The Youth Entrepreneurs in Agriculture provided a series of six farm tours, surveying a variety of agricultural operations suitable for small-scale acreage. Half of the farms were organic, or used strictly sustainable methods of production. The other half used traditional methods, with less emphasis on sustainable practices. Discussion was held both on the farm and in the classroom to compare the methods.
The primary objective of the farm tour program was to introduce youth to the value of sustainable methods, particularly as they relate to small-acreage farms.
The second objective was to introduce the youth to the “business” of farming; that is, to begin to explore the financial aspects of production and marketing. The corollary to this topic is the increased value of the organic or natural product in the marketplace.
Long-term goals of the project were to help influence future farmers to increase the number of acres locally that are in sustainable production, enhancing environmental quality; assist future farmers to increase the economic viability of the farm operations; and to make efficient use of nonrenewable and on-farm resources and integrate natural biological cycles and controls.
A total of 22 youth and adults attended the farm tours, with 12 attending all 6 tours. One factor we did not anticipate was that it all of the participants came with the whole family; no teens ended up participating without parents. This also meant that there were several younger children attending the tours as well. As a result, our curriculum was less rigidly focused on the teen age group than we had anticipated. Each farmer took pains to have something for the youngest children to see and do; each one also addressed many questions asked by older youth and parents.
The farmers that used sustainable methods (two were certified organic, the third markets their products as “naturally raised”) were extremely enthusiastic and very articulate about why they chose sustainable methods. Additionally, each one emphasized the financial benefits of products in this market. One farmer demonstrated multi-species production, utilizing very small units of acreage. Pastured poultry contributed to fertilizing the pastures; sheep and hogs rotated on the same area as well. Each was harvested at a different time, and together they maintained an income stream that was balanced over the year. The dairy farmer emphasized the benefits of the organic coop to which he belongs, and which contracts with him for a year in advance, adding to the stability of his operation and enabling him to successfully plan for the future. The CSA demonstrated the extremely wide variety of produce that can be successfully cultivated both in the field and in the greenhouse in our area. Additionally, they discussed the model of pre-paid membership sales, which is a unique way to market vegetable produce.
Due to busy schedules, county fairs and other time constraints, we were not able to tour the two flower farms (dahlias and peonies) that we had hoped to see; fall weather prohibited our tour of the cranberry bogs. We anticipate that many of the members of the 2007 tour will try to get together in the coming year to see places we were unable to visit this year.
Grays Harbor County, located on the central coast of Washington State, has a long history of agricultural production. Most of the population lives outside of the two small cities; a large percentage are rural and/or farm families.
Recent changes in agricultural economics have meant reductions in family farm income for many. Some traditional methods of farming are less economically profitable; additionally, many families have small acreage tracts that must be carefully utilized in order to be productive farms.
Economic trends have made it difficult for many young people who are interested in staying in the county to find employment. At the same time, the rise in niche markets, especially organic and naturally-grown products, offers an opportunity for people with small acreage to optimize their land resources. This project was piloted in order to provide a wide and diverse vision to those youth who are interested in entering new positions in our agricultural marketplace.
Youth and families were recruited from 4-H clubs, through fairs and other youth-oriented events. Letters and invitations to join the tours were also extended to all FFA educators and youth.
The farm tour schedule was designed by the participants themselves. Pre-tour planning identified local operations that would appropriately showcase either a product or concept for the group. The producer (this was a professional/producer project) was responsible for recruiting farm tour sites, and for helping farmers prepare for the tour and to address particular topics.
The group met at a central point prior to each tour. A packet of information was prepared from Extension resources of basic information about the product of the farm to be visited. A farm tour sheet and/or activity guide was part of the handout. All youth were given a notebook to compile a resource and record of the tours.
Transportation funds were provided by the grant. Parents of participating families were reimbursed for mileage. Snacks were also provided.
The group was responsible for choosing which farms were of most interest. Therefore, the schedule was set from month to month, and not pre-determined by the leaders.
A series of personal interviews and paper survey were the means of evaluation used.
Participants were recruited from area 4-H clubs, through youth-oriented events, and advertised heavily at the county fair. FFA teachers and students were also invited to attend.
A series of six farm tours was planned. The project leaders met for pre-planning purposes to delineate coherent concepts and to design a series of tours that would present a number of new ideas, products, methods and marketing options for small acreage operations. Many local farms were identified. Two were chosen for the first tour day, based upon appropriate seasonal crops.
The group met each scheduled day prior to the tour. A packet was prepared from Extension web resources relevant to the facility to be toured. Farm tour questionnaires/note pages were also distributed. Each youth participating assembled a notebook with these worksheets and printed articles and resources.
Transportation funding was provided by the grant. Parents were reimbursed for mileage: ride-sharing was done wherever possible. Snacks were provided.
After each tour, the group discussed the completed tour. The leaders presented possible choices for the next tour, and the group decided on which type of farm or product they wanted to see next. Arrangements were thus made one tour at a time, but the decisions were guided in order to present a coherent set of concepts, as well as a diverse variety of crops, products, and marketing methods.
Evaluation was done via personal interview and a short paper survey, measuring increased knowledge and behavior changes.
The following decisions were made by the participants of the farm tours:
Two of the families used the farm tour materials as part of the youths’ home school curriculum (totaling seven youth between 12 and 19).
Two of the families decided to try a small hog operation (using natural methods) for sale and for home use.
Three families decided to raise pastured poultry (also using natural methods) to augment family income.
Two families have already planted blueberries.
One family decided to create a separate 4-H club to feature the projects that specifically related to the farm tours; one other family involved in the tour has already joined that club.
One family is planning a produce farm stand.
Educational & Outreach Activities
A simple outline/curriculum has been developed to assist others who may be planning a farm tour project. It includes both organizational suggestions, and curriculum guidelines. It is divided into activities/notes for adults and older youth, and a separate set of activities, questions, and so forth for younger children.
The program will be presented at the Land Grant Youth Entrepreneurship Symposium in June, 2008 at Penn State University.
We were able to complete six excellent farm visits, viewing seven separate operations, as proposed.
A short guideline/curriculum has been produced that can be used by others wanting to replicate this project. We expanded our original concept to provide activities for younger children.
The farm tour program provided a pilot for providing sustainable agriculture education for youth particularly interested in small-acreage farm operations. Intended long-term impacts would include increased awareness and utilization of sustainable methods, and better understanding of profitable niche markets.
Youth involved in traditional ag-related programs have many opportunities to learn about how to raise animals and other agricultural products. Some of the opportunities to engage in the marketing side of agricultural production (especially youth livestock auctions) may create unrealistic expectations regarding the long-term profitability of their products.
The leaders of this project encourage increased emphasis on teaching youth the financial business aspects of farming. Teaching farm planning with a view to improving profitability of small acreage farming could be done through the 4-H program, FFA, and other venues.