Supporting Farmer Training Programs- in the Western States through Professional Development and Collaboration

Final Report for EW14-036

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $29,977.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

Through providing production and business training, access to land, mentorship, market opportunities and reduced risk, land-based farm training and incubator programs are an important part of the strategy to train the next generation of farmers. The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) provided training to agricultural professionals to increase their ability to initiate, support and develop farmer training programs. ALBA shared its experience in farmer development through leading trainings to other organizations, primarily NGO’s and universities from multiple Western States, who were interested in learning about, developing, or adapting ALBA’s training and organizational models. ALBA provided an intensive two-day conference attended by ten (10) organizations at ALBA’s headquarters; two (2) webinars  to 203 agricultural professionals; two presentations at national conferences to fifty (50) agricultural professionals; fifty-one (51) hours of direct technical assistance to at least fourteen (14) Western States organizations; and five (5) site visits to farmer training organizations; one (1) meetings amongst Western States farmer training program organizations; and launched a regional listserv for farmer training programs that will facilitate continued collaboration.

Project Objectives:

The goal of the project was to increase agricultural professionals’ ability to initiate, support and develop farmer training programs through targeted training and collaboration led by ALBA.

  • Objective 1. Fifty (50) agricultural professionals will demonstrate increased ability to initiate, support and develop farmer training program efforts

ALBA was involved in training over 200 agricultural professionals through this grant project through conferences, direct technical assistance, and webinars. Twelve (12) individuals indicated that they would implement new techniques within one year after the IRC summit in Phoenix; sixteen (16) individuals indicated that they felt more confident to support their programs after ALBA’s mini-conference; six (6) individuals stated they had an increased understanding of topics relevant to managing incubator land after one webinar.

  • Objective 2. Twenty (20) agricultural professionals will demonstrate learning information that led to positive changes in their programs’ process or structure

There were 16 that attended the mini-conference held at ALBA, and of the follow-up surveys received, all reported having learned information that led to positive changes in their program. A multitude of additional positive changes were facilitated through direct technical assistance. For example, during the grant period ALBA assisted the California Farm Academy with its strategy for managing organic certification; PUENTES-Americas with fundraising and program structure for a new incubator; and Central Coast Grown with creating key documents for its land leases.

  • Objective 3. Twenty (20) agricultural professionals will demonstrate sharing resources through a new regional collaboration of farmer training programs in the Western States

This objective was easily completed through the exchange at NIFTI’s 2015 field school in Durham, NC that hosted a regional breakout. ALBA led this session where each organization (8 participants, total) gave a brief introduction, shared specific challenges, then the group brainstormed on ways to continue to collaborate and communicate. 

Consensus among western groups was that a listserv was the best way to continue to regularly communicate. As a result, a western region listserv was launched in late 2015. ALBA and NIFTI staff are the listserv hosts. To date there are 15 individuals signed up for the listserv. This is expected to ramp up in March 2016 as NIFTI emphasizes its regional focus. 

Introduction:

ALBA is a non-profit organization based in Salinas, CA. Building on 30 years’ experience in farmer development, ALBA was incorporated in 2001 to provide educational, marketing and farm business opportunities to farm workers, aspiring and beginning farmers on its two organic ranches in Monterey County. Each year, ALBA hosts 45+ primarily Hispanic farmers in its Small Farm Incubator and another 30 Farmer Education Program participants. In the Farmer Education Program, aspiring farmers learn about crop planning, organic farming techniques, business planning, record-keeping, marketing and manage a one acre practice plot. In the Small Farm Incubator, farmers cultivate 25+ different crops as ALBA helps them develop their independent farm businesses with reduced risk over a period of several years.

According to National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI) statistics, there are 111 known farm incubator programs in the United States (35+ in the Western States) with approximately half having 0-3 years in operation. Like ALBA, over 50% of farm incubators serve immigrant and/or refugee populations. These nascent organizations often struggle to secure land, funding, develop a framework for their programs and support aspiring and beginning farmers.  ALBA has been consulting with organizations informally on an ad hoc basis for years with a steady flow of requests. Since 2012, ALBA has been a key supplier of technical assistance to new incubator projects through NIFTI, a program of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project affiliated with Tufts University.

For nearly four years, NIFTI has supported farmer training organizations by providing tools and support, coordinating technical assistance, data gathering, and serving as a resource center.   In this project, ALBA contracted with NIFTI to provide important functions that supported the goals of the grant (e.g., outreach, needs assessment). Building on the work already done in partnership with NIFTI, the project allowed ALBA to add more hours of direct technical assistance, more detailed training through a short conference, and webinars that were based on regional needs. ALBA directly reached an astounding 24 organizations, including 14 based in Western States such as Washington, Hawaii, Oregon, Arizona, Montana, California, and New Mexico.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Christopher Brown
  • Jennifer Hashley

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

ALBA has had a steady flow of other organizations seeking to better understand and apply its model. This grant allowed ALBA to expand professional development services with a focus of meeting the needs of Western States incubator projects.

A short needs assessment survey was administered early in the grant that informed the topic of webinars and other trainings provided. 

Trainings took the form of webinars, conference presentations, and direct direct technical assistance.  

Collaboration happened through meetings, participating in trainings and technical assistance together, visiting each other’s sites,  NIFTI referrals, and a listserv that was launched as part of the project.

 

Outreach and Publications

Outcomes and impacts:

i. Meeting

Eight (8) farm incubator staff participated in a Western States breakout session facilitated by ALBA at the 2015 NIFTI National Field School (Durham, NC). Challenges, regional goals, and opportunities for collaboration were identified.

ii. Conferences

Twenty-two (22) participants took part in ALBA’s Farmer Training Mini-conference in May 2015.  Of the non-ALBA staff that participated (16), follow-up surveys indicate that these participants have already shared tools and resources with an additional 30 agricultural professionals. Those that attended the IRC summit expected to share what they learned with over 300 other individuals within one year.

ALBA presented on its food hub model at the 2014 NIFTI National Field School (Portland, OR).

ALBA  moderated a “Food Systems and Incubators” session at the the 2015 NIFTI National Field School (Durham, NC).

ALBA was a key presenter at an IRC Summit in Phoenix, AZ in September 2015. We presented on Program Structure, Marketing of Farmers’ Produce, GAP Certification, and Evaluations.

In total, over 70 individuals increased their understanding of and ability to initiate or support incubator projects. 

iii. Webinars

Over 200 agricultural professionals increased their understanding of incubator program management topics through webinars. The webinars were primarily in response to the topics of interest in the regional needs assessment, but also balanced by what ALBA felt comfortable in presenting to groups. The topics covered were Food Hubs and Ecological Land Management. 

iv. Direct technical assistance

ALBA was able to provide a more in-depth overview of its program, a tour of its facility and/or consulting to 14 western states organizations totaling 51 hours of contact time. ALBA was able to directly visit 5 other projects as a result of this grant in OR, WA, and throughout CA.

v. Farmer Involvement

We were able to take 6 aspiring farmers from ALBA’s Farmer Education Course on a field trip to visit UCSC CASFS Organic Farm and Garden, which provides another farmer training opportunity (i.e., apprenticeship) in our area. Through the grant one ALBA farmers was able to accompany our staff on a visit to a farm incubator site outside of Portland and reported back to his fellow farmers on the experience.

vi. Listserv

Based on interactions amongst groups in person (ALBA’s mini-conference and western regions breakout session), a listserv was determiend to be the best way to continue to collaborate and keep each other informed. A listserv was launched in December 2015 and currently has 15 individuals subscribed.

 

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

ALBA was able to expand and strengthen a regional network of incubator projects. The relationships that were started through this project will likely continue into the future and there is a framework to support collaboration.

An unexpected outcome of this project was ALBA connecting with the California Center for Cooperative Development (CCCD). While ALBA was carrying out its work, the CCCD was organizing a “best-practices in farmer education” training for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). ALBA shared its experience in holding a mini-conference, which was important in the CCCD developing the agenda for their summit. ALBA participated in their Phoenix, AZ summit as one of the key presenters.

Since that time, ALBA and the CCCD have been able to leverage resources and experience to support each other’s work. This has involved partnering on funding opportunities where the CCCD has been able to provide some evaluation services. 

 

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The efforts of this grant were important in NIFTI moving forward with its regional strategy.  NIFTI will focus its work in 2016-2018 on solidifying regional partnerships with the assistance of five Regional Conveners. Conveners will oversee and report on regional activities, and increase networking capacity and collaborations among projects operating under similar geographic, political and social conditions. ALBA has been chosen as the regional convener for the west. 

Regional Map — 2016 NIFTI Regions

 

Future Recommendations

Based on the needs assessment, feedback during in-person meetings, and our own experience, there is a definite need for incubator projects to continue to move forward  with a strategic regional and collaborative focus.

There were a  a number of specific challenges facing incubator projects in the west that were identified during the western region breakout session at the most recent NIFTI field school in fall of 2015. These include land availability, cost of farm infrastructure, water access, the need for more advanced training for farmer participants, and funding.

ALBA recommends that the WSARE PDP continue to look for opportunities to provide training and support to incubator project staff, as incubators are increasing in numbers and very relevant for bringing more individuals into farming careers. Indeed, with the average age of the farmer in the U.S. in the late 50s and the number of beginning farmers generally decreasing, this is a serious problem facing the future of agriculture in the United States. Incubator projects increase a beginning farmer’s chances of success through by reducing some of the barriers to entry; providing technical assistance and education; and reducing risk. 

 

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.