Compost Education and Resources for Western Agriculture or CERWA was a regional, three-year, comprehensive educational program for agricultural professionals about agricultural composting and compost use. The goal of the project was to increase the knowledge, effectiveness, and comfort level of agricultural professionals in dealing with agricultural composting issues. Specific objectives were to provide: (1) a ‘beyond the basics’ understanding of agricultural composting and compost use, (2) mechanisms for further information retrieval and (3) products to increase their capability for teaching their clientele.
To meet these objectives we held two educational programs downlinked by satellite to over 45 sites in the western region. We provided resource information packets to all 550 participants of each program. At each site, a facilitator coordinated the satellite instruction plus additional on site presentations to address local issues and conditions. The first program (Nov. 1998) covered the composting process and how it fits in with agricultural operations. The second program, held three months later (Jan. 1999), discussed the use of compost as a soil amendment. Both programs included numerous examples or case studies of real farm situations where compost was being produced or used (or both). Farmers relayed their experiences with composting including the benefits and disadvantages to their operation. The satellite programs also featured compost researchers and consultants in a panel discussion that was open to call in questions from viewers.
To further address the objective of improving information access, a project website was developed and quarterly newsletters were distributed to all agricultural extension educators and NRCS field advisors in the western region. The project provided numerous resources for agricultural professionals to use in their educational programs. The CERWA team produced and distributed a third CERWA video on The Future of Agricultural Composting and Compost Use. This video was developed in three 20-minute segments and provided a closer look at the issues of marketing compost, composting regulations, and emerging technologies. We also compiled and developed an electronic (PDF) document CERWA Answers Your Compost Questions, and created a collection of web-based compost images.
The response to this project has been very positive. Pre and post test evaluations indicated that both site facilitators and participants attending CERWA satellite programs increased their level of knowledge regarding composting and compost use. A follow up CERWA survey indicated that most of the agricultural professionals who served as site facilitators felt that they were better informed about composting and compost use because of the program. Ninety eight percent said CERWA provided them with the materials they needed to address issues and educate clientele about composting and compost use. Project team members indicated they have received many new contacts for resources and information about this program. CERWA helped to create, expand, and strengthen connections among a network of people who are interested in issues of composting and compost use.
The goal of the project was to increase the knowledge, effectiveness, and comfort level of agricultural professionals in dealing with agricultural composting issues. To advance that goal, the project proposed the following objectives.
1. Impart a “beyond the basics” understanding of composting to agricultural professionals (e.g. educators, advisors, and service providers).
2. Provide resources for participants to extend composting knowledge to local clientele.
3. Establish mechanisms for agricultural professionals to access and retrieve current information about composting and the performance of compost in agricultural production systems.
Ultimately, the aim is to improve and expand the practice of composting within western agriculture, and thereby enhance agricultural sustainability.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The CERWA project was introduced by contacting all Cooperative Extension Directors and NRCS State Conservationists in the western region. We followed that with a similar mailing to compost organizations and state agriculture and environmental agencies. We developed a project logo and distributed over 1,000 brochures to all cooperators, all ag and natural resource extension educators, and NRCS field staff in western states and territories.
We continued to communicate regularly with members of our mailing list sending letters of program details and project updates to site facilitators, flyer and postcard announcements to the entire mailing list (which grew to 750), and selected letters to project partners and film site locations (farms or composting sites).
Information gathered through CERWA has and will continue to be disseminated via several educational products. The primary and original mechanism was the workshop series, including both the broadcasts and the local workshop activities. Other project components are intended to help the audience extend the training to clientele and to provide them access to more detailed and emerging information. These components include the written resource materials, newsletter, and website. In addition, CERWA has distributed numerous videotapes, and most recently has compiled a collection of 125 compost images on the Internet site. Further dissemination of this project was done through a college-level Internet course at WSU (which will continue to be offered beyond the project end date).
A listing of the project outputs and numbers of people reached:
1 ) Initial CERWA project brochures were sent to over 1,000 extension, NRCS, agency, and organizational representatives in the western region.
2) Seventy people responded to our initial CERWA brochure requesting site facilitators for the program.
Each respondent was sent a Site Facilitators Handbook that provided basic information on presenting satellite programs and more detailed planning guides for both programs.
3) Approximately 45 of those interested individuals agreed to be site facilitators and were sent an additional 10 pieces of correspondence with information and project updates throughout the 3-year program.
4) Attendance at each of the two satellite programs was approximately 550 participants (attending one of the 45 concurrent workshops across the West).
5) Approximately 550 participants of each CERWA satellite broadcast received a resource notebook of current publications, articles, and lists of resources related to the topic.
6) Postcard reminders about the 2nd CERWA satellite program were distributed to a mailing list of 600.
7) Over 3,000 hits on the CERWA website over three years (Over 1,300 visits in its first 5 months).
8) Over 1,000 Extension and NRCS professionals received 8 quarterly issues of The Compost Connection newsletter over the period from August 1998 to October 2000.
9) Approximately 70 people (project team and site facilitators) were sent printed copies of the PDF file of CERWA Answers your Compost Questions.
10) Ten students enrolled in a Washington State University prototype of an online course for compost education (fall 1999).
11) Flyers announcing the release of the third video and the availability of CERWA Answers your Compost Questions (on the web site) were sent to a mailing list that had grown to 750.
12) The CERWA 3 video debuted during individual sessions that were part of two major western region conferences in March of 2000. The Western Region SARE conference in Portland hosted a group of 20 participants and at the BioCycle conference in San Diego approximately 45 people viewed the video.
13) Approximately 100 videotaped copies of each CERWA broadcast have been distributed (as of December 2000) to site facilitators, project team members, film sites, and other interested individuals.
14) Over 120 copies of the third video in the CERWA series The Future of Agricultural Composting and Compost Use have been distributed (as of Dec. 2000) to site facilitators, project team members, film sites, and other interested individuals.
15) Over 125 composting/compost images have been compiled on a website for access and use by
agricultural professionals in PowerPoint and slide presentations (December 2000).
Educational/informational Materials Produced:
1. Videotape of 2-hour satellite broadcast about agricultural composting, Composting: A Tool for Western Agriculture. The videotape is available for $10 (covers cost of duplication and shipping).
2. Resource notebook of composting information and references. Notebook distributed in support of workshop. Limited copies of the notebook are available upon request.
3. Videotape of the second 2-hour satellite broadcast, Compost: A Resource for Western Agriculture. The videotape is available for $10 (covers cost of duplication and shipping).
4. Resource notebook of information on compost use in agriculture. Limited copies are available on request.
5. Seven issues of the “Compost Connection” newsletter, Available electronically at URL: [http://csanr.wsu.edu/compost].
6. CERWA Answers your Compost Questions Available electronically at the project website [http://www2.aste.usu.cdu/compost] and soon to be transferred to http://csanr.wsu.edu/compost/.
7. CERWA Site Facilitators’ Handbook. Printed a limited number of copies (75, to date). This publication was meant specifically for those people that agreed to host the satellite broadcasts and organize local workshops.
8. Video of the third CERWA program titled, The Future of Agricultural Composting and Compost Use. This one-hour program is presented in three segments on marketing compost, regulations for composting and compost, and emerging technologies in composting. The video is best when presented in segments (each segment is 20 min.) followed by discussion and related local examples.
9. A collection of 125 CERWA Compost Images are available on the web site now housing all CERWA materials. Intended for ag professionals to use in their educational PowerPoint or slide presentations on composting.
Contact for more information on the notebooks, the newsletter and or the online compost images (products 2, 5 and 9): David Granatstein, WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, 1100 Western Ave. N., Wenatchee, WA 98801; 509 663 818 1, ext. 222; firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact for information on the ‘CERWA Answers your Questions’: Cinda Williams, PSES, Box 442339, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844 2339; 208 885 7499; email@example.com
Contact to order CERWA videos (products 1, 2, and 8): Paula Heaton, Agriculture and Extension Education, Video Programs, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844 2332; 208 885 7985; firstname.lastname@example.org
Objective 1: Impart a “beyond the basics” understanding of composting to agricultural professionals (e.g. educators, advisors, and service providers).
To increase the educators’ level of understanding we presented two satellite programs, the first on the composting process and the second on the use of compost. The programs discussed information from the farmers/composters on the specifics of their composting operation or compost use methods, their reasons for making or using compost and the benefits to their operation. The case studies were accompanied by a panel discussion of four composting scientists and consultants. In addition to discussing key issues as prompted by the moderator, they answered specific questions submitted by viewers. Both programs were presented as an overview of what is happening in the west. Each showcased the many ways farmers are composting or using compost based on their crops or feedstocks, climate, local /state regulations, and type of operation.
The first workshop, Composting: A Tool for Western Agriculture, covered the opportunities, benefits, and drawbacks of composting in an agricultural setting. At least 45 local sites in 13 states (plus 2 sites in Canada) received the broadcast. Total attendance at local workshops was estimated to be more than 550. The audience was diverse. Approximately one-fourth of participants were ag professionals in Extension, NRCS, and other governmental agencies. More than one-third of the audience were producers. Other participants were consultants, composters, city and county employees, and members of various organizations. The two-hour broadcast featured pre-taped video of numerous agricultural compost producers from ten states and provinces in the West. Most local workshop sites added to the program with local presentations and discussions. Feedback from viewers has been very positive (see impacts).
The second workshop, Compost: A Resource for Western Agriculture took place on January 14, 1999. It covered the use of compost in agricultural production systems. Most of the local sites that participated in the first workshop also participated in the second workshop, as well as a few new sites. Participation numbers and job classification breakdowns were very similar to the first program. This program focused on topics related to the use of compost, with specific examples from farmers. The panel discussion and Q&A period were similar to the first, except with a new twist — four “experts” from outside the region addressed specific issues via live telephone communication. This added to the breadth of the panel and added a national perspective on issues of compost use.
Resource notebooks were mailed to site facilitators for distribution to all participants at each workshop. The notebooks included current literature, and resource lists, and publications related to each of the satellite topics. The resources served to supplement the workshops and aid participants in teaching their own clientele. A total of 600 notebooks were distributed for each broadcast program.
Both CERWA 1 and CERWA 2 satellite programs were videotaped and copies are available for purchase. We have distributed over 100 copies of each of these videos since they aired.
The third program was developed as a video and mailed to site facilitators who participated in one of the previous two programs. We revised our strategy for doing a third satellite broadcast due to the re ocation of the project leader to a new job in the East. The planning team felt that it was beyond the commitment and capabilities of the remaining team to produce another program for satellite. We decided instead to do a 1-hour stand-alone video. The change from satellite to a video and the delay in launching the video until the spring of 2000 definitely affected the momentum of the project but was necessary for maintaining the quality of the third program. The third part in the CERWA series focuses on The Future of Agricultural Composting and Compost Use. The critical issues we addressed were: (1) regulations both in the process and quality of the product; (2) marketing compost and the issues of product standardization; (3) and emerging composting technologies. The video is one hour long and divided into three sections. It is best used in sections, followed by discussion of local related issues. We have distributed over 120 copies of CERWA 3, both to participants in the project and outside requests from across the country and several other countries.
2. Provide resources for participants to extend composting knowledge to local clientele.
While the videotapes and resource notebooks themselves are useful in doing a composting program, we wanted to provide additional resources and products for agricultural professionals. We felt it was important to provide current updates on research and other activities dealing with agricultural composting.
The latest of CERWA projects (completed in December 2000) is a collection of over 125 composting/compost images that can be viewed and downloaded from the website. Agricultural extension educators and NRCS conservationists will be encouraged to use these images in their PowerPoint and slide presentations. Images are classified and arranged by groups. The site displays a labeled, thumbprint version of the image that can be clicked to enlarge. Most slides are high density visual resolution for use in a variety of media. The URL is http://organic.tfrec.wsu.edu/compost/imagesweb/compImages.html.
CERWA sponsored funding for composting-related tours in the second summer of the project (after the first two satellite programs). The goal of the tours was to provide resources for ag professionals to extend composting knowledge to local clientele. The tours also helped to increase the knowledge and understanding of composting by tour participants. We distributed funds by putting out a call for proposals for mini grants to the CERWA mailing list of 600. We selected 6 proposals, representing 5 states. The funding for the tours helped to extend the educational opportunity to 100 additional participants, both adults and kids. The tours focused on practical hands on aspects of composting (e.g., one group used thermometers to test temperatures of various piles).
3. Establish mechanisms for agricultural professionals to access and retrieve current information about composting and the performance of compost in agricultural production systems.
The CERWA website was established in the summer of 1998 to increase quick access and retrieval of current information on composting. The URL for the site is currently http://www.aste2.usu.edu/compost/. The website initially served as a source of information about the project and the workshops. It also functions as a clearinghouse for compost information, with links to other web sites and CERWA products. As the project ends, it will be transferred from its current site at Utah State University to a WSU site at http://csanr.wsu.edu/compost.
“CERWA Answers Your Questions” was developed as a supplemental resource to help address the multitude of questions that were submitted during the two CERWA satellite broadcasts. Experts from all over the country helped to answer over 100 questions. The Q&A were compiled and organized into 18 topic areas with an average of six Q&A per topic. We released an electronic PDF formatted version (available on the CERWA web site). All site facilitators and project team members were sent a bard copy to introduce the publication and encourage CERWA contacts to refer their workshop participants and others to the online version. The CERWA Q&A document was also advertised on the flyer sent out to announce the third video’s release.
The “Compost Connections” newsletter, originally produced on a state level in Washington, was expanded into a regional publication via this project. The newsletter includes articles about compost-related research, practice, and activities within and beyond the region. A total of eight regional issues have been distributed to all Extension and NRCS offices within the region plus a small number of individual subscribers (1500 distributed of each issue). Issues have also been included in both CERWA resource notebooks and are accessible electronically via the project web site (soon to be added to the WSU site at URL http://csanr.wsu.edu/compost/).
An online compost education course was developed through Washington State University (WSU). Farm case studies from the CERWA videos were used, along with the “On Farm Composting Handbook,” as a text to complement the online resources and discussion forum. Students were expected to maintain their own compost pile. The class was offered on campus and through the WSU extended degree program. WSU faculty are exploring the option of offering the course through Conferences and Professional Programs at WSU, which could make it open to those not wanting the credit option and those in other states.
The CERWA project was significant not just for the content addressed and products developed, but also as a possible model for distance education. The project team’s approach was to enhance the current methods for developing and using satellite programming as an educational tool. One method for improving viewer interest was to include a relatively high percentage of material that was filmed in the field and during on-site interviews. This was a positive step and made the program more interesting and acceptable to participants.
The second program included live call-ins from compost experts across the country that helped to expand the participants contact with experts from various agencies and institutions. The more typical ‘live’ teleconference interaction (with the panel answering questions from participants at the various sites) was effective because we had a diverse panel who could work together to ensure more detailed answers. The weak spot (for both broadcasts) was not being able to answer the mass volume of questions received in the time allowed. To address this concern, the online publication CERWA Answers your Compost Questions was developed. The publication and site URL were advertised in flyers that went out to the entire CERWA mailing list.
Initially, the team thought the satellite ‘specific’ date might limit participation. Part of the reason we went to the video format for the third program was to give the facilitators flexibility for doing their program when it best fit their schedule. The final survey showed that most site facilitators had not used the video (to date) in a compost program. Apparently, it helped for the CERWA team to create the program ‘event.’ It reduced the necessary time commitment for the site facilitators and created a program to expand on at the local level.
The phone survey of site facilitators at the end of project provided some good information on the effectiveness of this project in meeting the objectives. However, the 42 site facilitators were only a small sample of the people who benefited from the CERWA project. It was not feasible (due to limited time and budget) to do a follow up survey on the 550 CERWA participants. Effective evaluations of SARE projects need to include an adequate budget and timeline to accomplish their evaluation objectives.
The pre- and post-test evaluations of the CERWA satellite programs indicate that participants’ needs were not met in some areas (economics, the ‘how to’ of composting). CERWA team members felt the focus of the program was to provide the big picture and let the local groups cover the issues that are so dependent and specific to local variables (the type of operation, feedstocks, markets, climate, and regulations). There was great variability regarding the level of local programming done with the CERWA broadcast, so some participants were only exposed to the regional overview. This issue might be common to regional programs addressing the issues of sustainability that are very site specific in nature.
The network of people connected through CERWA was (and still is) one of the project’s major accomplishments. As listed, the cooperators, partners, and facilitators were a group of 150 people. They contributed time, their expertise, ideas, and other forms of assistance to help us develop the program. Participants in the workshop, visitors to the website, and numerous direct contacts to project team members have resulted in a much wider and interconnected network of people interested in and knowledgeable about composting.
Composting and compost use offer numerous ‘potential’ benefits to agriculture and the environment. By furthering the educational opportunities, the quality and current nature of the information presented, CERWA increased the chances for farmers and ranchers to receive information to help them.
Agricultural professionals who participated in the CERWA program are better able to handle the requests generated by the rising tide of interest in compost. They now have educational materials developed to use in teaching and have names and access to numerous composting professionals throughout the country. CERWA has brought a new understanding of composting and compost including the applications, practices, benefits, and limitations. Agricultural professionals should be better equipped to help farmers determine if composting and/or compost use is right for their operations. Many are also better able to assist farmers in implementing these practices into the production system.
Impact on Agricultural Professionals
During the two-plus years of the project we employed various evaluation tools to measure the impact of the CERWA program and products on agricultural professionals. We used pre- and post-test strategies for the two satellite programs. Some of the questions asked were able to measure short-term impacts on participants and site facilitators. We had separate evaluations for site facilitators and were able to ask additional questions about how well the program worked for them. The CERWA 3 video evaluation was set up as a basic rating of the quality of the information and value of it to the viewer. Probably the most significant indications of the overall impact of the total program was related though a phone survey of site facilitators done in October of 2000. We hired the University of Idaho’s Social Science Research Unit to do this survey. Results indicated that CERWA did have an impact on the site facilitators and also spurred some increase in the number of farmers exploring the opportunities of making or using compost.
A snapshot of the evaluation and survey results follow below. The evaluation documents are attached.
Evaluation results demonstrating the project’s effectiveness and impacts
Objective 1: Impart a “beyond the basics” understanding of composting to agricultural professionals.
Evaluations of CERWA #1 satellite program were conducted as pre- and post-tests. The responses of participants and site facilitators were separated. For the purpose of demonstrating the projects impact on ag professionals we will use the site facilitators. Most site facilitators were educators, technical information providers, or composting consultants.
The pre- and post-test evaluations indicated an increase in the percentage of site facilitators rating their level of understanding of compost topics at either excellent or good following the programs. The following represents the percentage of site facilitators that indicated they had a good or excellent understanding of these topics, both before and after:
- diversity of composting systems 47% (pre) to 100% (post)
- reasons to compost on the farm 70% (pre) to 95% (post)
- types of composting methods 65% (pre) to 100% (post)
- important attributes of compost 80% (pre) to 96% (post)
- cultural practices for using compost 55% (pre) to 95% (post)
- economic value of compost 55% (pre) to 95% (post)
Participants (both ag professionals and farmers) of the third CERWA program indicated the video was very useful to them and of high quality. Scale was from 1 to 5 (with 5 = excellent). The video was rated a 4.2 for usefulness of information. The quality of the program was rated at a 4.0. A few small scale growers indicated that it did not meet their needs because it was focused on large scale systems. One participant, a government waste management specialist, provided these comments: “Good, accurate, and reliable information that was not too technical and therefore was easy to absorb and understand. I did learn some new things that will be valuable to my work, Gave me a good feel for the existing and emerging trends, technology and issues. A very good video.”
A follow-up telephone survey of site facilitators conducted October 2000 (at the end of program) indicated that 41% were not informed or not well enough informed about composting and compost use before the CERWA program. After the program, 100% indicated they were adequately or very well informed (with 62% indicating they were very well informed, up from 19%).
Objective No. 2: Provide resources for participants to extend composting knowledge to local clientele.
After the first CERWA program site facilitators indicated:
- 81% would definitely tell others what I learned
- 67% would definitely read information
- 86% would definitely share information
- 76% would definitely teach others
After the second CERWA program site facilitators indicated:
- 77% would definitely share information
- 86% would definitely teach others
By providing a minimal amount of funding for composting tours, interested ag professionals had the opportunity to extend the knowledge and resources from the CERWA project to their clientele. An additional 100 people from five states were reached. The local tours provided the more hands on, demonstration type learning that has a greater impact on increasing the knowledge of participants.
A follow-up telephone survey of site facilitators (conducted October 2000) found that:
- 98% said CERWA provided them with the materials they needed to address issues and educate clientele about composting and compost use.
- 98% said the live satellite programs were helpful or very helpful.
- 98% also said the value of the resource notebooks were helpful or very helpful.
One hundred percent of site facilitators said they told others about what they had learned (either somewhat or a great deal). Sixty four percent said they shared the resources to a great extent, and 71% said they taught composting programs using the CERWA materials.
Objective No. 3: Establish mechanisms for agricultural professionals to access and retrieve current information about composting and compost use in agriculture.
A follow-up telephone survey of site facilitators conducted October 2000 found:
- 98% of those receiving The Compost Connection newsletter indicated it was helpful or very helpful.
- 98% of those receiving the CERWA Q&A indicated it was helpful or very helpful.
- Only 45% of site facilitators used the web site. However, of the group that did, 95% found the website helpful or very helpful. We do know that other ag professionals used the site; approximately 30 people filled in the guest book on the CERWA site. (A copy is attached.)
Reactions from Farmers
Farmers who are (or are considering) composting or using compost have responded very positively to the CERWA project. Most composters are eager to spread the news to increase the information, knowledge and acceptability of their product. Many farmers were cooperators on this project. They donated their time for interviews and film footage of their operations. They encouraged tours to their farms and have been most agreeable to work with during this project.
Farmers who participated in CERWA activities indicated they felt this was a quality program with useful information. Participants (which included 30% farmers) demonstrated an increase in knowledge related to composting and compost use following the satellite programs and the percentage that said they would tell others, share the resources and/or adopt new practices was relatively high. Although not as high as the percentages for the site facilitators, we might assume that the significance is Just as relevant since farmers often learn from other farmers.
The pre- and post-test evaluations indicated that participants’ understanding of compost topics increased following the programs. The following represents the percentage of participants that indicated they had a good or excellent understanding of these topics, both before and after:
- diversity of composting systems 28% (Pre) to 92% (Post)
- reasons to compost on the farm 74% (Pre) to 90% (Post)
- types of composting methods 45% (Pre) to 87% (Post)
- important attributes of compost 62% (Pre) to 87% (Post)
- cultural practices for using compost 41% (Pre) to 69% (Post)
- economic value of compost 51% (Pre) to 68% (Post)
Participants of the two CERWA programs indicated they would definitely:
- tell others what I learned (51-56%)
- adopt practices (28%
- read information (57-67%)
- share resources (48-58%)
Numerous operations that were just ‘considering’ composting were spurred on by the information brought forth in this program. Specific examples from a recent survey of CERWA site facilitators are listed under Farm Level Impacts.’
Farm Level Impacts
The CERWA project made an impact on practices on the farm. Although the following has not been validated through collection of data, these were qualitative observations by involved ag professionals who are working with farmers.
Forty-nine percent of site facilitators said they thought CERWA had an influence on increasing composting in their area. Here are specific examples they provided:
- Slight increase, 2 plant nurseries that were not composting are now!
- A major fruit company became interested in composting and began producing some of their own compost. Increased number of growers began using compost on farms.
- Several small farms began composting in a better way on their farms. Piqued interest in community.
- Seattle’s Pike Place Market is working with farmers to compost their farm waste.
- It helped to introduce the concept of in-house poultry waste composting to local egg producers.
- Had 4 dairy producers go into composting — the program helped them make some decisions.
Forty-six percent of site facilitators said CERWA increased the use of compost in their area. Here are their direct quotes:
- Slight increase in nurseries.
- Part of training focused on appropriate use of compost, some may have decided it wasn’t right in their situation; helps make decisions.
- Appropriate materials are being reincorporated instead of taken to landfill.
- There has been an increase since the information was dispersed.
- Increased numbers of farmers using the waste but have no specific example.
- Orchards. Just the tip of the iceberg. Orchards are starting to use compost.
- Neighboring farmers are more likely to use composted poultry manure on their land as compared to raw poultry manure that was previously available.
- Sugar beet growers arc doing more to pile up green material and gardeners use clippings now.
Two of the site facilitators indicated that even if CERWA didn’t increase the use of composting or compost use, it provided many people with more information and a basis for making their decisions.