SARE funded the development of a video to introduce important concepts of sustainable agriculture and provide real-life examples of farmers who have incorporated sustainable practices into their farming operations. This project was linked to several other initiatives at the University of Illinois which provided information, contacts and funding (including Jennifer’s graduate stipend). Our overall objective was to increase the use of sustainable practices among farmers; we hope to achieve that objective by increasing awareness and understanding among farmers who are then willing and more able to try sustainable practices on their farms. Our target audience included Extension audiences and high school students who are considering their future in agriculture. Several of the video examples provide sound evidence that smaller scale operations (less than 500 acres) can be profitable. For the prospective farmer in Illinois, this is new information and possibly the only feasible route to a beginning farmer. We hope that our video and educational materials serve the future farmers of Illinois who may be, as one of our farmer advisors said, “farming a whole different way from our grandfathers.”
Our purpose in this project has been to document examples of farmers using sustainable practices. The motivation to try sustainable practices can come from seeing and understanding examples which are similar to our own situations. By providing examples from “our own backyard,” we hope to increase the number of farmers using sustainable practices. SARE provided funding for the development of a video which portrays a few critical topics related to sustainable agriculture and links those topics to examples of farmers in Illinois.
In the short term, we developed a video portraying successful examples of sustainable agricultural practices, and created a manual to guide Educators as they use the educational video. In the long run, we hope to increase farmers’ understanding of sustainable agriculture and provide examples of sustainable practices that they might use. If high school teachers and Extension Educators increase their understanding of sustainable agriculture and have a good tool (the video) to introduce the issues, we hope that the number and success of farmers using sustainable practices will increase.
We collected information from farmers, Extension Educators, University researchers and high school teachers to identify the topics which were most important to understanding the concepts of sustainability, and those teaching tools which would fulfill the State of Illinois K-12 science requirements. With this information, we developed a short list of topics to address in the video, wrote the script, and then found examples of farmers who would describe their experiences on the video. The video purposely introduces the complexity and the values of the topic without providing answers or “solutions,” so as to encourage discussion among viewers. As we made progress in developing the ideas, script and video, we worked with an advisory committee from a rural county (Christian County, Illinois) to guide our thinking and the development of the project. The advisory committee included farmers, business owners, farm business owners, teachers, persons working in the health care industry, persons from the media, elected officials, and youth.
In the first phase of the project, we developed the content for the video, including the language best used and the topics which are most important to address. In the second phase of funding, we contacted producers to develop their “case examples” for the video. In the final phase of the project, we used the information to write the video script; shoot, edit and produce the video; and develop the supplementary materials that Educators can use with the video.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The video will be available in DVD form and on the web. The web version will be available at no charge; the DVD will be available for purchase for $25, which covers our cost of duplication. Supplementary written materials will be available for download from the web.
At this point, the impact of the project is undeveloped, since we don’t have the video distributed and it is unlikely to be incorporated into a high school curriculum until Fall 2007 or into Extension programming until Educators develop their new programs for the winter “meeting season” which will begin in fall 2007. Next summer, we will use the video and supplementary materials in the summer agriculture programs provided to K-12 teachers in Illinois.
We did not conduct an economic analysis as part of this project.
Our project is designed to increase farmer adoption of sustainable practices in two ways: to provide new ideas and support for beginning and potential farmers (including high school students) and ideas for alternatives for conventional farmers; and to reinforce the choices of farmers using sustainable practices.
Areas needing additional study
Our project did not address the next questions, but it became evident that there is additional information famers need regarding economic analysis of alternative enterprises that incorporate emerging risks such as environmental considerations, changes in energy costs, and changing consumer preferences.