The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension System, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, North Carolina State University, Clemson University, Auburn University, Alabama A&M, Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, teamed up to train and educate a total of 217 CES personnel and other agricultural professionals on the philosophy, certification, production methods and economics of organic agriculture systems. Through individual state trainings in Year One and an in-depth region-wide training in North Carolina in Year Two, participants’ knowledge, confidence and technical skills of organic agriculture were improved and enhanced. Materials used in the trainings were used to develop a website (http://organictraining.uark.edu/) to assist Extension agents and other agriculture professionals in developing their own organic training workshops.
The behavior based objectives of this multi-state training project are listed below.
1. Increase knowledge and awareness, and improve attitudes of project participants towards organic agriculture through the development of organic agriculture curricula to be used as in-depth modules during training sessions and for future use by agriculture educators throughout the SSARE region.
2. Increase confidence level and technical skills of participants, for organic related questions, by developing a website for this specific project with organic educational resources, training tools, presentations, videos and case studies which can be used as a model for future trainings as resource for addressing common organic agriculture issues
3. To enable a select group of participants with skills and additional knowledge and expertise to become trainers and be recognized as experts in organic agriculture in their states.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
In Year 1 trainings each state conduct their own state-wide workshops based on organic needs within their state. In Arkansas, 30 participants, representing Extension agents, high school ag teachers, and farmers market managers, were trained in organic production methods at two, 2-day workshops across the state. Workshops included presentations by topic experts, farm tours and problem solving case studies. Participants received the SSAWG CD “Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South, with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm”, Cornell Tree Fruit Field Guide, Cornell Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management and a notebook with presentation information and resource materials.
In North Carolina, two 3-day organic trainings were conducted throughout the state reaching 44 agents and one specialist. Presentations from the training and additional resources were put on a website, www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/2008organictraining.html, for extension agent access. Take home materials included a notebook with resource materials, OMRI lists, the SARE “Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South” DVD and Cornell Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management.
In South Carolina, three training events on topics related to organic vegetable pest management, organic certification, and on low-cost methods for organic vegetable production were conducted, reaching 92 Extension agents and farmer educators. Additionally, the SC and NC SARE Programs organized two workshops and one farm tour in conjunction with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference. A total of 25 North and South Carolina Extension agents participated in the CFSA workshops and farm tour.
In Alabama, Extension organized a workshop on organic standards and toured organic research plots and a 12 acre organic farm was toured. Six CES agents attended the annual conference of the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) and Auburn University. Participants received SSAWG’s Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South interactive CD, and ASAN’s Alabama Farms Resource Guide. ASAN also planned to distribute 70 copies to the extension service, NRCS, and other educators and farmers. ASAN held an organic certification session and afternoon workshop in conjunction with the Economic Opportunities in Forest Medicinal Plants conference in May 2008. ASAN also assisted in the planning of the Deep South Fruit and Vegetable Growers organic production track, with afternoon session featuring four speakers on organic production. About fifteen agents and educators attended this session.
Comprehensive organic training. An in-depth two-day organic training was held in the Chapel Hill, NC area September 8 – 10, 2009. The workshop organization was led by Jeanine Davis and her assistant, Amy Hamilton, since the training was in her state. A select group of participants were identified from each state involved, for a total of 49 participants. The home base for the training was the Rizzo Center, in Chapel HIll which is part of the NCSU system, whose green initiatives call for the use of local and organic foods, composting, and recycling. The Center’s sustainability goals mesh nicely with the overarching goals of the project and was a logical venue for the training. Training participants were surveyed prior to the event to determine information and resource needs and training content. The training consisted of classroom presentations, a tour of successful organic farms on a vegetable fuel biodiesel bus, and a comprehensive case study activity. The full training agenda is attached. Workshop trainers were Tony Kleese, The Earthwise Company, Debbie Roos, NC Extension Agent, Richard Boylan NC Extension Agent, and Jeanine Davis and Elena Garcia. A diversity of successful organic operations were toured including two vegetable farms, Peregrine Farm and Timberwood Organics, Benjamin Vineyard an organic vineyard and winery, the Chatham County Community College sustainable agriculture program and an organic distribution facility, Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO). Finally, participants were divided into groups and given a case study with specific problems that each group addressed. On the final day of training, the groups presented solutions to their problem to the class where further discussion could take place. Sue Colucci and Jeanine Davis blogged about the training on their sites,
Website. An interactive website has been developed based on information and presentation developed for the trainings (http://organictraining.uark.edu ). This website has been designed to assist Extension agents and other agriculture professionals in developing and demonstrating successful organic education programs, teaching the principles of organic agriculture. Included in the website are seven educational modules with downloadable presentations which can be modified in length to suit user needs, on-line resources for further information, pictures, videos of grower profiles, and a comprehensive case study based on a working organic farm.
Outreach and Publications
As a result of the initial organic trainings in 2008, 168 participants gained knowledge of the rules and regulations for certified organic production as well as improving their comprehension of the practices that are necessary for successful organic production. Participants are capable of answering questions such as: How do I become a certified? 2) How do I market my crop if I am not certified? 3) What do I need to do to produce crops sustainably and organically? 4) What alternative practices can I use? By touring real, working organic farms and talking with the growers about their production, marketing, and philosophy, much of the skepticism about organics was diminished because it provided a tangible example of successful organic farming operations.
In 2009, the level of training was stepped up in order to increase the confidence and abilities of the advanced selected participants. Participants were taught how to work with organic farmers to develop a farm plan, how to give advice on organic products when replicated research-based results were limited or non-existent and were given examples of two successful Extension organic programs. The diverse range of opportunities and complexity within organic agriculture were conveyed by touring a range of organic operations. Working with problem solving activities facilitated confidence building among participants by providing an opportunity to incorporate new knowledge and experiences to determine possible solutions to difficult organic issues at the farm level. General comments from the participants indicated that “the presentations, tour stops and the problem sessions were organized in a way to present information in different ways, which helped to put everything in context and reinforced learning.”
The training modules in the website (http://organictraining.uark.edu) developed from these state and advanced organic training workshops will provide knowledge and build confidence so that trainees are more comfortable talking, answering questions, and giving presentations about organic production.
In addition to increasing knowledge, confidence, and abilities of individuals who attended the trainings, a series of training modules (Power Point format) were developed to assist Extension personnel and other agricultural professionals to deliver information on the philosophy, certification, production methods and economics of organic horticulture systems to their clientele. These modules and supplemental resources are available (http://organictraining.uark.edu/) educators throughout the SSARE regions to use in planning and conducting organic trainings and addressing common organic production issues.