Breaking Barriers: Building Capacity to Provide Tractor Education

Final Report for ENE13-127

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $89,681.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Beth Holtzman
UVM Extension - New Farmer Project & Women's Agricultural Network
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Project Information

Summary:

This capacity-building project developed and implemented a collaborative model for providing tractor education to aspiring and beginning farmers and farm employees, apprentices and interns. It provided professional development to 43 agricultural service providers from around the Northeast — including representatives from Extension, agricultural nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, vocational/technical education center staff and experienced farmers—to deliver tractor and mechanization education that helps participants gain practical skills, realistically assess and communicate their equipment needs, and make informed decisions, all of which will help improve farmers’ efficiency, safety and satisfaction with their businesses.

Through online learning, hands-on training, and follow-up support, participants gained skills, knowledge and understanding, enabling them to offer meaningful and effective farm mechanization education for aspiring and beginning farmer audiences in the Northeast, which include many people from non-farm backgrounds who have limited experience with machines and equipment.

All of the 31 people who completed the professional development said it increased their ability to train and evaluate a new tractor operator. All 31 participants reported improving skills related to setting up and running hands-on tractor skill exercises, and teaching safe tractor PTO and equipment operation. Additionally, 30 of the participants improved skills related to teaching spotting and hitching, basic maintenance of tractors, implementing adult learning principles in education, selecting instructors and selecting equipment and facilities to use as training facilities.

In the two years following the training, 23 agricultural educators delivered mechanization and tractor safety, operation and maintenance education and coaching to 463 beginning farmers and farm employees, 352 (76%) of whom completed evaluation surveys conducted by the educators to assess the impact of the education. Of the farmer and farm employees who completed surveys, 100% (352) reported that participation improved their knowledge of mechanization and tractor safety operation and/or maintenance; 342 improved skills; and  302 reported increases in confidence. Additionally, 152 people reported using knowledge gained to make decisions about mechanization and 130 reported implementing changes to farm operations and/or practices.

Five organizations have taken steps to integrate mechanization and tractor safety, operation and maintenance education into their ongoing offerings.

Performance Target:

20 agricultural service providers work in teams to deliver tractor safety, use, maintenance and farm mechanization education to 108 farmers and farm workers; 12 service providers work individually with 40 farmers on farm mechanization plans; two collaborating organizations incorporate the tractor education curriculum into their ongoing adult education program.

Introduction:

To succeed, farmers must understand the equipment needs of their enterprise, how these needs may change as the business grows, and how to meet these needs safely and efficiently. Unskilled equipment operation can put farmers at serious physical and financial risk. Lack of knowledge about farm equipment can limit farm scale and productivity, and therefore the farm’s ability to provide a sustainable family income. Yet new farmers (including apprentices, interns and employees) increasingly come from non-farm backgrounds and have limited experience with machinery. Moreover, in many places in the Northeast, access to tractor and mechanization education and technical assistance is  limited, and what does exist is geared primarily to youth, rather adult farm employees and beginning farmers.

Equipment was the second-most common challenge (after time management) identified by 140 Northeast beginning farmers who answered an open-ended question in a 2010 survey. In a fall 2012 survey, over 90% of 53 beginning farmer respondents indicated that inadequate tractor education was a barrier to the development of their current or planned farm businesses. Over 60% indicated they would need substantial training in tractor use and safety to feel competent, and over 80% indicated they would need substantial training in tractor maintenance and mechanization strategies to feel competent. In many places, access to tractor education is limited. In Vermont, tractor education programs are primarily geared to youth seeking farm employment; the old model of Extension agents sharing the latest tractor and mechanization information on farms has practically disappeared.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • George Cook
  • Suzy Hodgson
  • Kristen Mullins
  • Dennis Murphy
  • Mary Peabody
  • Jessica Schmidt

Milestones

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

Publications

a. Individual Milestone Accomplishments

Milestone 1: 160 agricultural service providers and 380 farmers learn about the tractor education program and receive an online survey about their learning needs and current level of knowledge. Accomplishments: Using list-servs, e-newsletters, direct email, and hand-outs at events and conferences, we distributed registration and program information to an estimated 500 agricultural service providers, ag educators and farmer educators in Vermont and the 12 Northeast states.

Milestone 2: Fifty service providers and 90 farmers respond to the survey; eight service providers and 12 farmers participate in in-depth interviews. Accomplishments: 64 agricultural educators and service providers responded to promotion by applying to participate in the program. We conducted in-depth interviews with 9 agricultural service providers/educators and 11 farmers.

Milestone 3: 36 agricultural service providers (who include 6 farmer educators) submit applications to participate in the program. Accomplishments: We selected 43 individuals as program participants. Additionally, two applicants will participate in the project as co-trainers. Everyone who was not accepted into the program has been invited to make use of the online resources on the Ground Work website. The group includes individuals from MA (3), ME (2); NH (3), NY (11), PA (1), RI (1), and VT (22). Participants’ primary affiliation/occupation: Extension/Land Grant University personnel (9), farmers (4), managers of commercial and educational farms (5), nonprofit organization personnel (12), instructors from high school technical education centers (4), and instructors from college educational farms (3).

Milestone 4 &6: 30 agricultural service providers demonstrate increased knowledge of a) approaches to adult farmer education, b)working with diverse audiences, c) strategies for implementing hands on learning; d) mechanization strategies and their relationship to other farm business planning decisions, and e) insurance, liability and logistical concerns associated with equipment workshops after completing online training modules on those subjects. Accomplishments: In 2014, Ground Work offered five webinars as follows:

    • Orientation Introduction to Teaching Adults about Tractors and Mechanization (January 2014)
    • Linking Mechanization to Farm Business Planning (February 2014) with John Hendrickson, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems University of Wisconsin.
    • Farm Mechanization for Increased Efficiency (March 2014) with Richard Wiswall farmer Cate Farm, and author of the Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook
    • Buying a Tractor: A Guide to Buying a New or Used Tractor with Shane LaBrake agricultural consultant, trainer and teacher
    • Managing Equipment Workshops: Safety, Liability, Insurance, and Beyond , with Andy Pressman, farmer and ag educator, and Stephen Hadcock, Cornell Cooperative Extension.
    • Additionally, we made available a recording of How to Develop and Deliver Education that Helps Farmers Solve Problems and Adopt New Practices with Seth Wilner, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

To accommodate participants’ schedules (especially technical education center and other teachers who often had day-time commitments), all webinars were recorded and available for follow-up viewing. Live participation in the webinars varied from all 43 participants to 25. Response rates to follow-up, evaluation surveys from the webinars was varied widely depending on the webinar. If we were to conduct a similar project in the future, we would look for incentives to getting consistent feedback from participants. Nonetheless, the responses to all webinars showed increased skills and knowledge related to planning and implementing tractor workshops and mechanization education for adult beginning farmers. Several participants indicated that a key change was increasing their confidence in being able to safely and effectively deliver education on these topics. We modified format and content of webinars based on feedback from those who did fill out the evaluations, and the modifications were noted and appreciated in subsequent evaluations.

Milestone 5: 24 agricultural service providers complete in-person training and demonstrate proficiency in teaching tractor safety, use and maintenance to new farmers and farm workers. Accomplishments: All 31 participants completed evaluation surveys. Participants had a broad range of prior experience delivering tractor skills workshops, including people who routinely teach youth and/or college students (3) to those with no experience delivering this content (6). All participants said the day increased their ability to train and evaluate a new tractor operator. All 31 participants indicated that they gained skills related setting up and running hands on tractor skill exercises, and teaching safe tractor PTO and equipment operation. Additionally, 30 of the participants improved skills related to teaching spotting and hitching, basic maintenance of tractors, implementing adult learning principles in education, selecting instructors and selecting equipment and facilities to use as training facilities.
 
Milestone 7: 30 agricultural service providers access the project’s online resource library, downloading: workshop planning materials and checklists; presentation outlines, slides, graphics and video links; farmer oriented hand-outs; and evaluation and target verification surveys. Accomplishments: In the last year, we have continued to build out our Tractor Resource Hub, adding a variety of print, webinar and video materials.  The hub provides information for both farmers and educators, in the categories of safety and operation, tractor maintenance and tractor purchase. A new “Running the Numbers” section leads users through the process of using partial budget analysis as a decision tool for equipment investments. Users can find and download informational resources on tractor and equipment safety, basic tractor use, basic tractor maintenance, guides to purchasing tractors and machinery, and calculating costs and returns related to investments in equipment and machinery. Resources include checklists, webinars, slide presentations,graphics, videos, hand-outs, and sample surveys. As of June 30, 2016, 24 project participants (agricultural educators and service providers) accessed materials from the website. Additionally, the Ground Work website receives an average of 60 visits per month from individuals throughout the Northeast.

Milestone 8: 20 service providers request and receive support services from the project team as they plan and deliver tractor education workshops and follow-up individual assistance to farmer workshop participants. Accomplishments: Of the original cohort of beneficiaries, 17 planned and delivered tractor education workshop and consulting to aspiring and beginning farmer audiences. Of those, 12 accessed project supports in helping to schedule, plan, implement and evaluate their offerings.
 
In our final survey, we asked participants who have not yet offered mechanization education to briefly tell us why. The most common reasons (7 people) was that others in their organization became responsible for organizing/delivering tractor and mechanization education or they had switched jobs during the project period and this kind of education is not part of their new position. Two people, however, indicated that despite the gains in knowledge and skill from completing the training, they did not feel comfortable leading tractor/mechanization education.
 
“I learned a lot and what I learned gave me great appreciation [for the challenges of delivering this kind of education],” explained one educator. “I would help arrange it but not deliver it. I would need someone who has more depth of experience, who has used tractors a lot.”

b. Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table

 
c. Assessment of Project Approach & Implementation
 
1. The structure and sequence of the “train-the-trainer” approach helped to make it both accessible and meaningful to beneficiaries. The hands-on sessions built on the knowledge gleaned from the webinar series. The connections made at the hands-on session, helped to set the stage for collaboration in delivering programs for farmers. Sometimes participants reached out to each other, and sometimes the connections were made by the project staff. Additionally, some beneficiaries brought on additional farmer educators (as hosts and as co-instructors) which enriched and enhanced hands-on workshops they offered to aspiring and beginning farmers. While most beneficiaries indicated a slight preference in-person, hands-on education, the majority of them also appreciate the flexibility online education offers in terms of accessing information and resources at low cost and when it fits in busy schedules.
 
2. Curating relevant resources and making them easily accessible via the online “Tractor Hub” website provided convenient access for beneficiaries as well as their clients. “If I get a question that is related, I would go to the hub to see if there’s anything there that might be helpful to answering the question,” explains one extension educator. “Instead of me having to do a Google search, it’s valuable to me that there is a place I can go to get started. If exactly what I’m looking for isn’t there, it points me in the right direction.”
 
 3. Season-long and residential farmer training programs — particularly those that charge tuition — are embedding basic tractor safety, operation and maintenance education in their programming.  These organizations reported using information and resources from the project to help create a more structured, intentional approach to teaching equipment safety, operation and maintenance both to farmer trainees and to their employees (see testimonials above).
 
4. The relatively high costs of delivering “stand-alone” hands-on tractor workshops remains a barrier in some settings. Because instructor-student ratios in the workshops need to be relatively high (one instructor to four to six students), the costs remain higher than what aspiring and beginning farmers are accustomed to paying for education, even when grant funds subsidize the programs, and some had very low advance attendance. Given the economic realities of beginning farms and the financial constraints Extension, technical education center, nonprofit organizations are operating under, it is difficult for these organizations to offer this kind of programming at prices beginning farmers can afford without grant or philanthropic support. “These courses are somewhat limited by the capacity per training. They require significant resources to put on. We have a limited number of spots. There remains a need for this kind of education for other farmers in our area.”
 

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

a. Performance target outcome data and discussion

Through structured follow-up interviews conducted via telephone and an online survey, the project team verified that 24 agricultural educators and service providers (18 who participated in the project  plus six additional educators recruited as partners by those project “graduates”) delivered tractor and/or mechanization education to 463 beginning farmers and farm employees using resources from this project. The education was delivered via group sessions (typically full-day, hands-on workshops) and individual technical assistance, delivered via in-person consultations, phone calls and email correspondence.

Whether by phone interview or the online survey, participants responded to the same set of questions. Of the 31 individuals who completed this project’s professional development offerings in 2014, 26 contributed to the final verification in July 2016. Of those, 19 participated in telephone interviews and seven opted to provide verification information via the online survey. Five did not respond to our requests for information. We did not contact individuals who did not fully complete the 2014 training.

Project staff entered the data from the interviews into the online survey instrument so that all the verification data was aggregated in one place. The interviews also provided opportunities to informally collect additional qualitative information about the participants’ experiences delivering mechanization and tractor education, barriers and challenges they encountered, and their perspectives on how best to meet farmers’ educational needs with regard to tractor, mechanization and other farm business development topics.

Of the 24 people who organized tractor/mechanization education, five reported providing both group education and individual consulting/coaching, 16 provided only group education, and three provided only individual consulting/coaching. One participant organized a train-the-trainer session to help 16 farm operators and managers gain knowledge and skills in teaching employees and apprentices about tractor and implement safety and operation.

Thirteen educators conducted follow-up evaluation surveys with farmer participants. Evaluation questions varied from workshop to workshop based on how the sponsoring organization conducts event and program evaluation. Combining data from the various evaluation instruments, 352 aspiring and beginning farmers and farm employees completed these surveys. Their responses show that the education improved knowledge, skills and confidence, and that these individuals are using what they learn on farms and to make decisions about mechanization. Data shared by project beneficiaries reported shows that:

  •  All of the 352 beginning farmers and farm employees who completed surveys reported that participation improved their knowledge of mechanization and tractor safety operation and/or maintenance;
  • 342 people reported improving tractor skills;
  • 302 reported increases in confidence;
  • 152 people reported using knowledge they gained to make decisions about mechanization; and,
  • 130 reported implementing changes to farm operations and/or practices.

The most common themes in terms of on-farm changes were: implementing safety practices when driving tractors and attaching implements; improvements to daily/seasonal maintenance, safety when driving and attaching implements; and the factors that will be considered when selecting a tractor or other machinery to invest in.

Open-ended comments from farmers confirmed that workshop content addressed beginning farmers’ information needs and workshop formats accommodated farmers’ learning preferences, both of which contribute to greater confidence and motivation to continue to develop mechanization skills.

    • “This is so helpful! Everybody who’s taught me tractor stuff before just yelled, ‘Do this! Do that!’ But you’re making sure that I really understand what’s going on. I think I’ll be able to do this again by myself.”
    • “I learned a ton — basics and special tricks!”
    • “I am going to ask my farm to put me on the team that works with tractors and to assign me the daily maintenance checks.”
    • “What I leaned today is absolutely necessary information for my farming success.”

b. Beneficiary outcome stories

Following are anecdotes and observations provided by some project participants about the impact the project has had on their approach to tractor and mechanization education.

“It was an in-depth and very rewarding experience that has continued to improve both my confidence and my collaborations with other instructors and institutions,” said one beneficiary who participated both to share her expertise (she is certified to teach the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program — NSTMOP — curriculum) and to continue to build her knowledge and skills.”The first time we did a workshop, I mostly supported the other (male) instructor, chiming in on safety aspects while he reviewed all kinds of mechanics and technical information. [This fall] was the first time that I was in charge of talking and walking individual students through tractor start-up and operation. That had always been something I asked co-instructors to do. And I found that not only was it doable, but something I am really good at.”

“Collaboration with [project staff] was especially helpful in holding workshops because with the registration, coffee/snacks, etc taken care of, I could focus on teaching the class.”

“We were doing some [of this kind of education] before, but participating in the project] really stepped up our game,” reported a representative of a New York nonprofit that offers a variety of education and training programs for beginning farmers. “Over the last two years we’ve done a much more comprehensive training for all our apprentices and incubator farmers. Everyone who is going to operate equipment participates in a half day of classroom training and a full day hands on workshop.”

“Since 2014 we’ve done a substantial amount of tractor safety and risk management education [as part of our farmer training program],” explained a Vermont participant, who oversees a university-based residential farmer training program. Participation in this project helped to shape the way the program delivers equipment and machinery education for its farmer trainees, as well as routine safety, use and operation training for faculty and staff who use the farm’s equipment. “We’ve become more systematized. We use the project materials and also developed new, customized materials about our equipment for all the people who work at the [university farm],” he explains. “We do a classroom based tractor safety training for all users, and have check-off based systems to individually train each person. For each tractor, we developed a one pager, and we use that to go over the machine and its quirks. We were audited yesterday by the university risk management people, and I think they liked what they saw.”

Organizers of workshops conducted in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, reported the following results.

“Many of the young farmers in our network don’t come from farm families or agricultural colleges, and mechanics and engine repair are frequent gaps in their knowledge. Many of the attendees to the workshop—who use machines with small engines on their farms or the farms they work on—didn’t know about combustion engines, how to keep them in working order, and what can go wrong with them. Participants said in their evaluations that the class helped to demystify these machines, and were very appreciative particularly of the hands-on portion of the workshop. Many expressed that they were eager to get back to their work benches and barns to give their machines some work over the winter, and also that they would take better care of them in the coming growing season with hopes of extending the lives of their machines.”

“All eight participant reported that this workshop had an impact on their knowledge of tractor basics, safety, operation, and maintenance. While not everyone agreed that their farm’s profitability will increase as a result of this workshop, all 8 did comment that there are certain measures they will implement that will allow them to operate tractors more safely and to perform basic maintenance. One additional outcome stated in 5 of the evaluations is that there was knowledge gained on shop tools.”

“All nine evaluations checked that this workshop improved their ability to operate a tractor, increased their knowledge of tractor safety, and increased their ability to maintain tractors. One participant noted that she has taken several tractor and farm equipment trainings in the past, some of which included hands-on components, but this training provided the most beneficial experience for hands-on learning. Two participants specifically mentioned they plan to do more of their own maintenance as a result of this workshop. Two participants specifically commented on how useful the information presented on purchasing a new or used tractor was to them. The entire group expressed that the resources provided during the workshop were of great value and that they would all recommend this workshop to other farmers.”

Materials:

c. Additional Outcomes

One team of collaborators secured a foundation grant to offer a series of tractor safety and operation workshops specifically designed for young women and female beginning farmers. Observation of participants’ behavior during the workshop and evaluation comments show that it supported the  kind of learning these women are seeking in order to enter a traditionally male-dominated field.

“Instead of standing back and silently watching me give instructions to one student at a time, all the students just naturally offered each other advice and suggestions,” the instructor observed. “They didn’t take over for each other, but did point out things the current hands-on student might want to try, or just gave her encouragement. I think this gave a more positive and collaborative feeling to the whole afternoon, with the bonus that I, too, felt like I understood hitching a lot better by the end of the day!”

“I think the fact it was all women participating in the course was empowering and a connecting experience. It was less stressful and frustrating, and I enjoyed it that much more,” said one of the participants.

Connections between participants and project staff have helped to identify emerging mechanization education needs for aspiring and new farmers and farm employees in Vermont. As a result of collaboration and strategic discussion between the UVM Extension New Farmer Project, the UVM Extension Youth Safety Project and Vermont Technical College (VTC), VTC will offer adult education workshops in 2017 that build on the basic tractor operation and maintenance education provided through this project. VTC workshops (offered to adult learners) will cover diesel engines, gas engines, and general tinkering and troubleshooting.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

a. Individual Milestone Accomplishments

Milestone 1: 160 agricultural service providers and 380 farmers learn about the tractor education program and receive an online survey about their learning needs and current level of knowledge. Accomplishments: Using list-servs, e-newsletters, direct email, and hand-outs at events and conferences, we distributed registration and program information to an estimated 500 agricultural service providers, ag educators and farmer educators in Vermont and the 12 Northeast states.

Milestone 2: Fifty service providers and 90 farmers respond to the survey; eight service providers and 12 farmers participate in in-depth interviews. Accomplishments: 64 agricultural educators and service providers responded to promotion by applying to participate in the program. We conducted in-depth interviews with 9 agricultural service providers/educators and 11 farmers.

Milestone 3: 36 agricultural service providers (who include 6 farmer educators) submit applications to participate in the program. Accomplishments: We selected 43 individuals as program participants. Additionally, two applicants will participate in the project as co-trainers. Everyone who was not accepted into the program has been invited to make use of the online resources on the Ground Work website. The group includes individuals from MA (3), ME (2); NH (3), NY (11), PA (1), RI (1), and VT (22). Participants’ primary affiliation/occupation: Extension/Land Grant University personnel (9), farmers (4), managers of commercial and educational farms (5), nonprofit organization personnel (12), instructors from high school technical education centers (4), and instructors from college educational farms (3).

Milestone 4 &6: 30 agricultural service providers demonstrate increased knowledge of a) approaches to adult farmer education, b)working with diverse audiences, c) strategies for implementing hands on learning; d) mechanization strategies and their relationship to other farm business planning decisions, and e) insurance, liability and logistical concerns associated with equipment workshops after completing online training modules on those subjects. Accomplishments: In 2014, Ground Work offered five webinars as follows:

    • Orientation Introduction to Teaching Adults about Tractors and Mechanization (January 2014)
    • Linking Mechanization to Farm Business Planning (February 2014) with John Hendrickson, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems University of Wisconsin.
    • Farm Mechanization for Increased Efficiency (March 2014) with Richard Wiswall farmer Cate Farm, and author of the Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook
    • Buying a Tractor: A Guide to Buying a New or Used Tractor with Shane LaBrake agricultural consultant, trainer and teacher
    • Managing Equipment Workshops: Safety, Liability, Insurance, and Beyond , with Andy Pressman, farmer and ag educator, and Stephen Hadcock, Cornell Cooperative Extension.
    • Additionally, we made available a recording of How to Develop and Deliver Education that Helps Farmers Solve Problems and Adopt New Practices with Seth Wilner, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

To accommodate participants’ schedules (especially technical education center and other teachers who often had day-time commitments), all webinars were recorded and available for follow-up viewing. Live participation in the webinars varied from all 43 participants to 25. Response rates to follow-up, evaluation surveys from the webinars was varied widely depending on the webinar. If we were to conduct a similar project in the future, we would look for incentives to getting consistent feedback from participants. Nonetheless, the responses to all webinars showed increased skills and knowledge related to planning and implementing tractor workshops and mechanization education for adult beginning farmers. Several participants indicated that a key change was increasing their confidence in being able to safely and effectively deliver education on these topics. We modified format and content of webinars based on feedback from those who did fill out the evaluations, and the modifications were noted and appreciated in subsequent evaluations.

Milestone 5: 24 agricultural service providers complete in-person training and demonstrate proficiency in teaching tractor safety, use and maintenance to new farmers and farm workers. Accomplishments: All 31 participants completed evaluation surveys. Participants had a broad range of prior experience delivering tractor skills workshops, including people who routinely teach youth and/or college students (3) to those with no experience delivering this content (6). All participants said the day increased their ability to train and evaluate a new tractor operator. All 31 participants indicated that they gained skills related setting up and running hands on tractor skill exercises, and teaching safe tractor PTO and equipment operation. Additionally, 30 of the participants improved skills related to teaching spotting and hitching, basic maintenance of tractors, implementing adult learning principles in education, selecting instructors and selecting equipment and facilities to use as training facilities.
 
Milestone 7: 30 agricultural service providers access the project’s online resource library, downloading: workshop planning materials and checklists; presentation outlines, slides, graphics and video links; farmer oriented hand-outs; and evaluation and target verification surveys. Accomplishments: In the last year, we have continued to build out our Tractor Resource Hub, adding a variety of print, webinar and video materials.  The hub provides information for both farmers and educators, in the categories of safety and operation, tractor maintenance and tractor purchase. A new “Running the Numbers” section leads users through the process of using partial budget analysis as a decision tool for equipment investments. Users can find and download informational resources on tractor and equipment safety, basic tractor use, basic tractor maintenance, guides to purchasing tractors and machinery, and calculating costs and returns related to investments in equipment and machinery. Resources include checklists, webinars, slide presentations,graphics, videos, hand-outs, and sample surveys. As of June 30, 2016, 24 project participants (agricultural educators and service providers) accessed materials from the website. Additionally, the Ground Work website receives an average of 60 visits per month from individuals throughout the Northeast.

Milestone 8: 20 service providers request and receive support services from the project team as they plan and deliver tractor education workshops and follow-up individual assistance to farmer workshop participants. Accomplishments: Of the original cohort of beneficiaries, 17 planned and delivered tractor education workshop and consulting to aspiring and beginning farmer audiences. Of those, 12 accessed project supports in helping to schedule, plan, implement and evaluate their offerings.
 
In our final survey, we asked participants who have not yet offered mechanization education to briefly tell us why. The most common reasons (7 people) was that others in their organization became responsible for organizing/delivering tractor and mechanization education or they had switched jobs during the project period and this kind of education is not part of their new position. Two people, however, indicated that despite the gains in knowledge and skill from completing the training, they did not feel comfortable leading tractor/mechanization education.
 
“I learned a lot and what I learned gave me great appreciation [for the challenges of delivering this kind of education],” explained one educator. “I would help arrange it but not deliver it. I would need someone who has more depth of experience, who has used tractors a lot.”

b. Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table

 
c. Assessment of Project Approach & Implementation
 
1. The structure and sequence of the “train-the-trainer” approach helped to make it both accessible and meaningful to beneficiaries. The hands-on sessions built on the knowledge gleaned from the webinar series. The connections made at the hands-on session, helped to set the stage for collaboration in delivering programs for farmers. Sometimes participants reached out to each other, and sometimes the connections were made by the project staff. Additionally, some beneficiaries brought on additional farmer educators (as hosts and as co-instructors) which enriched and enhanced hands-on workshops they offered to aspiring and beginning farmers. While most beneficiaries indicated a slight preference in-person, hands-on education, the majority of them also appreciate the flexibility online education offers in terms of accessing information and resources at low cost and when it fits in busy schedules.
 
2. Curating relevant resources and making them easily accessible via the online “Tractor Hub” website provided convenient access for beneficiaries as well as their clients. “If I get a question that is related, I would go to the hub to see if there’s anything there that might be helpful to answering the question,” explains one extension educator. “Instead of me having to do a Google search, it’s valuable to me that there is a place I can go to get started. If exactly what I’m looking for isn’t there, it points me in the right direction.”
 
 3. Season-long and residential farmer training programs — particularly those that charge tuition — are embedding basic tractor safety, operation and maintenance education in their programming.  These organizations reported using information and resources from the project to help create a more structured, intentional approach to teaching equipment safety, operation and maintenance both to farmer trainees and to their employees (see testimonials above).
 
4. The relatively high costs of delivering “stand-alone” hands-on tractor workshops remains a barrier in some settings. Because instructor-student ratios in the workshops need to be relatively high (one instructor to four to six students), the costs remain higher than what aspiring and beginning farmers are accustomed to paying for education, even when grant funds subsidize the programs, and some had very low advance attendance. Given the economic realities of beginning farms and the financial constraints Extension, technical education center, nonprofit organizations are operating under, it is difficult for these organizations to offer this kind of programming at prices beginning farmers can afford without grant or philanthropic support. “These courses are somewhat limited by the capacity per training. They require significant resources to put on. We have a limited number of spots. There remains a need for this kind of education for other farmers in our area.”
 
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

 

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.