Focusing on interpersonal relationships for greater farm viability

Final report for ENE16-142

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $61,002.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Leslie Forstadt
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Farmers call upon agricultural service providers (ASPs) for their technical acumen. In one-on-one consultations, ASPs offer expertise related to production skills, business planning, soil health, land acquisition, financing, and more. But other key areas of communication, decision making, goal setting, and time management (what we call “interpersonal skills”) are rarely addressed. This project provided training for ASPs to increase their understanding important interpersonal skills in the four key areas needed by farmers at various stages of development from novice to expert,  and developed materials and tools to assist ASPs in consultations. It encouraged ASPs to take on a role of being a “guide” in contrast to an “expert” in this work, and to follow the farmer’s lead as the expert of their own lives. By better understanding the specific needs of farmers at different stages of their farming career, and how skills are acquired, the ASPs became better equipped to respond to interpersonal concerns they observe or that farmers mention in consultations about seemingly (just) technical topics.

A total of 53 ASPs received training through participation in one or more of the project’s events, which included: one and a half days of workshops, three working groups and two webinars. Fourteen ASPs participated in the first training, a half-day workshop held in Augusta Maine. Thirty-five ASPs participated in three work groups, all held in Augusta Maine. These work groups were designed to help the project team to identify key skill areas in each of the four project areas. Nineteen ASPs came to a full day training in October 2017 and five ASPs attended a webinar offered in December 2017.

Each of the trainings taught aspects of the farmer typology (from novice to expert), built ASP’s skills to act as “guides” or active listeners, and new skills related to communication, decision-making, goal-setting, and time management that impact farm viability.

The 23 participants who responded to a final project survey (a 43% response rate) reported holding 291 one-on-one consultations with farmers who manage 73,855 acres. Among final survey respondents, 7 (30%) used the project-developed checklist and other tools. Their comments about using the new tools include:

  • “ [having a] Checklist provides a structured and tangible record of conversation that helps focus needs of farmer for service provider.”
  • “You aren’t going in blind. You have resources available to review and offer.”  
  • “Having the farmer stages of development to refer to and use to consider needs of farmers…”
  • “I love the active listening skills! I keep the “Tips for acting as a guide” list close at hand during most conversations.
  • “It’s a great reference point/ great for institutional knowledge sharing; Had I known who, what and when my predecessor had been in communication with, then it could help inform my approach with certain markets and people.”

At the start of the project, 31% of 52 ASPs surveyed were not comfortable addressing interpersonal issues in one-on-one consultations. By the final survey, 44% of responding participants indicated their comfort level in addressing interpersonal skills had increased. In the trainings, the emphasis on ASPs approaching their work from the perspective of being a “guide,” not an “expert” became important, particularly when considering interpersonal skill development.  As one ASP said, “[the tools help]… to remind me to think of the farmer as the one taking action, what steps have they taken, what can they do in the future, rather than being focused on just what can I do for them.”

Performance Target:

Forty-five agricultural service providers will increase competence and confidence to understand and respond to a range of beginning farmer concerns about interpersonal relationships. They will apply skills in one-on-one consultations with 90 farmers, who manage 10,755 acres, with an aim to improve farm retention and farmer lifestyle satisfaction.

Introduction:

Farmers call upon agricultural service providers for their technical acumen. In a one-on-one consultation, providers offer expertise related to production skills, business planning, soil health, land acquisition, financing, and more. But other areas like communication and interpersonal relationships are rarely addressed. Although it may not be expected that providers can address these areas, they often come up in consultations.

Recent agricultural census data indicates that from 2007-2012 Maine gained 59 farms in years 1-4, but lost 64 farms in years 3 or 4 and lost an additional 48 farms in years 5-9. This resulted in a net increase of just 38 farms over 5 years. This project will focus on improved farmer retention through education of service providers. Farmers in the first ten years of farm establishment will benefit if providers can provide a diverse portfolio of support tailored to their needs.

There is also a lack of understanding of the specific needs of beginning farmers at different stages of the “beginning,” defined by the USDA as the first ten years. Existing new farmer training materials have primarily focused on topics such as production, marketing, financing and land access; in this project, areas will be expanded to include interpersonal skills acquisition.

Supporting Relationships for Farm Success helped ASPs better understand the wide range of new farmers and increase their comfort level in addressing interpersonal skills in one on one consultations. 

Providers received training through one and a half days of workshops, four working groups and two webinars on the components of the farmer typology, the ag service provider toolkit and consultation checklist and resources to assist farmers with the interpersonal needs that may be arising on the farm.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Atina Diffley (Educator)
  • Elaine Bourne (Educator)
  • Polly Shyka (Educator)

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

The educational program included farmer focus groups, working groups, one and a half days of training and a webinar for agricultural service providers designed to increased competence and confidence in addressing interpersonal skills in one-on-one consultations with farmers.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

1. Sixty providers receive a project overview, online survey and invitation to apply. Providers are asked to complete a survey describing programs they offer, requests input about perceived problem areas for farmers and assesses knowledge and skills providers utilize in one-on-one consultations (on topics like: communication, values- based decision-making, goal-setting, and time management). Providers identify 1-2 farmers at different points within the first ten years of farming for focus group participation. Providers apply if they commit one year of time, attendance at trainings, and to the performance target. (09/16) 

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
53
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2016
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 10, 2016
Accomplishments:

The project launched in October 2016 with a project overview disseminated throughout Maine. Using a variety of methods, our outreach was designed to reach staff of the following organizations; Cultivating Community, Farm Service Agency, Land for Good MOFGA, Natural Resources and Conservation Service, University Of Maine, Volunteers of America; many of whom participate in BFRN, Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine. 

 

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

2. Forty-five providers return the survey and identify 1-2 farmers. (11/16) 53 Survey responses identified 30 farmers as potential participants in the focus groups.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
45
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
53
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2016
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 3, 2017
Accomplishments:

We had 53 responses from a variety of service providers including Extension, USDA FSA and NRCS, conservation districts and ag service non-profit. Respondents answered questions about their familiarity with new farmer learning stages; their interest in learning about topics of beginning farmer learning stages and skills for communication, decision making and goal setting; their comfort level in addressing interpersonal skills with farmers; and the frequency with which they observe problems on farmers related to interpersonal skills.

The data in survey responses are detailed in the included slides. ASP-Participant-Demographics 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

3. Twenty providers apply and commit to project participation and becoming part of a community of practice. (12/16)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
2
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
14
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2016
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 3, 2017
Accomplishments:

Twenty-eight providers indicated interest in participation and applied for project participation. A poll to determine training dates was administered in early March and 18 of the 28 providers participated. Dates for the training sessions were determined by the end of March. 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

4. Sixty farmers participate in one of four focus groups about interpersonal challenges and successes to draft DACUM for Maine Beginning Farmers, Beginning Farmer Learning Stages document, and checklist for service providers to use in one-on-one consultations. (01/17-02/17) 

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
64
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2017
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We completed 4 focus groups over three days at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show (January 10-12, 2017). 48 farmers participated in these focus groups. 

On January 27 we conducted a fifth  focus group for New American farmers held at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Lisbon Falls office. 6 Female farmers attended along with a translator. Following this focus group the project team decided to conduct a few more one-on-one interviews. 1 farmer was interviewed in person, 4 by phone.

 

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

5. The project team creates draft documents and summary report from focus groups. (3/17-4/17)

Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
51
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
April 17, 2017
Accomplishments:

The project team compiled the demographic data submitted by 50 participants in the farmer focus groups and interviews. Not all that participated in the focus groups completed the one-page demographic survey.

Focus-Group-Summary-Report
Included here are the slides the project team prepared to illustrate the summary report from the focus groups. Participants rated present challenges and interests in learning on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not challenging and 5 being very challenging. Responses were summarized by the farmers’ years of farming experience.

Farmer Demographics

Interpretations

30 Female

20 Male

Average Age: 41.8

Total Acres Managed: 2,062

Average Acres Managed: 41

Sheet Name: By Year

Years 1-3

Present Challenges

In Years 1-3 Participants noted moderate challenges with Time Management, Decision Making, and Goal Setting. The majority of responses fell on the 2-3 scale. Only 1 respondent identified a skill as “Very Challenging” and that was in the time management category.  Communication represented more of a challenge, but was not described as any in this group as “Very Challenging.”

Interest in Learning

Respondents indicated interest in learning about all of the topics. Communication was the highest area of interest with seven responses in the 4-5 scale. Time management was the next highest with six responses in the same range followed by Decision making and Goal setting- both with 5 responses over the 4-5 scale.

Years 4-7

Present Challenges

This was the largest group of respondents and their present challenges as indicated were greatest in time management and decision making. At present the group indicated that communication and goal setting were not much of a challenge, the majority of responses fell on the 2-3 scale.

Interest in Learning

A third of the group indicated they were not very interested in learning about these skills in the future. Two thirds indicated a strong interest (4-5 scale) for learning about Decision Making and Communication in the future. The interest in Time Management was slightly lower with 11 respondents in the 4-5 scale. Goal setting was rated lowest with just 7 respondents rating it in the 4-5 scale.

Years 8-10

Present Challenges

This was the smallest group of respondents. The majority of respondents had present challenges with communication but only on the 3 scale.  

Interest in Learning

Time Management and Communication were the areas of biggest interest from this group, but since total number of responses was only 3 it seems more information could be helpful.

Years 10+

Present Challenges

The majority of responses to this question ranged in the 2-3 scale with the exception of communication;  which indicates that the other skills pose no major challenge to this group. In the communication responses more than half were on the 1-3 scale, but 5 respondents chose level 4 for communication. This might indicate more questions about the nature of communication skills might be needed or that a minority of the group still feels these skills are lacking.

Interest in Learning

About half the respondents (8) indicated a strong interest in learning about Time Management and Communication by rating it in the 4-5 scale. Decision making was rated similarly by half the respondents. The remaining responses fell mainly in the 1-3 scale indicating a lack of interest.

Sheet Name: By Subject Area

Time Management

The majority of responses indicated that this subject was a major challenge in the past, 26 rated it a 4. As a present challenge the majority of responses were almost exactly split with half the group indicating it wasn’t a major challenge (7 responses of 2; 15 of 3) and the other half indicating it was a present challenge (15 responses of 4; 6 of 5). The majority of responses (27) indicated an interest in future learning about time management.

Decision Making

Respondents didn’t indicate that this was a significant problem either in the past or present, but roughly half indicated they would like to learn more about this skill in the future.

Goal Setting

Respondents didn’t indicate that this was a significant problem in the past but more indicated it was challenging at present (responses in the 2,3,4 scale). More than half indicated they would like to learn more about this skill in the future.

Communication

33 responses indicated that this was a moderate challenge in the past. The majority of responses for the Present Challenge ranged in the 2-4 scale. Respondents indicated a strong interest in learning more about this skill in the future with the majority of responses in the 4-5 scale.

 

 

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

6. At a half-day, in-person meeting, twenty providers review the summary report and draft documents described in #4, and furnish feedback. (05/17)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
3
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
14
Proposed Completion Date:
May 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
May 19, 2017
Accomplishments:

On May 19, a half-day training was held and 14 ASPs participated. At this training the project team outlined the summary reports from both the initial ASP project overview survey and the 5 focus groups conducted in January. The training introduced the participants to the curriculum components the project team had begun to explore including the NESFI DACUM, Dreyfus Model for Skill Acquisition and new farmer learning stages as identified by numerous farmer training organizations. Participants completed an initial curriculum development activity where they identified skills related to time management, decision making, goal setting and communication that farmers need at learning stages from novice through expert. 

In addition the idea of “acting as a guide” was first mentioned as a way to invite participation without the necessity of expertise.

At the close of the training the project team invited attendees to participate in a series of three working groups designed to engage ASPs in the development of the curriculum. This framed the long-term goal of the project team to have the Curriculum for Maine Farmers completed (which provides a list of interpersonal skills (communication, decision making, goal setting, time management) skills needed at each learning stage for farmers in their first 10 years).

May-19-Training-Proceedings 

May 19 Training Presentation & Proceedings

July 13 Working Group 1

14 ASPs attended; not all of whom attended the May 19th half-day training. At the start of each of the working groups an overview of the curriculum and its evolution was provided.

Goals: Generate a comprehensive list of skills needed in the area of time management at each learning stage.

Objectives: Review the concept of Curriculum for Maine Farmers, provide pithy overview of 3 models on which the curriculum is based, get consensus on definitions of farmer stages, and consensus of operational definition of time management. Generate a comprehensive list of skills needed in the area of time management. Developing Working agreements for the Group: Reminder of “Guides” rather than “Experts”

August 10 Working Group 2

14 ASPs attended

Goals: Generate a comprehensive list of skills needed in the area of communication at each learning stage.

Objectives: Discussion of ladder of inference and communication; consensus of operational definition of communication. Generate a comprehensive list of skills needed in the area of communication.

September 22 Working Group 3

7 ASPs attended

Goals: Arrive at consensus of operational definition of decision making.

Objectives: Ask ASP to consider competency within each of the 4 phases- problem detection, problem definition, analysis & choice, and implementation.

Through these 3 working groups the project team began to research both conceptual models to illustrate the farmer stage and four skill areas of the project and research theories in agriculture related to the project areas. 

New-Farmer-Typology-V2 A working draft of the curriculum is included.

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

7. The project team updates the Beginning Farmer Resource Network on the project activities and resources and incorporates the group’s feedback into project plans. (9/17)

Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
14
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 8, 2017
Accomplishments:

On September 8, the project team presented the first draft of the Service Provider Toolkit. The reviewers provided feedback about the format, language and usability of the draft tool.

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

8. The twenty participants attend a one-day workshop focused on communication skill-building, practice new skills and receive tools outlined in #4 as well as workshop slides and handouts. An additional 25 providers participate in a webinar covering the same topics and receive the same materials. The 45 participants begin using the Beginning Farmer Learning Stages document and checklist in one-on-one consultations. (10/17)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
45
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
4
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
19
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 24, 2017
Accomplishments:

On October 24 a full-day training was held for 19 participants. Of that total 9 had also attended the half-day training held in May. 

At this training the attendees learned about the background of the project and the three conceptual models that influenced the project team’s approach to the development of the nested conceptual framework. The project team introduced the farmer typology, a holistic approach to assessing farmer development and learning stage. Through interactive activities and case studies the participants began to use the typology. The project team provided the toolkit and checklist as well. The presentation walked attendees through each section using small group and role play activities. At the close of the day the full group participated in a case study designed to help ASPs begin to practice with the active listening skills and tools included in the toolkit. 

Following the training participants (N=11) reported the following changes in knowledge or skill in the subject area of the farmer typology and in addressing interpersonal interpersonal skills.

 

The webinar was held on December 8, 2017. Forty-three agricultural service providers registered for the webinar, yet only 18 attended and only 6 completed an evaluation. Feedback from the participants, “I appreciated the interactive elements, and for some of them I needed more time to adequately respond. I know for the sake of time in the webinar that wasn’t possible though,” and “I need more practice before I think my comfort level with addressing interpersonal skills will change,” echoed what the project team saw which was that there was less change in both knowledge (of the farmer typology) and comfort in addressing interpersonal skill indicated by webinar participants. 

A second webinar, titled Creating a Mutually Rewarding Apprenticeship Experience: Understanding New Farmer Typologies and Skill Acquisition was offered in partnership with New Entry’s National Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network (AgALN). This webinar was held on April 10th and had six participants. Participant feedback was limited because the project team did not directly administer an evaluation, but positive in nature. “The knowledge and skills relayed are just what we all need to move to the next level in farm intern/apprenticeships. I deal with the legal stuff, but that side becomes a lot less necessary when we have clear expectations and communications.”

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

9. The 45 service providers receive a survey requesting feedback about their experiences using the project tools, and technical support from project coordinators. Participant feedback is used to refine tools. (11/17)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
45
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 28, 2018
Accomplishments:

This outreach to solicit feedback about use and supported needed was conducted in a limited way in January and February. Though planned to coincide with the release of the digital resource, this resource was delayed in the design process. In mid-February an email was sent to all project participants to date. The email included a draft version of the Ag Service Provider Toolkit and Consultation checklist, a link to the webinar (delivered in December 2017) and a link to the complete digital resource library.

Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

10. The twenty project participants and twenty-five webinar participants (45 total) receive a comprehensive digital resource that includes the Beginning Farmer Learning Stages document, checklist for use in one-on-one consultations, and supplementary materials. (1/18)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
45
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
87
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 16, 2018
Accomplishments:

In mid-February an email was sent to all project participants to date. The email included a draft version of the Ag Service Provider Toolkit and Consultation checklist, a link to the webinar (delivered in December 2017) and a link to the complete digital resource library.

Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

11. The 45 participants complete a survey to evaluate change in competence and confidence in addressing interpersonal skills. The survey will also quantify the number of one-on-one consultations, acreage managed by farmers and will inquire about changes in farmer behavior. (01/18)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
45
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
22
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 23, 2018
Accomplishments:

Responses from 23 Participants

Please indicate which training(s) you attended:

Half Day Training May 2017- 14

Full Day Training October 2017- 7

Working Group Meetings Summer 2017- 9

Webinar December 2017- 5

How many farmers have you met with in one-on-one consultations since participating in the project? 291

In what percent of these consultations did you use the checklist or other project tools? 30%

In what ways have the farmers done things differently as a result of your talking with them about interpersonal skills, making a referral, and/or using the checklist?

  • More intentional about finding out what other family members are willing or able to do with the farm enterprises. Considering their time availability to do new enterprises and/or marketing methods.
  • Farmers have expressed interest in clarifying roles on the farm, in the context of employee training and orientation.
  • Farmers approached another service provider that they may not have thought of; changed how communicated with other members/staff of the farming operation.
  • Many stopped taking action to consult with a referral about a more effective/efficient way of doing things (clearing land by hand, paying for infrastructure that nrcs will cost share, etc)
  • My focus with farmers and organizers is to help them launch SNAP and nutrition incentive programming at farmers’ markets. I now tend to emphasize time-management and work-life balance when excited farmers approach me to launch a project at their market. I’m getting farmers and organizers to reconsider their time and resource availability before they pursue launching a SNAP program at market. It’s helpful to really vet and ask challenging questions when working with passionate folks who are so excited about the programming that we offer. It’s great to have the toolkit from the workshop. 
  • Farmers learned of new tools and resources, they gained some face-to-face practice that they were able to bring back to relationships on farm.
  • They articulated their risks and their management plan for me. As opposed to having it in their head abstractly. So vision and goal setting play into that.

How many acres do those farmers manage? 73,855

# Farming less than 5 years: 125

# Farming more than 5 years, less than 10 years: 36

# Farming more than 10 years: 62

Farmer Typology (Learning Stages, Development Cycle, Development Stages)

Change in Knowledge on a Scale of 1-5
On the scale below #1 indicates the least skill or knowledge and #5 indicates the most.

How comfortable do you feel addressing interpersonal skills in one-on-one consultations?

Change in Knowledge on a Scale of 1-5
On the scale below #1 indicates the least skill or knowledge and #5 indicates the most.

Benefits

  • Logical order of considering the challenges of a client
  • Aspects such as the ladder of inference and the farmer stages have helped me support beginning farmers in various stages of their experience and thought process.
  • Checklist provides a structured and tangible record of conversation that helps focus needs of farmer for service provider.
  • Nice to have a two page intake sheet for farmers especially new farmers
  • You aren’t going in blind. You have resources available to review and offer.
  • It helps me focus my attention on what the farmer is currently focused on.
  • Using the phrases like ‘I hear what you are saying, let’s see what we can do to rectify that situation’ helps me with the communication side of things with a farmer.
  • Having the farmer stages of development to refer to and use to consider needs of farmers working with
  • I love the active listening skills! I keep the “Tips for acting as a guide” list close at hand during most conversations.
  • It builds a great data set for our organization when we track these conversations.
  • The concepts are very helpful and guide my conversations with farmers
  • The checklist helps me as a template for what to track, ask, etc.
  • The checklist helps me track my followup over time.
  • Forces you to ask questions you might overlook
  • It’s a great reference point/ great for institutional knowledge sharing; Had I known who, what and when my predecessor had been in communication with, then it could help inform my approach with certain markets and people.
  • Helps to remind me to think of the farmer as the one taking action, what steps have they taken, what can they do in the future, rather than being focused on just what can I do for them.
  • It acts as a reminder for me to discuss interpersonal skills, where most of my meetings are focused on business and production skills.
  • Help producers be better able to adopt some changes
  • Even if you aren’t able to assist the farmer at that moment, you are showing them you have the intent to assist them through other avenues from the checklist.
  • Helps me frame the importance of soft skills with real world examples

Challenges

  • Learning to use a new tool, and use it effectively.
  • Supporting beginning farmers that have never discussed “soft skills” or interpersonal skills so they have none of the language to understand the skills.
  • Structure of checklist may sometimes disrupt natural flow of conversation.
  • Many farmers just want a short answer for their current issue
  • Not looking or sounding awkward when referring to a list.
  • Remembering the material
  • Most of my initial meetings with beginning farmers are focused on providing them with information relevant to the business and production components of their farm. I need to prioritize the interpersonal skills in order to add a discussion piece about this topic to those meetings.
  • Realistically, not going to sit down with a piece of paper checklist for most consults so the info I use has to be something I can internalize and remember.
  • Figuring out just what it is a new farmer needs to hear, in creative, constructive way.
  • I work with farmers who don’t speak much English and I also generally work with groups of farmers, not individually, so this tool is not completely relevant to my context.
  • Thinking about how best to adapt the checklist to the work of the program. Checklist is helpful and need to convey the information to our mediators in the field for inclusion more in our work — goes back up to challenge #1
  • To clarify, I work with Somali Bantu refugee farmers and did not do any one-on-one consultations (the farmers I work with all farm cooperatively in groups). All of the farmers have different levels of experience within the groups – including different levels of farming experience from back in Somalia and then here in the United States. It is impossible for me to try to categorize the farmers I work with according to the system developed in this training.
  • Whenever I’ve tried to document using the checklist, it feels too lengthy for a lot of basic information.
  • We have so many interactions with farmers every week, from 5 minute phone calls to 2 sentence emails. They’re hardly ever “consultations”. Perhaps we would benefit from an abridged version to meet our organization’s needs.
  • I have yet to actually use the paper form. I have applied the concepts to interviews with JPs and meetings with farmers, but those are rarely ever in my office and often after a class or workshop. I would need to carry the checklist with me, but have not done so yet.
  • A checklist can feel a bit unnatural or distracting?
  • To be truthful, I really haven’t used this checklist yet! I love the idea of it- but we’re a 2-person organization and this type of data collection has yet to emerge as a priority for our team. Also, I don’t see it on the resources page of the project website either- just a heads up!
  • This system is challenging for me and my organization to work with because it is constructed with the anticipation that it will be used with white, english-speaking farmers who own independent farm enterprises. This is not a tool that we found use for in working with pre-literate, non-english speaking farmers that have varying levels of experience farming in different countries with very different agricultural climates.
  • The names of the development stages are not entirely intuitive so I have trouble remembering which is which.
  • This rarely comes up naturally in conversation. I need to practice at identifying where there are concerns in this area, and get better at asserting this information in those situations.
  • adapting it to actual conversations
  • Supporting beginning farmers that only see hands on tasks as important in their farming career- getting them to understand the importance of communication skills.

Please share how your participation in the project has informed your work.

  • Very much. Brought my attention to some of the issues and tendencies of beginning farmers.
  • The articulation of the learning stages was very helpful to me. All of the resources shared are resources to me to share with farmers and further my learning.
  • I have shared this information with staff and as with all communication skills, it did broaden my ability to better communicate with all individuals I am in professional contact with.
  • Listening techniques and communication skills were most useful and practiced regularly
  • I’m more mindful of time-management and decision-making resources that are available. When I work with farmers and farmers’ markets, I’m helping them navigate a BIG decision (taking on SNAP and MHB programming) that has implications for many folks work-life balance. I now have more tools to draw from in my conversations and planning with markets.
  • I’ve definitely changed the way I demonstrate listening and asking questions. I feel more comfortable and authentic being able to facilitate instead of being a subject matter expert.
  • Unfortunately, it did not because it did not capture the complexity of experiences that some farmers have.
  • Educational role — Having the broader first-hand information of what farmers reported they need and/or how they see what makes a farmer/farm successful has made me a better practitioner when working with farmers. And, having knowledge about the development cycles and learning stages has been huge in increasing my depth of knowledge and reminding me that “not all beginning farmers” are the same.  In addition, working with other service providers and hearing their input on these important topics has broadened my perspective.
  • I think its always good to think about and support the interpersonal relationships of people. This project reminded me of this importance, gave me a few more tools to use in my work, and connected me with other people who are looking to support farmers in these ways. 
  • It has given me more skills to use when meeting with farmers, new and existing.
  • It has helped me to be more intentional when I listen to farmers and to ask better questions to promote discussion of the issue I’m helping them with.
  • It has been an important reminder that effective communication and planning is as key to a successful farm as good books and sound production practices. I will continue to look for ways to guide farmers towards these resources and to help them to develop good communication practices on their operations.
  • Gave me a much better understanding of the learning stages
  • It has helped me to communicate more clearly and similarly draw information from partners with more direction.
  • Increased my sense of support to assist farmers.
  • Have one brief sheet to track discussion with farmers. Use some of the discussion items as news articles in farmers’ newsletters.
  • The active and effective listening exercises in the training were critical in helping me hone my interpersonal communications methods. As a service provider I am now much more aware of how my listening/feedback is interpreted by our customers.
  • As a farmer training many beginning farmers, I believe I have grown as a service provider to be able to support many diverse people in their development as farmers. I have always stressed communication skills on farm but this work has given me more organized tools to practice.
  • I try to be more observant when it comes to the relationship between farm spouses as well as with other farm family members.

What support, training, or reminders are needed to keep using the checklist?

  • The ladder of inference, holistic management testing questions, and the lattice imagery of level of experience
  • It might be good to have the checklist available in electronic form that can be filled out on the computer.
  • I need to keep the information in front of me to make sure I remember it, or incorporate it into my routine.
  • Reminders would be helpful. Maybe follow up emails with brief stories of how people have been successfully using the checklist?
  • Just keeping this fresh on the desk is helpful
  • Easy access to a digital version would be helpful! Also, maybe a summary statement on the value of using the checklist for service providers.
  • Not sure yet. This reminder has been helpful. I have a couple of new projects starting (HMI study group and pilot JP2) that this will be useful for.
  • Have the checklist in an area where it is easily viewed.

 What additional professional development opportunities about relational skills would be be helpful for you to use in your work with farmers?

  • Any training opportunities that increase communication skills with farmers/staff who work with farmers, and/or touch points of being able to better relate to the day to day struggles farmers face is helpful.
  • mediation skills, effectively reaching out to/ building relationships with new (to the organization) communities
  • I would like to participate in another full-day or half-day workshop that focuses on putting these tools into use. Seeing and participating in the role play, or even having farmers come (maybe that would be too much?), was helpful for me!
  • Creating effective training materials and resources for pre-literate and non-english speaking farmers. Working in cross-cultural contexts. Opportunities for developing a trauma-informed ag service perspective. Developing methods for privilege-awarness and introspection that allows marginalized communities to be centered in the work and to lead.
  • One piece of feedback for the trainings is that the structure of the tools didn’t feel as relevant for a service provider who works with groups of people or works with non-english speaking people. I know most Ag Service providers do work with English speaking individuals or couples and this is your target audience, but it would have been interesting to see how these tools and trainings could be used more with different groups and demographics. 
  • Training on dealing with communications barriers (generational, cultural, language). Especially training specific to groups in Maine (Somali farmers, older diary farmers nearing retirement etc.).
  • Write ups of success stories and examples of how these resources have been implemented would be helpful.
  • I just need time to implement the materials you provided. Thanks

 What are some good ways to share this work with more service providers?

  • Provide an update at the Extension Aggies meeting we usually have in November in Bangor?
  • Other than sharing access to the toolkit and sharing the webinar, I can’t think of any.
  • For us, it was being able to bring back written information and share with staff.
  • the workshops were great, more of those!
  • More workshops! A quarterly email with project updates, new resources, reminders that the tool kit exists (we’re so bombarded with information that it’s hard to keep track of everything, even the good stuff).
  • Continue to do trainings — possibly customized in-house training to particular audiences if group is large enough; wide distribution of the resources, “train the trainer” program so that individuals are able to bring the information back into their organizations.
  • Social Media, direct messages, adding info to resource tables at events for service providers. General word of mouth.  Perhaps everyone that participated in the group commit to sending a pre-generated message to at least 5 people in their circles.
  • Webinars, case studies.
  • Go through the resources at a BFRN meeting. Possibly do some role-playing.
  • webinars or online material
  • Facebook has been becoming more successful for the SWCD.
  • Success stories?
  • More of these types of workshops offered at all farming conferences such as farmer to farmer and ag trade show
  • case studies, testimonials,
  • I am not sure. I have often thought that there is not an Ag “service provider” group in Maine.  When I was more involved in Farm Bureau I contemplated starting one – I think getting one started has the classic conundrum though, how does a new organization provide tons of value in a dense format (lots of useful information in a short flexible time frame) right off the bat?

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

12 Consultations
4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days
3 3 work group meetings

Beneficiaries who participated in the project’s educational activities and events:

17 Extension
8 NRCS
5 Researchers
13 Nonprofit
7 Agency
13 Others
53 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

23 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
23 Ag service providers intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers
Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

At each training we administered an evaluation that asks participants to rate their skill or knowledge BEFORE and AFTER the training related to the following topics:
Farmer Typology or Farmer Learning Stages
Communication: Identifying the relationships and roles on the farm and tools to improve communication between family members, farm partners, employees, customers and other decision makers.
Goal-setting: Developing tools for assisting farmers in prioritization of farm, business and family goals
Decision-making: Utilizing existing tools to prioritize tasks and plan in advance
Time management: Utilizing existing resources to assist farmers in optimizing farm roles and responsibilities.
How comfortable do you feel addressing interpersonal skills in one-on-one consultations?

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
45
Target: actions the service providers will take:

45 agricultural service providers increase competence and confidence to understand and respond to beginning farmer concerns about interpersonal relationships, and apply their new skills in one-on-one consultations with 90 farmers who manage 10,755 acres, with an aim to improve farm retention and farmer lifestyle satisfaction.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
90
Target: amount of production these farmers manage:

10,755 acres

Verified: number of service providers who reported taking actions to educate/advice farmers:
23
Verified: number of farmers the service providers reported educating/advising through their actions:
291
Verified: amount of production these farmers manage:

73,855 acres managed

23 Total number of agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
291 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Interim surveys conducted during the project asked participants to indicate how many farmers they were likely to consult with using new information learned. We received 10 evaluations from our first training (May), 14 evaluations from full-day training (October) and 4 from webinar participants. In  these responses, ASPs indicate they will reach 367 farmers in one-on-one consultations. 

The results summarized above from the project’s final verification survey of agricultural service provider participants are described fully in the Milestone 11 report.

 

Additional Project Outcomes

2 Grants applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
3 New working collaborations
Additional Outcomes Narrative:

Unanticipated Outcomes

As evidenced in the narrative regarding Milestone #6, our interaction with ASPs in Maine was adapted. It went beyond the one and a half-days of training that we had planned. In addition, we formed working groups of ASPs (some of whom are also farmers) who gathered together three times times. As the project team (Abby and Leslie) got further into finding ways to explain needed skills in each of the project areas, importance of the types of skills in each and the subsets of each based on existing research. The working groups were enthused to delve into defining the types of skills that were needed at each skill level for communication, decision making, goal setting, and time management. Through their work, they became more clear about how skills are acquired at different stages, and in doing so, their insights helped clarify the aims of the curriculum and the content of the Toolkit. The working groups offered participants professional development and networking opportunities. The unexpected outcomes included the 1) depth of understanding some ASPs gained,  2) the relationships that were built among the ASPs, and 3) the types of conversations and insights that occured in response to the materials that were presented to the ASPs. ASPs who had not worked together began to understand other agency functions and this helped deepen the impact of the project because new relationships could be called upon when using the Toolkit and checklist in farmer consultations. The materials themselves were more than functional checklists, but the working groups were able to identify a problem with much of the new farmer program resources: a time dependent and linear model of new farmer training was insufficient to illustrate how communication, decision making, goal setting, and time management related to competency for farmers. The four project areas and the five competency scales were related.

The project team knew that working with Atina Diffley, Organic Farming Works would be beneficial to the project. The amount and quality of feedback about the curriculum and Toolkit materials was unequivocally informed by Atina’s years of experience as a farmer and in working with farmers. As a result, the project’s deliverables are more in number than proposed or anticipated, the curriculum components are clearly defined, and the role of the four project areas is woven throughout in ways we did not anticipate. In addition, through this project Atina will be refining and making available a number of tools she designed to help farmers with each of the project areas. By including these in the toolkit, her work will become more widely known to more ASPs and farmers.

Related Activities

The project team, Leslie Forstadt, Abby Sadauckas and Tori Jackson were joined by Elaine Bourne and Polly Shyka (consultants who were hired to help with group facilitation and focus groups) and developed a workshop from this grant for a series called “Compelling Conversations.” It was presented twice (once/year in 2016, 2017) at the Maine Land Access Conference which is organized by the Maine Farmland Trust. It was also presented at the 2017 Maine Agricultural Trades Show. This session was described as, “Ensuring a good match in a land transfer requires clear communication between the parties involved. Whether buying, selling or leasing, being able to articulate your vision for the farm can be challenging. What type of skills do you need to describe your vision in a clear, compelling fashion?  In this session we invite participants to share success stories and challenges in establishing land access. Whether you are a land owner or a farmland seeker this session is for you! Participants will receive helpful tips, resources and guidance about how to hone their vision, develop a compelling description and approach land transfer conversations with clarity and confidence.”  In the most recent presentation the project team included in the session resources a guide to active listening skills that was developed for the Service Provider Interpersonal Skills Toolkit.

Collaborations

Through this project, we formed new relationships and are exploring more ways to continue to share this information. We had expected to reach some ASPs outside of Maine with the final webinar in October 2017, and there were a half dozen who did. However, we were surprised to reach an audience beyond Maine by being invited to do a webinar just for the National Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network, which we did in April of 2018.

The work conducted under this grant inspired several new collaborations.

PI Leslie Forstadt presented for the Agricultural (Ag) Mediation Training Program in September. This training provided a foundation for individuals who are interested in joining Ag Mediation specialized roster for mediating matters that arise under the USDA mediation grant, and who are currently on their general roster of community mediators. Leslie shared information developed during this project regarding the different stages of farming, where individuals struggle, the psychology of stressed farmers, and how skills are acquired.

PI Leslie Forstadt and Elaine Bourne, consultant on the grant, and Director of Ag Mediation, began offering one-on-one coaching to farm families in transition. This led to a successful Extension Risk Management Education (ERME) grant by Leslie and Elaine to pilot such a program with Abby Sadauckas and Polly Shyka. The 2018 ERME project is called, “Facilitating Communication in Farm Families with Personalized Coaching.”

The project team of Leslie Forstadt and Abby Sadauckas also submitted a proposal for NESARE’s 2018 PDP grant entitled, “Foundations for Sustainable Farms: A Focus on Interpersonal Skill Development.” This grant was not funded, but the intention is to seek future funds for a project that is designed to extend the work of the current grant by first taking the training “on the road” to agencies around Maine and then to take it to agencies around New England to increase the number of service providers participating in the program. Working on this grant helped us secure an invitation from Land for Good to present to their full staff in May 2018 as well as an invitation to do half-day trainings in the Fall of 2018 in three Maine locations for FSA, NRCS, and RD staff. We are exploring similar training opportunities with our state Soil & Water Conservation Districts.

Success stories:

Please share how your participation in the project has informed your work.

  • Very much. Brought my attention to some of the issues and tendencies of beginning farmers.
  • The articulation of the learning stages was very helpful to me. All of the resources shared are resources to me to share with farmers and further my learning.
  • I have shared this information with staff and as with all communication skills, it did broaden my ability to better communicate with all individuals I am in professional contact with.
  • Listening techniques and communication skills were most useful and practiced regularly
  • I’m more mindful of time-management and decision-making resources that are available. When I work with farmers and farmers’ markets, I’m helping them navigate a BIG decision (taking on SNAP and MHB programming) that has implications for many folks work-life balance. I now have more tools to draw from in my conversations and planning with markets.
  • I’ve definitely changed the way I demonstrate listening and asking questions. I feel more comfortable and authentic being able to facilitate instead of being a subject matter expert.
  • Unfortunately, it did not because it did not capture the complexity of experiences that some farmers have.
  • Educational role — Having the broader first-hand information of what farmers reported they need and/or how they see what makes a farmer/farm successful has made me a better practitioner when working with farmers. And, having knowledge about the development cycles and learning stages has been huge in increasing my depth of knowledge and reminding me that “not all beginning farmers” are the same.  In addition, working with other service providers and hearing their input on these important topics has broadened my perspective.
  • I think its always good to think about and support the interpersonal relationships of people. This project reminded me of this importance, gave me a few more tools to use in my work, and connected me with other people who are looking to support farmers in these ways. 
  • It has given me more skills to use when meeting with farmers, new and existing.
  • It has helped me to be more intentional when I listen to farmers and to ask better questions to promote discussion of the issue I’m helping them with.
  • It has been an important reminder that effective communication and planning is as key to a successful farm as good books and sound production practices. I will continue to look for ways to guide farmers towards these resources and to help them to develop good communication practices on their operations.
  • Gave me a much better understanding of the learning stages
  • It has helped me to communicate more clearly and similarly draw information from partners with more direction.
  • Increased my sense of support to assist farmers.
  • Have one brief sheet to track discussion with farmers. Use some of the discussion items as news articles in farmers’ newsletters.
  • The active and effective listening exercises in the training were critical in helping me hone my interpersonal communications methods. As a service provider I am now much more aware of how my listening/feedback is interpreted by our customers.
  • As a farmer training many beginning farmers, I believe I have grown as a service provider to be able to support many diverse people in their development as farmers. I have always stressed communication skills on farm but this work has given me more organized tools to practice.
  • I try to be more observant when it comes to the relationship between farm spouses as well as with other farm family members.
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

The project approach worked very well, and one critical strength was the engagement of professional colleagues through the BFRN Leadership Council. By conducting early focus groups with farmers, the project got off to a strong start, and the farmer’s voice was always “in the room” as each of the project areas of communication, decision making, goal setting, and time management were discussed with ASPs. This type of understanding proved really useful as the project evolved and our thinking refined. However, since our training schedule was limited to one and a half days, a significant number of people were not able to participate in the full day training.

The webinar, while useful lacked the connection of the other trainings and though registration exceeded 40 people only about half of those actually participated. In hindsight more days of in-person training would have been a good strategy  to share the final tools with more people.

The project began with a Curriculum in site as a final product, and this was accomplished. But many questions were identified along the way that are worthy of further exploration. The Curriculum we developed could benefit from refinement in partnership with an in-depth look at the DACUM upon which our work was based. The original work to create a DACUM for the Northeast Sustainable Farmer was done in 2001, and we’ve discussed with others the need to update it and embed the relational skills into that work.

Our data from the focus group indicates that farmers are interested in learning more about the four project areas and yet developing and deploying compelling training is not so simple! This is an area for further exploration and research, to design a specific program for farmers to learn more and have opportunities for reflection and thinking about relational skills.  

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.