BACKGROUND AND FARM DESCRIPTION
My farm consists of 30 acres, 6 wooded with the balance pasture and gardens. Although my operation is small, it is very diverse with an emphasis on rare breeds of livestock and heirloom vegetables and fruits. I raise Belted Galloway and Milking Shorthorn cattle, Silver Appleyard ducks, American Buff geese, and many varieties of chickens. My gardens are over an acre in size and include gooseberries, raspberries, herbs, pumpkins, popcorn, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant and many other vegetables.
The farm is not certified organic because of the paperwork and in my opinion the lax organic standards. Only sustainable practices are used with livestock allowed access to pasture on all but the very coldest of days. All manure, bedding, garden and kitchen waste is composted. During the grant project, I set-up a worm composting routine. Also during the grant project we experimented with using the ducks and geese as weed and pest control. This went well, the kids especially enjoyed this and I am working on getting the kinks out so that I can use this on a larger scale.
My goals for this project included educating children about local, sustainable food production, seasonal eating and heritage breeds of livestock. Much of my research involved talking with children, parents, teachers, 4-H leaders, master gardeners, other farmers, and MSU extension agents. Another part of my research used the internet and I found several curriculums and educational books that I purchased and used/evaluated. A dairy farmer in another county implemented a farm camp after talking with me at a harvest festival and had a good turn-out. Our county extension agent, Cathy Newkirk, was very helpful and supportive of my efforts.
Measuring results has been difficult. I was disappointed with the small number of kids that signed up for my camp and have given a lot of thought on how to attract more kids. The kids that did attend my camp loved it and have stayed in contact with me; I feel that I have made a positive difference in their future commitment to local food. Two of the boys visit regularly and help out around the farm – the sense of belonging and accomplishment they have gained made this whole project worthwhile.
What I learned from this grant is that while there is a growing interest in local food, our community may not be ready to pay for this kind of educational experience. I will try targeting a larger area next year.
An advantage of this type of project is that in addition to the kids learning about local food, their families become customers and advocates of local farms. I will have to evaluate the cost factor as I ended up doing much of the camp and outreach activities free of charge which was not my original intent but the only way to achieve my goals. I would recommend this project to other producers as a way to foster community support for agriculture and as a form of advertising. The time and cost are high to start up, but once a program is up and running there is not a lot of cost to keep it going.
One of the benefits I did not appreciate in my original proposal was that by creating a safe, attractive learning environment for the kids, I also improved the overall appearance of my farm and made it more visitor-friendly and somewhere consumers would feel confident in buying their food. I have seen an increase in people stopping by to see what we have for sale.
Another lesson that I have learned from this grant is that I expected too much for the first year. I need to evaluate my results over a long period of time and continue working towards my goals without becoming discouraged.
My outreach methods evolved over the course of the grant project. I was able to find several methods of outreach that I had not been aware of when filling out my grant proposal. One of these outreach opportunities has come thru the community education program at our local school district. I will be teaching a course on local food systems using much of what I learned during my grant project, and using the materials I purchased to reach a broader audience.
Another outreach opportunity came thru our state 4-H program; I am part of a group of people evaluating agriculture type curriculums and will again be able to share what I learned and the resources I put together for my grant project. This is a great way to reach more kids as this group has a great deal of influence on what materials are available to 4-H clubs statewide.
I also hosted a field trip for children and their families thru a local church and hope to expand on this using the feedback received so far. About a dozen children and their parents attended. Also I hosted a tour for the ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens). The school-age material was appropriate for this group and it was an incredible experience to share my farm with this group of individuals, who so much appreciated my efforts. Another church is very open to the concept of a community garden and I am working to bring that to life using again many of the skills I gained thru my grant project. The final component to my outreach effort is a booklet outlining my project, although I will need at least another year of results in order to make this a valuable tool for other producers.
In evaluating the producer grant program I would have to say I am very thankful for it. I would not have been able to fund this project on my own, Also I would encourage communication and support from the SARE staff. Prior to the farm visit by Joan Benjamin and her associate I had become discouraged and because the results did not go just as I had planned I felt that my project had failed. But after talking over the project they offered suggestions and helped me to put my progress into perspective. This encouragement gave me a “second wind” and it was then that I looked for and found additional outreach opportunities.