Expanding Opportunities for Community-Based Educational Programs in Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching

Final Report for EW03-009

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $98,143.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,193.00
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Cinda Williams
University of Idaho Extension
Expand All

Project Information


This project developed and distributed an integrated set of educational curricula and outreach materials focused on innovative approaches for teaching sustainable agriculture. Forty agricultural professionals attended one of three workshops on the Cultivating Success small farms educational program. Two immersion field courses challenged over 20 agricultural professionals to broaden their perspectives on sustainability in agriculture food systems. Workshop and field class participants indicated increased knowledge about sustainable agricultural systems and enhanced capacity to establish meaningful, experiential, and community-based programs in sustainable small acreage farming. About half of those trained have taught or assisted in one of 10 new course offerings.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of the Cultivating Success program is to increase the number of economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable small acreage farms and ranches in the Washington and Idaho. To advance this long-term outcome, this project focused on the following objectives:

1)Increase agricultural professional’s knowledge of concepts and issues related to a sustainable food system and the role that sustainable small acreage producers play in that system
2)Develop and effectively disseminate an integrated set of sustainable small acreage farming and ranching educational materials to increase the number of sustainable small acreage farming programs
3)Increase the capacity of agricultural professionals to establish meaningful, experiential, and community-based programs in sustainable small acreage farming and ranching
4)Increase the local impacts of sustainable small acreage farming and ranching programs by providing on-going support and technical assistance to extension and other agricultural professionals.

To accomplish these objectives, we have developed a complete curriculum package that was adopted by extension educators; provided workshops and course opportunities to broaden perspectives of the food system for extension educators; provided training and mentoring for extension educators; and provided materials and guidance to extension educators on how to help farmers to be effective teachers and mentors for on-farm apprentices.


The 1997 agricultural census identified 73% of the farms in Washington and 60% of the farms in Idaho as small farms, ranging from 1 to 179 acres. Along with this substantial audience of current small acreage farms, an increasing number of people who would like to farm on small acreages are seeking guidance from county extension educators. Previous to this project, extension and academic programs available to these audiences in Washington and Idaho were limited, especially in the areas of resource evaluation, financial planning, business management, and direct marketing strategies.

The Cultivating Success program was developed to provide beginning and existing farmers with the planning and decision-making tools, research skills, and support necessary to develop a sustainable small acreage agricultural enterprise. Cultivating Success offers a unique, community-based, and experiential approach to learner education.

This project was undertaken to provide education and outreach to agricultural professionals about the curriculum’s focus on sustainability concepts, experiential learning techniques, and community food systems. As we introduced the curriculum throughout Washington and Idaho we focused on engaging agricultural educators and farmers in program development and evaluation and provided the tools and support necessary for potential instructors to successfully conduct the sustainability focused in-depth courses.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Theresa Beaver
  • Colette DePhelps
  • Diane Green
  • Marcy Ostrom
  • Cathy Perillo

Education & Outreach Initiatives



1) Develop Teaching Tools
Comprehensive student and instructor manuals (with CD) were developed for the Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching overview course. We piloted the draft version in Moscow, Sandpoint, and Twin Falls, Idaho, and Puyallup, Port Orchard, and Port Angeles, Washington, in 2002. During this project, improvements were made to the curriculum each year based on feedback from pilot instructor interviews, student evaluations, and the annual Evaluation Team report. Following editions included additional resources, expanded numbers of modules and MS PowerPoint presentations, and new class activity/assignment options. The completed instructor manual includes: learning objectives, lesson plans, assignments, class activities, and guest speaker suggestions for each of the 13 modules; an extensive resource list; and 18 PowerPoint presentations. The 2005 version also includes lesson plans and class activities that help students complete a Whole Farm Plan for their farm-based enterprise. Participants at each of the three instructor trainings received copies of the curriculum.

A comprehensive Instructor Manual for the Field Analysis of Sustainable Food Systems was produced, in both paper and electronic form, and is available for distribution to new instructors who will co-teach with our team and/or instructors in other regions who are interested in starting a similar program in their area. Draft versions of the manual have been developed in past years, and refinements made in 2005 to make it a stand-alone product available for distribution. The manual includes copies of items for potential instructors such as the course syllabus, field schedule, and logistical information / examples (e.g., example forms, letters of invitation to potential hosts, budget information, etc.) as well as the evaluations we used. (We also included examples of the assignments that are done by the academic students who have participated through separate funding in order to make a single comprehensive manual.) A website for students is available at http://classes.ces.wsu.edu/soils445/

A Farmer-Mentor Manual was developed for training farmers who are interested in mentoring beginning farmers/students or having apprentices on their farm. It includes chapters on Adult Learning Styles, Project Planning, Agreements and Contracts, One-on-One Teaching, Conflict Resolution, Liability Insurance, Evaluations, and Resources. The manual, and associated training, helps farmers develop a set of lesson plans based on their yearly farm operation. The intent is to ensure that they are as prepared as possible to offer a quality one-on-one educational experience to enhance the on-farm experience.
The manual development was led by a successful farmer who has 10 years experience of training apprentices on her farm. The manual was piloted at a Farmer Training Workshop held in Puyallup in March 2003. It was revised using participant evaluations and the final edition was used at the Farmer Training Workshops held in Coeur d’Alene in November 2004. It is available in CD and hard-copy format.

2) Provide workshop and field course opportunities
The Cultivating Success Instructor Training workshops were conducted for those interested in increasing their knowledge of sustainable food systems and/or understanding the content and participatory delivery approach for offering a Cultivating Success course, in particular, Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching. A broad group of agricultural professionals (extension educators, agency personnel, NGOs, and farmers) from Washington and Idaho attended at least one of the three trainings held in 2004 and 2005. In addition to the course curriculum, an overview manual of the Cultivating Success Program was developed and distributed at the Instructor Training Workshops. This booklet includes the program philosophy, the learning objectives and content for each of the courses, program logistics and the evaluation process, and tools used in the program.

The first training was held in Renton, Washington, on June 25, 2004, and attended by 11 educators. Included in the training were farmers who were interested in assisting with the program and participating by leading tours on their farms. One of the participants is a leader in the Hmong farming community who is going to translate and offer the course to Hmong farmers.

The next training was held in Boise, Idaho, on October 8, 2004. It was attended by 10 agricultural professionals, including farmers who were interested in assisting with the program. The Boise training focused on building a large network of support people to cooperatively offer the courses in the Boise area.

The third training was held in Ellensburg, Washington, on June 15, 2005, and had 25 participants. This training had even greater diversity of agricultural professionals, including faculty from Heritage College and the Cultivating Success Latino Coordinator who will be offering sustainable agriculture courses and workshops to Latino farmers.

All participants in the Instructor Training Workshops were invited to participate in the weeklong Field Analysis of Sustainable Food Systems course offered during the term of this grant (2003-05). Notices about the field course and invitations to attend were distributed to all WSU and UI Extension faculty.

3) Provide technical support and assistance
The Cultivating Success Program Coordinator assisted all course instructors in solving technical and content problems and provided press releases, templates for course flyers, program brochures, registration forms, student interest surveys, guest speaker suggestions, and End-of-Course Evaluations. A site visit was made to several locations to give a presentation on the Cultivating Success Program to the classes, to meet students, and evaluate instructor performance. Mid-semester interviews were conducted with all the instructors to evaluate how the curriculum was working and to offer assistance with any problems or questions.

The Cultivating Success website, http://cultivatingsuccess.org, was first developed in 2002, but was redesigned and enhanced in 2005 based on instructor and student input. The website contains program and course information and options, course content and locations, instructor contacts, and resource links. All instructors are informed about the site and the online availability of program materials and resources. The team is committed to continually reviewing and updating content to make it an effective source of technical support.

4) Evaluation
This project involved both formative and summative approaches to evaluate the overall program effectiveness, as well as the curriculum, training effectiveness, increase of knowledge, and capacity of extension educators to conduct meaningful educational opportunities for existing and potential small acreage producers.

A professional evaluator helped to develop a dozen evaluation tools for various aspects of the project. Post workshop surveys were used for evaluating the effectiveness of the trainings and feedback was used for design/delivery of the following training. Interviews with new instructors were conducted mid-way through the course and several weeks following the course to assess the success of the training, the usefulness of the curriculum materials, and support from the project team. Cultivating Success courses (including the field course) are evaluated with pre and post tests to assess an increase in knowledge of students, but also indicate the knowledge level and preparedness of the instructors. The project team continually solicited input on the curriculum throughout the project to evaluate and continually refine the materials.

Outreach and Publications

Presentations at conferences
  • National Small Farms, No. Carolina, Oct ‘05

    American Society for Horticultural Science, Las Vegas July ‘05

    Ecological Farming Conference, Monterey,CA Jan.'05

Posters exhibited at:
  • National Small Farms, No. Carolina, Oct ‘05

    Tilth Conference, Nov. 2004, in Portland, OR

    Rural Roots/UI Small Farm Conference in Coeur d’Alene, ID, Nov. 2003

Articles about the Cultivating Success Program:
  • Wheat Life, October 2005

    Capital Press, June 2005

    Sustaining the Northwest, 2004.

    Programs & People, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Idaho, Summer 2004.

  • Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching Instructor Notebook (hard copy and on CD)

    Field Analysis of Sustainable Food Systems Instructor Manual (hard copy and on CD)

    Cultivating Success Farmer Mentor Handbook

Other outreach materials
  • Brochures distributed at above conferences, local publicity events, and to students.

    Joint UI/WSU/Rural Roots Cultivating Success website at www.cultivatingsuccess.org

Outcomes and impacts:

1) Trainings
The three Instructor Training workshops were attended by 46 agricultural professionals. As a result of these workshops and the course curriculum developed, 10 agricultural professionals have now offered the Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching class at a new location, and another 10 have assisted in some capacity. Several others have remained in contact and are still considering offering a course.

The evaluations from the workshops showed that 80% of participants rated their knowledge increase of sustainable food systems as “greatly increased,” and 90% rated their interest in offering the Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching class as “high.”

Follow-up surveys showed that 100% of course instructors for the Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching course indicated the teaching manual and training workshops were very useful. Many indicated that the course curriculum made it possible for them to offer this course because they wouldn’t have had time to develop the curriculum themselves.

Two Farmer-Mentor trainings were held and attended by 12 farmers. Five of these farmers completed a curriculum for their farm production and marketing systems and became certified as a Cultivating Success Program Farmer-Mentor. The project team is currently evaluating and refining the mentorship and apprenticeship model for on-farm educational opportunities.

2) Courses
From September 2003 to December 2005, a total of 263 producers and students attended the 12- to 15-week course Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching at 13 different locations throughout Washington and Idaho. Students presented Whole Farm Plans including goals, resources, and production, management, and marketing plans.

Producers and other students interested in farming or ranching have been overly enthusiastic about this program. All courses have received positive evaluations, and we regularly receive calls from throughout the Inland Northwest about our program and locations.

Both the surveys given to the students at the end of the course and the surveys given to former students showed an increase in the level of understanding about sustainable agriculture, community food systems, and the Cultivating Success program after the courses were completed. By the end of the course, students were able to express what they saw as promising areas of opportunity for small acreage farmers, as well as the critical barriers that are present for small acreage farmers in their area.

An additional outcome of the project is that 90% of the students responded on a survey that they had “increased awareness of other educational programs offered at the university and through extension.” Seventy-four percent of students responded that they had “increased knowledge of educational programs offered by other organizations.”

Agricultural professionals and students participating in the Field Analysis of Sustainable Food Systems in 2004 and 2005 reported that taking this class broadened their perspective on sustainability in agriculture and increased their understanding of our food systems and the factors influencing how our food system functions. A segment of the course's pedagogy is to have students reflect on what they learned, what questions they continue to have (or new ones), etc. on a daily basis. Hence we conducted daily self-evaluations of the students, as well as a final end-of-field-component evaluation. For the 2005 offering, the responses to the following two questions on the end-of course survey were particularly satisfying (n=13).

1) How would you rate your overall level of learning in this course?: 4.45 avg /5.0
15) How would you rate the overall quality and value of this experiential course? 4.8 avg/ 5

100% of students said the course “exceeded my expectations” and “increased my knowledge and skills in this subject area.”

Four participants from the CS training workshop also participated in the week-long Field Analysis of Sustainable Food Systems course in 2004 or 2005. In 2005, professional participants (“students”) included three Extension faculty and staff, staff from four non-profits (including the PNW Program Coordinator for Heifer International), and one student intern with Extension. Two of the 2005 co-instructors were Extension faculty who took the course as “students” in 2004. The total number of professionals taking the class over the three years has been twenty-one (21). Academic students also participated each year, in approximately similar numbers. Discussions between the active students and the professionals throughout the course provided additional richness.

The course received some media attention this year as well, in a trade journal that reaches a large conventional agriculture clientele (Wheat Life, Oct 2005. A Viable Agriculture: WSU and UI conduct a ‘unique field immersion course,’ exposing students and community members to farm-to-table complexities. pp. 24-26).

3) Outreach
The Cultivating Success website has generated inquiries from over a hundred individuals, instructors, farmers, and other agricultural professionals interested in attending a class or obtaining information about the program as a model. Several instructors have used the website to download additional teaching resources.

More than 2,000 Cultivating Success program brochures have been distributed to potential students and instructors, farmers, and agricultural professionals. The brochures have been widely distributed at conference presentations and poster sessions.

Several national and regional presentations and poster displays have been conducted on the Cultivating Success program. Presentations were made at the following conferences:
Ecological Farming Conference, Monterey, Jan. 2005; Rural Roots/UI Small Farms conference, Moscow, ID, March 2005; American Society for Horticultural Science, Las Vegas, July 2005; and the 4th National Small Farms Conference, N. Carolina, Oct. 2005. Posters were exhibited at: Rural Roots/UI Small Farm Conference in Coeur d’Alene, ID, Nov. 2003; Tilth Conference, Nov. 2004, in Portland, OR; and the National Small Farms, N. Carolina, Oct. 2005.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The Cultivating Success Program has developed educational tools, gained wide support from a growing number of trained instructors and certified farmer-mentors, increased the number of counties offering sustainable agriculture courses, and has achieved multi-state recognition. The Western SARE PDP funds have helped to broaden the awareness about the program and, in turn, garner additional support and funding.

Both Washington State University and the University of Idaho have witnessed increased awareness and interest for sustainable agriculture education. New courses have become part of the university curricula and multi-university teams have been developed. The capacity and network for collaborating on sustainable agriculture projects has greatly increased and the potential for new projects is well established.


Potential Contributions

With the increased capacity of agricultural professionals to understand and offer courses on sustainable agriculture, farmers will become more informed on alternative practices, value-added products, and direct-marketing options. This will help NW farmers and ranchers to be more successful and sustainable and, therefore, less likely to have to bend to the pressures of developers to sell their farmland. Successful farmers can transition or transfer the farm to the next generation who may want to take over the farm and continue in the family farming tradition. Farmland saved from development will also mean more open spaces, more wildlife habitat, and more opportunities for the rural lifestyle.

Beginning farmers and ranchers in Washington and Idaho will develop an understanding of the whole-farm system and begin to understand the relationship between farm practices and their effect on the environment. Increased use of sustainable practices will result in better land stewardship practices on existing and new farms.

Economic capacity will be improved and the volume of farm product sales will increase in Idaho and Washington as the production and marketing skills of beginning farmers and ranchers improve. Increasing farmer education related to value-added products, crop and market diversification, and input reduction has the potential to increase the dollar per product returning to the farmer.

Future Recommendations

The widespread success of the Cultivating Success Program, coupled with the growing student interest in sustainable agriculture, substantiates the needs to garner permanent funding and institutional support for this type of educational programming.

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.