Changes in agricultural technologies, the expansion in size of many farm operations, and the continued movement of non-rural populations into agricultural areas have resulted in increasing farmer-neighbor and community agricultural-environmental conflicts. One 1997 survey for example, found that fully 37% of its sample of 470 New York dairy farmers had received complaints from neighbors or local public officials in the previous five years. Our project was based on the recognition that existing institutions have not evolved sufficiently to respond optimally to this kind of situation. There is a need in New York State to build a more integrated infrastructure and improved institutional capacity to better manage these kinds of local but ever more common conflicts.
Our plan was to work in collaboration with county-based institutions and professional staff in order to build their skills and their competencies in handling farmer-neighbor and community agricultural-environmental conflicts. We worked primarily, though with varying degrees of intensity, with Cooperative Extension and other agency staff in three regions in upstate New York (Wyoming County; Greene County, and a multi-county region in the Syracuse area of Central New York).
Our stated goal was to use participatory, interactive workshops to 1) facilitate relationship building among agricultural agencies, community organizations, policy makers, planners, farmers, and concerned citizens, and to 2) enhance their ability to engage in collaborative problem solving and in the collection and use of relevant technical and legal information.
Overall, we responded to the needs of local partners in designing, organizing, and implementing a total of six individually tailored major (half-day to multi-day) workshops in our designated regions, and we participated in several closely related additional events in and out of these regions with contributed sessions as well. In addition to written handout materials supporting the workshops directly, which were provided in loose-leaf format to participants, we produced for broader distribution a high production quality manual or handbook entitled “Farms, Communities, and Collaboration: A Citizen’s Guide to Resolving Conflict.” Workshop materials and the handbook were developed to provide participants or readers with an integrated guide to mediation and collaborative problem solving processes, related available resources, public participation strategies, and pertinent agricultural environmental law.
- To build local capacity, strengthen relationships, and develop locally-relevant strategies to help communities collaboratively mitigate and manage community conflicts concerning agricultural practices.
To facilitate institutionalization of community-based processes to prevent, mediate, and resolve community agricultural conflicts.
To develop a collaborative problem solving guide to assist community efforts to mitigate and manage local conflicts concerning agricultural practices.
This project was designed to build community capacity to collaboratively manage
community based agricultural-environmental conflicts. Our primary strategy was to identify individuals and organizations that are routinely involved in such conflicts, and to work with them on developing the conceptual framework, skills, knowledge base, and inter-institutional relationships that would enable them to engage with agricultural-environmental conflicts in their communities in a more constructive manner. The project was both progressive (in the sense that it built on previous research, nascent relationships, and prior capacity building trainings) and opportunity seeking (in the sense that we worked with partners and places with strong interest in improving their capacity to better manage agricultural/environmental conflicts).
We worked most intensively over the time period with a group of 15 professionals in a three county central New York region (Onondaga, Oswego, Cayuga). We worked to varying lesser degrees with two additional rural counties: Greene County in the Hudson River Valley, where we planned and carried out a day long workshop with the entire local county Cooperative Extension staff, and Wyoming County in Western New York, where we offered sessions on conflict and agriculture in day long workshops for both a farmer and then a local government audience. We worked with key contacts in each of these places to provide general advice and more specifically to identify and implement the training, networking, and professional development opportunities our local contacts thought appropriate to the local context. We designed and carried out events in a number of workshop and presentation formats: single session and multiple session multi-day workshop series; involvement of mixed interagency participants and single agency participants; support for multiple county regional teams and single county agency trainings.
Our most intensive training efforts were focused on working with the county Cooperative Extension directors and agricultural and natural resource educators who turned out to be the most highly receptive to intensive training formats. However, several of our major workshops also included local elected and appointed officials, USDA regional staff, volunteer mediators, farmers, and county based agency staff.
The project principals also completed a handbook entitled “Farms, Communities, and Collaboration: A Citizen’s Guide to Resolving Conflict,” which includes sections on a) agricultural environmental conflicts and related local issues, b) the changing rural landscape, c) the legal and regulatory environment affecting farm neighbor relations, d) community problem solving processes, and e) resources and referrals. The handbook is being distributed to all New York counties and is being made more widely available as part of Cornell and Penn State’s collaborative online Community and Rural Economic Development Toolbox.
The primary publication that grew out of this project is a two-color handbook with professionally designed graphics entitled “Farms, Communities, and Collaboration: A Citizen’s Guide to Resolving Conflict.” The manual is written as a basic introduction to farm/neighbor and farm community conflict, and is intended to 1) set a context by characterizing agricultural environmental conflicts and by describing the changing rural landscape of New York State, 2) give an overview with examples of the legal and regulatory environment that governs farm neighbor relations, 3) provide an introduction to mediation and collaborative problem solving approaches in a rural/agricultural setting, and 4) provide information on contacts, resources and referrals. The publication has been reviewed by a number of persons not involved in the project including staff at the State Department of Agriculture and Markets. It is currently in press and will be immediately distributed to the most relevant contacts across the state (eg. county based Extension offices and Community Dispute Resolution Centers in all agricultural counties, all workshop participants). The manual will also be made available online through the widely promoted Cornell-Penn State “Community Development Toolbox” maintained by Cornell’s Community and Rural Development Institute. Finally, the manual will be promoted as appropriate throughout the new three year project that begins in Fall 2003, as mentioned above.
Finally, project team members submitted a contribution to the Northeast Dairy Business Magazine. Issued ten times a year, the magazine includes a 16-page section called “The Manager” which focuses on a topic of concern/interest to producers and their support professionals. The June 2003 issue of “The Manager” focuses on dairy industry & community relations, and early in 2003 team members submitted a section on conflict and collaborative problem solving.
Performance Target Outcomes
The primary outcomes that would be hoped for from a program like this would be 1) the existence of a tested curriculum that can be used or adapted in the future; 2) a new familiarity with concepts and skills that participants in the workshops would acquire; 3) the establishment of a foundation for a network of individuals with a common understanding and skill base regarding management of agricultural and environmental conflicts; 4) the application of new skills to real life situations by participants; 5) indications that the application of these skills have made a difference in the management of real world conflicts; and 6) the use of our publication as a reference.
Of these outcomes, both 1) and 2) have been achieved with certainty. There is also strong evidence that the strengthening of networks (3) has been achieved in Greene County and in the three county region in which we worked most intensively. To some extent this is because we were working with individuals who were drawn from pre-existing local networks, and we were adding skills and perspective to their work. While we did not include formal long term evaluation in the revised work plan, which would have enabled us to systematically collect data on 4-6, we do have some ad hoc evidence through follow up contacts that these are happening. Moreover, we will have that opportunity in the future to evaluate these outcomes more rigorously. In Fall 2003 the project principals will join with some new partners (most importantly, the New York State Agricultural Mediation program funded by USDA) in a new three year project (enabled by the groundwork laid in this SARE project) that will establish a statewide training program and network of regional teams of “public issue” mediators trained to intervene constructively in agricultural/environmental conflicts. The university (federally) funded project is entitled, “A NYS Partnership to Manage Community Agricultural and Land Use Conflicts”. This effort will draw in part on the pool of individuals that we have worked with under the current SARE grant, and will include a more extensive evaluation component.
The major milestones for this project were completion of 1) the workshops and other training events that we organized and implemented or participated in, and 2) completion of the handbook. The handbook is described elsewhere. Major workshop descriptions follow.
1) PRESENTATION TO PRODUCERS AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS – Wyoming County in Western New York, one of the state’s strongest agricultural counties, was one of the places in which there had been preliminary planning meetings prior to renegotiation of the workplan with SARE. In attempting to restart these negotiations, it was determined that there was probably not enough local interest in capacity building for local people to commit to an intensive training series in conflict management. However, in early 2002 we agreed to participate in a daylong workshop for agricultural producers, and an accompanying evening session for elected and appointed officials. Approximately 50-75 people attended. The sessions were focused on CAFO regulations, and included a number of technical, legal, and related presentations on the topic “Agricultural Planning and Regulation”. Our contribution to the event was designed in consultation with the county agricultural extension educator, and covered collaborative problem solving and conflict resolution approaches. The presentation provided background on the growing issue of community based agricultural conflicts, farm- neighbor conflicts and more complex agriculturally related “public issues”, public perceptions of agriculture, the inadequacies of typical methods used to address agricultural conflicts, the benefits of employing alternative collaborative problem solving approaches, and a pitch for involvement in the SARE project.
2) STATEWIDE TRAINING EVENT – Our first major training event was offered in a three day retreat format held in March 2002. The workshop was planned in collaboration with the Cornell Community and Rural Development Institute with the goal of involving a diverse group of statewide participants. The workshop was intended to accommodate, “Everyone interested in how to constructively involve community members in decisions about complex public issues.” From the perspective of the SARE project, this workshop was meant as an introduction to the project that enabled key individuals to participate from both communities we hoped to work in more intensively and from those we knew we would not be able to work in. Twenty-one individuals pre-registered; all but two attended the full workshop. Participants who came in intra or interagency teams (ie they often worked together) were offered a cost discount. In addition, three Extension partners from potential SARE partner communities were involved from the beginning in workshop planning and also attended. Participants included individuals from county mediation centers, local government officials, USDA Rural Development regional staff, and Cooperative Extension staff. Moreover, one day of the workshop involved field visits in the Skaneateles Lake watershed, a mixed land use rural watershed that provides drinking water for the City of Syracuse. The field visits were designed in part to establish a common case study as a reference for workshop participants. Since this watershed was in one of the areas in which we expected to continue working more intensively, we worked with our local Extension partner to use the field visits as a mechanism to help improve interaction and communication amongst different stakeholder groups within the watershed. The field visits included interviews or presentations involving seven individuals representing different “stakeholder groups” in the watershed, and included a dairy farmer and nursery operator. One farmer was able to attend the workshop during the following day.
3) WORKSHOP SERIES SERVING THREE COUNTY REGION – Both prior to and after the March 2002 workshop, we spent a great deal of time with contacts in the region in which the workshop was held discussing the format and venue of a more agriculturally focused training effort that would best serve local needs. Initial negotiations were with Cooperative Extension Association director involved in a widely publicized conflict over manure spreading in Sandy Creek, New York (Oswego County). Late in 2001 we held a meeting on this topic with the leadership of the County Water Quality Coordinating Committee. Through this meeting and other discussions it became clear that the immediate goals were intervention in the specific conflict, rather than capacity building. We successfully facilitated contact and follow-through with a local community based mediation center. After this intervention, we broadened the scope of our negotiations to a three county region. The three county region was of special interest because of the rich variety of issues involved in the mixed rural/suburban/urban setting, and because there were strong intercounty professional and agency linkages. We started with preliminary issue identification and planning sessions with a core group from the three counties. After a very substantial lag time for the interested local partners to do some recruitment and outreach, we eventually agreed on the first in a series of what turned out to be three half-day workshops. The series began in Fall 2002 and finished in early 2003. Our core Cooperative Extension contacts involved with agricultural and natural resource education decided to recruit participants from their own and partner agencies throughout the region. Key workshop topics were suggested by the core planning group for the first workshop, and by the participants for each subsequent workshop. All workshops were highly interactive, mixing presentation with small group interactions, skills practice, and some role playing. The first workshop focused on the nature of conflict and basic ideas and skills for responding to conflict. The second workshop covered communication skills, the difference between positions and interests, stakeholder analysis and issue identification approaches, the variety of roles that participants might play in a conflict, leadership styles, negotiation, and the role of information. The final workshop focused on meeting facilitation approaches and skills. Nearly all of the more than two dozen participants attended all three sessions.
4) GREENE COUNTY WORKSHOP – Over the course of 2001-2003, we had extensive interactions with Greene County concerning their participation in the SARE project. Unlike our initial contexts in Oswego County which related to a “too hot to handle” manure spreading conflict, our initial discussions in Greene County focused on farmland protection planning issues. In February 2002, key SARE project staff met to discuss training workshop options with Greene County Cooperative Extension staff (the director, agricultural educator, and natural resources educator) and the director of Common Ground, the local community dispute resolution center. Several individuals from these agencies then attended the March 2002 workshop. Follow up contacts by email and phone were frequent on a variety of local issues involving land use and agriculture, and the potential for continued collaborations between Cooperative Extension and Common Ground were explored. By fall, we had determined that while the relationship had been fostered successfully, the collaboration potential was too limited to justify a joint workshop. Instead, we worked with our local Extension contacts to design a full day workshop focused on broad issues of institutional transformation and skills development that would help the entire agency work more effectively in this rural county. The entire agency staff, including the agricultural and natural resource educators, participated in January 2003 in an interactive workshop focused on conflict, conflict management skills, and ways to integrate new skills and expectations into the agency culture.
5) Though occurring after the project had formally closed in March 2003 because of scheduling concerns, project staff also offered a “Community Decision Making Training” that was a directly related to the SARE trainings. The effort was focused on Cooperative Extension agricultural and other educators in the Hudson River Valley region of the state, and featured our Greene County collaboration. There were eleven participants in addition to the two SARE project trainers. Topics featured included Nature of Conflict, Listening Skills, Collaboration Basics, Situation Assessment – when to try a collaborative approach, Stakeholder & Issue Analysis – identifying key players, clarifying complex issues, Using Technical Information and Local Knowledge, Designing Collaborative Processes and Case Study Applications and Exercises.
6) Other presentations: In September 2002 a project principal and one Extension Educator from Greene County designed and implemented a morning-long session on collaborative problem solving during a multi-day in-service training at the Beaver Hollow Retreat Center in Western New York. The participants were all Extension Educators from the western part of the state who had been involved in a multi-year cohort project intended to strengthen the participants’ capacities as Public Issues educators. Several work on agricultural issues. Finally, we collaborated with staff of the New York Agricultural Mediation Program in a shorter presentation on mediation and collaborative problems solving on Feb 27th 2003 in Albany. The program, sponsored by the RC&D office as an “Ag Area Forum”, was targeted at Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board members from a ten county region in the Hudson River Valley area.
The areas that most need additional work are 1) institutionalization of collaborative problem solving skills and infrastructure throughout the agricultural counties of New York; 2) building stronger cross agency relations around the theme of collaborative problem solving at county and state levels; 3) evaluation of the effectiveness of collaborative problem solving interventions in real life situations. Most of these issues will be addressed in future work that is funded to being in Fall of 2003.