Moving the NC Local Food System Toward Sustainablility: A Comprehensive Graduate course in Local Food Systems for Cooperative Extension Agents, Specialists, and other Educators

Final report for ES13-119

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $79,063.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Joanna Massey Lelekacs
NC State Extension / CEFS
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Project Information

Abstract:

This three year project collaboration between North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Virginia Cooperative Extension, South Carolina Cooperative Extension, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) focused on designing, implementing, and evaluating a graduate course for Extension educators on local food systems. We also leveraged additional funding to transition the graduate course into a formalized, distance education, professional development certificate-series of five courses for a broader audience of service providers. The distance education certificate is currently in the final stages of development and is being piloted by 17 local food system professionals, including Extension Agents, local food council leaders, NGO and government agency staff focused on local food systems, and others.

The graduate course, Local Food Systems for Extension Agents, was implemented from February through July 2015. Lectures and panel presentations were captured on video and have been organized, along with the syllabus, reading materials, and session agendas, into modules available for public viewing through the Extension Local Food web portal – go.ncsu.edu/localfoodlectures. Summative evaluation, including 6-month post-course evaluation of outcomes, was completed in January 2016.

The overall goal of the graduate course was to increase the capacity of Extension educators to work with and educate growers, buyers, and community members in the development of high performing local food systems. The course successfully encouraged participants’ critical thinking about local food system development, shared solid research and successful community-based projects, and established connections to material and human resources. We trained and supported a network of Extension professionals who can now better 1) assist farmers and their communities in analyzing their existing community food systems, and 2) facilitating or leading collaborative processes in order to align existing assets with community strengths for local food system expansion.

Project Objectives:

(1) Objective 1: Extension educators can knowledgeably explain the benefits and challenges of localized food systems to a variety of audiences, including farmers.

(2) Objective 2: Extension educators can identify the structure and components of food systems and lead or facilitate a collaborative process of aligning these with agricultural and general community strengths for local food system expansion. 

Introduction:

There is rising interest in local foods as a way to stimulate community economic development while also contributing to local farm viability, promoting healthy eating habits among consumers, and addressing community food security and resilience. Despite these trends, those working in local foods, and those interested in future work in local foods, often have not received formal training about interdisciplinary, systems approaches and existing research in this emerging field.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension (NCCE) has been at the forefront of responding to farmers’ interest in bringing more “local” into their existing businesses and to community members’ interest in harnessing the local foods movement to spark economic development and improve public health. In 2010, NCCE appointed Local Food Coordinators (LFCs) in each of the state’s 100 counties and, in 2012, inaugurated Local Food as an Extension Flagship Program. This was a historic shift for NCCE, and it serves as a national model, both in cooperation between the 1890 and 1862 land-grant universities and in shifting Extension priorities to local foods.

A 2012 training needs assessment in NC identified a number of areas of training and resource needs important to NCCE educators, including: increasing farmer’s capacity for direct sales into institutional markets; developing government and organizational partnerships around local food issues; increasing agents’ capacity to work in their communities to enhance local food access for residents with limited resources; connecting local schools with local farmers; garden programming, nutrition education, and a need for general food systems training, including how to plan local foods projects.

Since similar training needs were expressed for Cooperative Extension agents in Virginia and South Carolina, we developed project partnerships. According to our non-profit organization partner, CFSA, the graduate course would strengthen their efforts “By having a cohort of more informed Extension agents … CFSA’s work to develop Food Systems businesses, transition growers to Organics, and engage local community stakeholders around local foods projects and policies, will be greatly enhanced.”

This project focused on addressing training gaps by strengthening the capacity of Extension educators to support local food systems work in their communities by providing project participants with an overview of local food systems research, as well as resources to support translation of research into practice using interdisciplinary, systems approaches.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Nicole Accordino
  • Edy Agbdojan
  • Amy-Lynn Albertson
  • Alice Ammerman
  • Dr. Alice Ammerman
  • Shorlette Ammons
  • David Ashley
  • Jeff Bender
  • Eric Bendfeldt
  • Sarah Blacklin
  • Robin Blakely
  • J. Dara Bloom
  • Don Boekelheide
  • Becky Bowen
  • Kathryn Boys
  • Mary Jac Brennan
  • Jared Cates
  • Dr. Carinthia Cherry
  • Jay Cook
  • Nancy Creamer
  • Gabe Cumming
  • Kristin Davis
  • Katie Descieux
  • Liz Driscoll
  • Rebecca Dunning
  • Anthony and Janice Dyson
  • Michelle Eley
  • Ted Feitshans
  • Ben Filippo
  • Brenda Garner
  • Gary Gay
  • David Goforth
  • Cody Hammel
  • Caroline Hampton
  • Debbie Hamrick
  • Rob Hawk
  • Jamilla Hawkins
  • Eric Henry
  • Eve Honeycutt
  • Dr. Leslie Hossfeld
  • Stanley Hughes
  • Dr. Susan Jakes
  • Pat Jenkins
  • Simone Keith
  • Tammy Kelly
  • Dave Lamie
  • Rick Larson
  • Laura Lauffer
  • Jaclyn Mace
  • Scott Marlow
  • David Mease
  • David Mease
  • Ross Mickens
  • Jillian Mickens
  • Carol Mitchell
  • Jannety Mosley
  • Brian Nerrie
  • Aaron Newton
  • Dr. Kim Niewolny
  • John O'Sullivan
  • Robert Parker
  • Susan Parrish
  • Jan Parson
  • Sue Perry-Cole
  • Abbey Piner
  • Noah Ranells
  • Joe Rowland
  • Chris Rumbley
  • Tami Schwerin
  • Christy Shi
  • Maurice Small
  • Crystal Smith
  • Robin Smith
  • Crystal Smith
  • Larry Smith
  • Rochelle Sparko
  • Robyn Stout
  • Caroline Stover
  • Ben Street
  • Linda Rouse Sutton
  • Tes Thraves
  • Julius Tillary
  • Patricia Tripp
  • Lisa Valdivia
  • Martha Vining
  • Ryan Weibe
  • Johnnie Westbrook
  • Tim Williams
  • Kathleen Wood

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Peer-reviewed Publications

  • Bloom, J.D., Lelekacs, J.M., Dunning, R., Piner, A., and Brinkmeyer, E. Local Food Systems Course for Extension Educators in North Carolina: Summary of an Innovative Program. Approved for publication with minor revisions.
  • Bloom, J.D., Lelekacs, J.M., Dunning, R.D. 2016. Local Food Systems: Clarifying Current Research. LF-013. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Cooperative Extension. October 21.

Presentations

  • Lelekacs, J.M., Bloom, J.D., Brinkmeyer, E., Lamie, D., and Bendfeldt, E. Local Food Systems Graduate Course for Extension Agents: A Multi-State Collaboration. Webinar. Raleigh, NC. December 14, 2015.
    A webinar to NC, VA, and SC Extension administrators and educators to raise awareness about the graduate course materials, outcomes of the course in North Carolina, and the plans for development of the online certificate course.
  • Lelekacs, J.M., Bloom, J.D., Brinkmeyer, E., Bendfeldt, E., and Lamie, D. Local Food Systems Graduate Course for Extension Agents: A Sustainable Agriculture Collaboration of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina. Virginia Cooperative Extension, Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems Forum. Richmond, VA. March 29, 2016.
  • Lelekacs, J.M. (moderator), Kelly, S., Guth, L., and Adcock, D. Agent Experience with the Local Food Program and Training. Kentucky Extension Visit to North Carolina. Raleigh, NC. March 14, 2017.
  • Long, Courtney, Hilchey, D., Lelekacs, J.M., Liang, C.L.,Chase, C., et al. Developing a Food Systems Training and Certification Curriculum for Community Development and other Professionals. Pre-conference workshop. National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals Annual Conference. Big Sky, MT. To be delivered June 11, 2017.

Outreach and Publications

Graduate Course Design and Development

We collaboratively designed and planned a graduate course based on a facilitated, trans-disciplinary participatory process that engaged more than 40 local food system stakeholders from NC, VA, and SC. Abbey Piner, the course coordinator, facilitated input through course advisory committee meetings, both face-to-face and virtual.

The course structure consisted of six (6) two-day face-to-face sessions that met in different locations across North Carolina. Each session focused on an overarching theme important to local food systems development determined by course advisory committee members. Themes were informed by topics identified in North Carolina’s 2012 Extension Local Foods Training and Resource Needs Survey, a 2014 survey of agents interested in taking the course, and the professional opinions and experiences of the advisory committee members who work in the field of local food systems. Themes of the sessions were:

  • Introducing Local: Where we have been and where we are going
  • The Bottom Line: Economic opportunities & challenges of local food systems
  • Value Chain: Farm to fork (in two parts)
  • Food as a Common Denominator: Bringing everyone to the table
  • Understanding & Influencing Regulatory Policy & Frameworks / Local Leaders: Framing local policy

Based on the input of the advisory committees, the project team developed a syllabus for the course and detailed agendas for each course session. The final syllabus and session agendas are available through the Year 2 report for this grant – https://projects.sare.org/wp-content/uploads/2015-LFS-Grad-Course-Syllabus.pdf.

Graduate Course Delivery

The NC State University instructor team offered the course through the Departments of Horticultural Science and Youth, Family, and Community Science as a special topics course – HS 590 / FYD 590. The project team also offered the course through North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University – AGED 611. Lead instructors for the three course graduate sections were Joanna Massey Lelekacs, Local Foods Flagship Program Coordinator, NC Cooperative Extension and Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and Dr. J. Dara Bloom, Assistant Professor and Extension Local Foods Specialist, Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences (at the time the Department of Youth, Family, and Community Science), both at NC State University. Instructor of record at NC A&T State University was Dr. Antoine Alston, Professor & Associate Dean, Academic Studies, School of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences.

Twelve NC Cooperative Extension educators registered for the course for graduate credit through NC State University (six via HS590 and six via FYD590), 1 graduate student in the Ag and Extension Education program at NC A&T State University registered for the course through NC A&T SU, and three (3) NC Cooperative Extension educators registered for the course for professional development credit. Though Virginia and South Carolina Extension Specialists were extensively engaged in the design, development, and promotion planning for the course, and participated in the course as speakers and moderators, agents in the two states were not able to commit to taking the face-to-face course within the timeframe of registration, citing concerns on extended time away from work and budgetary challenges.

The course utilized interdisciplinary and systems approaches to local food education, including dialogue about societal, economic, and environmental impacts. Invited lecturers and panelists, site tours, readings and homework assignments, small group activities, and in-class and on-line discussions were incorporated to reinforce each session topic. Through formative evaluation, we adapted the original syllabus and session agendas as the graduate course moved through implementation so the course would best meet the needs of the students. The course ran from February through July 2015.

Course lectures and panel presentations were recorded using MediaSite and Blackboard Collaborate technologies. These presentations are posted on the NC Cooperative Extension Local Food web portal (go.ncsu.edu/localfoodlectures), and therefore are available for access by, and the education of, the general public, including Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina Extension educators who were unable to commit to the full class. To further incorporate the VA and SC Extension educators into the course through non-credit professional development opportunities, several of the webinars between course sessions were made available to all Extension educators in all three states.

Site tours included an incubator farm, meat processing facility, grocery store that was recently remodeled and rebranded to focus on local food sales, farmstead creamery with retail store, meat-producing farms selling locally, farm to table restaurant (Chef and the Farmer), youth development center with farming/local foods focus, food hub, food bank, value-added kitchen, an urban farm, and a corner store selling fresh produce.

Graduate Course Evaluation

The evaluation plan was implemented by the project evaluator of record, Dr. Rebecca Dunning. Pre-course, mid-course, and post-course on-line questionnaires were used to evaluate the outcomes of the graduate course. Additionally, at the end of each two-day session, students completed a short set of questions to evaluate that session’s content. The evaluation questionnaires were designed to provide both formative and summative evaluation to make sure the remainder of the course, and future local food system courses, are as valuable as they can be to the participants. At the mid-point of the course, select students participated in a 30-minute qualitative, semi-structured interview; all students participated in a focus group immediately after conclusion of the course; and to further explore students’ self-perceptions of knowledge gained, and application of graduate course content to their own Extension practice, a 6-month post semi-structured telephone interview lasting 30-60 minutes was conducted with nine of the 12 participants. Interview questions focused on the following:

  • Students’ reflections on course content and its usefulness to them in the 6-months after the course concluded, including use of specific tools, contacts, or resources
  • Student-specific examples of applying the knowledge/skills gained in the course to their own work during the 6-months after the course concluded

These focus group and interviews provided insights into course outcomes and specific feedback on the program to inform future efforts.

Online Professional Development Certificate Series Design and Development

After the completion of the graduate course, we distributed a situation assessment survey in NC, VA, and SC regarding interest in online, non-credit local food systems training. There were 235 respondents to the survey, including 195 fully completed surveys, with 63% from NC (125 respondents), 22% from VA (43 respondents), 7% from SC (13 respondents), and 8% from other states (16 respondents). 55% of respondents indicated a high level of interest in enrolling in the online local food systems course and 39% indicated they might be interested in enrolling. The background of respondents can be summarized as: staff or faculty in an education/research institution (32%), staff member of a public agency (17%), staff member of a non-profit organization (14%), and concerned citizen, passionately interested in food and farming issues (12%). The primary reason for potential enrollment was described as a desire for a better understanding of local food systems (23%), more opportunities for professional development training (16%), better utilization of food system expertise (12%), and greater understanding by others of food system development work (11%).

Based on the indication of need identified through this assessment, we proceeded to repurpose the recorded graduate course lectures and panel discussions, along with some new and revised content, into a distance education, professional development certificate series of five courses. The audience of the certificate series includes Extension educators as well as other individuals working on local food system development, including those working for non-profits, other state agencies, and private sector businesses.

We have developed the curriculum for each of the five courses, developed a Moodle template for the courses on the eXtension Campus platform, and identified 17 pilot participants to pilot the online course. Pilot participants include Extension Agents, local food council leaders, NGO and government agency staff focused on local food systems, and others. We began piloting the certificate series while developing courses, releasing Course 1 in the series to pilot participants in November 2016. Each new course in the series has been released to participants on a 45 to 60 day schedule. As of the writing of this report, we have launched four of the five courses to our pilot participants, with expectations to launch Course 5 by June 9, 2017. Pilot participants have until October 31, 2017 to complete all courses in the series and to complete the evaluation of the certificate series. We are evaluating the certificate series using a qualitative survey as well as retrospective pre- and post-test quasi-experimental design to effectively quantify the short-term outcomes of each course and the certificate series overall. We will also evaluate intermediate outcomes through post-training interviews.

We have continued discussions with VA and SC to determine best means for distribution of the project materials in future courses or professional development training. As of April 1, 2017, we have secured funding through Southern SARE Professional Development Program to develop SC and VA place-based content for the distance education certificate series, and pilot the certificate series in VA and SC, incorporating it into blended online and face-to-face programs.

Outcomes and impacts:

Graduate Course Design and Development

We collaboratively designed and planned a graduate course based on a facilitated, trans-disciplinary participatory process that engaged more than 40 local food system stakeholders from NC, VA, and SC. Abbey Piner, the course coordinator, facilitated input through course advisory committee meetings, both face-to-face and virtual.

The course structure consisted of six (6) two-day face-to-face sessions that met in different locations across North Carolina. Each session focused on an overarching theme important to local food systems development determined by course advisory committee members. Themes were informed by topics identified in North Carolina’s 2012 Extension Local Foods Training and Resource Needs Survey, a 2014 survey of agents interested in taking the course, and the professional opinions and experiences of the advisory committee members who work in the field of local food systems. Themes of the sessions were:

  • Introducing Local: Where we have been and where we are going
  • The Bottom Line: Economic opportunities & challenges of local food systems
  • Value Chain: Farm to fork (in two parts)
  • Food as a Common Denominator: Bringing everyone to the table
  • Understanding & Influencing Regulatory Policy & Frameworks / Local Leaders: Framing local policy

Based on the input of the advisory committees, the project team developed a syllabus for the course and detailed agendas for each course session. The final syllabus and session agendas are available through the Year 2 report for this grant – https://projects.sare.org/wp-content/uploads/2015-LFS-Grad-Course-Syllabus.pdf.

Graduate Course Delivery

The NC State University instructor team offered the course through the Departments of Horticultural Science and Youth, Family, and Community Science as a special topics course – HS 590 / FYD 590. The project team also offered the course through North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University – AGED 611. Lead instructors for the three course graduate sections were Joanna Massey Lelekacs, Local Foods Flagship Program Coordinator, NC Cooperative Extension and Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and Dr. J. Dara Bloom, Assistant Professor and Extension Local Foods Specialist, Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences (at the time the Department of Youth, Family, and Community Science), both at NC State University. Instructor of record at NC A&T State University was Dr. Antoine Alston, Professor & Associate Dean, Academic Studies, School of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences.

Twelve NC Cooperative Extension educators registered for the course for graduate credit through NC State University (six via HS590 and six via FYD590), 1 graduate student in the Ag and Extension Education program at NC A&T State University registered for the course through NC A&T SU, and three (3) NC Cooperative Extension educators registered for the course for professional development credit. Though Virginia and South Carolina Extension Specialists were extensively engaged in the design, development, and promotion planning for the course, and participated in the course as speakers and moderators, agents in the two states were not able to commit to taking the face-to-face course within the timeframe of registration, citing concerns on extended time away from work and budgetary challenges.

The course utilized interdisciplinary and systems approaches to local food education, including dialogue about societal, economic, and environmental impacts. Invited lecturers and panelists, site tours, readings and homework assignments, small group activities, and in-class and on-line discussions were incorporated to reinforce each session topic. Through formative evaluation, we adapted the original syllabus and session agendas as the graduate course moved through implementation so the course would best meet the needs of the students. The course ran from February through July 2015.

Course lectures and panel presentations were recorded using MediaSite and Blackboard Collaborate technologies. These presentations are posted on the NC Cooperative Extension Local Food web portal (go.ncsu.edu/localfoodlectures), and therefore are available for access by, and the education of, the general public, including Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina Extension educators who were unable to commit to the full class. To further incorporate the VA and SC Extension educators into the course through non-credit professional development opportunities, several of the webinars between course sessions were made available to all Extension educators in all three states.

Site tours included an incubator farm, meat processing facility, grocery store that was recently remodeled and rebranded to focus on local food sales, farmstead creamery with retail store, meat-producing farms selling locally, farm to table restaurant (Chef and the Farmer), youth development center with farming/local foods focus, food hub, food bank, value-added kitchen, an urban farm, and a corner store selling fresh produce.

Graduate Course Evaluation

The evaluation plan was implemented by the project evaluator of record, Dr. Rebecca Dunning. Pre-course, mid-course, and post-course on-line questionnaires were used to evaluate the outcomes of the graduate course. Additionally, at the end of each two-day session, students completed a short set of questions to evaluate that session’s content. The evaluation questionnaires were designed to provide both formative and summative evaluation to make sure the remainder of the course, and future local food system courses, are as valuable as they can be to the participants. At the mid-point of the course, select students participated in a 30-minute qualitative, semi-structured interview; all students participated in a focus group immediately after conclusion of the course; and to further explore students’ self-perceptions of knowledge gained, and application of graduate course content to their own Extension practice, a 6-month post semi-structured telephone interview lasting 30-60 minutes was conducted with nine of the 12 participants. Interview questions focused on the following:

  • Students’ reflections on course content and its usefulness to them in the 6-months after the course concluded, including use of specific tools, contacts, or resources
  • Student-specific examples of applying the knowledge/skills gained in the course to their own work during the 6-months after the course concluded

These focus group and interviews provided insights into course outcomes and specific feedback on the program to inform future efforts.

Online Professional Development Certificate Series Design and Development

After the completion of the graduate course, we distributed a situation assessment survey in NC, VA, and SC regarding interest in online, non-credit local food systems training. There were 235 respondents to the survey, including 195 fully completed surveys, with 63% from NC (125 respondents), 22% from VA (43 respondents), 7% from SC (13 respondents), and 8% from other states (16 respondents). 55% of respondents indicated a high level of interest in enrolling in the online local food systems course and 39% indicated they might be interested in enrolling. The background of respondents can be summarized as: staff or faculty in an education/research institution (32%), staff member of a public agency (17%), staff member of a non-profit organization (14%), and concerned citizen, passionately interested in food and farming issues (12%). The primary reason for potential enrollment was described as a desire for a better understanding of local food systems (23%), more opportunities for professional development training (16%), better utilization of food system expertise (12%), and greater understanding by others of food system development work (11%).

Based on the indication of need identified through this assessment, we proceeded to repurpose the recorded graduate course lectures and panel discussions, along with some new and revised content, into a distance education, professional development certificate series of five courses. The audience of the certificate series includes Extension educators as well as other individuals working on local food system development, including those working for non-profits, other state agencies, and private sector businesses.

We have developed the curriculum for each of the five courses, developed a Moodle template for the courses on the eXtension Campus platform, and identified 17 pilot participants to pilot the online course. Pilot participants include Extension Agents, local food council leaders, NGO and government agency staff focused on local food systems, and others. We began piloting the certificate series while developing courses, releasing Course 1 in the series to pilot participants in November 2016. Each new course in the series has been released to participants on a 45 to 60 day schedule. As of the writing of this report, we have launched four of the five courses to our pilot participants, with expectations to launch Course 5 by June 9, 2017. Pilot participants have until October 31, 2017 to complete all courses in the series and to complete the evaluation of the certificate series. We are evaluating the certificate series using a qualitative survey as well as retrospective pre- and post-test quasi-experimental design to effectively quantify the short-term outcomes of each course and the certificate series overall. We will also evaluate intermediate outcomes through post-training interviews.

We have continued discussions with VA and SC to determine best means for distribution of the project materials in future courses or professional development training. As of April 1, 2017, we have secured funding through Southern SARE Professional Development Program to develop SC and VA place-based content for the distance education certificate series, and pilot the certificate series in VA and SC, incorporating it into blended online and face-to-face programs.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Leveraged Funding and Technical Support

The project director collaborated with the CEFS’ NC Growing Together project, based on related training goals, to facilitate support for development of portions of the graduate course content.

The project director and co-director leveraged $14,646 in additional grant funding, through the NC State University Office of Extension, Engagement, & Economic Development as well as the Extension Local Food Program Team, to begin institutionalizing the project through transition of the graduate course into an online, non-credit professional development course that will be marketed to Extension LFCs as well as other local food system professionals. We also leveraged $4,800 from North Carolina SARE to cover scholarships to pilot the certificate series.

The project director established a partnership with the NC State Extension Video Education Specialist and was also accepted into eXtension’s i­Three Issue Corps 2016, to receive technical assistance in the development of virtual (filmed) “field trips” for the distance education course.

Outputs

Outputs of the graduate course have included the following:

  • Trans-disciplinary syllabus for a graduate course on local food systems
  • Graduate course syllabus and all recorded course materials, including recorded lectures and panel discussions, are available on the NCCE Local Food Web Portal. These resources can provide training for and assist local food coordinators in development of local food programs in their own counties and regions. See http://go.ncsu.edu/localfoodlectures
  • Strategic Advocacy Toolkit for Food Councils. Project partner, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, developed a draft campaign guide for an online food council advocacy toolkit and piloted the guide with graduate course participants. The full toolkit is now available on the Community Food Strategies website – https://toolkit.communityfoodstrategies.com/.
  • Views of course recordings (views as of 4/17/2017)
    • Evolution of the Global Food System – 107 YouTube views
    • Evolving Heritage of Food and Farming in NC – 28 YouTube views
    • Local Food Systems Project Planning using Logic Models – 45 MediaSite recording views
    • Community of Innovation: Cabarrus County strengthening our local food system through community action and investment – 32 MediaSite recording views
    • Making the Case for Economics and Triple Bottom Line of Local Food Systems Roundtable. Roundtable Discussion. – 27 MediaSite recording views
    • Growing a Healthy Economy with Local Foods – 6 Steps to Success Toolkit – 41 MediaSite recording views
    • Traditional and Alternative Financing Methods. Panel Discussion – 19 MediaSite recording views
    • Successful Strategic Marketing Tactics – Farmer/ Service Provider Panel Discussion – 14 MediaSite recording views
    • Introduction to Basic Business Planning and Risk Management – 28 MediaSite recording views
    • Marketing, Markets, and Regional Branding – 23 MediaSite recording views
    • Building a Regional Food System – 28 MediaSite recording views
    • Rural Economic Development through Support of Local Value Chains. Panel Discussion – 9 MediaSite recording views
    • Supply Chain Upgrading and Market Channel Selection for Success in Retail Agriculture – 10 MediaSite recording views
    • Values in the Value Chain in Western NC. Panel Discussion – 12 MediaSite recording views
    • Food Security and Resilient Communities – 25 MediaSite recording views
    • Local Foods at the Grassroots- Rocky Mount, Edgecombe, Nash Region – 25 MediaSite recording views
    • Community Capitals in Community Food Systems – Part 1, 15 MediaSite recording views; Part 2, 20 MediaSite recording views
    • Food Access, Collaboration, & Community Ownership of Local Foods Projects – 35 MediaSite recording views
    • Facilitating Systems Change / Collective Impact Model – 45 MediaSite recording views
    • What the {Beep} is Policy? [An introduction to terminology and concepts of government and law, relative to local food systems.] – 14 MediaSite recording views
    • Policy in Action: Farm to School Case Study for Food Policy Issues in NC. Panel Discussion – 12 MediaSite recording views
    • Extension Involvement in Food Councils. Panel Discussion – 14 MediaSite recording views
  • Views of graduate course webinars (YouTube views as of 4/17/2017)
    • 28 participants trained on Business Legal Structures for Local Food Value Chain Businesses (18 live attendees, 10 recorded attendees, 107 YouTube views)
    • 19 participants trained on Community and Economic Impact Potential of Local Food Systems. (14 live attendees, 5 Collaborate recording views, 67 YouTube views)
    • 25 participants trained on Growing Food, Growing Communities. (19 live attendees, 6 Collaborate recording views, 84 YouTube views)
    • 27 participants trained on The Role of Extension in Local Food Systems: Distinguishing Government, Policy and Law. (23 live attendees, 4 Collaborate recording views, 53 YouTube views)
  • Also see the Publications/Outreach section of this report.

Outputs to date of the distance education certificate series have included:

  • Trans-disciplinary curriculum for an on-line, self-paced professional development certificate series of five courses on local food systems
  • Four of five courses in an Overview of Local Food Systems Certificate Series on eXtension Campus Moodle
  • Four virtual field trips available within the distance education courses as well as publicly on the Local Food web portal

Other Accomplishments

The project director, Joanna Lelekacs, has established a relationship with the North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN), serving as CEFS’ Founding Organization representative to NAFSN. NAFSN is a new organization developing a local food systems professionals’ certification program in North America. NAFSN has expressed interest in potentially partnering with our project to include the distance education certificate series as an accredited training component of their certification program. The project director is co-facilitating a pre-conference workshop at the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals in June 2017 to further these discussions.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Graduate course student interviews provided insights into project contributions and current and future application of the graduate content to their own Extension practice.

Application and Usefulness of Course Content

Six of the nine students interviewed agreed that they applied specific knowledge and/or relied on specific resources identified in the course to enhance their food system projects. Four students noted that course content related to food hubs and incubator farms prepared them to be a knowledgeable resource on local food systems in their own communities. One noted that a presentation in the class led them to online resources on planning and evaluating food hubs. Another noted that the course sessions on food hubs and field trip to a hub (including discussions with hub management) allowed her to counsel community members struggling with the economic viability of an existing food hub:

We had a food hub here, a small food hub that was trying to survive. And it just wasn’t … it was having all kinds of issues as far as feasibility. So I brought to the attention of some [community members] what we learned about in the class and how most of them [food hubs] are run like businesses, and so through evidence and all of us talking that were on the committee for the food hub, they decided to merge it into a business that’s already here. So we don’t have, per se, a food hub anymore. [Now it is] a business that works with the farmers and [it] provides local foods. (student 3)

Two students also noted the valuable information gained on key site considerations and successful operation of an economically viable farmers market, learned through a panel discussion that included a market manager and discussions with a market manager and vendor. Noted one:

I’m working with the farmers market so I was able to use some of the information that I learned when we went to [the Cooperative Extension office that provides support to a farmers market] and talked with the director there, and how she’s working well with the manager at that farmers market. She was the one that inspired me to get a manager for our little farmers market. (student 6)

Three students noted that course content on food access had inspired them to increase their work with canning, preserving, and cooking with low income and elderly residents.

In addition to specific actions already taken or in a planning stage reflecting course content, students noted that participation had drawn their attention to the broad range of issues encompassed in local foods work. This increased their general knowledge on the components and structure of local food systems such that they were equipped to share this knowledge with others, and inspired to take action in the future. Following are illustrations of this sentiment:

We don’t have access to a lot of local produce except for when the farmers markets are open. Just thinking and trying to look at those labels [in grocery stores] and see how far away your food is coming from [is important]. It really has kind of opened my eyes to just being more aware and helping others to be more aware. (student 6)

A lot of people are not 100% sure even what local foods means, how that applies to them, how it works in [X] County, so it’s been helpful for me to just be able to discuss it with people, and give them a short definition of what is local food, and how is it important in [X] County. In that aspect, of just filling people in and making them aware that the local foods movement is important as far as agriculture in the county… (student 5)

The whole class was wonderful. It really was, [it] kind of solidified and validated everything that I had been learning on my own and through other means because it was being presented with scientific research and with a peer group that was trying to do the same work. (student 7).

I remember thinking quite a bit throughout the course, [food policy councils] is an idea I want to take back directly to my community. I think throughout the class there was this theme of strong community connections, in grass roots. Local food is really community development. You know, you’re trying to develop a part of the community that may not be very strong. Those connections are so important. The food policy council seemed like a really important component of any strong local food system. (student 7)

I would really say it has reinforced what I was already doing, and certainly helped give me more resources across the state to call on and more practical examples, so when I’m trying to teach people about the potential I’ve got more things to work with…[having] the academic pieces to back up what [I’d] already seen in action in the field [was useful]. (student 4)

Lasting Impressions of the Graduate Course

When asked what parts of the graduate course stood out to them, 6-months after course conclusion, students noted the field trips and panel presentations by practitioners. One-half of the course participants were Family and Consumer Science Agents, and these students expressed strong appreciation for being able to visit and hear from participants along the food chain, including producers and processors. Noted one:

I don’t have a strong background in the production side of local foods. Seeing where farmers are coming from, what their issues are, being exposed to that world, I think, was really memorable. (student 1)

Students also appreciated the opportunity to network with other agricultural educators across the state:

That was one of the biggest feelings at that last class… wow, this has been so neat. To really build a relationship with these other people doing the same work and … that I can reach out to. I was really sad actually when I was leaving because I was like, I really was just starting to build the network that I needed. That class was hugely valuable for that.  (student 7)

The group that we had, we all came from different backgrounds with different situations. Some people had food hubs. Some people managed markets. Some people worked with new growers. A wide variety of backgrounds that all came together. I think it was just … It was very helpful in helping me and everyone else to see all of those components brought together. (student 5)

All nine of the students said they would recommend the course to other Extension educators. The below quotes illustrate this sentiment:

…This is a really valuable course… it’s valuable for our agents to have the resources and the knowledge to be able to help foster these local food systems and really keep them alive and keep them sustained. It’s a lot more complicated process than it sounds, but this course provided, literally, informational aspects from agricultural production to the sale of the finished product. I think it’s important for agents to have that full spectrum and to understand what their role is in the process and how they can interact with all these different players to really be that coordinator, moderator, facilitator, organizer type person. I think that puts extension agents in a very important role and I think this class will be wonderful for them. (student 1)

I think that just having a broader knowledge of it to share with our clientele is probably the best, the most important aspect of it, because we do get asked a lot of questions. A lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about what local food is and how it applies to cooperative extension. (student 5)

I think Extension, generally, as an organization, has a potential to really become “Extinction” if they’re not careful. Because this is a public sector entity that quite frankly is a little bit behind the curve when it comes to meeting what’s actually happening on the ground and what I think most, or a lot of, folks in the public are demanding and wanting, from small farmers to consumers. I think every agent in the state who’s at all planning to be around with the organization in the next decade, in the next two decades, in the next four decades, they need to go through local foods training and be really up on that, because I think that’s where the future lies. (student 8)

Preliminary Feedback from Distance Education Certificate Series Pilot Participants

Since the distance education certificate series is in process of piloting at the time of this report, no final evaluation of accomplishments are available. However, review of preliminary qualitative responses from those who have completed the first course in the series reveals similar results and accomplishments may be rendered from the online version of the course as the face-to-face graduate course. The below quotations illustrate this sentiment:

I have already used parts of this class in local food policy council meetings and advisory council meetings. It has helped me to educate community members about the sectors of the food system and how we all play a part and what we can do to better the food system.

 I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to jump in with both feet until I know how to swim (which is a bit difficult!). This course is helping me overcome a learning curve of being new to the food movement. I feel like, even though I work at [non-profit organization], I couldn’t be a truly useful member of a food council, for example. I think this course will help me get up to speed to be able to get more involved in community food systems activities, outside of my work.

 It has helped me to design more structured and efficient programming/efforts to reach specifically identified goals of the population I serve.

 It has helped to more clearly understand the need for a diverse approach to developing a local food system that takes into account not just individual choices but how social, environmental and macro influences can affect someone’s behaviour.

 When asked how the first course in the certificate series has been helpful to the participants, two responses stood out, reflecting potential future accomplishments of the distance education format:

[The course is] educating me about food systems as a whole – the basic background knowledge that you don’t get from working on the ground in food.

 I think that the different mediums for providing content (short and long videos, interactive case studies, text, periodic questions that I had to consider and answer…) were helpful in keeping me engaged in the subject matter. I also felt like the flow of the course built in a nice way to help me better understand a local food project in my community that I was previously unaware of.

Future Recommendations

The graduate course met its objective of designing and delivering a course on local food systems that positively influenced the aspirations and knowledge base of participating Extension educators, and the objective of making course materials widely available via the web. The program design and details on execution of the course should continue to be widely shared with other state Extension programs to maximize impact.

It should be noted that the participant pool for the end-course interviews were primarily from the FCS program area. As the course is further developed and utilized more widely, it will be instructive to analyze pre-post course survey and interview findings to understand to what degree the course meets the expectations of participants in other program areas.

Two aspects of the graduate course that were viewed by participants as major strengths — the ability to network with Extension educator peers, and the ability to engage in site visits and talk with practitioners (e.g., farmers market and food hub managers) —  are features that were anticipated to be challenging to replicate in a distance education format. A comparative evaluation of the outcomes of the distance education format, currently being piloted, as well as the blended (face-to-face and online) programs proposed by our partners in VA and SC in our 2017 SARE PDP grant, will be useful as we seek to meet the demand from Extension and agricultural educators for food systems training.

Through our outreach efforts to build awareness of this project, we have heard from other states who have interest in either partnering with us on future iterations of the distance education certificate series or have interest in delivering their own graduate course to Extension agents. We have shared the graduate course content and syllabus online for those interested in a graduate course opportunity. Once the pilot of the distance education certificate series is complete, and updates have been made based on evaluation of the series, we intend to pursue other state partnerships, beyond our current partners in VA and SC, to expand the impacts of this project. We will be seeking leveraged funding to do this work.

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.