State teams received $5,000 (the two-state collaboration received $7,500). Every budget had substantial cash and in-kind matching, demonstrating a significant commitment to the project and to the training activity. It was a policy of the project team, communicated to the state teams, to compensate farmers for their time, and a standard of $200/day was suggested. Each state team negotiated a subcontract with the New England Small Farm Institute.
Once the teams received the go-ahead, the project leaders divided the state teams and served as coaches and contact people for the teams as they proceeded through the planning phase (fall and early winter 2001). At this point the contracted Project Coordinator left the project, and the project leaders decided to share the coordination tasks rather than hire a new person; an administrative assistant was hired to handle some of the work.
Each state team appointed a designated leader or contact person, most often an extension professional. Project leaders provided support, answered questions, kept track of timelines, assisted with design of evaluation tools, brainstormed about workshop design, outreach and speakers, and reviewed budgets.
State teams held trainings between November 2001 and March 2002. One project leader attended each training. Each team was responsible for its own outreach, logistics, evaluation design and participant database. Several weeks after each training, state teams, in collaboration with the project leaders, administered a followup electronic survey for the purposes of outcomes evaluation. There were standard questions asked of all participants, regardless of the state, plus a couple of additional questions that each state could add if desired. In addition, the project leaders conducted phone interviews with a sampling of training participants. Outcomes data was collected, analyzed and prepared for reporting.
In February 2002, the PDP coordinators from the northeast states gathered at their winter meeting. The first day was devoted to a follow-up training of PDP coordinators and CSREES Small Farm Contacts from each NE LGU who were invited and supported by this project. A total of 43 participants attended; 32 were extension or other university; 7 were USDA. The training focused on targeted program design and implementation, reaching and recruiting the small farm audience, and engaging in effective partnerships with an emphasis on articulating challenges and identifying ways of thinking or working more effectively to serve the small-farm sector. Presenters from two non-governmental organizations and two land-grant university programs that are seen as successfully working with the small-farm sector gave presentations about their programs, and exercises followed to elicit reflections and new ideas about engaging small farmers.
Project leaders oversaw a comprehensive outcomes evaluation process for this project.
The following assessments were conducted to evaluate Phase 2 results and target outcomes. (Please see Appendix for evaluation documents.) Evaluation tools were designed to correspond to particular outcomes:
Outcome 1 (Participation): We collected participant numbers and breakdown by category (affiliation) for all Phase 2 activities — state-level workshops, and the February 2002 PDP workshop. We compared the evaluations from the February 2001 and February 2002 PDP workshops. Participants’ needs and intentions as stated at the 2001 PDP were compared to their actual accomplishments as stated at the 2002 PPDP workshop.
We also conducted a post-Phase-1 survey of state Small Farms PD Team members, entitled “Meeting the Needs of Northeast Small Farmers: The Next Step.” This mail-in survey was conducted in May 2001, and asked team members to reflect on what they learned during the February 27-28, 2001 train-the-trainer professional development workshop (“Meeting the Needs of the Northeast Small Farm Sector”) held in Albany, New York. Small Farm PD team members included farmers as well as educators and service providers. Out of 75 participants, 14 responded to the survey.
Outcomes 2-5 (Impacts): We collected post-workshop participant evaluations from six state-level 2002 Small Farms workshops. Evaluation was administered at the end of each workshop.
Email survey of participants in the state-level 2002 Small Farms workshops were conducted April-May, 2002, one to six months after the workshops. One hundred fourteen of the total 388 non-farmer participants completed email surveys. We conducted phone interviews with thirty agriservice professionals who participated in the state-level 2002 Small Farms workshops. Interviews were conducted May-June, 2002, two to seven months after the workshops. Interviewees were selected at random, after the number of interviewees for each state and agriservice category (Cooperative Extension, USDA, Other) was defined to reflect the distribution of participants overall.
Performance Target Outcomes
As a consequence of the February 2000 regional training for USDA and other agricultural professionals on the topic of understanding and serving the Northeast small-farm sector, the project leaders anticipated that participating state teams would be motivated to replicate the regional training for other agricultural service professionals in their states. The following milestones were projected:
MILESTONE: 12 state teams request more info/assistance in preparing a proposal for state-level small farms professional development workshop. Twelve state teams did request information and did initiate steps to preparing for a state-level training.
MILESTONE: 10 state teams submit proposals for a state-level small farms professional development workshop. Proposals clearly reflect experiences from the regional workshop conducted in phase I. Nine teams submitted proposals. Two states decided early on that they would not participate in this phase of the project. Another state indicated intent to submit a proposal, but did not. Of the eight proposals, all reflected material covered from the regional workshop. This was shown by the need statements that echoed the importance of the small-farm sector in each state, and in the proposed planning process that consistently emphasized multi-sector participation and farmer participation.
MILESTONE: State teams sponsor a state level small-farms workshop for agricultural professionals that is locally customized but addresses the core planning and implementation components of the Phase I regional workshop, drawing a total of 225 agricultural service professionals. Six teams representing seven states implemented state-level trainings. A total of 590 participants took part in the trainings, including 453 agricultural service professionals (approximately 40 of whom may have participated in more than one workshop). This is nearly twice the projected milestone.
Regarding the components of the workshops, some states stuck more closely than others to the regional workshop design. States were encouraged to adapt the regional model, and all states modified the format and content of the regional training from somewhat to substantially.
One state (Vermont) decided to focus on one sub-sector of the small farm audience — beginning farmers. Another state (New York) elected to hold four sub-regional two-session training series throughout the state using a flexible format to accommodate local interests. Several states incorporated on-farm tours. Two states (New Hampshire and New York) employed an innovative case study approach. A few states focused on multi-sector service provider interaction. All states had farmers as presenters. All states provided resource packets adapted from the packet assembled for the 2000 regional training. No state focused on the USDA Small Farm Typology as a tool for characterizing the small-farm sector; feedback was that the regional training exercise that used the typology, and the typology itself, were not useful. One state (New Hampshire) employed an innovative case-study approach in which service providers worked with a farm family around real issues. All states featured displays and hand-outs featuring resource materials and organizations.
In the proposal to Northeast SARE, project leaders did not identify a milestone for the follow-up PDP training, held in February 2002. At this meeting, 43 people received a training focused on reaching and recruiting the small farm sector, designing and implementing effective programming, and engaging in effective partnerships. An evaluation tool was employed to gather pre- and post-event feedback.
6. Impacts of Results/Outcomes
The following performance target for Phase 2 was defined in the original project proposal:
“Out of 353 agricultural service professionals in 10 states reached by this project, 220 will develop enhanced understandings, new skills, employ innovative program resources, and delivery strategies, and reach and serve targeted small farm constituents.”
We have used this statement as the basis for our evaluation, which we have broken into five primary target outcomes:
Participation in the project
Use of innovative program resources and delivery strategies
Reaching and serving targeted small farm constituents
Outcomes 2 and 3 represent increased capacity to address the needs of small-farm operators, whereas Outcomes 4 and 5 represent actual behavioral changes among participants.
We divided our evaluation results into two categories of target audience:
1. State Team Leaders and others who attended the PDP training
2. All participants in the state-level training workshops
Outcome 1: Participation in the project (all participants)
A total of 590 participants took part in the Phase 2 state-level workshops and Professional Development workshop. This included 137 farms and 453 agricultural service professionals. Considering that some individuals were involved in more than one event, we estimate that 550 individuals – 135 farms, and 415 agricultural service professionals – were directly engaged in this project. In terms of participating agricultural service professionals, the performance target of 353 was exceeded by 18%. The number of participants in each of the Phase 2 workshops is shown in Figure 6.1.
Figure 6.2 shows the breakdown of agriservice participants by category for all of the Phase 2 workshops. USDA agency staff represented the largest category of participants, with 27% of the total. Twenty-three percent were farmers, 19% were Cooperative Extension field-based personnel, and 7% were University-based personnel (Extension and/or research and teaching). Six percent of participants represented non-governmental organizations such as sustainable agriculture groups, and environmental groups. Five percent were from the private sector – primarily local banks and agribusiness companies, and 3% were from local Soil and Water Conservation District Councils. Figure 6.3 shows the breakdown of USDA participants by agency.
Because each state team created its own unique workshop program and outreach strategies, there was significant variation in the composition of the groups participating in the different workshops. Table 6.1 shows a detailed breakdown of participants by category and by workshop.
Outcomes 2-5: Impacts on State Team Leaders
Surveys were conducted at the end of both of the professional development workshops, which were held in February of 2001 and 2002. A comparison of the responses to these post-workshop surveys provided a basis for the evaluation of Phase 2 outcomes among the state team leaders, which included each state’s USDA-SARE Professional Development Coordinator and USDA Small Farms Contacts, and selected others.
Participants were asked the following questions after the workshop in 2001; What programs would you like to see developed? What is needed most to improve your effectiveness? What do you intend to do as a result of your attending this workshop? Participants in the 2002 workshop were asked: What are your current successes in serving the small farm sector?
Responses for 2001 and 2002 are summarized in Table 6.2. A comparison of the responses in the two years suggests important outcomes from the workshops held in 2001 and 2002:
Increased understanding of the diversity of the small farm sector (Outcome 2)
Greater appreciation for the learning styles that are effective in the small farm sector (Outcomes 2, 3)
Skills in facilitating farmer to farmer learning in small discussion groups and other settings (Outcomes 3, 4)
Application of new knowledge and the skills to expand programs addressing the specific needs groups of farms within the small farm sector (Outcomes 4, 5)
Next Steps: One of the goals of the Phase 1 professional development (PD) workshop held in February 2001 was to model — or in some cases to test — a variety of innovative program resources and educational processes which might then be replicated or adapted at the state level in the Phase 2 workshops. The “Next Step Survey,” which was conducted almost three months after the 2001 PD workshop, asked the state teams to reflect on each component of the model program, to think about whether and how that component might be used in their own workshops, and to suggest improvements. The Next Step survey results (in Appendix) provide direct evidence of significant participant learning about the educational processes and resources that were modeled for them.
Outcome 2: Enhanced Understanding Post-workshop evaluations (State training participants)
The state-level workshops were designed to enhance the knowledge, skills and effectiveness of agricultural service providers in meeting the needs of small farm operators. Each state team administered its own post-workshop evaluation survey at the closing of the workshop. Most of the questions asked in the post-workshop evaluations relate to Outcome 2. Table 6.4 presents the results of these evaluations.
The responses in all states indicate significant gains in knowledge and understanding among participants. For example, 100% of Vermont workshop respondents (including farmers as well as agriservice professionals) reported improved understanding of programs and resources available to beginning farmers, and 95% reported improved understanding of the challenges that beginning farmers face. In Maine, 94% of agriservice professionals reported that the workshop had increased their awareness of small farm issues “somewhat” to “very much”. Ninety-four percent also reported that the workshop had helped them learn strategies for reaching small farm operators. Seventy-six percent said they had learned how their organizations can better serve the small farm sector in Maine.
In New Hampshire, 100% felt they had gained both a better understanding of the values, goals, and decision-making process that agriculture operators use, and improved understanding of family and business connections. Ninety-two percent reported improved understanding of the diversity, needs and challenges of small and entry-level agriculturists. In the Maryland/Delaware workshop, 100% of respondents said they had learned something new.
In New York fifty-eight percent of Series 1 workshop respondents said their understanding of the small farm sector changed as a result of the workshop Only eight percent said that their perception of the education and service needs of small farm operators had changed. Sixty-three percent of Series 2 workshop respondents reported that their understanding of the connection between farm families and business goals had changed as a result of the workshop. Fifty-five percent said their perception of their own role in helping farm families to address their goals had changed.
Email survey. The email survey was conducted after participants had attended their workshops, in most cases1-3 months later. This allowed some time for reflection and implementation of new ideas. The results are presented in Table 6.5. For the most part the survey focused on behavioral changes (Outcomes 4 and 5) not on gains in knowledge or skills (Outcomes 2 and 3). However, 80% of the 114 respondents said they had gained new information and/or skills related to the characteristics and unique needs of the small farm sector. Eighty-four percent said that as a result of the training they are better prepared to serve the small farm sector, indicating a combination of knowledge and skills improvement.
Telephone interviews. The telephone interviews were conducted 2-7 months after the workshops. Results are summarized in Table 6.6. Seventy-three percent of the thirty interviewees cited specific new knowledge, understandings or insights they had gained. Another 13% said that while the workshop provided no new knowledge, it did help by reinforcing and heightening their awareness of small farm issue and needs.
Ten interviewees (33%) reported new knowledge about small farm characteristics and diversity, and of the strategies they use. For example:
“It helped me see the diversity of people involved in small farming, the diversity of mindsets”.
“I was already pretty familiar with small farm needs, but my understanding was deepened. For example, hearing about one farmer who does rotational grazing and direct marketing, his challenges and opportunities, the difference that shifting to rotational grazing had made for him.”
“I was surprised to see the farmers’ enthusiasm about diversifying, about alternatives enterprises. I never paid much attention to this; it never entered my head that people would really want to do some of these things, like specialty crops. I’ve always worked with dairy.”
“Personally, I learned a lot! My knowledge base was very limited. I didn’t realize what they had to go through, what they did. It’s harder than I thought.”
Twelve participants (40%) reported increased awareness of the needs and concerns of small-
“It contributed to a greater consciousness, not so much knowledge since I think I had the knowledge, but a higher awareness level of the needs of this audience, which can be fairly specific and different from the needs of other audiences. A greater consciousness that they shouldn’t be overlooked.”
“From the workshop, I recognized that… these folks have distinct needs, educationally and from agribusiness. Once you open the door in your mind that a farm business can be something other than a commercial dairy farm, you suddenly become aware of the guy who’s growing lettuce and selling at the farmers market, or the ones growing flowers, or making cider. Now I don’t think of the issue so much in terms of ‘small dairies vs. large dairies’, I think in terms of ‘small farm businesses’.”
“The workshop did a good job of reinforcing the fact that farm business transition planning, which is often seen as a legal/business/structural problem, really depends on interpersonal factors, communications, and management skills.”
“It reaffirmed what I think I already knew. But it also opened my eyes to the perceived discrimination that some small farmers feel. They perceive themselves as not being treated equally, that the larger farms get most of the attention. I think this is more of an education problem than a reality, but I was surprised… they’re…almost angry. I’m not sure if they came away feeling any differently. But we agency people certainly got the message. That at least there’s a perception problem.”
“What was most interesting about the workshop was hearing what the small farm themselves had to say… that it’s their own responsibility to get involved, to find out what’s available. At the same time, I didn’t realize how hard it was for some of them to get information. Some didn’t have a clue where to start.”
“Probably the single most important thing was that it placed firmly in all of our minds the fact that these farmers don’t get off the farm much. They want to have information brought to them, and preferably right to the kitchen table.”
Ten people (33%) cited increased awareness of the need for more effective, targeted
outreach and delivery of programs and services to small-scale farmers:
“It’s easy for them to get lost in the sauce. Yes, we have some definite challenges in delivery to this audience. But we have to get out and overcome them. There is an ongoing debate as to whether their needs are any different from those of larger farms. And in a sense, no – the educational needs, per se, may be the same regardless of size, but the delivery needs are very different. We can’t expect these farmers to show up for a two-day seminar somewhere far away in the county. We’ve got to be more creative. I came away with LOTS of ideas for delivery to this audience.”
“It helped me get out of the box on delivery methods, to be more creative.”
“The meeting will help our agency strategize around outreach efforts and technical assistance needs.”
“I think I will be able to do a better job getting my research results out to small farmers, just by getting out and going to meetings like this one.”
“It’s difficult when you’re working with the federal programs. But here in our field office (NRCS), we’ve realized there’s lots of ways that we can do better. Like improved outreach, being more sensitive to this audience and how we can reach them. For example, in the past we would have just put an article in the main newspaper, and in our publication. Now we’re looking at other ways to get the word out.”
Finally, five participants (17%) indicated an increased appreciation for the importance of
“There are more of them out there than I thought. They’re doing things, and some of them have viable businesses. Small farms are the wave of the future. I guess I knew that, but it helped to have that clarified.”
“I walked away with a sense that small-scale farming occupies an important gap between the agricultural and non-ag sectors, an interface where a fair amount of misunderstanding & blame can occur. Were it not for the small-scale producers, the ag sector would be miniscule indeed, and comprised only of large-scale commercial ventures employing mainly specialized people. If that were the case, our society would lose the holistic understanding about producing food that small-scale producers have.”
On the other hand, four telephone interviewees (13%) said they did not gain any new
knowledge or understanding:
“The case studies were interesting and valuable. It was a really good workshop, but there wasn’t much that was new to me except for some new contacts.”
“The workshop was really about the normal interactions, the usual customers that we already serve. It provided a lot of reinforcement for the things we’re already thinking about, but not really much in the way of new skills or knowledge.”
Outcome 3: New Skills (State training participants)
Post-workshop evaluations. New Hampshire’s workshop had an explicit focus on skills building (outcome 3), and post-workshop evaluations showed 92% of participants reporting “better listening skills to hear the issues, concerns and needs of farmers.” Ninety-seven percent reported “enhanced team-building skills with other service providers to better collaborate, share ideas and deliver resources to meet the needs of the agriculture client.” Eighty percent of NY participants said they had “developed new ideas and/or skills in serving the small farm sector.” (Table 6.4)
Email survey. See Outcome 2 above.
Telephone interviews. Only 20% of telephone interviewees said they had gained new skills as a result of their workshop; 80% said they had not (Table 6.6). This may reflect the fact that, although skills improvement was a goal for most of the workshops, it was not labeled as such except in the case of New Hampshire.
Those that reported improved skills cited enhanced communication and listening skills, and greater patience when working with farmers:
“The workshop itself provided me with a perspective of not being so eager to solve people’s problems for them. I’d say I take more of a process mode, to sort out who are the people who have an immediate need for an answer, and who doesn’t. I have more patience. I don’t need to give them an answer and solve their problems right off the bat.”
“I have more patience, absolutely. The NRCS speaker helped me understand that a farmer who comes into my office may not be able to express what they really need. I have to draw that out.”
“I was already working quite extensively with small farms. I work with the ‘Beginning Farmers of NH’ program. So the workshop didn’t increase my work with small-scale farmers. But it did change how I interact with farmers. I’m a better listener.”
Outcome 4: Use of innovative program resources and delivery strategies (State training participants)
The extent to which the state Teams actually employed these and other innovative program resources and delivery strategies was assessed by comparing the Phase 2 state-level workshop agendas to the Phase 1 PD workshop agenda. Table 6.3 shows the number of state workshops that utilized each of the program components that were modeled.
Five Teams used some form of participatory learning in their workshops. All six Teams used farmers in a teaching role. Five used farmer panels or multiple farmer-presenters to explore the characteristics, diversity and needs of small farms, while one team used a single small farm as an in-depth case study. Two Teams used a “listening-to-farmers” exercise aimed at improving listening skills and sensitivity to small farm concerns.
All six Teams included some form of multi-agency networking and sharing of resources among educators and service providers. Five Teams had multi-agency groups work together to identify problems and suggest solutions. In at least three cases, these groups made plans for future action. Two Teams organized a Resource Fair to promote information sharing and networking among service providers.
In terms of specific topical areas which were addressed in the 2001 PDP workshop, two state Teams chose to include sessions addressing the family-business connection. None of the Teams included sessions on facilitating farmer-to-farmer learning, and none explicitly addressed targeting, reaching and recruiting small farms. However, these issues most likely were addressed in multi-agency discussion groups.
None of the Teams made use of USDA-ERS’s typology of small farms, which was showcased in the 2001 PDP workshop. This is consistent with the many critical comments about using the typology as a teaching tool that were expressed in the Next Steps survey.
The email survey and telephone interviews explored how/whether participants had made any behavioral changes as a result of attending the workshop. Although in most cases only one or two months had elapsed since the workshop, responses showed significant impacts in terms of greater inter-agency cooperation and use of innovative program design and delivery methods.
Greater interagency cooperation
Email survey. Seventy-six percent of email survey respondents reported that, as a result of the workshop, they had shared information or had a discussion about issues related to the small farm sector with other service providers (Table 6.5). One participant said. “I thought the program was very well done. The primary benefit was strengthening inter-agency cooperation. Our inter-agency relationships on a county basis are very good here in New Hampshire but there is a need for us to get together more on a state wide basis.” Another said, “I am working with a group of Extension agents that I did not work with prior to the training.”
Telephone interviews. Nineteen of the 30 interviewees (63%) cited specific examples of enhanced communication and cooperation among multiple agencies (Table 6.6). For example:
“The best part was being able to meet all these people – like MOFGA, and the state Department of Ag. We just weren’t aware of all the resources and programs that are out there. We really need this partnership! I have told two different farmers, since the workshop, about programs they can tap into, one through MOFGA and one through ME Department of Ag.”
“It has been a great catalyst in getting us more involved with other organizations doing similar work. There’s a lot of momentum building around new farmer programs. We already had a very collaborative approach, but this was a good kick-start to bring it to another level. We’re partnering with other local organizations on a buy local campaign, and the workshop helped move that partnership forward. I’ve been stressing the need for collaboration, the need for all our personnel to take initiative in collaboration building, internally, and with other organizations.”
“(Since the workshop) I’m trying to be much more inclusive in developing multi-agency, multidisciplinary teams for the Beginning Farmers of NH program. Also, the workshop created more awareness and enthusiasm for these teams around the state. Agency people who participated in the Listening to Farmers workshop now want to participate in the Beginning Farmers teams.”
Innovative program design and delivery
Email survey. Although the survey did not ask specifically about program design, comments indicated that at least two participants were already developing new programs as a result of the workshop: a marketing bus tour, and a fall meeting for small-scale farmers to learn about various agency programs.
Telephone interviews. Eleven interviewees (37%) reported developing new programs or making changes in existing programs as a result of the workshop (Table 6.6). For example:
“I will be working with local agencies to sponsor a fall meeting for small scale farmers to learn about various agencies’ farm programs.”
“We’re going to have a bus tour in July. We came up with that during the final sessions at the workshop.”
“At the end of the workshop we met in county groups to discuss plans. Our county is now planning to put on a similar program this fall at the county level for our small farms. Our goal is to have small-scale farmers become aware of all the services and projects that agencies and organizations have available.”
“We’ve developed two new farmer programs that have become regionalized over a five-county area. They grew out of the 2001 (professional development) workshop, in part, and also just from the increased demand for new farmer programs that we’ve seen. There is kind of a ‘movement’ here.”
“Another thing that came through loud and clear, from the research and from the workshops – Farm Tours. They want farm tours! So, we’re doing farm tours.”
Outcome 5: Reaching and serving targeted small farm constituents (State training participants)
The evaluation results presented under the preceding outcomes make it clear that, within a few short months after workshops, many participants had already become more effective in reaching and serving their small farm constituents. The following results provide additional evidence of this outcome:
Email survey. Seventy-three percent of email survey respondents reported that, as a result of the workshop, they had served specific audiences within the small farm sector, for example new farmers, part-time farmers, and immigrant farmers. Fifty-five percent had made or received a referral related to the needs of small farm operators, and 44% had provided new services or new information targeted to the small farm sector as a result of the workshop. Sixty-five percent reported that they are now more likely to respond to inquiries from the small farm audience (Table 6.5).
Telephone interviews. In addition to all of the behavioral changes already cited under Outcomes 3 and 4, 16 of the 30 telephone interviewees (53%) cited other specific behavioral and organizational changes they had made to better serve small farmers, as a result of the workshop (Table 6.6). These include:
“(Since the workshop) I take more time with the small farms. I’ve got more patience. When they call me I just go out there and I take more time. I’ve realized that they have as much right to our services as the larger farms.”
“We made contact with a few small farms that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We had a small farm from this area on a panel, trying to think of other ways of doing things. Now we’re working with this farmer. I wrote an article about the workshop, and about the importance of small farms in our county, and I received some compliments. I’d say I’m taking more time with the small farmers who come in, and seeking them out a little more, trying to find out their needs.”
“It has moved us along in building the program to serve existing farmers, not just beginning farmers. Farmers who are looking at maybe starting a new enterprise, or a new marketing strategy.”
“I’m starting to keep track (of small farms) more carefully, since I realized there are more of them out there than I thought.”
“I’m trying a little harder now. I’m more aware of their frustrations, more sensitive. So I’m taking more time, being more careful to be as helpful as I can be.”
Summary of Performance on Outcomes 1-5
Table 6.7 presents estimates* of the numbers of Northeast agriservice providers positively impacted in each of the outcome areas. The results for participation (Outcome 1), enhanced understanding (Outcome 2), use of innovative program resources and delivery strategies (Outcome 4), and reaching and serving targeted small farm operators (Outcome 5) significantly exceeded our target numbers. The number of participants showing development of specific new skills (Outcome 3) did not meet expectations.
*These estimates are based on the average percentage score of all measures for that outcome. For example, the estimate of 80% for Outcome 2 is the average of all the scores (100%, 95%, 94%, 94%, 100%, 100%, 58%,8%, 63%, 55%) reported for that outcome.
Other outcomes and issues: In addition to the targeted outcomes described above, there were other documented outcomes and issues raised from this project that are worth noting:
1. Attitude shift: Evaluations demonstrated enhanced legitimacy, enthusiasm, and advocacy for small farms. The telephone interviews showed that a remarkable shift in attitudes towards small farms is taking place among agriservice providers, which can be attributed at least in part to this professional development effort. Nineteen people (63%) reported a positive change in their own or others’ outlook on small farms (Table 6.6). For example:
“It’s not that we’ve been reluctant, we’ve always worked with SF, but it gave support to working with SF. That this is a valid audience to be working with. SF may represent only small part of the total dollars generated in agriculture, but there are a lot of people involved, and it’s important to the county.”
“I guess I’ve always felt a little guilty about (working with small farms). Now I know about the important contributions that SF make to NYS and everything, and I don’t have to feel bad about spending time on them.”
“It’s easy to get caught up in the big farm thing. But they’re not the ones that are going to preserve our rural landscape.”
“I’ve realized that they have as much right to our services as the larger farms.”
“I speak more on behalf of small farmers than I might have in the past with my colleagues. I’m creating an atmosphere of greater acceptance.”
“It’s the people in farming, and not just the number of cows.”
2. Different needs/capabilities of the USDA agencies: Several comments from the telephone interviews raise questions about whether some of the USDA agencies are in a position to make good use of professional development efforts such as this one, or whether a different approach might be needed to effect change in those agencies:
“Unfortunately, so many of the farm programs that we in FSA (USDA – Farm Services Administration) administer do not apply to the small farmer. The larger states gear what is in a new program and we try our best to make it work here in New Hampshire. If Congress could regionalize and create programs to fit our needs, we all would be better off.”
“With the USDA programs there’s not much we can do differently. I think most of the CED’s (FSA County Executive Directors) went away feeling like the workshop didn’t pertain to them so much. This was somewhat frustrating. I think it was the reason we didn’t go back to the second workshop.”
“When you work for Uncle Sam, the programs are pretty much top-down. They come from the National level and we do our best to make them apply. But the workshop gave me an appreciation that I need to be looking out for this audience. It’s not just the potato farmer with a hundred or 400 acres, it’s also the vegetable grower with just 3 acres.” (NRCS)
3. Allocating effort/resources among different clientele: The farms in some of our participating states are almost entirely small farms. Other states have the full range of farm sizes from very small to very large. In the latter case, drawing attention to scale issues in agriculture, even in a very non-divisive manner, raises the difficult question of how agencies do or should allocate resources – according to each sector’s productivity or according to the number of people involved?
“We’re a county that probably has more small farms, and more farms, than any other county in New York State. For a long time we’ve tried to give support to small farms. But there’s still some mixed feelings, some unanswered questions. You can spend a lot of time working with small farms, but they only account for a small portion of the agricultural production generated in this county. It’s not that the issue is controversial or openly discussed much. But it’s a tricky one.”
“In my county, there is a lot of divisiveness about “small versus large”. There’s a kind of an unspoken agreement that we don’t want to talk about it, and if we don’t talk about it, it will go away… But I think it would be good for them to discuss it. And this is a legitimate issue facing educators – How do I divvy up my time? What’s the priority of different audiences?”
“There’s still a certain attitude that’s out there. A cynicism and skepticism about small farms. There’s an arrogance. Some of the educators who work mostly with the large commercial farms, they just say “these small farms won’t get off their butts to go to a meeting, and I don’t want to bother dealing with them. I don’t have to.” These tend to be the specialists, not so much the people working at the county level. I think it comes down to their feeling downright scared, and threatened. That if we start talking about this, they might be accused of not serving the total public.”
4. Continuing confusion over how to define “small farm”: Some participants remain confused about what is a small farm:
“In the EQIP program we talk about less than 140 cows being a small farm, but in the workshop I think a small farm was more like about 20 cows.”
“The small farm terminology is very confusing. Most people think of ‘very few acres’ but the 400-acre potato growers I work with are now called small farms. I was told that 96% of Maine farms are small.”
“I’ve always been enthusiastic about working with them. My frustration is that I still don’t think we have a handle on what a small farm is in Maine. I’m still not sure who we should be focusing our efforts on… beginning farmers? Existing farmers? The workshop didn’t help me with that question.”
Tables and charts: available upon request.
Table 6.7. Evaluation Summary
Estimates of the numbers of agriservice providers positively impacted in each outcome area, based on the multiple evaluation tools described in this report. Total number of agriservice participants was 415.
Target outcome Estimated percent of participants positively impacted Estimated number of Northeast agriservice providers positively impacted (General target was 220)
1. Participation — 415
2. Enhanced understanding 80% 332
3. New skills 30% 125
4. Use of innovative program resources & delivery strategies 60% 249
5. Reaching and serving targeted small farm constituents 60% 249
Additional Project Outcomes
Areas needing further study focus on further professional development. Ninety-two percent of the agriservice professionals who responded to the e-mail survey in April-May 2002 said they are interested in more opportunities for training and/or networking related to education and assistance for small farms.
The post-workshop survey in 2002 also queried the state team leaders on the most important challenges they continue to face, and how they could be more effective in working with small farm operators. The responses to these questions suggest the following needs and opportunities for professional development experiences in the future:
Time management—too little time to work with the small farm sector, particularly considering the time-intensive nature of the most effective education and service techniques.
Processes, tools and techniques for effectively defining diverse groups within the small farm sector.
Strategies and techniques for recruiting/engaging the small farm sector in educational and service programs.
Skills and confidence in facilitating participatory, farmer-to-farmer learning.
Skills in encouraging farmer leaders and enhancing their confidence and skills.
Processes and skills for effective, ongoing needs assessment (e.g. focus groups, surveys etc)
Processes and skills for building and facilitating more effective collaboration and networking between and among agencies, businesses, organizations and farmers.