Whole-Farm Planning and Holistic Management - Phase II

Final Report for ENE03-081

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $87,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Phillip Metzger
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
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Project Information

Summary:

In January 2004, 12 Cooperative Extension, NRCS, and other farmer educators began a three-year Northeast SARE Professional Development Program to develop and teach with Holistic Management Decision Cases (HMDCs). The Northeast SARE program participants learned what a decision case was, how to apply the principals of Holistic Management to develop Holistic Management Decision Cases, and how to teach effectively with these HMDCs. A final workshop was held in June of 2007 to discuss successes, challenges, and other experiences gained from the three year training.

Eight of the participants developed a total of nine HMDCs and taught 14 single-day, multi-day or multi-session workshops using these HMDCs. These 14 workshops were attended by over 200 people consisting of Cooperative Extension educators, NRCS and SWCD staff, farmers and non-profit farmer educators.

Performance Target:

From the 15 participants planned for, seven teams will be formed to prepare seven Holistic Management Decision Cases (HMDCs). The teams will be beneficial in that this will allow participants to work together and learn from each other.

Achievement of performance target: A total of 12 participants (nine working as members of one of six teams and three working individually) succeeded in completing nine HMDCs and have used these as teaching tools extensively in workshops across the Northeast (NY, PA, WV, NH, MA). The decision cases contain documentation for using Holistic Management for making decisions on Northeast farms. This resulted in both learning how to develop Holistic Management Decision Cases and how to teach with the HMDCs.

Changes we seek: Educators will become more effective teachers by developing HMDCs on farms that are using Holistic Management to develop whole-farm plans. The HMDCs will document the decision-making process used to address significant on-farm issues and the results of the decisions. Educators will use the decision cases to help describe the decision-making process as well as what other decisions and impacts could have resulted, given the documented circumstances.

Achievement in changes sought: Educators felt they became more effective teachers by developing HMDCs. These decision cases documented the decision-making process used to address some significant on-farm issues and the results of these decisions. Educators used these HMDCs to help describe both the decision-making process as well as what other decisions and impacts could have resulted given the documented circumstance. The effectiveness of teaching using decision cases was made evident and is covered in detail in the evaluation, which is available from Northeast SARE.

A milestone in the original grant was for each participant to teach three workshops with an HMDC. Five of the eight participants did teach at least three workshops using HMDCs, one additional participant taught two workshops using HMDCs, and the remaining two participants each taught one workshop.

Degree of change: Increased knowledge and learning by educators, agricultural professionals, and farmers through the use of the decision cases in teaching is the final benchmark for success. The impact of the decision cases is documented in the evaluation phase of the project. This process enhances the educator’s ability to facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning and farmer-to-educator learning along with the traditional educator-to-farmer/educator learning. Failing to do this would result in the traditional learning pattern, leaving it unchanged, and would miss the opportunity for using HMDCs to study their development and use in teaching.

Achievements in the degree of change: Increased knowledge and learning by educators, agricultural professionals, and farmers through the use of the HMDCs in teaching was the outcome, and it proved a reliable final benchmark for the project's success. The effectiveness of teaching using HMDCs was evaluated during the early spring of 2007 and detailed results are shown in the evaluation.

This project will also document impacts on farms managing holistically here in the Northeast. These will include successes and failures as well as other data collected in an objective inquiry. Participants and farmers will not only be developing the decision cases on individual farms, they will be using this data in training other farmers and agency personnel. The final phase of the project will evaluate the effectiveness of using decision cases as a teaching tool by those involved with farm management and whole-farm planning as well as evaluating impacts of using Holistic Management on farms in the Northeast.

Achievements: The in-depth evaluations of both the decision case development process and the impact of using decision cases to facilitate learning with agricultural professionals and farmers is covered in detail in the evaluation.

Achieved outcomes compared to intended outcomes:
Based on interviews with the program participants, as well as the evaluations of the workshop attendees, we found that the learning objective that each program participant build their capacity to teach with an HMDC was accomplished.

Introduction:

The goal of this project was to develop in-depth Decision Cases that document how farmers in the Northeast have used Holistic Management to make decisions on their farms that have resulted in economic, social and environmental impacts. These Holistic Management Decision Cases (HMDCs) were used by program participants to facilitate learning of holistic decision making. This three-year project was accomplished by: 1) learning to prepare decision cases; 2) using these decision cases to facilitate the learning of agricultural and farmer educators; 3) working in teams or as individuals to prepare comprehensive and effective decision cases; 4) meeting as a group to assist each other in learning decision-case design and content and how to use them in facilitating the learning of others; 5) garner further learning in Holistic Management; and 6) evaluating the impact of these decisions cases as effective teaching aides.

Hard copies and CD-ROMS containing the decision cases are being disseminated to agricultural educators and professionals throughout the Northeast and the decision cases are available on line at holisticmanagement.org. A final evaluation of the benefits and usefulness of the decision cases for educators teaching Holistic Management in the Northeast and the impact of managing holistically on participating farms is available from Central NY RC&D.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Participants were brought in for four multiple-day sessions. The first session focused on what a decision case was and how to apply the principles of holistic decision making to them. The instructor drafted a Holistic Management Decision Case (HMDC) for this course after researching the history and application of decision cases. This became the model for the first training session. The instructors facilitated a process for the participants to identify the key components of an HMDC.

Given that HMDCs are predicated on real-life situations, the participants were instructed to identify a farm and draft an HMDC on that farm and work with other program participants in teams as willing and necessary.

Participants came back six months later to practice teaching with an HMDC to the group. From this trial and error process, participants learned what worked well, what didn't, what was necessary, and what wasn't.

Participants then taught before various groups with these HMDCs. They were allocated funds to do this to organize and teach to agency and farmer educators in their respective regions.

Participants then came back for a third session to discuss the challenges and successes of teaching with the HMDCs, share experiences, and refine the HMDCs and the methods used to teach with them.

Participants taught again using newly learned teaching methods and refined and improved HMDCs.

Participants came back for a fourth and final session where they shared successes and failures of their training programs, which had now been evaluated. Discussions of where to go in the future were held as well as a sharing of resources.

What worked: The facilitation methods used by instructors John Gerber, Constance Neely, and Kelly White worked. With this method, there was a feeling that there were no experts in the room, just knowledgeable people who could share ideas and learn from each other. This resulted in full participation and a free exchange of ideas. It was carried out like the positive deviant model, which allows learning to come from the most successful local knowledge instead of from outside experts bringing their expertise into a foreign environment. The practice teaching with the participant group and immediate feedback, as well as sharing successful methods and strategies, proved very beneficial.

What didn't work: Low participant numbers meant that there was not enough intensive teamwork. Many of the HMDCs were developed rather independently and then reviewed and given input by others. The evaluation shows that teams would be an improvement, since participants are strong in different areas and combining these more effectively could be beneficial.

Overall teaching with HMDCs proved very effective and quite useful for teaching multi-day training to as short as one-hour sessions. The HMDCs proved very adaptable.

Milestones

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

Publications

Of the 15 participants targeted, 12 participated with eight completing the full training. The creation of nine complete decision cases was one key result. Other decision cases may be published in the near future. Some of the participants assisted with more than one decision case as part of a team. All decision cases contain documentation of using Holistic Management for making decisions on the farm. Completed decision cases were prepared by the following educators: Karl North (NY farmer educator), Seth Wilner (UNH Cooperative Extension), John Thurgood (NY Cornell Cooperative Extension), Vivianne Holmes (UME Cooperative Extension), Jim Weaver (PA farmer educator), Steve Ritz (WV USDA NRCS). Phil Metzger (NY USDA NRCS) and Erica Frenay (NY Cornell Small Farms Program) assisted and a partial decision case was completed by Mary Child (WV farmer educator) assisted by John Gerber (UMA educator).

Educators continue to use decision cases in teaching whole-farm planning.

Increased knowledge and learning by educators, agricultural professionals, and farmers through the use of the decision cases in facilitating took place. The process enhanced the educators' ability to facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning and farmer-to-educator learning along with the traditional educator-to-farmer/educator learning. This was evident at five NY events (two in Binghamton, one in Norwich, a young farmer session in Norwich, and a farmer/agency training in Owego) and one farmer/agency event each in the states of PA, WV, NH and MA.

The original milestones and performance target differed somewhat from the achieved outcomes, yet the intended capacity building and outputs were closely aligned. The original grant proposal envisioned seven teams of two to three participants working with farms to develop seven HMDCs. Since the actual program participant numbers were lower than intended (eight instead of 15 people), and the participants were dispersed geographically, the team concept was challenging. Individuals worked with farmers they knew to develop HMDCs with assistance from other participants as needed. The data shown in the performance target section of this report illustrates that there was a clear demonstration of ability to develop and teach with an HMDC on the part of all program participants.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

In terms of impacts, nine HMDCs were completed and published under the title, "Teaching with Holistic Management Decision Cases."

Eight educators, comprised of four Cooperative Extension, two USDA NRCS, and two other farmer educators completed the full training and contributed to the nine published HMDCs. This training achieved the following: All eight participants who completed the full training: 1) learned to prepare Holistic Management Decision Cases; 2) used these decision case to facilitate the learning of ag professional and farmer educators; 3) (seven of eight participants) worked in some semblance of a team to prepare comprehensive and effective decision cases; 4) met as a group to assist each other in learning decision case design and content and how to use them in facilitating the learning of others; 5) garnered further learning in Holistic Management; and 6) were evaluated as to the impact of these decisions cases as an effective teaching aide.

All stated that they would no longer teach holistic decision making without using the HMDC tool.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Of the 15 participants targeted, 12 participated with eight completing the full training. The creation of nine complete decision cases was one key result. Other decision cases may be published in the near future. Some of the participants assisted with more than one decision case as part of a team. All decision cases contain documentation of using Holistic Management for making decisions on the farm. Completed decision cases were prepared by the following educators: Karl North (NY farmer educator), Seth Wilner (UNH Cooperative Extension), John Thurgood (NY Cornell Cooperative Extension), Vivianne Holmes (UME Cooperative Extension), Jim Weaver (PA farmer educator), Steve Ritz (WV USDA NRCS). Phil Metzger (NY USDA NRCS) and Erica Frenay (NY Cornell Small Farms Program) assisted and a partial decision case was completed by Mary Child (WV farmer educator) assisted by John Gerber (UMA educator).

Educators continue to use decision cases in teaching whole-farm planning.

Increased knowledge and learning by educators, agricultural professionals, and farmers through the use of the decision cases in facilitating took place. The process enhanced the educators' ability to facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning and farmer-to-educator learning along with the traditional educator-to-farmer/educator learning. This was evident at five NY events (two in Binghamton, one in Norwich, a young farmer session in Norwich, and a farmer/agency training in Owego) and one farmer/agency event each in the states of PA, WV, NH and MA.

The original milestones and performance target differed somewhat from the achieved outcomes, yet the intended capacity building and outputs were closely aligned. The original grant proposal envisioned seven teams of two to three participants working with farms to develop seven HMDCs. Since the actual program participant numbers were lower than intended (eight instead of 15 people), and the participants were dispersed geographically, the team concept was challenging. Individuals worked with farmers they knew to develop HMDCs with assistance from other participants as needed. The data shown in the performance target section of this report illustrates that there was a clear demonstration of ability to develop and teach with an HMDC on the part of all program participants.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The potential repercussions of this project on regional sustainability, farm viability and the development of agricultural professionals are as follows:

If the ability to teach holistic decision making is enhanced by using Holistic Management Decision Cases, then this would likely have a positive impact on all areas of sustainable agriculture.

For example:

Regional sustainability. Clearly the use of an improved decision-making framework bears consideration. Of late, agriculture has recognized the need to focus beyond just the single bottom line (financial) and regard environmental impacts and social (family and community) impacts, resulting from on-farm decision making, as well.

Farm viability. The concept that the viability of farms depends on financial success alone is fading. Anyone who considers the fact that degrading natural resources costs money and harms the long-term prospects of farming can deduce this. Additionally, anyone can see that a style of farming that doesn't support families or rural communities is at best temporary; true sustainable agriculture must enhance financial, ecological and social (family and community) bottom lines, or it is not going to be sustainable.

Development of agricultural professionals. The understanding of many progressive ag professionals is that learning comes from many and varied sources. A key opportunity for learning is when farmers teach other farmers and agency staff. On-farm practical learning is at least of equal value to controlled research and is often more valuable since much of research is completed in an artificial environment. On-farm learning is often holistic in nature as it is in the real world where the complexity of nature and human interaction are free to impact results. To isolate results away from a true environment means that this learning must often be tested again on the farm to determine its real value. Learning that happens on the farm and that is monitored and adjusted to move the actor toward the desired result is a powerful way of learning and improving results.

Ag professionals who focus on assisting farmers to improve decision making, versus just giving prescriptions, are teaching farmers how to solve problems and arming those they assist with a way of moving things in their individual desired direction. After all, who knows the land, finances, family, etc., best? Given the complexity of nature and human interaction, the giving of prescriptions without knowing all the information can have unintended consequences.

Future Recommendations

The continued support of teaching educators how to teach farmers to improve on-farm decision making is crucial. Prescription assistance within the complex world of nature and human interaction should encourage us to be cautious of canned or individualized solutions offered without knowing all the facts in terms of the financial, ecological, and social impacts of recommended actions. Because they lack all the facts, including issues like family relations, technical advisors should work closely with farm families to encourage them to test decisions themselves before they act, to ensure that they are moving their farm and family toward their goals.

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.