Developing Successful Organic Horticulture Farms: Practical Training for Agricultural Professionals

Final Report for ES09-099

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $62,915.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Jean Mills
Southern SAWG
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project brought together three key elements: a well-tested farmer-led organic production training course, a practical science-based body of research and experience, and agriculture professionals seeking information about organic methods. The project, led by Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), provided practical training and resources on organic horticultural crop and high tunnel production to enhance the capacity of Extension, NRCS, and FSA personnel to provide effective technical assistance to current and aspiring organic farmers and those exploring high tunnel production.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of the project is to equip Extension, NRCS, FSA and other agricultural professionals with the tools and resources to provide effective technical support to organic producers whose farming systems include horticultural crops. Specific objectives include:

1. At least 120 agricultural professionals will attend trainings offered through this project.

2. Agricultural professionals will gain improved understanding of the principles and the practices of organic farming systems. Lessons to be taught will include, but not be limited to, principles of diversity and holistic systems, as well as practices to build soil health, control pests, produce healthy crops and conserve resources.

3. Agricultural professionals will take home tools and resources they will readily access to gain further knowledge about organic farming systems. This will include user-friendly electronic and hardcopy materials on organic practices, research and resources that they can easily share with others or refer to when called upon to provide needed technical information to area producers.

4. Agricultural professionals will gain improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to current and aspiring organic horticultural producers seeking to develop economically viable farms. This capacity will be gained by utilizing the information presented in the training and in the take-home materials.

5. Agricultural professionals will have the ability to provide general information on organic certification to those exploring certification as a result of the materials concerning organic certification they receive with these trainings.

6. NRCS, FSA and other USDA personnel will be better able to help organic farmers gain access to federal conservation and farm credit programs because of information and resources about organic farming that they gain through these trainings.

7. Agricultural professionals will be motivated to continue building their capacity to serve organic farmers and to communicate information learned to others in their field.

8. With this project, another goal is to learn the best techniques and strategies for educating agricultural professionals on organic production in order to develop effective trainings for more agricultural professionals in other states in the future.

Introduction:

Demand for organic produce continues to soar in the United States, creating substantial new market opportunities for existing and new farms. (Mike Klein. 2008. Thoughts from the Tractor Seat. MOFFA Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp 1,3. Klaas Martens & Mary-Howell Martens. 2008. Organics Can Feed the World Acres USA, March 2008.) The dollar value of organic food sales exceeded $21 billion nationwide in 2007, and continues to expand at about 20% annually. (Organic Trade Association. 2008. 2008 Mini Fact Sheet: Organic Industry Overview.) Organic vegetables and fruits make up a large part of the dollar volume of organic food spending and bring price premiums of 15-60% at the farm gate compared to conventional produce. (Biing-Hwan Lin, Travis A. Smith & Chung L. Huang. 2008. Organic premiums of US fresh produce. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 23(3): 208-216.) As a result, an increasing number of new farmers are looking into developing organic enterprises in Virginia and throughout the southern region. (Andy Hankins, Extension Specialist, Virginia State University. Personal communications, 2000-present.). At the same time some conventional farms are seeking to transition into organic production. As an example, Appalachian Sustainable Development (www.asdevelop.org) has facilitated the development of a cooperative of over 60 farmers who have converted from conventional tobacco to organic produce to take advantage of the economic opportunities.

Nevertheless, production capacity of today’s organic farms lags behind demand, partly because farmers have limited access to information and technical assistance tailored to organic production. (Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 2008. Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill.) Current and aspiring organic producers need better information resources and technical assistance with marketing, budgeting and certification as well as soil improvement, weed and pest management and other aspects of production. (Jane Sooby, Jonathan Landeck & Mark Lipson. 2007. 2007 National Organic Research Agenda. Organic Farming Research Foundation, Santa Cruz, CA. 74 pp.) Agricultural professionals report the growing demand for information on organic horticultural enterprises by growers in their areas, and the desire of agricultural professionals to become better prepared to meet the demand by producers for practical organic enterprise information. (Andy Hankins, Extension Specialist, Virginia State University. Personal communications, 2000-present. Dr. Peggy Hamlett, Extension Specialist, Tennessee State University, Personal communications 2006-2008. Dr John Braswell, Extension Specialist,
Mississippi state University, Personal communications, 2007-2008.) For example, agricultural professionals participating in an earlier Southern SARE PDP-funded project, entitled Sustainable Organic No-till Systems: a Training Program for CES and NRCS Field Professionals (ES06-085) have expressed strong interest in expanding their knowledge of organic production, and in helping to train other agricultural professionals in their regions. The 40 trainees formed teams charged with delivering this information to farmers in their areas during 2007-08. Three of these teams remain active and ready to receive more training. At the same time, Southern SAWG has received requests from extension personnel in the Deep South to assist with providing training and resource materials on organic production. Therefore, one training priority is to assist extension personnel in developing the skills and confidence to assist producers in their area with developing successful organic farm enterprises.

Changes in federal farm policy embodied in the 2008 Farm Bill have increased the mandate for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Services Agency to provide effective service to organic producers. (Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 2008. Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill.) Changes in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Loan, and the offerings of the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation all offer increased benefits to organic farmers. Coupled with substantial increases in cost share for USDA organic certification, and organic agricultural research funding, these changes enhance the potential for organic farmers to benefit from federal farm programs. Thus, a second training priority is to provide NRCS and FSA professionals with information they need to assist farmers in utilizing these programs.

In recent years, both governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations have published research-based information on organic production. It can be daunting to farmers and agricultural professional to wade through volumes of materials to find what is useful. (Evaluations from SSAWG Conference) For example, the new on-line curriculum, Integrated Pest Management for Organic Crops, designed for training Extension and other agricultural professionals, has been utilized by few Extension agents. (Geoff Zehnder, Professor of Entomology, Clemson University, Clemson, SC. Coordinator of SARE-PDP project Development and Integration of Sustainable Agriculture Core Curriculum Training into the Southern Region Extension Education System.).

Southern SAWG has pulled together dozens of the most useful of these materials, complemented these documents with audio visual on-farm examples, and presented them on a CD ROM with a very comprehensive list of farmer-recommended resources. In addition, Southern SAWG’s Natural Farming Systems in the South video series includes 3 highly acclaimed videos that are educational virtual farm tours focused on organic horticulture enterprises. These materials are currently being used in Extension Service training in at least three states. A third training priority is to provide agricultural professionals with user-friendly resources such as these that can be easily utilized to extend the information to producers.

There are also a number of highly successful and innovative organic farms in our region now who are using organic practices, incorporating the principles of holistic thinking and
diversification and exploring various direct marketing avenues, while maintaining economic viability. Providing agricultural professionals with the realistic, farm-tested information these farmers can offer is another training priority.

Finally, agricultural professionals tell us that trainees are more fully engaged in face-to-face learning opportunities, with a balance of classroom and on-farm instruction with real examples. (Andy Hankins, Extension Specialist, Virginia State University. Personal communications, 2000-present. Dr. Peggy Hamlett, Extension Specialist, Tennessee State University, Personal communications 2006-2008.) This improves their learning and their willingness and ability to extend it to farmers. A priority in this training is to provide face-to-face and in-the-field training.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • John Braswell
  • Catherine Cash
  • Tana Comer
  • Jeannine Freymann
  • Peggy Hamlett
  • Andy Hankins
  • Alex Hitt
  • Charlie Maloney
  • Vanessa Mercer
  • Ron Morse
  • Jim Riddle
  • Mark Schonbeck
  • Mike Wooden

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Five trainings for agricultural professions on organic horticultural crop and high tunnel production were offered around the Southern Region. The 1 ½ – 2 day trainings consisted of both classroom and on-farm instruction and discussion. The training program was an integrative curriculum of applied research, applied organic farming practices, and outreach techniques. Training presenters included an organic researcher, an organic farmer, an NRCS outreach specialist and an organic farmer host.

On-farm instruction elaborated on the principles and practices covered in the classroom. Host farms were economically viable enterprises and their production and marketing practices during various production cycles of the year were discussed.

The exact content of trainings at each site was tailored to meet priority training needs, as determined in consultation with our Extension, NRCS, FSA and farmer collaborators.

Topics covered include principles of organic and holistic farming systems; farm and field design and planting decisions; building soil health and fertility; crop diversity; crop rotation; drip irrigation; weed, pest and disease management; marketing; maintaining economic viability, high tunnel construction and production, and farmer outreach strategies. Powerpoint presentations with key points noted and farm photos illustrating points, as well as hands-on demonstrations complemented the instruction.

A packet of take-home resources was provided to each training participant, including Southern SAWG’s interactive Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South CD-ROM. This is an easy to use, comprehensive educational tool incorporating volumes of pertinent materials developed by land grant universities and others, complemented with real life examples of the successful organic farm Alex and Betsy Hitt have been operating in North Carolina since 1982. This CD ROM also contains one of the most comprehensive farmer-recommended resource lists available on this topic. Relevant videos from Southern SAWG’s Natural Farming in the South video series produced in collaboration with several agricultural professionals in the region were also provided. Finally, a compilation resource cd of the training presentations and handouts were given to participants including additional take-home materials, such as summaries of new farm bill programs.

Additional resource packets were provided to partner organizations to distribute to agricultural professionals who were unable to participate in the trainings but had an expressed need for the information

The project utilized pre- and post- training questionnaires for both formative and summative evaluation of this project. Questions specifically addressed the usefulness of information and materials and also about the effectiveness of our training methods.

Using questionnaires, our summative evaluation compared the attitudes and perceptions of training participants immediately before and after the training. In addition,
A post training impact survey was completed by no less than 25% of the total professional training participants. This survey inquired into participant’s confidence level with the material and topics covered, their interest in and action toward further learning about the topics, and the degree to which they have applied what they learned through this project.

Outreach and Publications

Index of Materials Provided to Training Participants

1. Organic Vegetable Production & Marketing in the South with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm CD

2. Natural Farming Systems in the South: Organic Horticulture 1- Au Naturel Farm DVD

3. Natural Farming Systems in the South: Organic Horticulture 2- Maple Spring Gardens DVD

4. Classroom Training Materials CD (many provided as hardcopies in class, plus all compiled and provided on CD).
a) A Brief History and Philosophy of Organic Farming
By Mark Schonbeck

b). Caring for the Soil as a Living System
By Mark Schonbeck
Virginia Association for Biological Farming Information Sheet

c). Cover Crops for All Seasons: Expanding the Cover Crop Toolbox for Organic Vegetable Producers
By Mark Schonbeck and Ron Morse
Virginia Association for Biological Farming Information Sheet

d. Dripping Springs Garden CSA 2009 – What is a CSA?
By Mark Cain and Michael Crane

e. Ecological Weed Management for Organic Farms
By Mark Schonbeck

f. Federal Programs for Organic Farmers
By Mark Schonbeck

g. High Tunnels for Organic Horticulture: Opportunities and Challenges for Soil Conservation, Nutrient Management, and Pest Management
By Mark Schonbeck

h. Is No-Till Essential for Building Soil Quality and Sequestering Carbon?
By Mark Schonbeck

i. NRCS-Organic Crosswalk Summary: NRCS Conservation Practice Standards for Cropland that Relate to National Organic Program Crop Production Standards
By Mark Schonbeck

j. Practical Nutrient Management for Organic Vegetable Crops Or How To Stay In Business While Caring For The Soil As A Living System
By Mark Schonbeck

k. Rural Mountain Producers Exchange, Inc.: Bylaws

l. Rural Mountain Producers Exchange, Inc.: Rules and Regulations

m. Resource Lists:

– Additional Resources for Organic Horticulture
By Mark Schonbeck

– Cover Crops: Seed Suppliers and Information Resources
By Mark Schonbeck

– High Tunnel Supplemental Resources
By Mark Cain, Dripping Springs Garden

n. Powerpoint Presentations:

Principles of Organic Farming Systems and Natural Resource Conservation
By Mark Schonbeck

Organic Control of Weeds, Pests and Crop Diseases
By Mark Schonbeck

Building Soil Quality and Managing Nutrients
By Mark Schonbeck

Dripping Springs Garden – A Whole Farm System – Organic Horticulture
By Mark Cain

Dripping Springs Garden High Tunnel Overview
By Mark Cain

Soil and Field Crop Management at Dripping Springs Garden
By Mark Cain

Vegetable and Cut Flower Production and Marketing
By Mark Cain

Fayetteville Farmers Market
By Mark Cain

Organic Horticulture Training
By Andrew Williams

Outreach: A Grassroots Approach
By Andrew Williams

end

Outcomes and impacts:

Outcomes and Impacts
“Sometimes the customers seeking for assistance in organics believes in this kind of agriculture where some of our agencies field workers believe in traditional agricultural methods. That being said and since we work based on the farmer’s goals and interest, it is important to have a hands on training where our field officers can see results and appreciate the extra work the organic farmers go through.”
— training participant

1. Agricultural professionals participating in the trainings gained practical knowledge in organic and hoophouse production systems, plus how to connect these practices and farmers to USDA programs.

“I wanted to send you a note to let you know that I am still hearing positive comments from NRCS employees who attended the Training in March. The Organic Training for Agricultural Professionals was very helpful to us in understanding the cultural/management practices needed for organic production. Thank you and the instructors for linking many of these practices to the conservation practices NRCS commonly recommends to landowners.”
— AL State NRCS Resource Conservationist

2. Agricultural Professionals participating in the trainings were motivated to work more with organic growers and to those interested in pursuing/transitioning to organic and high tunnel production.

“ (I plan to) Expose landowners to opportunities and information on organic”
— training participant

“I want to get more involved in finding more organic growers.”
— training participant

“ (I plan on) Collecting and sharing information on organic horticulture with other minority and socially disadvantaged farmers.”
— training participant

“(I plan to) Provide more outreach for these types of farmers (newspaper articles, demonstrations, field days, etc.).”
— training participant

“This information will be shared with vegetable producers on a one-on-one session and monthly group meetings.”
— training participant

3. Agricultural professionals participating in the trainings improved their ability to work with farmers interested in organic and high tunnel production,

“ (I am) able to communicate about organic farming with my clients in a knowledgeable manner as well as present NRCS programs to them.”
— training participant

“Customers are already inquiring on where to get started. Gives me the ability to discuss organics without the producer explaining to me how things work.”
— training participant

4. Working relationships between farmers and the agricultural professionals participating in the trainings were improved.

“(training participant name omitted) of NRCS was just out at our place. He went to your workshop and couldn’t stop talking about all the wonderful things he learned… As I was talking to him, it occurred to me that I was witnessing change happen before my
eyes, and it was beautiful. Thanks for all that you do.”
— email from Alabama Farmer

5. Agricultural Professionals participating in the trainings recognized the needs and resource gaps of farmers growing and transitioning to organic and high tunnel production and the opportunity the training provided them to work with these producers.

“Handouts will be great info and examples for local producers, especially for a subject that is out of the normal production in our areas.”
— training participant

“I understand more about organic farming and what avenues they need and where we can help.”
— training participant

6. Agricultural professionals participating in the trainings were motivated to further their knowledge and education around the topics covered.

“(I will) Look into acquiring books and other resources for office. Have publications to distribute. Invite speakers to existing and new programs.”
— training participant

“I have a good base of sites to go look to answer more questions as they arise.”
— training participant

7. Agricultural Professionals participating in the trainings were motivated to develop research and education around organic and high tunnel production.

“Being able to fully understand what goes into production helps to tailor research topics and ability to estimate cost of production.”
— training participant

“(I plan to use this) In teaching undergraduates and graduate students and developing and implementing research ideas and grant proposals”
— training participant

“I know I want to work a lot more with alternative agriculture enterprises and develop education in these areas”
— training participant

8. Agricultural Professionals participating in the trainings were motivated to incorporate the information into state outreach programs as well as share the information with their fellow professionals so as to increase awareness and influence program practices and projects.

“I am currently working with a sustainable agriculture project committee. The information provided will be very beneficial to our decision making process.”
— training participant

“(I plan to) Share information with other District Conservationists.”
— training participant

“(I will) Try to improve our practices toward organic farmers”
— training participant

9. Agricultural professionals participating in the trainings gained an improved understanding of government outreach programs through collaboration with multi-agency field staff, inter-agency administrators and project team members. While many agencies have their respective professional development “field” trainings, this project’s collaborative trainings provided each agency an opportunity to learn from one another and for shared communication within each one.

“(As a result of this collaborative training, I will) highlight organic farming technology transfer importance to RC&D Council for possible inclusion in 5 year are plan so to carry out such a program.”
— training participant

While the project incorporated a strong collaboration component from the beginning, this was built upon in a number of ways over the course of the project by:
• Incorporating agency administrators and professionals into the trainings to discuss their program practices, rules, and regulations.
• Incorporating more participant dialogue and Q&A sessions which allowed participants to share their own experiences, challenges, and successes around organic and high tunnel production.
• Incorporating an outreach specialist presenter who brought a holistic perspective to outreach from the big picture Farm Bill to the underserved farmer that all government agencies serve.

10. Agricultural professionals participating in the trainings gained an awareness that it would help them implement their programs better if they had farmers who use organic and high tunnel production and those who operate smaller-scale and diversified operations as advisors for policies, programs, and practices.

“I received a better understanding, or perhaps awareness is a better word, of organic farming. From an NRCS perspective I realized no one in our organization seemed to have spoken with any growers who use hoop houses. We shouldn’t be telling what we can do for you but what you need.”
— training participant

Immediately following the training in Arkansas, Arkansas NRCS began moving forward with such efforts to include farmers in their organic advisory council to learn more about their needs and tailoring their cost-share practices.
—personal communication

11. Agricultural professionals participating in the trainings gained an improved attitude toward organic and high tunnel production.

“Before I came I thought organics was a joke. Now I understand that it is economically sustaining, hard work, and there is a demand. I also feel it is a healthy alternative to humans and the land as a whole. I also think it is good to bring back the production to local people and communities. This has drastically changed my mind.”
— training participant

“I realize how complex organic farming is”
— training participant

“(I gained an) Appreciation for producer and the sweat equity needed for production for sustainability.”
— training participant

“(I am now) More open to organic/sustainable farming methods”
— training participant

“ (I have) A better understanding of how important this is to local communities and all the way up to our national security. That a tremendous amount of work has been done and knowledge gained and we now need to get on board and assist, promote, and help in any way we can.”
— training participant

12. Agricultural professionals not participating in this project have already begun requesting of Southern SAWG similar organic, high tunnel and sustainable agriculture trainings.
• Extra resource materials we provided to partner agencies to provide to staff who were unable to participate in the trainings.
• Proposals are already in development to gain funding to provide trainings to agricultural professionals in Southern states that were not covered in this project.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

1. Trained 186 agricultural professionals through this project and provided educational resources to an additional 114 agricultural professionals.

•Number of agricultural professionals trained exceeded projected number of 120 by 55%.
•A total of five trainings were offered
•Trainings were offered in VA, TN, AL and AR
•Agriculture professionals from VA, TN, AL, AR, KY, MS, and TX participated in trainings.
•123 Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel participated in trainings.
•44 Cooperative Extension Service personnel participated in trainings,
•19 other professionals from Farm Service Agency (FSA), Agriculture Research Service (ARS), state department’s of agriculture, and non-governmental organizations participated in trainings.

2. Agricultural professionals:
•Gained improved understanding of the principles and the practices of organic farming systems.
•Gained improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to current and aspiring organic horticultural producers seeking to develop economically viable farms
•Gained ability to provide general information on organic certification to those exploring certification
•Are better able to help organic farmers gain access to federal conservation and farm credit programs

o98% of professionals completing post-training evaluations stated the training met and/or exceeded their expectations with an improved understanding of organic farming and high tunnel production.

o 60% of training participants completing pre-training evaluations had never had training on these topics before.

o 96% of professionals completing post-training evaluations stated that their confidence to assist growers in the topics covered had increased as a result of participating in the training.

o Trainees were relieved to learn that they do not need to understand the intricacies of organic certification, and are now able to direct producers to certifying agencies.

o NRCS and FSA personnel noted the value in visiting small-scale organic farms to see first-hand how their programs can serve these type farms and talking with those producers about the barriers in accessing these programs.

o An NRCS outreach specialist with expertise in working with smaller-scale organic growers was brought into the project, specifically to aid this type discussion.

3. Agricultural professionals took home tools and resources they will readily access to gain further knowledge about organic farming systems.

• 186 training participants received sets of Southern SAWG’s interactive organic horticulture CD ROM and 2 organic farming DVDs, allowing participants to continue the training on their own, with colleagues, and with farmers.

• 114 agricultural professionals who were unable to attend the trainings received sets of Southern SAWG’s interactive organic horticulture CD ROM and 2 organic farming DVDs.

• Southern SAWG created and distributed to the 186 training participants a Resource CD with the power point presentations and handouts provided by trainers, to allow professionals to continue learning and sharing information with growers and colleagues. Materials included extension and SARE documents. (see attached resources).

• 93% of training participants responding to follow-up surveys reported that these resources are aiding them in working with farmers in their area.

4. Agricultural professionals are motivated to continue building their capacity to serve organic farmers and to communicate information learned to others in their field.

• 85% of agricultural professionals responding to the post-training evaluations remain interested in additional training around the topics covered.

• 29% of agricultural professionals responding to the follow-up survey have already, within months after the training, pursued additional training on the topics covered.

• 98% of agricultural professionals responding to the post-training evaluations recommend this training to others in their field.

5. Learned good techniques and strategies for educating agricultural professionals on organic production in order to develop effective trainings for more agricultural professionals in other states in the future.The following aspects were critical to the success of these trainings:
•Learning directly from experienced farmers who can demonstrate and explain the practices and can analyze options with agricultural professionals.
• Having someone from within the agencies on the training team to make the connections between the farm and the programs.
• Having a significant portion of the training take place in the field training.
• Having materials that the agricultural professionals can share with their farmers without them feeling like they have to learn everything on these topics in 1.5 days.
• Providing agricultural professionals with a good list of resources that will allow them to easily gather more information as needed.
• Providing multi-agency trainings to help agricultural professionals network and learn how to collaborate and better serve farmers.
• Reassuring the agricultural professionals that they are not responsibility for organic certification.
• Reassuring the agricultural professionals that the training is not to discredit conventional growing, but is simply to help them learn how to work with the growing number of farmers who are producing food for our local communities using organic growing techniques.
• Providing nourishment to get through the long days
• Providing classroom chairs that are suitable for adults with aging knees and backs.
• Breaking up classroom time so training participants are not in a classroom all day.

Based on the evaluations, the program content provided professionals with the information they are looking for to help farmers interested in producing organic horticultural and high tunnel crops. As noted above, 98% of those responding said the training met or exceeded their expectations with an improved understanding.

Participants stated they appreciated the following aspects of the training…

Organic and High Tunnel Production – comments from participants
• “Learning the process of becoming an organic farmer and how to make organic farming work for you.”
• “Hoop house information and details on NRCS high tunnel cost share program to pass along to clientele.”
• “Cycling of nutrient resources using cover crops, deep rooted crops, etc. for soil improvement. Crop and livestock integration in organic production. Learn more about organic pesticides.”
• “Insights to production, hurdles of small farm, marketing, and certification.”
• “On-site practical trial and error information.”
• “Multiple production techniques and resources.”
• “Pros and cons of organic farming versus conventional.”
• “Intense management needed for organics.”

Resources – comments from participants
• “Having a local producer’s input and hearing and seeing how the technical information is put into use on the farm. Good resources to take home and use.”
• “Do’s and don’ts for hoop house construction. Resource sources to help my customers do their research before they get started.”
• “Handouts, CDs, DVDs, power points, and websites, etc.”
• “Interaction with instructors and participants.”
• “Details were shared and DVDs shown to show exact detail on farming installations.”

Networking – comments from participants
• “Network with local farmer and industry folks.”
• “Open dialogue.”
• “Multi-agency participation.”
• “Good interaction between government program administrators and producers to clear up misunderstanding about money availability.”

Increased Awareness – comments from participants
• “A better understanding of how important this is to local communities and all the way up to our national security. That a tremendous amount of work has been done and knowledge gained and we now need to get on board and assist, promote, and help in any way we can.”
• “I received a better understanding, or perhaps awareness is a better word, of organic farming. From an NRCS perspective I realized no one in our organization seemed to have spoken with any growers who use hoop houses. We shouldn’t be telling what we can do for you but what you need.”
• “Started to begin to understand some of the needs of producers in this sustainable agriculture area.”
• “New ideas and seeing a new fold to my job.”
• “Appreciation for producer and the sweat equity needed for production for sustainability.”

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The degree of awareness and attitude change among professionals as a result of this training will have a number of potential contributions:

• Exponential shared learning among fellow professionals in state, regionally, and nationally.
• More agricultural professionals and programs will provide useful services to farmers using organic and high tunnel production practices.
• An increase in the number of organic farmers benefiting from shared knowledge with their outreach officials will lead to an overall increase in successful organic farms in the region.

Future Recommendations

TECHNIQUES AND STRATEGIES:
With this project, another primary goal was to learn the best techniques and strategies for educating agricultural professionals on organic production in order to develop effective trainings for more agricultural professionals in other states in the future. The techniques and strategies we recommend are as follows (also indicated in the Accomplishments section, #5).
• Have experienced farmers who can demonstrate and explain the practices and can analyze options with agricultural professionals as instructors.
• Have someone from within the agencies on the training team to make the connections between the farm and the programs
• Have a significant portion of the training take place in the field.
• Have materials that the agricultural professionals can share with their farmers without them feeling like they have to learn everything on these topics in 1.5 days.
• Provide agricultural professionals with a good list of resources that will allow them to easily gather more information as needed.
• Provide multi-agency trainings to help agricultural professionals network and learn how to collaborate and better serve farmers
• Reassure the agricultural professionals that they are not responsibility for organic certification
• Reassure the agricultural professionals that the training is to not to discredit conventional growing, but is simply to help them learn how to work with the growing number of farmers who are producing food for our local communities using organic growing techniques.
• Provide nourishment to get through the long days
• Provide classroom chairs that are suitable for adults with aging knees and backs.
• Break up classroom time so training participants are not in a classroom all day.

CONTENT:
The most challenging aspect with the project trainings was balancing the needs of the various professionals which included researchers, extension, educators, and administrators. We also needed to balance the needs of our two primary audience participants; NRCS and Extension. While NRCS often reported wanting more training around the rules, regulations and practices of their programs, Extension preferred more technical, research, and specific production (based on pre-training surveys).

Participant feedback provided the following recommendations that offer improvements to future and follow up trainings regarding content: (feedback below was reported by multiple participants).

• Less science of organic farming and more on practices, outreach, and how we can get program delivered to these operations.
• More training in NRCS rule.
• Group discussion with multiple organic growers.
• More around the transition from traditional to organic.
• More in depth discussion on the economics of organic farming. Not just sales but cost of production to farmer.
• More on NOP certification.
• More examples of resource concerns and how to turn them about -further explanation of resource concerns; water quantity and quality, erosion, nutrient management and soil depletion.

OTHER:
Additionally, feedback provided the following recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the trainings: (feedback below was reported by multiple participants).

• More than one training in different areas of the state.
• Invite District, NRCS, FSA officials, and state office employees who could take recommendations from farmers and field staff and relay it.

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.