Seed Saving Farmer Training

Final report for EW18-005

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $45,350.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Lee-Ann Hill
Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance
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Project Information

Abstract:

Locally saved and distributed seeds are the missing link in many sustainable agriculture systems.
Traditional seed saving practices build up regional adaptations in crop varieties that reduce the
need for toxic pesticides and support low-input, sustainable farming operations. According to the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, promoting seed saving among farmers
offers great benefits to increase food security, environmental health, and economic viability in
agricultural regions.
Since its founding in 2014, the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA) has been working with
farmers in Mountain West communities to develop regionally adapted seed systems that support
sustainable agriculture. The proposed project will train agricultural professionals to become
educators for farmers in their regional areas, teaching crop producers how to integrate seed
saving into their growing and business models. This project builds on RMSA’s successful Seed
School educational programs which have made a significant impact on spreading seed
knowledge and skills among farmers and gardeners. Project activities include: developing a
targeted curriculum for ag professionals (Seed Teachers) to educate farmers in creating seed
enterprises, including on-farm seed saving, marketing and distribution; creating a separate
curriculum for trained ag professionals to utilize in teaching farmers; and supporting a pilot
series of 2 – 3 two-day Seed School for Farmers workshops conducted by Seed Teachers in their
regional communities.
This project will directly increase seed saving knowledge, skills, and action to support
sustainable agriculture efforts among Rocky Mountain farmers. By building this educational
capacity among ag professionals, the proposed project will contribute to healthier environments,
more profitable enterprises, and a higher quality of life for regional farmers and their
communities.

Project Objectives:

We will accomplish the following objectives with this project:
1. Develop teacher training educational curriculum for integration of seed saving practices
into farming and business models for small farmer/producers
2. Train up to 30 agricultural professionals as educators for farmers in integrated seed
saving practices (“Seed School Teacher Training for Agricultural Professionals” (SSTTAP))
3. Create curriculum and associated educational materials for two-day Seed School for
Farmers workshop that newly trained agricultural professionals (“Seed Teachers”)
can utilize in educating local farmers
4. Offer administrative and technical support for a pilot series of 2 – 3 Seed School for
Farmers (two-day) workshops conducted by Seed Teachers in their regional communities
The project objectives will be achieved over a period of one year during the grant period (April
2018 to March 2019). Curricula development will take place from May to September of 2018.
Agricultural professionals will be trained in a six-day workshop held in October of 2018.
Further, support for the pilot series of Seed School for Farmers workshops will be provided from
October of 2018 to March of 2019.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Lynda Garvin (Educator)
  • Rich Murphy (Educator)
  • Casey O'Leary (Educator)
  • Rich Pecoraro (Educator)
  • Heather DeLong (Educator)
  • Sherry Manning (Educator)
  • Yvette Henson (Educator)
  • Lynda Prim (Educator and Researcher)

Education

Educational approach:

Participants in this course received hands-on training based on RMSA’s acclaimed Seed School Curriculum with a special emphasis on incorporating seed saving techniques into small- to medium-scale farming operations. Ag professionals learned how to teach seed saving methods to the farmers they serve, enabling them to boost farm profitability, improve soil health, and enhance regional food security. By sharing this knowledge with local producers, course participants will help create successful models of on-farm seed saving that benefit both their local economies and environments.

RMSA’s Seed School Curriculum includes 12 modules on seed saving and the history of seed saving, with hands-on activities incorporated into each module. Teacher Training students are required to also practice teaching the modules throughout the week-long course, and are invited to teach seed saving topics related to their work, interests, and competencies.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Seed Saving Curriculum for Agricultural Professionals Course
Objective:

Develop teacher training educational curriculum for integration of seed saving practices into farming and business models for small farmer/producers.

Description:

This curriculum is based on RMSA’s existing Seed School Teacher Training course and integrates RMSA’s customary seed saving program as a foundation. We had previously hosted three of these Teacher Training courses and have graduated a total of 60 students who have gone on to become local seed educators in their
communities. For this new iteration of the course, and in conjunction with our collaborators, we developed content targeted to the needs of farmer/producers with relevant applications for their farming operations.
Conducted over six days in October 2018, the Seed School Teacher Training for Farmers course offered our seed saving curriculum along with an in-depth understanding of the historical, scientific, and business-related aspects of seed saving. It also included leadership development training to provide participants with motivation and skills to fulfill their role as seed educators for local farmers. Participating ag professionals learned from our experienced instructors how to deliver Seed School for Farmers workshops and were able to confidently and effectively impart this knowledge to support an integration of seed saving practices with sustainable farming systems during student presentations throughout the course.

RMSA staff worked with our collaborative team in the development of this curriculum.  We held a video conference call in the initial stages of development to gather input from the core team instructors, and identified key areas of knowledge that the course should address. RMSA staff created a preliminary version of the course curriculum, learning objectives, written materials and handouts, power points presentations for each learning module, and daily agendas. Collaborative team members reviewed the curriculum materials and provided revision suggestions. RMSA staff then finalized the curriculum for the course.

Outcomes and impacts:

The Seed Saving Teacher Training for Agricultural Professionals curriculum was effective and well-received, based on participant feedback verbally and in the evaluations. Many participants were experienced seed savers, while others were new to the art and science of saving seeds. Our goal was to provide a curriculum for the range of participants by enhancing our established seed saving curriculum to incorporate pedagogy for teaching farmers and larger scale growers to implement on-farm and commercial seed-to-seed production practices. 

Additionally, we offered participants our basic Seed Saving Course entitled, Seed School Online, as a pre-requisite to ensure that participants shared a basic understanding of seed saving at the onset of the week-long class. This method proved effective. The students that reported that they didn’t complete the online course felt less versed in the basics of seed saving during the class, but the hands-on activities offered opportunities to learn seed saving skills on site.

Seed Saving Teacher Training for Agricultural Professionals Course
Objective:

Train up to 30 agricultural professionals as educators for farmers in integrated seed saving practices.

Description:

RMSA staff along with collaborating team instructors offered the Seed School Teacher Training for Agricultural Professionals course over six days in October 2018. RMSA Executive Director Bill McDorman was lead instructor for the course, with assistance from RMSA Special Projects Coordinator Lee-Ann Hill. Two other collaborators, Casey O’Leary and Lynda Garvin, served as core instructors, and other members of the collaborative team served as guest instructors.  Each instructor offered specific expertise to complement and enhance the curriculum. Bill McDorman has been working with seeds and teaching seed saving for over 30 years and shares a wealth of knowledge. Casey O’Leary’s experience as a farmer and commercial seed grower, and as the Director of a seed cooperative offered a dynamic example of ways to integrate seed saving into commercial farming operations and markets.  Lynda Garvin offered her experience working with professional agricultural programs including extension agencies and Land Grant colleges, as well as more specific programs like Master Gardeners and Peace Corps projects.  Lee-Ann Hill shares experience from her dryland farming operations in Southwest Colorado, and her knowledge of traditional and sustainable farming from her Masters Studies in Cultural Ecology at Prescott College.  Together with the other collaborators who attended as guest speakers on their particular areas of expertise, the students received a well-rounded curriculum on teaching seed saving to diverse and conventional audiences.  A field day at a local farm reinforced practices and offered opportunity for field teaching experience.

Outcomes and impacts:

To keep the course sized for effective hands-on opportunities and discussions, we prefer to keep our courses to 30 students maximum.  We had 34 registrations, and additional inquiries. Of that, 24 students attended and graduated from the course. Students left feeling inspired and empowered to teach seed saving workshops, and many have reported on the development of their offerings.

Based on participant surveys and verbal feedback, students gained valuable teaching and practical experience. The course is experiential, both with in-class seed saving activities and in the field, which students appreciate. Students also appreciated the range of instructors. Feedback included more diversity in our instructors, particularly in teaching about the cultural considerations of seed saving and seed sharing (side note: we had invited a guest instructor, Emigdio Ballon, who is the Agricultural Director of Tesuque Pueblo in New Mexico and is Quechua from Bolivia, but his schedule changed and he was unable to attend).  Students also wanted more hands-on activities, particularly at an actual seed farm, which we have yet to locate in the immediate Denver area. Our seed school location, in Denver, offers convenient and affordable transportation options from locations throughout the West, and we also have a great working relationship with DeLaney Farm, which is a refugee farming program, however they are just beginning to save seeds and are not saving them at a commercial scale.  Additionally, with more and more media emphasis on cultural appropriation concerns, RMSA is developing a teaching module on the “cultural considerations of seed saving” with students from the course who expressed interest in this topic.

Seed Saving for Farmers
Objective:

Create curriculum and associated educational materials for two-day Seed School for Farmers (SSF) workshop that newly trained agricultural professionals (“Seed Teachers”) can utilize in educating local farmers.

Description:

Based on the Seed School Teacher Training for Agricultural Professionals curriculum and course, we will design a 2-day curriculum that graduates from the course can use to create their own courses for their constituents. 

Outcomes and impacts:

We worked with our cooperators to develop a comprehensive revised Seed School curriculum for agricultural professionals that students could use to customize their courses for their own constituents (attached).  Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance staff developed the curriculum, then the cooperators reviewed it and offered input, which was integrated into the curriculum.  While the course curriculum was being developed, graduates from the Seed School for Teacher Training Professionals course had access to materials, activities, and PowerPoints from the course via a Google Drive.  This Google Drive is an ongoing resource for students and seed teachers.  Hard copies of the completed curriculum were sent to all students from the course, and they were also offered a link for the digital copy, along with reminders with the google link where the activities and additional resources are stored.  We also invited all Seed School Teacher Training graduates to a video conference call to discuss their plans and the resources available to assist with Seed School courses, and offered technical and administrative support.  Three graduates requested support for their courses during the grant period, and several more indicated that they were already offering seed saving trainings to their constituents.  RMSA curriculum webfinal

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Consultations
4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
2 Tours
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days
2 During the grant period, we hosted a 2-day Seed Summit that incorporated seed saving workshops and activities. Just after the grant period, we hosted a Grain School in Albuquerque that also integrated seed saving demonstrations, presentations, and activities. Farmers and agricultural professionals attended and participated in both of these events including our collaborators and students who had graduated from the Seed School for Agricultural Professionals course.

Participation Summary

6 Extension
2 Researchers
10 Nonprofit
8 Farmers/ranchers
6 Others

Learning Outcomes

24 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
24 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

4 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Our courses have extensive and exponential impacts.  Eleven participants completed the SARE Survey post course and indicated collectively that they would reach over 1,080 people in the 12 months following the course!  Through a post-program survey recently sent, of which we had just four responses, plus one student who has received consultation (who didn’t answer the survey), we are aware of 650 people served! At least 18 of the overall participants in the Seed Saving Teacher Training for Agricultural Professionals are offering seed saving activities to their constituents, which will offer a significant increase in the number of seed savers over an expansive range, with participants from six states and 2 other countries, so the outreach could already be in the thousands.  Our programs continue to grow and attract more farmers with our most recent Grain School offering in Albuquerque that had 45 participants including presenters and co-hosts of which ten participants were farmers from the “Grow the Growers” program in Albuquerque.  We’ve had additional invites from farmer organizations who are interested in seed saving, and our new educational facility in Idaho will enable us to offer hands-on educational opportunities at a working farm.  We are also applying for grants that will enable us to reach more farmers with more data on yields and growing conditions of heritage grains in particular.  We are heartened to see so many farmers and growers who understand the deep meaning and potential of regionalized seed (and grain) economies.

18 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
650 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

Attached are the Western SARE surveys that we received post course.  We also offer course evaluations at the end of each course while students are still assembled, which ensures greater response rates and are available upon request.  In summary, feedback was positive and constructive, and has helped us in the continued development of our educational offerings. Thanks to the Western SARE grant, which covered the costs of the course for students, we were able to offer the course to a diverse group of people who came from as nearby as Denver itself to as far as the Philippines, with varying agricultural and organizational backgrounds.  This offered a very dynamic and rich experience for students and instructors alike.  We are grateful for the support offered by Western SARE, and look forward to a continuing partnership in training agricultural professionals, farmers, and growers about the importance and the “how-to’s” of seed saving.

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Success stories:

The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance is incredibly proud and humbled by our students. We are honored to support so many dedicated people committed to helping their communities learn seed saving traditions and the benefits of growing local seed for local food systems.  And we are always so excited to hear and share the success stories from our students.  The following farmer graduate from Paonia, Colorado created an 8-month seed saving course, “Seed to Seed School” that has attracted 44 students from across the state. They are working on accreditation for the course.

RMSA has given me the confidence to not only grow more seed on my own farm but to create a course to help others learn to save seed. Seed School Teacher Training (for Agricultural Professionals) gave me the time and space I needed to come up with a unique approach to seed saving education that fit my community. 

Grassroots seed saving education is like voting for a future we all know is possible. Plant a seed in the ballot box of your garden and support RMSA!

The following info is from a graduate who works with City Sprouts in Omaha, Nebraska.  She is partnering with another graduate on seed saving programs, and have already served 300 people.

Our Seed of the Year program (to increase the amount of locally saved seed in the local seed library) has had great participation and success so far.

We are using the skills we learned last year to host a Seed Saving Teacher Training in November and will be collaborating further with more organizations for expanded seed saving training in 2020. My ability to do this is directly related to attending RMSA Teaching Training.

 

 

Recommendations:

We are so grateful that Western SARE recognizes the importance of seed saving in sustainable agricultural practices. Seed saving is too often overlooked as a component in regenerative agriculture, yet seeds are a fundamental piece of the equation. The ecological and economical impacts and regional benefits of seed saving is under-studied, and would be a valuable research endeavor.  With so many farmers buying seed from outside their bioregions, seed is too often coming from climates that not only differ but may be ill-equipped for the local conditions and practices, costing farmers unrequited time and money.  A robust and successful food system depends on compatible seeds.  A heightened awareness and focus on seeds in regenerative agricultural practices is warranted. We would also like to see more studies on seed yields and crop nutritional analysis from adapted seeds and grains overall and versus seeds and grains that are not regionalized and acclimated.

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.