Grass-roots Empowerment in Kentucky's Local Conservation Districts: Leadership Training on Sustainable Land and Water Quality Management Practices

Final Report for ES97-028

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $86,280.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Federal Funds: $26,690.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $25,090.00
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Stephen Coleman
Kentucky Division of Conservation
Expand All

Project Information


This project was conducted to help develop agriculture/conservation leadership at the county/district level, to create a framework of leaders that understand the public significance of the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Act, and the impact of the development of water quality plans for each farm on Kentucky's sustainability. This project equipped leaders with tools for assisting landowners in preparing and implementing agriculture water quality plans.

This project provided training and guidelines for professional agency representatives, Conservation District Supervisors, and County Extension Agriculture Advancement Council members. This cooperative leadership approach is required to accomplish the objective of reaching the estimated 90,000 plus landowners affected by the Act.

This project was successful in creating a significant body of local and regional leaders with an enhanced knowledge of water quality issues and regulations having the ability to help promote and conduct agriculture water quality training in their local communities.

Project Objectives:

This SARE project was conducted to help develop agriculture/conservation leadership at the county/district level, to create a framework of leaders that understand the public significance of the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Act, and the impact of the development of water quality plans for each farm on Kentucky's sustainability. This project will equip leaders with tools for assisting landowners in preparing and implementing agriculture water quality plans. The goal is to prevent the pollution of the waters of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Education & Outreach Initiatives



Program Planning and Development:

A curriculum development committee prepared the curriculum, identified participants and training sites. Fourteen committee members from seven different state and federal agencies and farm organizations were involved. Six different statewide workshop sites were selected. Resource materials and personnel were selected along with promoting and enrollment of participants. The over-all objective of the workshops was to train grass-root leaders and to prepare them to develop strategies and programs that improve the environmental quality of their agriculture communities by implementing sound environmental practices including efficient stewardship of the natural resources.

More specifically, the committee identified and trained professional resource and technical advisors in each of the six geographic regions of the state to conduct the training of these "grass-root leaders" from Kentucky's 120 counties. Behavioral objectives included enhancing the knowledge base in agriculture and natural resource issues; learning techniques that help resolve conflicts arising from adverse farmer reactions to the regulated Agriculture Water Quality Act and to establish a state-wide network of resource persons and grass-root leaders to educate the public in implementing the act.

Agency Workshops:

Fifty-six resource persons representing six different agencies - Kentucky Division of Conservation, Kentucky Division of Water, Kentucky Division of Health Services, Kentucky Division of Forestry, USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Cooperative Extension Service participated in a workshop in October 1997 that prepares them to direct grass-roots leader team members at the six regional meetings.

  • Grass-Root Leaders/Agency Sessions:
    In November and December 1998, six, two-day regional grass-root leadership sessions were conducted for farmers two hundred and fifty-nine agricultural grass-roots leaders from 92 Kentucky counties participated in these SARE leadership workshops. They developed leadership skills and gained knowledge in preparing individual agriculture water quality plans in addition to developing techniques and methods for implementing informational and educational events for farmers in their home counties. Thirty members of the planning committee and nine guests also participated.

    Two-Day Leadership Conference:
    A continuing impact to this SARE grant included a two-day conference held November 9-10, 1998 in Frankfort, Kentucky marked a new phase in continuing "grass-root" leadership training on sustainable land and water quality management practices. SARE speakers from out-of-state and state agriculture leaders were featured. State legislators, Governor's representatives, and environmental advocates were included on the program. Current legislation, policies, and directives regarding agriculture environmental issues were discussed in detail. Small group discussions and educational exhibits and displays provided opportunities for leaders to share ideas and explore available resources.

Highlights of the conferences included:

  • Southern Regional SARE program leaders, program administrators, and farmers from Georgia and North Carolina who joined Kentucky agriculture leadership in making agriculture water quality-related presentation and connected Kentucky's program to related SARE programs throughout the southern states.

    Selected County/District Teams sharing through oral presentations and displays their experiences in implementing programs and events as a result of previous years training workshops with the use of tools, such as the Producer Workbook and resource teams.

    A panel of statewide leaders in agriculture and natural resources, including the Dean of UK College of Agriculture, the Commissioner for the KY Department of Environmental Protection, the Commission for the KY Department of Agriculture, the State Conservationist for USDA/NRCS, and the SARE Regional Director, discussed an up-to-date view of Kentucky's challenges and solutions regarding the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Act, federal EPA AFO/CAFO requirements, USDA/NRCS nutrient management requirements, and other provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act and Kentucky's Environmental regulations relating to agriculture.

    A discussion of the CD-ROM and hardcopy versions of the Producer Workbook with feedback from field users. Copies of the Producer Workbook and the CD-ROM electronic version were presented to each of the county participants for use in their county leadership roles.

    These grass-roots leaders and resource persons acquired skills for resolving conflicts over environmental and sustainable issues, in addition to being recognized by statewide leaders for their success in implementing agriculture water quality educational programs in their local communities.

Outreach and Publications

Dissemination of Outcomes
  • During the workshops the county leadership teams, meeting with their respective county extension agents and NRCS representatives, developed a plan of action to disseminate the outcome of the workshops to their intended local audiences (enclosed is a sample copy of the work plans). Plans included newspaper articles, local radio programs, newsletters, workshops, and field days.

    Local groups have developed caps with an agriculture water quality theme to distribute as incentives for completing agriculture water quality plans. Cost share applications for constructing best management practices receive incentive priorities in their review if the farmer certifies that they have an agriculture water quality plan. Displays, exhibits, and local recognition activities have all been enacted to encourage the preparation of agriculture water quality plans. Many of the methods as identified by the local teams at the training workshops have been enacted (enclosed).

Outcomes and impacts:

Selected County Results/Impacts Resulting from the SARE Training:

  • Evaluations and feedback from agency representatives and county leaders reveal much change in attitudes toward responsible on-farm environmental practices. Eighty-two counties report that a significant number of agriculture water quality plans have been completed and 13,500 agriculture water quality plans have been voluntarily certified in the local county conservation district offices. Other public information and related educational reference materials have been distributed through the media and local newsletters to the counties.

    Grass-roots leaders have planned and promoted county, regional, and statewide field days that have all had an agriculture water quality emphasis. Educational displays, newspaper articles, flyers, radio, and television programs have all been used to promote agriculture water quality issues.

    The Agriculture Advancement Council leaders of the Pennyrile Area, which includes ten counties, hosted a best management practice workshop and farm tour. Fifty leaders attended the workshop that included a tour of the research farm and a study of thirty best management practices that relate to the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Plan.

    A total of 30,000 Agriculture Water Quality Producer Workbooks in hard copy and 250 copies of the electronic versions on CD-ROM have been distributed to farmers and agriculture organizations across the state. Over 13,000 agriculture water quality plans from 92 of Kentucky's 120 counties have been voluntarily certified at the local conservation districts and reported to the KY Division of Conservation. Numerous other plans have been prepared and maintained by individual landowners.

Kentucky Natural Resources Leadership Institute:

  • In addition, as a part of this project, during 1998 and 1999, eleven SARE leadership scholarships were awarded for the Kentucky Natural Resources Leadership Institute to selected "grass-root" workshop and conference participants. Travel expenses were awarded to the participants attending the Natural Resources Leadership Institute training program, which is developed by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. The goal of the Leadership Institute is to develop 25-30 leaders per institute who can help groups move beyond conflict and toward consensus building and problem solving for continuous natural resources issues. These graduates assumed leadership roles in dealing with agriculture water quality issues when they returned to their home counties and communities.

Major Outcomes:

  • Kentucky's agricultural producers were facing unprecedented challenges in the form of new state and federal environmental regulations. Large integrator farms (corporations) are acquiring land and contracting with local farmers at an increasing rate. This development has resulted in conflicts among the citizens concerning water quality and other environmental issues. An important goal of the Cooperative Extension Service and of Kentucky's Conservation Districts is to provide support for the sustainability of farming operations at the most basic level. Tools such as the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Plan were enacted to assist producers and landowners in implementing sound environmental practices and in the assessment of impacted watersheds, following water quality violations. However, these tools could have become a new barrier for producers and conservation districts if a broader, "from the bottom up" perspective on producer and community training were not adopted. This project provided primary training for teams consisting of two conservation district supervisors from each county and two Cooperative Extension Service leaders and agriculture development council members, along with Extension agents from each county. These teams, in turn, became motivational leaders and trainers to a second generation of trainees in their respective counties.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Overview of Progress to Date:

  • This project was successful in creating a significant body of local and regional leaders in the area of agriculture and natural resources with and enhanced knowledge base of current, related issues and regulations with the ability to help promote and conduct agriculture water quality training, resolve conflicts, and facilitate civil deliberation on sensitive environmental, agricultural, and sustainability issues. A primary objective of this project was to increase the technical and leadership skills of conservation district supervisors and agriculture development council members as leaders of the agricultural community of Kentucky. Four hundred and nine (409) of these community leaders received extensive hands-on training in these areas and are effective in carrying out these actions in their home counties and will act as multiplying agents in the following years.

Additional Progress:

  • Ninety-one (91) counties have reported that their locally trained leaders have been successful in promoting the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Program: • 26,686 Producer Workbooks have been distributed. • Over 231 local meetings have been held. • Over 13,331 individual agriculture water quality plans have been voluntarily certified at local conservation district offices. • There is a core of supportive agriculture water quality leadership in most of Kentucky's 120 counties.

Potential Contributions

  • During the "train the trainer" workshops portion of this project, which involved over 50 professionals from 11 different organizations, the remark was heard, "Never in my career have I seen so many different agencies come together and participate for such a common cause." The 11-member curriculum committee set the direction for the success of this two-year program. The 14 different agency and organizational heads signed letters of support and followed with approval and concessions for agency members to participate at all levels.

    On-site and follow-up evaluations indicated that the participants were well satisfied with the content and the methods of presentation. The ability to schedule two-day, overnight workshops was beneficial in that the participants were way from their home environmental and could devote more time and attention to the educational events.

Future Recommendations

  • Insure that there are state contacts on the local level with incentives to encourage more SARE participation. This local contact with phone, address, and e-mail, is essential for developing grassroots interest in this outstanding SARE grant opportunities.
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.