Sustainable Agriculture and Education Grant

Final Report for EW02-003

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $19,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,500.00
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Judy Janett
Washington Ag in the Classroom
Co-Investigators:
John Brugger
USDA Rural Business Cooperative Service
Shirz Vira
USDA NRCS
Cheryl Dehaan
Whatcom Farm Friends
Diane Gasaway
Northwest Cooperative Development Center
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

Small forest landowners and agency professionals were brought together for a three-part collaborative workshop series. This nine-month project was an extremely powerful tool for individuals in the beginning stage of exploring the formation of a forestry co-op or local association. Attendees were exposed to case studies and to experienced and knowledgeable co-op and industry professionals who were available to provide assistance to their specific projects.

The cooperative development training workshops were tailored to professionals interested in promoting small-scale sustainable forestry co-ops and non-industrial private forest landowners. The approach used was to promote small forest landowner cooperatives that can provide sustainable forest management services, management plans, value-added processing and niche marketing of forest products.

Project Objectives:
  • Address the challenges facing small forest landowners in the Northwest through the creation of landowner co-ops
    Provide a high quality intensive workshop, which would take place over nine months
    Implement a train-the-trainer approach to offer skills to potential co-op project leaders
    Develop a comprehensive workshop template focused on co-op development for future projects that could be transferred to other industries in which the Center operates
    Increase the chances that forestry co-ops would form in the Northwest
Introduction:

Forests are one of the most vital resources available to mankind, the global economy and the planetary ecosystem. In the U.S., forests cover a third of the landmass. These forests provide fiber, fuel and the raw materials needed for construction; the American wood products industry is valued at $209 billion a year. In addition, pollutant filtration, aesthetic beauty, wildlife habitat, clean air, areas for recreation and storm water runoff control are a few of the other benefits that communities and society receive from forests. Unfortunately, the previously listed benefits are not financially rewarding for those who own and manage these lands and are therefore a neglected aspect of private forest management.

Considering the significant role forests play, it is a concerning contradiction that non-industrial private forestland owners are facing an ever increasing variety of problems. Currently, development and forest conversion are economically rewarding and farm/forest based municipalities are not. Moreover, many aspects of the forest industry have been facing a crisis of profitability over the last few decades. Meanwhile there has been an increase in:
• complex regulation around forest management
• forest fragmentation
• suburbanization
• invasive species penetration
• single species and same age forests
• greater ecological demands on forests

This is a complex equation in which forest management is imperative.

Non-industrial private forestlands represent over half the nations forests and only about 10% of these landowners have a management plan. The health of the nations forests are overly comprised by generations of high-grading, clear cutting, fire suppression, accelerating fragmentation and invasive species to efficiently recover through a “do not touch” policy.

The intention of the workshop series is to stimulate the growth of forestry co-ops. By joining to create an economy of scale in a cooperative business, landowners could mitigate some of the challenges they face today. Just a few of the potential benefits a co-op could provide are:
• to return profitability to the under-utilized aspects of the timber industry (for example, small diameter timber)
• better facilitate regional landowner education programs
• provide assistance with management plans
• negotiate intimidating governmental bureaucracies
• develop regional infrastructures better suited to serve the modern demands on non-industrial private forestland owners

Forestry co-ops have ebbed and flowed in importance and numbers over the last century and the time for a resurgence of forestry co-ops is now.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

The following sections describe a multi-phased process with overlapping stages.

Securing Funding

This project was the combined effort of five agencies and nonprofits. The primary funding sources were:
• USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant
• Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
• US Forest Service, Old Growth administered by the Washington State Community Trade and Economic Development
• Northwest Cooperative Development Center

The USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant initially provided $6,000 in predevelopment funding. The Center designated $3,000 to match the USDA funding.

Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education reallocated $9,000 in funding from a previous project because this workshop series fit their funding criteria and aims; which included a focus on training-the-trainer. The workshop targeted community leaders and agency professionals in addition to private non-industrial forest landowners.

Washington State Community Trade and Economic Development (CTED) provided USFS funds for the workshop delivery in the amount of $15,500.

Key Personnel

In addition to the steering committee described below, Diane Gasaway, NWCDC’s Executive Director, contributed substantial initial organizational efforts to this project. The Center also dedicated an intern, Eric Bowman, to this project; after completion of his internship he was retained as a Project Manager for the workshop series.

Midway through the planning process, the Center contracted with E.G. Nadeau of WoodWorks. Nadeau provided the template for the workshop format and the majority of the curriculum. He was a natural first choice to provide assistance as he had worked on similar projects in the Midwest and brought a lifetime of professional knowledge of forestry co-ops to the project.

During the actual workshops there were aspects of the curriculum that were better suited to bringing in outside expertise. For example: a lawyer to focus on co-op law; a Ph.D. in marketing to discuss non-timber forest products; a USDA Rural Development Manager to talk about USDA funding programs; and other industry professionals to talk about co-op accounting, etc. With the exception of specialty professions such as law and marketing, a high level of knowledge was found resident in the participants of the workshop series and some were asked to speak about their experiences.

Planning

The Center and steering committee collaborated on workshop planning. One of the main planning roles that the Center played was to research potential attendee’s input and to provide logistics coordination.

Steering Committee

The Center used its professional network to recruit agency professionals to serve on the advisory steering committee; members included:

• Kirk Hanson, WA Dept of Natural Resource Small Forest Landowner Office
• Lorah Waters, Methow Forest Owner’s Co-op
• Benj Wadsworth, King County Office of Rural and Resource Conservation
• David Warren, Vashon Island Land Trust
• Mike Ferris and Becky Harwood, Okanogan Community Development Council
• John Brugger, US Department of Agriculture
• Ken Duft, WA State University
• Art Greenberg, North Olympic Peninsula RC&D

The Center recruited people from diverse locations and diverse occupations to provide input on coordination and recruitment. To meet planning requirements, conference calls were conducted as needed. In addition, half of the committee became attendees and participated in the workshop. Not only did the Center draw upon the committee to provide presentations at the workshop, but members also provided coordination assistance during workshops conducted in their respective communities. The committee’s direct participation in the workshop series was a vital component of its success.

Potential Beneficiary Input

The Center conducted a survey of small forest landowners and facilitated a focus group of interested individuals via conference call.

Survey

The Center’s goals regarding the survey were twofold: one, to assess the interest level and the plausibility of three, two-day workshops over a span of nine months; and two, to gain a better understanding of the demographic for this project, i.e. what do small forest landowners and the professionals involved with them want to learn about, where are they located, how far would they be willing to travel to attend a workshop, etc.

The survey indicated we were on the right track and we should continue as planned. An added benefit of the survey was that 94 people around the region became aware of our project. The process of designing, broadcasting and digesting the survey helped the Center clarify the focus of the workshop and supplied outreach for future workshops.

Focus Group

The goal of the focus group was to check in with potential workshop participants to include them in the decision-making process. The Center desired to receive opinions about the selected locations, days of the week, the format of the curriculum and to solicit any additional outreach suggestions.

Again the Center completed a report and those results can be found in detail under Appendix II.

To summarize the focus group report, direct communication with potential attendees changed some of the Center’s assumptions. For example, we assumed attendees would appreciate being in different parts of the state for the workshops but during the focus group participants said they did not want to travel and wanted to know the workshop locations well in advance. It was suggested that Central Washington University (CWU) be the only location for the workshops and a consensus was quickly reached among the group. The Center subsequently planned all three workshops to be located at CWU. Ironically, the final group of attendees wanted to travel, so the Center modified the format to better fit the desires of those actually participating in the workshop.

Outreach and Recruitment

Despite the survey feedback, the Center found it difficult to reach the individuals interested in developing a local forestry initiative in their communities. Of the 16 attendees, four were original steering committee members, nine were recruited directly by the steering committee and only three participated as a result of the Center’s work.

Even though outreach may have been the weakest component of the project, outreach and recruitment should not be seen as a limiting factor. The group was a good size to work with. Although there were a total 18 participants, retention was not 100%; on average a dozen people attended any given workshop. A group of that number lends itself to a setting in which individual concerns can be given attention.

The Center actions for outreach and recruitment included:
• Listing the project in NWCDC’s newsletter
• Keeping an up-to-date web page for the reference of potential attendees
• Authoring an informational tri-fold brochure to pass out when the Center or a steering committee member spoke about the project
• Distributing an on-line survey and holding a focus group which helped to generate interest
• Attending the Family Forest Field Day to talk about the Center’s workshop and the role it plays in rural communities
• Presenting at the Clackamas Tree School in Clackamas, OR to discuss co-op development and the planned workshop

The primary obstacle to outreach was identifying and reaching the target demographic. Although there are thousands of forest owners in the Northwest, few want to start a co-op, and many are unfamiliar with the cooperative business model. Those who purchase non-industrial forestland in the rural Northwest tend toward personality traits of rugged individualism; and are suspicious of a group if they suspect they will be required to subordinate their wishes to a larger entity, such as a group of their neighbors. Because many of the steering committee members were forestry professionals with established forest owner relationships they proved a vital asset, as they did not appear threatening in this manner.

Another obstacle facing co-op development in general is an acute lack of awareness of the cooperative business structure; this issue was a challenge to signing on potential attendees. For example, out of 94 respondents to our survey:
• 56% had never been involved with a co-op
• 75% had minimal to no experience with a co-op
• 56% were unfamiliar with a co-op as a business model

On the other hand by looking at the numbers differently, there was a higher then expected familiarity and involvement with co-ops:
• 21% of the respondents had minimal experience with co-ops
• 44% were familiar with the co-op business model
• 21% had more then 10 years experience

Delivery

From the outset, the plan was to conduct three workshops over the course of nine months. As a result of the Center’s previous experience working in rural communities, it attempted to avoid the times of year in which scheduling conflicts could arise, such as during hunting or fire season, etc.

One of the pieces of information gained from working with a focus group was the question of when a suitable first workshop ought to be held; the Center was concerned about fire season running into hunting season, and yet still ended up creating conflicts with high school football season. Another key point the focus group decided upon was that the workshop should take place on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday; this seemed to provide enough time for travel and not hinder their professional lives. This was the schedule the Center used throughout the project.

The agenda for the actual workshops was as follows:
• Friday: partial day for travel; group met for dinner, introduce themselves and discussed the current status of the forestry projects.
• Saturday: an intensive and long day in the “classroom.”
• Sunday: morning classroom and then break early in the afternoon to allow extra travel time.

Appendix IV contains sections of the workbook provided to participants in which a detailed agenda of each workshop can be found. A 3-ring binder was used because articles, case studies, etc. were not selected until several weeks before each workshop.

During the three-month interim period between workshops, the Center convened a conference call. Not only did this make the workshop attendees feel more like a cohesive group, but it provided peer pressure, support and motivation to keep projects moving forward. The interim conference calls also provided a venue for the Center to get planning input for the next workshop.

Workshop One; Feasibility Analysis

The first workshop was focused mainly on connecting feasibility analysis into business planning. It was held on the Central Washington University campus in Ellensburg, WA. The first workshop was the only workshop to be held in a location that was specifically dedicated to workshops. Financially, it was cost comparative to the other options available. Holding the workshop on a campus facility and not worrying about catering or boarding easily made it the simplest workshop for the Center to plan. The downside was that the environment was a little sterile.

We asked that attendees come to the workshop prepared with a brief description of their project. This request was designed to fulfill the following objectives:

• Provide other attendees a reference point against which they could compare the development of their projects
• Compel attendees to think about the current status of their projects and the direction in which they wanted it to develop
• Serve as a resource for the Center for planning the future workshops
• Furnish a formal record of where attendees were at the beginning of this project

Due to the busy lives of those who attended the workshops, it was a challenge to get even four of these one-page project descriptions. Several of the attendees submitted an information tri-fold marketing handout as their “project report.” Although useful to have some official materials on hand, this was not the up-to-date and honest assessment of their project’s status the Center had hoped for.

It was at the first workshop that Nadeau introduced two of the case studies that were referred to throughout the rest of the series:

• Prairie’s Edge Sustainable Woods Co-op
• Kickapoo Co-op

Presenting big picture issues and then breaking into small groups and asking them how it related to their project was a good way to help attendees internalize the material. This process was frequently repeated throughout the workshop series.

In addition to the case study reading materials, attendees received:
• How to Start a Cooperative, USDA Cooperative Information Report 7 (CIR7)
• Balancing Ecology and Economics; A Start-up Guide for Forest Owner Cooperation by Cooperative Development Services, et al.
• Chapters four and five from Cooperatives: A Tool for Economic Development by University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
o Conducting a Feasibility Study
o Outline for a Business Plan

Their first homework in the workbook was the Initial Action Plan worksheet (see chart to the right). This was a simple paper tool for them to organize their thoughts after the workshop, it also helped to facilitate their planning process by breaking it into manageable steps. It gave them a place to outline and record five activities they wished to accomplish over the next three months, list measurable objectives, set a completion date and jot down any comments.

Workshop Two; Leadership, Members and Markets

The second workshop was focused on marketing and leadership. This was an ambitious amount of subject matter to cover. In addition, at the request of participants, curriculum drifted into permaculture and agroforestry techniques. The workshop was held at The Wild Thyme Farm. The Farm is a virtual epicenter for the local permaculture “movement,” so it was an opportunity participants did not want to pass up. The Wild Thyme Farm’s objective is to be a retreat center, so it provided this group a real life feasibility exercise.

At the introduction dinner the action plans were discussed and new faces were introduced. Over the weekend there were two excellent guest speakers:
• Chris Cassidy, Washington State’s USDA Rural Business Manager, discussed USDA funding programs
• Tom Mix, president of Sequim Growers Co-op, discussed marketing for co-ops from a professional perspective

Nadeau presented two new case studies:

• Doniphan Value-Added Wood Project
• Massachusetts Woodlands Co-op

With the background information from the previous workshop having laid the groundwork, the business plan for Sustainable Woods Co-op was provided.

A farm tour/woods walk was planned, which gave the attendees a reprieve from the classroom. The Wild Thyme Farm has been actively managed under the guidance of permaculture principles for many years, and it was an opportunity to see a farm managed creatively in western Washington. This event was led by two of the attendees: John Henrikson, owner/operator and Kirk Hanson.

Chris Cassidy’s presentation provided an overview of the role the USDA plays in co-op and rural development and of the different funding programs available. He not only offered himself as an ombudsman to assist with negotiating the diverse loans and grants available but also provided a human face to a large government agency that has a vested interest in the success of the attendee’s local projects.

The presentation by Tom Mix was a top notch program on the basics of professional marketing. His college level synopsis of marketing essentials helped the groups think about marketing in a new light.

Guest speakers were specifically brought in to help the Center and Nadeau emphasize the messages we wanted to convey; such as planning and setting measurable objectives.

The workshop was wrapped up with small group sessions working on the “Second Homework;” which was to produce a Revised Action Plan. The format was identical to the first only this time they would be updating and revising their existing plan.

Workshop Three; “Getting Down to Business”

The third workshop was focused on the transition from “get set” to “go.” Key start-up issues were covered, including incorporation, governance, financial planning, hiring management and raising capital. The workshop was held in Twisp, WA at the Senior Center

The following guest speakers presented during the final workshop:
• Joel Merkel, Merkel Law, discussed pre-incorporation planning and good governance
• Debbie Lewis, Development Director at SafePlace, discussed funding planning around diversified sources
• James Freed, WSU Extension Agency, presented on non-timber forest products and marketing
• Lew Blakeney, Washington Small Business Development Center, discussed how to prepare a business plan for seeking private bank loans
• Kirk Hanson, Small Forest Landowners Office at the Department of Natural Resources, presented on the different funding programs, government and private, available to small forest landowners

As an attorney with a focus in co-op law, Joel Merkel was contracted to speak. His knowledge of co-op law and business was invaluable. Merkel explained statute law in an accessible way. He also discussed the legalities and importance of governance, pre-incorporation planning and exit strategies.

Nadeau discussed the technicalities of and the importance of incorporation and governance. He also reviewed the details of hiring management and performance measurement and talked about strategic planning and how to use it effectively.

In addition, highlighting the different granting agencies, Kirk Hanson talked about the technical discipline of grant writing and provided a database of grant programs he was aware of. To compliment Hanson’s fundraising perspective, Debbie Lewis presented from a nonprofit perspective about relationship building and how to cultivate supporters. She also discussed how and why to set targets for fundraising; including equity and membership drives and membership/donor cultivation.

Jim Freed encouraged people to think outside the box for marketing. Freed emphasized the importance of marketing for a co-op. His presentation helped attendees see beyond their immediate business wishes; to produce and market a product driven by the potential consumer.

The final workshop included a tour of the Community Kitchen and the Made in the Methow Shoppe Co-op in downtown Twisp. A founding member provided the group with an informative tour of the location and a candid lesson in the history and issues that have faced the co-op. This was a vital reality-check for attendees and provided a great lesson in what to plan for in the future as they work on their local projects.

After the workshop concluded, participants attended an optional field trip to Michael Pilarski’s permaculture farm. Pilarski is considered a regional expert and guru of permaculture. After seeing the permaculture site on the wetter west-side of the mountains, participants were interested in viewing a drier eastside of the mountains farm that was also being guided by permaculture values. Although permaculture was tangential to the main theme of cooperative business planning, it was an example of a creative approach to modern land management strategies.

Throughout the weekend, the group broke into smaller groups to hold planning sessions. Part of the workshop structure was to build in opportunities for the groups to bring the information they had learned into their immediate future and upcoming activities.

Final Reports

As a final exercise for workshop attendees, the Center assigned a final report. The purpose of this task was twofold. The goal of the final report was to compel the attendees to focus on the future and to provide a means for them to apply their learning from the workshops. The Center also wanted a tracking method to assess the group’s progress.

In a section of the workbook entitled Final Report a set of sample questions was provided to focus on the group’s progress and ways to maintain positive development into the foreseeable future. The assignment asked them to outline their planned activities in terms of feasibility and business planning.

It was difficult to elicit final reports from attendees. To date, the Center has received two completed reports. For some attendees, Eric Bowman conducted an exit interview to get the information the Center requested in the final report.

Outcomes and impacts:

The Center outlined four indicators to monitor and measure the success of this project. First, the Center administered a survey at the end of every workshop; in this way actual input from attendees could be read and reacted to. Second, participant retention indicated if they felt the workshops were worthwhile. Third, the future success of their projects was the ultimate goal, and considered the best way to judge such a workshop. Finally, the Center’s ability to transfer this project into other sectors in which we work will signify if the goal of transferability is met.

Attendee Surveys

The survey results of workshop one, two and three are included in Appendix VI, VII and VIII. The Center concluded from the surveys that the response was overwhelmingly positive. Very little to no dissatisfaction was expressed and no area was highlighted as a “weak link” by the surveys. The Center reviewed the surveys in an attempt to modify the next workshop, only to find that the surveys provided no clear direction.

The first survey was provided online and kept anonymous, and it was through this method that the most honest and relevant feedback was provided. The Center suspects this is because people were in the comfort of their own home after the workshop, and since it was a nameless forum for feedback they took the time to provide quality information. Unfortunately, the online survey was also the hardest to get people to participate in and the Center doubted it could repeatedly expect people to log onto our survey host site to offer feedback after every workshop.

The survey results, outlined in Appendix VI, were positive. When asked if the conference fulfilled their reasons for attending, everyone said, “Yes.” More than one person expressed surprise at the commonality of the groups; one attendee wrote, “It [the workshop] was an interesting opportunity to engage in creative problem solving together…and learned we may have more in common than we think.” In addition to the back patting, there was some advice for how the Center could better steer the following workshops. The Center did it’s best to continually improve the workshops.

At the second workshop, a paper feedback survey was passed out. The Center received many encouraging words, such as “thank you so much… for the inspiration to follow our dreams! Great guest speakers.” Also included were some excellent suggestions, for example somebody requested more “nuts and bolts” information of how to run a co-op.

At the third workshop, another paper survey was passed out and collected; only this time we requested names. One of the best comments was from Lorah Waters of Methow Forest Owner’s Co-op:

The series has assisted at least five unique cooperative ventures to better define their goals, articulate strategies and develop specific action plans and timelines to accomplish actions over short and long terms. These activities will probably result in most organizations moving forward and getting funding to accomplish their next steps.

It was rewarding to read Jean Shaffer’s comment that “the [NWCDC] team was very flexible and responsive to adjusting the program to the group’s needs.” John Henrikson of Wild Thyme Farm wrote:

This workshop series provided the critical tools for moving from theory into practice. I can honestly say that we would not be well on our way with a focused plan of action without the information and support from the workshop staff and participants.

In the future, if a paper survey is going to be done, it needs to be a made part of the formal structure of the workshop, it will only take minutes. One issue about the format of our paper surveys was that there were too many boxes to check off and it seemed that participants rushed and gave their answers less consideration.

Attendee Retention

The Center considers attendee retention to be a success. There were five groups with consistent representation at all three workshops. One individual was at the first workshop and not at the next two. There were three individuals at the second workshop whose group was not represented at the first or final workshop.

The Center assumes the dropouts can be attributed primarily to location. It was difficult for some of the attendees to make the eight hour drive from Southwestern Washington to the Okanogan and vise versa to Oakville from Ferry County. It’s possible that if there was greater interest in forestry co-ops, a more targeted series of workshops could have been held in different locations around the state.

Attendee Future Success

Even though this is the single greatest aim of the workshop, future success is not as easily quantified as the other identified indicators. Even if attendees’ projects fail, years from now they could potentially be implementing the skills they learned from the workshop as community leaders, entrepreneurs and community organizers.

That being said, the Center was pleased to receive three proposals from the workshop attendees’ projects. Moreover, the Center’s Board selected two of the three projects to be included in the Center’s next annual work plan, to provide technical assistance through the USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant program.

In this way, the Center has discovered a method of providing greater support to the projects it selects. First, the Center provides the tools to understand business planning and the cooperative business model. Then, the Center is available to provide direct technical assistance support as select groups develop their local co-op businesses.

Future Transferability

The Center foresees a time when a workshop focused on cooperative education becomes a structural part of our annual work plan. As mentioned above, the workshops assisted the Center in priming groups for taking the leap of incorporation. Although there are many industry specifics to forestry co-ops, that was not the focus of the workshop series. The case studies and language of the workshops was easier for the forestry professionals to relate to because it is their ‘native tongue,’ but, the goal is to form a forestry co-op or launch a retail outlet, the processes of business planning and financial strategies are similar for all business ventures.

The Center has already begun planning to transfer this workshop format into the consumer-owned grocery store sector. In addition to beginning to raise funds, the Center has identified communities in Oregon and Washington in which residents desire to start-up a food co-op. Now that the forestry workshops have been delivered, the Center can identify the right expertise and plug industry specifics into the preexisting format.

PROJECT OUTCOMES

In addition to the four performance indicators listed above, there are greater outcomes. Did the Center meet it original object? What was the actual impact on the daily lives of those who completed the workshop series and how did their projects grow as a result?

Original Objectives

To review the initial objectives:

• Address the challenges facing small forest landowners in the Northwest through the creation of landowner co-ops
• Provide a high quality intensive workshop, which would take place over nine months
• Implement a train-the-trainer approach to offer skills to potential co-op project leaders
• Develop a comprehensive workshop template focused on co-op development for future projects that could be transferred to other industries in which the Center operates
• Increase the chances that forestry co-ops would form in the Northwest

In the Center’s assessment, all five objectives were met. The Center provided high quality workshops by bringing qualified presenters who used the most relevant materials. A train-the-trainer approach was used by inviting future project leaders and community leaders to attend the workshop. A comprehensive workshop template focused on co-op development was created and is currently being transferred to the grocery co-op sector.

The next two objectives are a bit loftier. Although the Center has increased the chances of future co-ops by promoting the model to interested parties and by priming groups to seek other sources of funding, not a single co-op incorporated during this process. On the other hand, five groups around the state are fundamentally closer to incorporating, and now have the commitment and tools to proceed towards providing services as a co-op. The chances of a forestry co-op forming are greater after the workshop series.

During the workshop participants experienced many revelations about how to market collectively. The process of sharing an experience focusing on business education provided them with an avenue and a language to better plan their vision of the future. One group was created virtually from scratch in nine months; Bill Wheeler went from one individual having a vague idea to a steering committee with a plan. This sort of progress surpassed our expectations of the group.

Attendees Growth

It is necessary to look at the before and after status of the attendees. All the projects moved at a different pace. One individual, Jean Shaffer, completely redefined her direction during the nine months. If this strategic change saves her valuable time and money, it is priceless. Other groups such as Methow Forest Owners Co-op (MFOC) are moving at a consistent and steady pace towards long-term success. MFOC provided a wonderful case study for the group that serves as a model for their local projects.

According to Lorah Waters with MFOC, “It’s been beneficial to relate to the diversity of issues and strategies that we are all facing across the state. I have been surprised to find out that despite our diversity we have more in common than not.”

During the workshop participants experienced many revelations about how to market collectively. The process of sharing an experience focusing on business education provided them with an avenue and a language to better plan their vision of the future. One group was created virtually from scratch in nine months; Bill Wheeler went from one individual having a vague idea to a steering committee with a plan. This sort of progress surpassed our expectations of the group.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Conclusion

The Center is satisfied with virtually all aspects of this project. The objectives were met. The Center feels better prepared to launch its next venture of this type. Even the lessons have been a great asset to the continued success of such projects. The Center feels the workshops are beneficial, and looks forward to implementing another series modeled after the forestry workshops.

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Key Lessons Learned

As a pilot project, this workshop series was a learning experience for the Center. The Center had the privilege of working with and learning from some of the most experienced individuals in the industries of business, forestry and cooperative development.

People

As with any project, the primary asset to the project were the people involved. The workshop series was the sum total of the labor and knowledge of a large number of people.

• Without the group of committed attendees, this entire venture would have been moot.
• Without E.G. Nadeau, the workshop would have been mediocre at best and lacked the years of knowledge about forestry co-ops which he brought..
• Without the Center’s willingness to learn and try new things in new industries, nothing would have occurred at all.
• Without the continued support and leadership of the Center’s Executive Director, the project could have floundered in the starting gates and staff would have been unable to proceed.
• Without the diverse and dedicated steering committee, very little insider’s info would have been available and the workshop would have been less focused.
• Without the willingness of qualified professionals to present at the workshop, the quality of the educational material would have suffered.

A people-orientated approach was absolutely vital to this project.

Communications

Another lesson learned was the value of frequent and quality communication. Frequent committee meetings keep the project in the forefront of people’s minds. For example, the Center would both mail and email most important items and if it was very critical follow up with a “call around” to confirm that people received the info.

In addition, we learned that with a diverse group it is important to be sensitive to the best way to communicate with individuals involved. In today’s world of fax machines, email and cell phones, everybody has a different preference for communication. Frequent communication helped participants contribute to the process.

The Center learned it is best to mail reading materials well in advance of the workshop so attendees have the opportunity to read the relevant materials. Although it is standard to disseminate workbooks on the first day of a conference, a weekend is an extremely short period of time to create an academic atmosphere. The use of this time needs to be well planned and utilized to its fullest.

Scholarships

Another tactic the Center will employ in future workshops will be to restructure the scholarship format. The Center initially approached the scholarships as travel reimbursement. This caused some confusion, as participants traveled different distances and it was difficult to assess which participants should receive scholarships. Then the Center repackaged the scholarship as a tuition reimbursement. This change of approach also caused unnecessary confusion. It quickly became clear that it was necessary to have a comprehensive, simple, clearly defined and communicated strategy for financial assistance in place initially.

A suggested approach used by the Extension Services is to formulate the scholarships as a reimbursement; in which participants would not get reimbursed for workshop fees unless they completed all the work.

Streamlining the scholarship format in this manner would accomplish the following:

1) Make attending the workshop more attainable to those who desire to participate but who might not be able to afford it; it would also appear more attainable to people who could afford it
2) Provide a financial incentive for participants to complete all the work and maintain a higher level of commitment.
3) Increase the revenue available to the project

Participants

No participants
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.