Leadership Training on Farmland Conservation for New England and New York

Final Report for ENE02-071

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $57,513.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $15,959.00
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Julia Freedgood
American Farmland Trust
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Project Information

Summary:

The purpose of this project was to provide USDA field personnel, as well as other key state and local agricultural educators in New England and New York, with the training and ongoing technical assistance they need to help their constituencies develop or enhance programs that ensure that a critical mass of agricultural land remains in agricultural use for future generations. Participants included field staff from Cooperative Extension, NRCS, SWCD and RC&Ds from the six New England states and New York as well as farmers, town planners and representatives from land trusts.

As communities grapple with the challenges of competition for a finite land base, USDA field personnel, agricultural educators and key leaders in the farming community are being asked to facilitate the development of public policy alternatives and private land protection options to sustain a viable agricultural base. To succeed, they need continuing education and technical assistance to effectively help constituents and farming communities find acceptable solutions to these challenges.

From May 2002 until March 2004, American Farmland Trust (AFT) worked with a diverse group of stakeholders first to deliver a leadership training to meet the needs of our target audience and subsequently to help them to provide more proactive technical assistance and leadership to sustain agriculture and the land base that supports it in New England and New York.

Performance Target:

"By December 2003, at least 15 of the 50 workshop participants demonstrate that they have used the training information to assist their communities in developing and implementing new farmland protection policies, or strengthening already existing policies at the state or local levels in New England and New York.

We will know that we have reached the target when three months after the two-day leadership training workshop, 25 of the 50 participants contact AFT or partner agencies and organizations and request additional technical assistance for their communities. Six months after that, we will conduct a survey of those participants who requested technical assistance to gauge whether or not they have worked with their community to help them develop or implement new farmland protection programs or enhanced already existing programs in New England or New York."

We evaluated participants at the workshop and then surveyed participants by telephone and via e-mail (Zoomerang) to find out if we had reached our target. Nineteen participants contacted AFT or other partner agencies to request additional information or technical assistance. Seventeen have made progress toward developing, implementing or improving farmland protection plans, policies or programs in their state or community.

Introduction:

The leadership training team held its first meeting in September 2002 to discuss the project and develop the workshop format and content. The synergy between various types of professionals from seven states created a dynamic process that has continued beyond the workshop planning process through continuous e-mail and phone discussions and subsequent interaction first to deliver the training and then to provide on-going technical assistance.

The leadership training on farmland conservation was held on April 8–9, 2003 at the Hotel Northampton in Northampton, Massachusetts. In all, 78 people attended including 54 invited participants, speakers and AFT staff. Since then, AFT staff have provided on-going technical assistance, helped participants provide technical assistance in their own states, and evaluated whether or not participants have achieved project outcomes.

Milestones

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

Publications

  1. First full advisory committee met in September 2002 to discuss the project and to begin to develop the workshop format and content.

    By November 2002, 175 stakeholders had received registration materials and applications for the leadership training. (We expected 150.)

    By January 2003, 93 stakeholders had completed applications and applied for the leadership training. (We expected 75.)

    The advisory committee ranked applications from each state and AFT mailed invitation letters to accepted applicants in early February 2003.

    By the end of March 2003, 54 people had accepted the invitation to attend the leadership training. (We planned the event for 50 but increased the number slightly due to the strong response.)

    We held the leadership training on April 8–9, 2003.

    Between May and November, 19 customers contacted AFT or partner agencies and organizations to request information or technical assistance for their communities. (We expected 25.)

    By December 2003, 17 participants reached the performance target. (We expected 15.)

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

We received 54 evaluations at the end of the workshop. In general, participants had a broad range of prior knowledge and experience and a wide range of expectations for what the training would provide. Their prior level of knowledge clearly affected their evaluation of sessions and of the written materials. However, except in a few cases, the depth and breadth of the training appeared just about right for the audience. Overall, participants valued the training experience, the number of presenters and written resources gathered, and several voiced the need for the same group to gather on a regular basis.

On a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being excellent, 45 people (80 percent) rated the workshop 4/5, seven did not rate it and three participants (5 percent) rated it 3. Comments ranged from "Please seek grant renewal to offer this leadership training on an annual/every two years basis" and "Good program design, topic diversity and depth of presentation" to "I think some attendees were looking for more in-depth, how to instruction."

Participants were asked to evaluate the knowledge and information they gained from the workshop overall. More than 90 percent indicated that they believed the workshop would help them protect farmland in their communities. For each question, they were asked to indicate if they strongly disagreed, disagreed, agreed or strongly agreed.

Question 1. "As a result of the workshop, I feel more confident that I understand what can be done to protect agricultural land in my community," 50 out of 53 (94 percent) either agreed or strongly agreed, and three (6 percent) either disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Question 2: "I expect to use the knowledge gained at this workshop to create new or strengthen existing farmland protection programs in my community within the next year," 46 out of 50 people (92 percent) either strongly agreed or agreed, and 4 (8 percent) either disagreed or strongly disagreed. Four people said that the question did not apply to them.

On several occasions between three and seven months after the workshop, we contacted participants to find out if they had contacted AFT or other attendees to provide technical assistance—or in other ways used the knowledge they gained from the training to help develop or implement new farmland protection plans or policies, or strengthen existing policies or programs. As of December 2003, 19 participants had contacted AFT and/or other leadership training participants. Many were conducting follow up education: for example, developing a forum to address local agricultural issues, conducting general farmland protection outreach, conducting and/or developing their own presentations.

Others wanted specific information to advance conservation activities—such as securing a copy of a proposed town-level farmland protection plan to inform their own planning process, providing feedback on a conservation options booklet or formalizing their own local farmland protection working group. Participants also report they have used the materials from the training to help build support for farmland protection and farm friendly policies by making it available at county fairs, to their local watershed committee, SWCD or land trust, municipal decision-makers, etc.

In addition to providing follow up technical assistance, 17 participants have applied their new knowledge to help create or implement farmland protection plans and/or policies or enhance existing policies and/or programs in New England or New York. For example, one participant has worked with federal farm programs to improve farm viability. At least five have worked with their state departments of agriculture and/or municipality to create new land protection programs or improve existing farmland protection programs. Six others have worked with local groups such as the agriculture committee, SWCD or local land trust to protect land in their community.

In one example, as a result of attending the workshop, the participant "formalize a farmland protection working group" and geared their farmland protection strategy to an identified area in their county that has been approved by the county legislative body. Another participant is using ideas from the workshop in his town comprehensive plan. A third is working to develop directional signage for local agriculture and published several articles in their local paper featuring local farmers and farming issues.

Before the workshop, 81 percent of participants said they went to AFT when they needed information about farmland protection methods and policy, 56 percent went to NRCS, 38 percent to their state department of agriculture and 25 percent to Extension. After the workshop, 100 percent said they would go to AFT, 60 percent to NRCS, 53 percent to their state department of agriculture or a local land trust, 33 percent to a fellow participant at the workshop and 27 percent to Extension.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
  1. First full advisory committee met in September 2002 to discuss the project and to begin to develop the workshop format and content.

    By November 2002, 175 stakeholders had received registration materials and applications for the leadership training. (We expected 150.)

    By January 2003, 93 stakeholders had completed applications and applied for the leadership training. (We expected 75.)

    The advisory committee ranked applications from each state and AFT mailed invitation letters to accepted applicants in early February 2003.

    By the end of March 2003, 54 people had accepted the invitation to attend the leadership training. (We planned the event for 50 but increased the number slightly due to the strong response.)

    We held the leadership training on April 8–9, 2003.

    Between May and November, 19 customers contacted AFT or partner agencies and organizations to request information or technical assistance for their communities. (We expected 25.)

    By December 2003, 17 participants reached the performance target. (We expected 15.)

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

Participants thought the training was valuable enough that they recommended expanding the training. It was suggested that we continue holding similar workshops for new groups of professionals, but grow the program to hold more advanced workshops for people who attended this set of workshops. One participant suggested that AFT explore the possibility of charging a fee for the workshop.

Participants enjoyed the depth of content, but suggested that we try to get more AFT staff to teach sessions, and more farmers to both participate in the training and share their experiences. It was also recommended that though we did a great job covering local and state policies, we should tie in a discussion on how North East states can work with Federal policy makers to bring more money for farmland conservation to the North East.

We also recommend conducting a follow up survey of participants within the next six months to evaluate whether they continue to make progress toward developing, implementing of improving farmland protection plans, policies or programs in their state or community.

Information Products

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.