Final Report for FNC12-896

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $22,319.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

Our three project farms, Bertrand Farm, Prairie Winds Farm and Clay Bottom Farm are all different in our expertise in production though each of us is passionate that local small farm production is the future of food security in our communities. We are all committed to the education of future farmers and have come together to help encourage other small farming enterprises to include interns and an educational component in their farm business. 

Our project goal was to develop 24 educational power point modules that would serve as resources to farmers as an educational curriculum, appropriate for college credit, that farmers in the North Central Region can use to train beginning farmers in sustainable and profitable food-growing practices. 

Our project involved hiring interns interested in sustainable agriculture and getting their help in developing these in-depth power points on farm topics. Farm topics/practices included a list of 32  that we considered most important in a sustainable small farming model for a beginner farmer. The three farms  involved in this grant were each responsible to hire their own interns.

We advertised for interns on the ATTRA site, the WWoof site and 10 college internship sites. The ATTRA site brought the most interest. During the two growing seasons this grant covered, our three farms collectively hired 9 interns, with 3 staying two seasons. 

Each internship started with an interview with the primary question asked; “What are you most interested in getting out of this experience?” This information allowed our three farm hosts, because of our diversity in production, to include educational components that met the interest for all without deviating from our own farm work. Our three host farms brought a large range of expertise in different areas which made the experience for our interns that much bigger and better and allowed host farmers to divide and conquer the educational components. I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to join with other area small farmers and work together to provide an intern education program. It’s great for the farmers to be able to split up the time-consuming educational components and presentations and it’s a great social outlet for the interns to gather together on those occasions.

Each intern was asked to choose two, from our list of 32, farming topics that most interested them to do their power point project on. Their assignment was to research the topic and create a power point that would thoroughly teach the subject matter. We provided an outline on each topic as a starting point (revised from Farm Internship Curriculum & Handbook 2008 (FW05-018).  We held weekly educational lectures, video viewings and local farm tours as part of our intern education. We also hosted six ½ day seminars for interns that were open to the public also. As well, the interns worked 30 hours a week on farm. Because our internships required the power point presentation development we only hired interns who could commit to a minimum of 12 weeks. Time was set aside each week for interns to work on these presentations. Originally we had hoped to have interns attend an early Spring and late Fall weekend seminar but were unable to get interns to commit to those so we included season extention information in our summer experience as best we could. 

Each completed Power Point module went through several layers of critique and editing including: peers, farmers and a university professor.

Our project was supported by our local NRCS offices, both Indiana and Michigan. They posted our seminars to local farmers and participated in our webinar presentation. In addition to our three hosting farms we visited five local small farm enterprises involved in sustainable farming models. Each gave us tours of their farms and shared some of their expertise. Interns reciprocated by working a 1/2 day at the hosting farm. The visited farms included: Granor Farm, Three Oaks, MI; Daisy Farm, Buchanan, MI; The House family farm in Buchanan, MI; Niles, MI community gardens; Nature’s Way Farm in Bremen, IN; Kankakee Wetland Organic Gardens and Holy Cross Village Unity Gardens in South Bend, IN.    

Our final review of power point modules was completed by Steve Hallett at Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN. His assistant, Tamara Benjamin, became our contact person and gave us some feedback on power point modules. Tamara is also organizing a coalition of small sustainable farm enterprises in Indiana and she hosted a conference in Indianapolis for small farmers that Charlotte attended.

Kathy Sipple, Social Media Strategist & Trainer, worked with us to record a webinar presentation introducing our internship curriculum to small farmers and to help us market through social media.      

We completed 26 Power Point modules that we consider great learning resources for beginner farmers. Our first season with interns on this project presented a learning curve. The power points they created needed a tremendous amount of editing and further research. What we did differently the second season was to conduct critiques early on (week two) and have the interns keep their work on a shared google document so we could actually check into their progress throughout the season. By having the interns present their “first version” of the power point by week five of the internship we were able to get a much higher quality finished product by the end of the internship.

Our exit interviews asked the interns to evaluate our educational presentation on a list of 32 sustainable farm practices. Each is listed separately and the interns are asked to simply check mark how thorough the presentation of the topic material was presented during the internship. Checked answers could range from poor to excellent. We also asked for feedback on what we did well and what they thought we could do better and how.

Most intern responses were very positive and we got some great constructive critiques that have already improved our program.

In working with interns over the years I have come to believe the most valuable experience for them is achieved by living on farm and being available exclusively to the farm cycle daily. I say this because it is a culture that cannot be truly appreciated part-time, or weekdays only and I think that is an important part of what the intern should learn. I say that here so fellow farmers, in looking for interns, should consider this component in presenting an internship experience.

Interns come in all different personalities and work ethics. Hosting interns requires sensitive management at times. Farmers who take on interns need to be good communicators and be patient with the process.  

Our finished curriculum modules are published on the Bertrand Farm website at www.bertrandfarm.org and are available free there in pdf form.  If the user is interested in manipulating the power point presentations for their own use we are offering a flashdrive version of all power point modules for purchase through Bertrand Farm at a cost of $50.   Located on this same site is the recorded webinar introduction to the curriculum module series. The webinar was hosted live on March 10th and recorded for future use. It is available to the public on the Bertrand Farm website and is hosted on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePbty8Y9Zlo). The original presentation of the webinar was conducted on March 10, 2014 to introduce our curriculum project and to encourage farm internships that involve an educational component. 

Bertrand Farm will continue to carry the “Beginner Farmer” web page on our website and add to the module listings as new power points are completed and current listings are updated. 

Project Objectives:

In keeping with the model set by the Kansas City project, our project will combine farm work hours, workshops, and reading assignments to create a comprehensive experiential learning program for our interns. We will refine and apply to better suit the needs of our area, the 30 module curriculum already developed in Farm Internship Curriculum & Handbook 2008 (FW05-018). We will include a PowerPoint presentation for at least 24 of the modules. Uniquely, our program will involve the interns themselves in refining and expanding each of their chosen individual modules. Development of the written curriculum, along with hosting interns at our 3 farms, will set the stage for a more comprehensive internship program development effort to follow in our area.

Cooperators

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Research

Participation Summary
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.