The objective of this educational/demonstration project was to help individual family farmers become more sustainable economically and environmentally by learning how to adopt more sustainable agricultural enterprises, production systems, or marketing systems, thus improving the economic and social sustainability of rural communities in eastern Ohio.
In eastern Ohio, small farms predominate the rolling hilly terrain which makes up the Appalachian portion of the state. In most of these counties, agriculture and natural resources make up the largest portion of the economy, providing the foundation for other segments of the local economy. Many of the farm families in these counties have been experiencing economic stress due to rising land values and depressed commodity prices for the traditional farm products historically produced in this area. Additionally, environmental quality (surface water quality, erosion, soil health) has been degraded through the use of certain traditional production practices (monoculture, extensive tillage, decreasing soil organic matter, etc.)
At the same time, many of these counties are experiencing significant population growth as residents of nearby urban areas (Canton, Akron, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, PA) purchase rural land to build homes and operate “farmettes”. This expanding population can provide existing farm families with a customer base for direct marketing of alternative crops, livestock products, and value added products.
PROJECT DESRIPTION AND RESULTS
Objectives – this project had the following objectives as identified in the producer grant application:
– Farm families will increase their knowledge and understanding of various sustainable and alternative agricultural enterprises, production systems and marketing systems
– The number of farm families adopting alternative enterprises, production systems or marketing systems will increase.
This project involved the expansion and strengthening of the largest educational field day in the United States focused entirely on small scale farms and alternative agriculture. The Country Living Field Day is a day long educational program held on four adjoining farms in Eastern Ohio. The field day features workshops, seminars, farm tours, commercial exhibits, educational displays and an extensive children’s program.
Human capital is the strength and defining concept of the Country Living Field Day. During the two year span of this project, 1084 individuals volunteered to plan and conduct the Country Living Field Day. A committee comprised of farmers, Extension Personnel, and agribusiness leaders provide leadership for the planning of the event. While four farm families provide their farms for the event, many more farmers donate equipment, supplies, and countless hours of labor to plan and execute the event. Leadership for the event is provided by the local Ohio State University Extension Office, and several local, state and federal agricultural agencies assist with the event (USDA-NRCS, ODA, ODNR, SWCE, etc.)
This producer grant allowed the planning committee to expand and strengthen an educational program that reaches thousands of farm families each year. Selected results of this project during the two year period of the grant include the following outcomes:
Short Term Outcomes:
– Physical improvements to the field day site allowed for increased participation in the educational programs. During the two year period a total of 6559 individuals participated in the event. These individuals came from a total of 104 Ohio counties, 20 other states, and Canada.
– The caliber of instructors for the event was strengthened during the two year grant period, with internationally recognized sustainable agriculture experts Joel Salatin, Jim Gerrish, and Dr. Ann Clark sharing their expertise at the event.
– The number of educational presentations at the event was increased as additional program tents and speakers were funded through producer grant funds.
– An additional day long, hands on grazing workshop conducted at the field day site the day prior to the field day was developed with the assistance of producer grant funds. More than 140 livestock producers participated in this workshop during the two year period.
– In a random sample (n=269) of Country Living Field Day participants over the two year period of this producer grant, 97% of respondents indicated that they increased their knowledge or skills relative to small scale and alternative agriculture as a result of their participation in the event.
– The number of farm families adopting alternative enterprises, alternative marketing systems, or alternative production systems has increased. During the two year period of this producer grant, a total of 98 farm families have indicated that they have adopted an alternative enterprise, marketing system, or production system on their farm.
Long Tern Outcomes:
– The long term sustainability of the Country Living Field Day has been increased due to the improvements made with funding provided by this producer grant.
The scope of this producer grant project was outreach in nature, (educational program) as opposed to research or demonstration. Extensive media (print, radio and tv) coverage was received through the development of a publicity packet, a website, a photo library, and a videotape. During the two year period of this producer grant, more than 640 contacts were made with various local, statewide and national media outlets.
Additionally, the planning committee has conducted additional outreach in the form of assisting other groups in developing similar educational programs for farm families in other parts of Ohio and in other states. The committee has assisted three groups with the development and planning of educational programs similar to the Country Living Field Day.