Farmer Interviews as a Tool for Educating Agricultural Support Personnel and Other Farmers

Final Report for ENE01-063

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2001: $42,120.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $6,500.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Stewart Smith
Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society
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Project Information

Summary:

The Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS), through its involvement with another Northeast SARE project (LNE99-122 also referred to as USDA Cooperative Agreement 99-COOP-1-7416), obtained access to over 30 hours of videotaped interviews of 19 Maine sustainable agriculture farmers. With the other NE SARE project, a one-hour video focusing on the principles of sustainable agriculture and geared to the public was produced from these farmer interviews. With this Professional Development grant, we produced a more technical video for use as a basis for workshops for agricultural service providers. This video, Elements of Sustainable Agriculture, is two hours in length and covers the topics: starting from scratch, transitioning a conventional farm to sustainable agriculture, farm financing, managing risk, sustainable practices for larger industrial farms, cropping and livestock practices, and marketing. The video was used as the focal point for half-day workshops for Cooperative Extension, USDA/Farm Service Agency, Farm Credit of Maine, and USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service staff. The video was also used in classes of first year undergraduate students of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at the University of Maine.

Performance Target:
  • Of the 36 Agricultural Extension Educators in Maine, 20 will take part in a half-day seminar focused on the information provided in the proposed video presentation and 12 will share the video presentation with 4 farmers each

    Of the 25 NRCS personnel in Maine, 10 will take part in the half-day seminar, and four will share the video presentation with other NRCS personnel or other farmers, at least two of which will be Resource Conservation and Development Area coordinators.

    Of the 50 agriculture-related students at the University of Maine, 20 will view the film presentation, and 5 will write essays about the impact the video has on their desire to pursue an agriculture-related career.

Introduction:

This project created a two-hour video presentation on selected topics of sustainable agriculture and informed agricultural service providers through half-day workshops about sustainable agriculture farming in Maine and about using the video for their work with farmers. The selected topics include: starting from scratch, transitioning a conventional farm to sustainable agriculture, farm financing, managing risk, sustainable practices for larger industrial farms, cropping and livestock practices, and marketing. Two workshops were held and three others are scheduled for agricultural support personnel from organizations such as the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, USDA/Farm Service Agency, USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Credit of Maine, and Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources.

In addition to producing the video and hosting the workshops, this project supports the publication of a report of the findings of the Northeast SARE project, LNE99-122, “Establish Integrated Systems Baseline & Educational & Mentoring Programs” that will enhance the effectiveness of the video.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Deanne Herman
  • Rob Johanson
  • Richard Kerserger
  • Russel Libby
  • Vaughn Rasar
  • Andrian Wadsworth

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

The interviews were videotaped by a professional videographer along with relevant scenes from each of the 19 farms. The interviews were then transcribed and the text of the transcripts were reviewed to determine the parts we wanted to include in the finished video. These parts were then edited into a continuous video sequence. This continuous draft of the video was edited down to the finished product.

Once the video was produced copies were sent to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the USDA/NRCS and USDA/FSA for review. All three agencies had favorable reviews of the video, and the Cooperative Extension and USDA/FSA were able to offer this training to their staff during the life of the project. USDA/NRCS is scheduled to feature the video in trainings for all their staff in February 2004.

At the training sessions, in addition to the video, we also asked some of the interviewed farmers to be present to answer questions and to put a human touch on the workshops. The workshops themselves were focused on the videos and members of the audience served as panel members for discussion purposes. Panel members were commented on different sections of the video and related the sections to their experience. At the end of the workshops, evaluation forms were distributed, completed, and collected.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

This project produced the video, "Elements of Sustainable Agriculture", and used the video as the centerpiece of initial workshops on sustainable farming systems to Cooperative Extension, USDA/FSA, USDA/NRCS, Maine Department of Agriculture, and Farm Credit of Maine personnel. The video is currently used by individuals and groups exploring the development and viability of sustainable agriculture farms.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

By the end of the next round of workshops, the impact of this project should be significant. Of the 21 agricultural support personnel who attended the earlier workshops, the response to the following evaluation questions is telling:

Question #1: Will participation in this workshop enable you to better understand the needs of farmers in your service area?
Average response = 3.93 (1=not useful; 5=very useful)

Question #2: Did this video and workshop increase your understanding of the elements of sustainable agriculture?
Average response = 3.63 (1=not useful; 5=very useful)

Question #3: Will this workshop change your attitudes towards sustainable agriculture practitioners?
Average response = 3.17 (1=not useful; 5=very useful)

In addition, the video was distributed to all the Northeast SARE PDP Coordinators, from whom requests for more copies of the video have already been received and is being distributed to all County Extension offices.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This project produced the video, "Elements of Sustainable Agriculture", and used the video as the centerpiece of initial workshops on sustainable farming systems to Cooperative Extension, USDA/FSA, USDA/NRCS, Maine Department of Agriculture, and Farm Credit of Maine personnel. The video is currently used by individuals and groups exploring the development and viability of sustainable agriculture farms.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The potential contribution of this project consists of a broader awareness and understanding of sustainable agriculture and sustainable agriculture farmers by agricultural support personnel, and a better understanding of sustainable agriculture systems by farmers who are exploring those systems.

Future Recommendations

Video format and quality are as important as the message. This video was effective because the quality of presentation was well received. The same message delivered by a less professional production would probably not have been so effective.

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.