Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and Hoophouses

Final Report for ES11-109

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $99,980.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Jim Lukens
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Co-Investigators:
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Project Information

Abstract:
2013 Annual/FINAL Report Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and Hoop house

Designed by teams of farmers, Extension personnel, USDA-NRCS personnel and scientists, our trainings were refined through feedback from agricultural professional participants. This project has provided practical training and supplemental resources on organic horticultural crop production and high tunnel production for 252 NRCS, Extension and other agricultural professionals in North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Project Objectives:
Final Trainings Successful

Our objectives were MET as follows:

1. At least 210 agricultural professionals in three states (70 professionals in each state of Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) will participate in trainings offered through this project.

We successfully reached 252 professionals and farmers through nine training sessions in South Carolina, North Carolina and Mississippi.

2. Participants will gain improved understanding of the principles and the practices of organic farming systems and high tunnel production. Lessons to be taught will include, but not be limited to, principles of diversity and holistic systems; practices to build soil health, control pests, produce healthy crops and conserve resources; and high tunnel construction and usages.

Organic production topics covered include principles of organic and holistic farming systems; building soil health and fertility; crop diversity; crop rotation; drip irrigation; weed, pest and disease management; marketing; and maintaining economic viability. High tunnel topics to be covered include advantages & disadvantages, designs, costs, construction, suitable crops, best practices, seasonal usage, and maximizing income. The focus will be on systems used by small-scale horticultural producers. Powerpoint presentations with key points illustrated by farm photos, as well as hands-on demonstrations will complement the presenters' verbal instruction.

On-farm instruction illustrates and elaborates on the principles and practices covered in the classroom. Production and marketing practices during various production cycles of the year will also be discussed. Host farms are economically viable enterprises where there is a farmer capable of and willing to provide in-depth instruction and an interactive learning environment. The selection of the farm hosts will be in cooperation with partners in each state.

3. Participants will take home tools and resources that can be readily accessed to gain further knowledge about organic farming systems and high tunnel production. This will include user-friendly electronic and hardcopy materials on organic practices, high tunnel production, research and resources, and related NRCS programs that they can easily share with others or refer to when called upon to provide needed technical information to area producers.

Included in the take-home tool kit, was Southern SAWG's interactive Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South CD-ROM. This comprehensive educational tool incorporates volumes of materials developed by land grant universities and others, complemented with real life examples from a successful organic farm. It 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 were also provided. Other materials, such as summaries of new USDA programs for organic and high tunnel producers, the training presentations, and the handouts used to augment the in-class training were compiled on a CD for all participants to take home.

4. Participants will gain improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to producers seeking to develop economically viable farms using organic and/or high tunnel production systems. This capacity will be gained by utilizing the information presented in the training and in the take-home materials.

We utilized pre and post training evaluation surveys (attached) to ascertain the positive impact of our training sessions. Every participant shared their appreciation for a wealth of resources; the breadth of knowledge represented by our diverse trainers; and the importance of hands-on, visual training carried out on an organic farm.

5. Participants will be better able to help more farmers gain access to USDA farm programs that are right for them because of information and resources about organic and high tunnel production that they gain through these trainings.

The addition of on-farm instruction illustrated the principles and practices covered in the classroom and assisted in offering a diverse range of “learning practices” that go beyond classroom or webinar to provide hands-on experiential learning. Production and marketing practices during various production cycles of the year were discussed while standing in the area of activity. The host farms were all economically viable enterprises where the farmer is a peer trainer capable of providing in-depth instruction within an interactive learning environment or a university facility for research and education.

To further build and strengthen local relationships between practitioners and professionals, the selection of the farm hosts was developed in partnership with the NRCS leadership in each state and we also sought farmers who have utilized NRCS programs, especially the cost share program for high tunnels. We found deeper engagement by the NRCS professionals when we were providing on the ground assistance to one of their clients, while teaching their peer professionals and answering real questions on site.

6. Southern SAWG and project collaborators will gain improved understanding of best techniques and strategies for educating agricultural professionals on organic and high tunnel production systems in order to carry out effective trainings for more agricultural professionals in the future.

The focus was on systems used by small-scale horticultural producers. Sharing powerpoint presentations with key points illustrated by farm photos, as well as hands-on demonstrations complemented the presenters' verbal instruction, along with lively question and answer sessions. Topics covered include principles of organic and holistic farming systems; building soil health and fertility; crop diversity; crop rotation; drip irrigation; weed, pest and disease management; marketing; and maintaining economic viability. High tunnel topics included advantages & disadvantages, designs, costs, construction, suitable crops, best practices, seasonal usage, and maximizing income.

Introduction:
Expand the expertise and knowledge skills of participating agents

The overall goal was to expand the expertise and knowledge skills of participating agents so that they can provide effective technical assistance to new constituents – current, transitioning and aspiring organic farmers, and farmers developing high tunnel production systems.

Our objectives were as follows:

1. At least 210 agricultural professionals in three states (70 professionals in each state of Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) will participate in trainings offered through this project.

2. Participants will gain improved understanding of the principles and the practices of organic farming systems and high tunnel production. Lessons to be taught will include, but not be limited to, principles of diversity and holistic systems; practices to build soil health, control pests, produce healthy crops and conserve resources; and high tunnel construction and usages.

3. Participants will take home tools and resources that can be readily accessed to gain further knowledge about organic farming systems and high tunnel production. This will include user-friendly electronic and hardcopy materials on organic practices, high tunnel production, research and resources, and related NRCS programs that they can easily share with others or refer to when called upon to provide needed technical information to area producers.

4. Participants will gain improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to producers seeking to develop economically viable farms using organic and/or high tunnel production systems. This capacity will be gained by utilizing the information presented in the training and in the take-home materials.

5. Participants will be better able to help more farmers gain access to USDA farm programs that are right for them because of information and resources about organic and high tunnel production that they gain through these trainings.

6. Southern SAWG and project collaborators will gain improved understanding of best techniques and strategies for educating agricultural professionals on organic and high tunnel production systems in order to carry out effective trainings for more agricultural professionals in the future.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Felicia Bell
  • Mark Cain
  • Matt Flint
  • Dr. Mengmeng Gu
  • Walter Jackson
  • Cathy Jones
  • Karen McSwain
  • Daniel Parson
  • Debbie Roos
  • Dr. Mark Schonbeck
  • Delmer Stamps
  • Andrew Williams

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Consultation and Refinement

In our first year, we consulted with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to ensure further training that complemented their training sessions and solidified relationships between all parties. From this partnering, we developed unique two-day training sessions combining classroom and on-farm experiences, which were conducted in two sites. South Carolina trainings consisted of one and a half days of classroom instruction and a half day of training at a successful, diversified organic farm.

In North Carolina, our team designed three one-day sessions to accommodate budget constraints for NRCS personnel. Training sessions were all delivered by our team consisting of a scientist, a farmer trainer, a former NRCS agent and an on-farm host farmer, all selected for proven ability to deliver effective instruction.

In Mississippi, we partnered one day with the Mississippi Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Production. There we conducted four one-day training sessions around the state with the same team of trainers, which all addressed the principals and techniques of small-scale organic production and Hoop House management for NRCS professionals, in a format that worked for our NRCS partners. Each farm setting held unique opportunities and challenges for our trainers to adapt to, but overall we were able to provide more intensive training to smaller groups of people, but reaching a broad audience by travelling the state.

It proved to be an ongoing challenge to work with our state contacts in North Carolina and Mississippi in securing Agency commitment, setting dates and identifying appropriate farm tours. As registration deadlines approached and ongoing communications failed in Mississippi, we utilized the opportunity to invite local farmers and reached out to our contacts in state organizations. The mix of beginning farmers and NRCS personnel provided for rich conversations, with NRCS taking the lead and building relationships with new producers in their area.

At each site, the objective was to have as much information exchange and creative thinking as possible about how to improve production, soil quality, pest/disease control, marketing, and outreach. We utilized the farm tour to demonstrate practices and followed each with a classroom session. The training team did an excellent job of on-the-spot presentations that were relevant and fit to the audience, their questions and the farms we visited. Each trainer was able to shift gears smoothly, making each presentation unique, but very applicable and appropriate.

• Using feedback from previous trainings, worked with institutional and farmer partners to design and develop overall plan for training events in MS, NC and SC; and to prepare instructional materials.

• Worked with institutional and farmer partners to make adjustments if necessary, and plan remaining training events. Made adjustments to instructional materials as needed.

• Promoted each training event through NRCS and Extension Service communication networks. Registered participants and prepared packets of participant take-home materials.

• Evaluated each training, communicating results to partners, and making adjustments to improve effectiveness for our next sessions.

Mississippi 2014
We served approximately 140 participants in Mississippi. This effort required an increase in staff time from our office administrator and program specialist. Throughout this project, we have saved travel funds by visiting each state only one time, rather than incuring the costs of separate trips for our training team. We continued to refine our presentations and learn from ourselves and the evaluations about how to keep our trainings fresh and relevant for NRCS personnel.

June 17 - Woodrow and Odessa Coleman Demonstration Farm–1184 Coleman Road, Goodman, MS (in partnership with the Alliance for Sustainble Agricultural Production). This is a 50 acre Demonstration Farm w/ hoophouse of bell peppers & beans. The classroom was on-site and

June 18 - Danny Daniels Family Farm, 4825 Zero Road, Meridian, MS 39301. High tunnel organic tomatoes with 2 ½ acres field vegetable crops on his 40 acre family farm he is reclaiming back to farming. Classroom was in the Long Creek Community Development Club next door to the farm.

June 20 - Wise Family Farm- Peggy Hall; 260 Shady Grove Rd. Pontotoc, MS 38863. Two high tunnels with organic strawberries and 20 acre field is growing broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes on plastics, peas. They have a corn maze in the fall and wagons and tractors for farm tour. Classroom was at the Union County CES, 112 Fairground Circle, New Albany, MS 38652.

June 21 - Francis’ Flowers and Herbs Farm- Mark and Earcine Evans, 900 Williams Rd, Pickens MS 39146. High tunnel with herbs and flowers on 7.5 acre family farm; “Cine products” an herbal beauty care product company. Classroom was the Canton/Madison Multipurpose and Equine Center; 501 Soldiers Colony Road in Canton, MS.

Outreach and Publications

NRCS and NGO outreach

We worked with our State NRCS contacts to ensure outreach to their professional staff. We also worked with other ngo partners to bring in farmers and presenters with deep, practical knowledge.

We did not create any publications.

Outcomes and impacts:
In their own voices

We did not receive any negative feedback - other than the heat affecting folks ability to focus. All of the NRCS participants felt their knowledge of Organic Practices and High Tunnel Management was increased and appreciated the take home materials and real life experiences from presenters.

Mississippi Participant Comments:

What are your Expectations (prior to training)

• extension techniques
• learn what to plant in high tunnels; rotation of crops, etc
• learn more about organic & high tunnel growing
• learning all we can
• hoophouse education
• increase knowledge
• learn more about high tunnel production from high tunnel experts
• information & fellowship
• gain info concerning high tunnel veg production, varieties, planting dates
• to gain valuable knowledge ot help in my job & at home
• learn more about organic farming
• learn organic farming methods & organic soil mgmt
• a lot of knowledge needed/what's available to help us as small farmers
• a lot of knowledge
• learn season extension techniques to implement in the city

How will you use this in your professional services?

• Development & use of organic methods. Development & mgmt of produce marketing.
• I was able to obtain information to help answer landowner questions that are trying to enlarge their operation. I got new ideas to help enhance operations.
• Local community. Extension of knowledge.
• Learned more about hoophouse production & startup use of them to grow crops.
• Will refer to the reference materials given when needed. Thanks. Marketing info was good.
• assist NRCS clients with construction of hoophouses
• I will be able to make recommendations on crops grown in hoophouses. Examples: vegetable vs flowers
• I feel that I can give better information to new growers. marketability. Cropping system variations
• Go back to my area & share through on-farm visits.
• Use to get produce to start crop early in spring. Also to get second crop in before Winter.
• Learned organic is hard work but can be profitable
• Learned ideas for crop production
• It gave me a better direction & resource to give to our family of community gardeners.
• weed management
• Advise landowners the pro and con of these topics
• I'm more sold on the practice of organic than before
• I will show them the slide shows & try to answer questions.
• How to better use a house (hoop); how to get more nutrients into the soil in a hoophouse.
• There was extensive coverage of how to market the produce produced by farmers in order to make a profit.
• Different crops and potential market, solarization
• Only purchasing equipment that will benefit your soil type.
• I plan to inform farmers that they can use the hoophouse for production tht will be good for markets.
• We will try to build a demonstration hoophouse for farmers in our county to utilize some of the methods displayed.
• Better small farm practice
• There was very useful information about preparing the soil.
• I help producers that are in the process of building hoophouses.
• Proper techniques for production of crops in hoophouses.
• Continue to build knowledge base. Take home materials will be useful.
• Learn how to increase production.
• This info gave me a roadmap so we will be able to plot our the land care, and make use of the soil for profit.
• The solarization presentation was helpful.
• I can now review my notes & watch the DVD to help them.
• I will be able to share the CD/DVD with them. I network with others who are doing the same thing that are willing to answer questions.
• Planning a school garden.
• TA workshops
• How to grow crops in hoophouse & manage them.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Increased Knowledge

We hosted nine classroom/farm tour trainings reaching 252 Agriculture Professionals in South Carolina, North Carolina and Mississippi. These sessions strengthened relationships by creating learning situations for hand on activities and extensive question and answer sessions.

Were Your expectations met?

Our Mississippi state NRCS Director remarked, “We had no idea the training content would be of such a high quality – I’m sure there would have been more NRCS participants!”
• This training gave me information I can use to help both high tunnel organic & conventional farmers.
• Very good training. I can soon do a better job of planning & managing programs that include high tunnel production.
• Very informing – much more than expected.
• Very informative with very knowledgable speakers.
• I understand better how to management hoophouse and organic farming cover cropsweed & petst mgmt also financial side at ??
• I learned & understood more on organic and high tunnel production.
• Learn more about high tunnel, weed control & organic.
• I have learned more about high tunnel mgmt & organic production in this workshop.
• Overall evaluation metrics are attached as a separate file.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Professionals trained in Organic Practices and High Tunnels

Participants gained an increased understanding of small-scale horticultural production in general. We received evaluation feedback that the ability of participants to assist producers in increasing economic sustainability was greatly improved, thus adding to the economic sustainability of rural communities and the development of more sustainable food systems.

• Partnerships were strengthened and new contacts were made in North Carolina and South Carolina, with additional dates set for trainings in the summer and fall of 2012.

• A library of take-home resources has been developed to provide in-depth information for each course participant to take home, including Southern SAWG's interactive Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South CD-ROM. This comprehensive educational tool incorporates volumes of materials developed by land grant universities and others, complemented with real life examples from a successful organic farm. It 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 were provided. Other materials, such as summaries of new USDA programs for organic and high tunnel producers, the training presentations, and the handouts used to augment the in-class training were compiled on a CD for participants to take home.

• Applicability of federal programs being administered by NRCS were discussed and explored in the groups.

• On-farm training expanded on the classroom material and provided a hands-on experience of the practical aspects of organic and high tunnel production systems.

Future Recommendations

Partnership

We find much trepidation on the part of many NRCS personnel to wade into the waters of Organic Practices and the more opportunities for NGO's like us to partner with our government allies, the better service our farmers will receive. We were pleased with the results, even though some preparation included some arm twisting and encouraging people to be open minded and learn new things. Overall, a great partnership and learning experience for everyone involved.

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.