A Statewide Journey of Sustainable Success: Hands-On Training

Final Report for ES02-061

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $48,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,000.00
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Rob Holland
Center for Profitable Agriculture
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Project Information

Abstract:

The “Statewide Journey” project provided a great launching pad for needed and useful training in value-added and sustainable agriculture for Extension agents, agriculture leaders and communities across Tennessee. The training project combined the documented success stories from actual enterprises with on-site tours, seminar-style sessions, web-based resources and mass media. Seventeen authors contributed to 16 articles in the training manual and 21 other publications were featured. Twenty-six presenters and farm hosts provided training through on-site visits, tours and presentations. Twelve hosts provided specific orientation and local media coverage at 9 locations. Fifty-seven tour delegates and 18 guests received various levels of training through individual, one-session and one-day participation. Specific evaluation tools were used to identify the most preferred and effective teaching tools and a trainee “plan of work” was completed by each participant.

Project Objectives:

The following seven objectives were outlined in the project proposal:

Improve general understanding of sustainable agriculture in Tennessee

Increase the resource base of sustainable agriculture contacts

Broaden agricultural leaders’ sustainable agriculture comfort zone by showing successes of economic, environmental and social impacts that have resulted from sustainable, value-added and niche-marketing agriculture

Enhance the retention and likelihood of implementation by participants by providing real examples, stories and testimonies of sustainable, value-added and niche-marketing agriculture

Increase the awareness in local communities of sustainable, value-added and niche-marketing agriculture

Create a state-wide awareness of sustainable, value-added and niche-marketing agriculture

Develop brief, effective and implementable plan of work to involve sustainable agriculture in existing program areas

Introduction:

Like many others, agricultural leaders (Extension agents, farmers, USDA field staff and those in farm supply and service roles) often learn best by seeing and hearing first-hand from those who have implemented changes and have achieved continual improvement in pursuit of sustainable systems. While few showcase examples of sustainable success may exist in any one community or county, indeed many such examples and educational opportunities exist collectively across the state. Unfortunately, many teachable moments and sustainable agriculture success stories go unnoticed often because of a lack of focus, publicity and exposure. Opportunities to add value to agricultural commodities, tap niche markets and sustain farming systems are timely topics in need of continued, perpetual enhancement through competitive educational programs. The “Statewide Journey” program (including the development and assembly of a complete resource guide to sustainable agriculture efforts in Tennessee) combines many tactics critical to spreading the word of sustainable agriculture, to teach a broad base of agricultural leaders from across the state and within various local communities, about environmental, economic and social issues in agriculture, at the actual site of proven enterprises with proven practices. Implementation across the state and in certain local communities, the “Statewide Journey” provides a unique and widespread delivery of sustainable agriculture information, especially the social implications, through the inclusion of media, local leaders, hosts and local teams. The effectiveness of on-site tours and visits will be enhanced by well-planned, pre- and post-visit classroom-type instruction—financial, environmental and social impacts of sustainable ag. will be emphasized during on-site, classroom and in-travel sessions.

Like many others, agricultural leaders (Extension agents, farmers, USDA field staff and those in farm supply and service roles) often learn best by seeing and hearing first-hand from those who have implemented changes and have achieved continual improvement in pursuit of sustainable systems. While few showcase examples of sustainable success may exist in any one community or county, indeed many such examples and educational opportunities exist collectively across the state. Unfortunately, many teachable moments and sustainable agriculture success stories go unnoticed often because of a lack of publicity and exposure.

Many public education and outreach programs have been criticized for a lack of leadership and development efforts in the areas of sustainable, organic and value-added agriculture. Many educators and outreach coordinators have likewise been critical of the lack of opportunities for themselves to be informed, updated and educated on the topics. Tennessee is no exception to some of these notions.

In recent years, Tennessee has progressed on a path of continual improvement toward enhancing the educational and outreach programs in sustainable, organic and value-added agriculture. Sustainable agriculture efforts have been stepped up through no-till production programs, forage initiatives, sustainable dairy systems and precision farming techniques. Organic agriculture efforts have been facilitated through cooperative programs among the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the Tennessee Land Stewardship Association and the Agricultural Extension Service. Value-added agriculture efforts have been led by the UT Agricultural Development Center which was launched as a result of Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist’s 31-member Council on Agriculture. These calls for public action on value-added agricultural issues have certainly been valid. Tennessee farmers are now more apt to consider new and alternative enterprises, activities and procedures than ever before. While Tennessee agricultural production alone generates more than $2.5 billion annually in farm cash receipts, farmers have not been especially well paid for their efforts recently. In 1999, on average, Tennessee farmers returned a net income of $1,588 per farm. One reason for this low net return is that the farmer’s share of each dollar the consumer spends on food has been steadily decreasing. In 1999, only twenty cents of every dollar spent by the consumer on food items made it back to the farm level. For food items purchased at restaurants and fast-food facilities the farmer’s portion slips much lower to less than $0.12. An underlying principle of the farm share for food items is that the more processing performed on a product beyond the farm but before it reaches the retail level, the smaller the farm share. For example fresh eggs require little processing and have a higher farm share than bakery products which require a great deal of processing. Opportunities to add value to agricultural commodities tap niche markets and sustain the environment are timely topics in need of continued, perpetual enhancement through competitive educational programs.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

The overall “Statewide Journey” program was based on a complete educational training program involving the development and use of a specific training manual, distribution and dissemination of educational information and materials through a training tour. The program involved the work of 5 planning teams (involving 57 members) and 3 implementation teams (involving 51 members). A total of 93 individuals participated in various levels of the training – 5 of these represent the media and are planning multiple mass media efforts resulting from the training program.

The program’s steering committee (16 members) identified topics, presenters and tour stops to include in the training and managed all the program details. The tour application team (17 members) worked to develop the delegate application form, criteria for delegate selection and promoted the opportunity for delegate applications. The delegate selection team (6 members) reviewed delegate applications and selected delegates. The training-manual team (6 members) wrote case studies, assembled presentation summaries and fact sheets and administered the layout, design and publication of the training manual. The pre-tour planning team (12 members) identified detailed and strategic opportunities for maximum training effectiveness and efficiency.

The teaching team (29 members) provided 6 on-site tour stops, conducted 7 presentations, distributed 19 educational materials and utilized the training manual to direct specific instruction. The hosts teams (12 members) made local media arrangements, facilitated meal and training arrangements and provided input on local resources. Other leaders (10 members) provided various support, information and transition during the training.

The primary activities and materials utilized for the training program include the tour itself, the official “training manual and tour guide” which was published with case studies, fact sheets and presentation summaries; actual seminar presentations; distribution of additional publications; promotion of web-based resources and the benefit of personal interactions & extemporaneous discussions. Tour participants traveled more than 800 miles, through 23 counties with specific training conducted in 7 counties.

Outreach and Publications

Copies of the training manual, publications and other training materials used in the program are included in the appendix of the final report. Copies of all the program survey/evaluation forms are also included in the appendix. In addition, results/summary of the training evaluations is presented in the “Impact of the Results/Outcome” section.

Outcomes and impacts:

At the conclusion of the three-day training tour, delegates in the training program were asked to evaluate the program by completing a “Program Evaluation” survey and to report their planned us of what they learned during the training by submitting a “Plan of Work” summary.

In the program evaluation survey, delegates were asked to estimate the increased level of knowledge, understanding, resource base, comfort zone and likelihood of addressing value-added and sustainable agriculture with others. On a one to 10 scale, where 10 equals the highest level of agreement:

77 percent of the delegates rated “my general understanding of sustainable and value-added agriculture has improved” as an 8 or greater.

88 percent of the delegates rated “my knowledge of sustainable and value-added agriculture has expanded” as an 8 or greater.

88 percent of the delegates rated “my resource base of sustainable and value-added agriculture has expanded” as an 8 or greater.

79 percent of the delegates rated “my comfort zone with sustainable and value-added agriculture has increased” as an 8 or greater.

98 percent of the delegates rated “the statewide journey was worth my effort and time” as an 8 or greater.

Using the same one to 10 scale, delegates were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of four teaching methods used on the journey. All of the delegates (100 percent) rated the effectiveness of the “tour” as a teaching method as an 8 or better, while 89.5 percent rated the “travel interaction” as an 8 or better. Seventy seven percent of the delegates rated the effectiveness of the “manual” as an 8 or greater while seventy-five percent rated the “presentations” as an 8 or greater.

When delegates were asked to indicate the overall most effective teaching tool in the program, 65 percent selected the “tour” while 25 percent selected “interaction with other.” However, when the delegates were asked to indicate how useful they thought the manual would be in “their future program implementations,” 77 percent rated it as an 8 or greater.

Using the same one to 10 scale, delegates were asked to rate the “level of learning experienced,” “the effectiveness of the teaching” and “the information obtained” from each specific presentation and tour stop on the journey. The “Valley Home Farm, direct farm marketing” tour, the “Red Barn Winery” tour and the “R-Grow” tour were rated as the top three, respectively, teaching events in all three categories for learning, effectiveness and information. A listing of the top-rated events for each category rating is given below:

Learning:
1) Valley Home Farm, Direct Farm Marketing Tour
2) Red Barn Winery Tour
3) R-GROW Tour
4) Organic Grain Production Tour
5) Retail Garden Center and Greenhouse Production Tour
6) Short Course in Sustainable Agriculture Presentation
7) Precision Farming Presentation
8) Farmers Coop Tour

Effectiveness:
1) Valley Home Farm, Direct Farm Marketing Tour
2) Red Barn Winery Tour
3) R-GROW Tour
4) Retail Garden Center and Greenhouse Production Tour
5) Organic Grain Production Tour
6) Short Course in Sustainable Agriculture Presentation
7) Precision Farming Presentation
8) Farmers Coop Tour

Information:
1) Valley Home Farm, Direct Farm Marketing Tour
2) Red Barn Winery Tour
3) R-GROW Tour
4) Retail Garden Center and Greenhouse Production Tour
5) Organic Grain Production Tour
6) Short Course in Sustainable Agriculture Presentation
7) Precision Farming Presentation
8) Farmers Coop Tour

When delegates were asked what they felt was the most valuable part of the “statewide journey,” the most frequent responses addressed “hands on interaction with producers and peers.”

When delegates were asked what, if anything, they would have excluded from the “statewide journey, ” the most frequent response indicated that “nothing should be excluded, everything was very important.” The only possible exclusion mentioned was the “deeply technical presentations.”

When delegates were asked what should have been included on the “journey” that was not, .the most common response was “more information on the business end of the operations – marketing plan, specific budget information and retailing.”

When delegates were given an opportunity to give any additional comments regarding the “statewide journey,” responses were overwhelming positive – many delegates noted “great, well organized, excellent, speakers held nothing back and were extremely unselfish with information and this was one of the best training I have attended.”

As part of the “Plan of Work” procedure, delegates were asked to complete a worksheet which guided them to formulate a simplistic two-year plan of work. Twelve methods of sharing/using the information/ideas learned during the “statewide journey” were listed on a worksheet. Participants were instructed to identify the methods they plan to use, indicate the number of times they plan to use the each method and the number of total contact planned to reach with each method. Instead of actual numbers, many terms, such as: on going, continuous, numerous, constantly, multiply, daily, unknown, as needed, were used to complete the form. Often, the number of newspapers or newsletters, rather than a circulation number was given. Therefore, the actual numbers obtained when summarizing the times a method is planned to be used and the total number of contacts excludes many as “answers in words,” though descriptive, cannot be averaged.

Among the list of methods of sharing information raked by the delegates, “discuss experience with others” ranked first followed by “distribute copies of the ‘journey’ manual and “speak to organizational groups.” As shown in the following table, “discuss experience with other” also ranked first on number of times plan to use the method; while, the mass media methods of newspaper, radio/tv and newsletters ranked first, second and third on total number of contacts planned.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Copies of the training manual, publications and other training materials used in the program are included in the appendix of the final report.

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

One of the most overwhelming observations of the “Statewide Journey” is the tremendous interest that exists from farmers in participating in hands-on and on-site tours as a teaching method. The large number of applications to participate in the” Statewide Journey” from the “farmer” category was just not expected by the planning teams. The program was highly billed and promoted as a “training” program and the farmer responses confirmed that they were extremely interested in receiving such training in sustainable and value-added agriculture issues. Our planning teams are very interested in pursuing the development of educational programs along the “Statewide Journey” model for farmers and agri-entrepreneurs.

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.