Evaluating Interaction of Urban Farmers and Extension Educators in Metropolitian Kansas City

Final Report for GNC12-163

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Rhonda Janke
Kansas State University
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Project Information


With the increasing popularity of urban farming, more people are seeking resources to start their own farming/growing production in urban environments. Traditionally, county Extension educators are a key resource for beginning farmers and growers. However, urban Extension offices are often overlooked as resources in the urban farming planning process. The objectives of this study are 1) identify information urban farmers currently have, information they need, and their preferred delivery methods 2) look at the resources and information that are offered by local Extension educators in the KC metro area and 3) analyze how these two groups are communicating and what could improve to meet farmers? needs. This project evaluates current interaction between urban farmers and Extension educators in the Kansas City area through a two-pronged approach: a written mail-out questionnaire for urban farmers and growers in the Kansas City metropolitan area and through in-person one-on-one interviews with Extension educators that emphasize topic areas related to urban agriculture in the KC area. One hundred and nineteen farmers/growers were surveyed, and a 54.6% response rate was achieved. The majority of farmers had small, diversified farms and were relatively new to farming. Respondents were primarily older, white men that had higher education. Independently-driven sources (such as self-research, other farmers, and friends/family) were most commonly used sources among farmers. Overall, respondents ranked Extension highly in terms of information quantity, quality and as their “go to” source. Extension educators from Kansas State University, University of Missouri, and Lincoln University were interviewed one-on-one using scripted interview questions to determine topics and medias of information that are currently being offered. Production and processing information is offered the most by educators followed by distribution, equipment, and marketing information. Financial information was the least offered information topic. Extension educators use a wide variety of methods to distribute information. Most Extension educators are aware of benefits and barriers relating to urban agriculture in the KC metro area. Extension educators are addressing urban agriculture in varying degrees and the level of involvement differs among the three Extension institution.


Information Needs of Urban Farmers: 

Many previous surveys with urban farmers and gardeners have been conducted by other researchers. Most of them address the role of community gardens, demographics of gardeners, and the social and economic benefits of participating in urban agriculture. However, direct measures of urban farmers’ information needs are very limited. The Vancouver Urban Farming Society is currently collecting data looking at best practices for urban farmers, while New York University, Pennsylvania State University and the National Center for Appropriate Technology are currently conducting a study examining urban and peri-urban farmers’ information and production needs.


Since there is a lack of research literature regarding information needs for urban farmers, the closest estimate would be to look at small-scale farmers and non-traditional farmers such as organic producers. Although there are no publications looking at the average profile of urban farmers selling for profit, it is widely estimated that many of them do not produce on large amounts of land and are more inclined to use organic or other alternative and innovative practices.


The abundance of knowledge available to farmers, both from public and private sources, has grown dramatically in the last few decades, while becoming increasingly helpful and valuable to these farmers. Applicable information is especially needed by small-scale farmers, which most urban farmers are considered. The 2007 U.S. Agriculture Census found that small farms (those that had annual gross sale less than $250,000) represent about 91% of total U.S. farms. About 71% of total U.S. farms have annual gross sale of less than $25,000 (U.S. Ag Census, 2007). It follows then that Extension services should start to cover more innovative farm practices aimed towards these small-scale farmers.


Areas that farmers often request more information in are marketing, farm economics, business management, risk management, and more in depth practice instruction.  A recent study in Kansas found that organic farmers preferred more research and information regarding inputs through production, processing, manufacturing, distribution, retail and consumer patterns, and growing information that is specific to local/regional climates, soils, and pest cycles.


            With the increasing popularity in urban farming, more people are seeking out resources to start their own fruit and/or vegetable production in urban environments. Traditionally, in rural environments, county Extension educators have been a key resource when starting individual food production businesses. However, urban Extension offices are often overlooked as resources in the urban farming planning process. There are resources that urban Extension offices offer that are still applicable to urban farmers, but often they are underutilized. This could be due to a wide range of information about urban farming readily available online or the production/ business systems that urban farmers must partake in are unfamiliar to Extension educators.


            When urban agriculture is on the upswing, it is crucial to connect potential and current urban farmers to all available resources and networks within their area. This increases chances of farmer success. By evaluating the urban farmers' needs and wants as well as the resources that are available from Extension offices, awareness can be raised about current resources and local relationships can be formed. Through these relationships and collaborations, farmers' profitability will increase, community connections will be made, and the community as a whole will benefit from the increased exposure and knowledge of the urban food system and the benefits it provides.


Project Objectives:

The objectives of this study are 1) identify information urban farmers currently have, information they need, and their preferred delivery methods 2) look at the resources and information that are offered by local Extension educators in the KC metro area and 3) analyze how these two groups are communicating and what could improve to meet farmers? needs.


Materials and methods:

The study area consisted of five Missouri counties and four Kansas counties that are included in the Kansas City Metropolitan area. Clay, Cass, Jackson, Platte, and Ray counties were included on the Missouri side and Leavenworth, Johnson, Wyandotte, and Miami counties were included on the Kansas side. Both the farmer and grower survey participants as well as the Extension educators were chosen because they either live or work within these nine counties.


The farmer/grower survey was designed in the winter of 2012 and approved (#6489) by the Institutional Review Board of Kansas State University in January 2013. The survey consisted of 50 questions, including a mixture of ranking, mark all that apply, and open-ended questions. Questions regarding farm characteristics, topics of information needs and preferences, farmer experience, barriers, farm marketing and financial status, and farmer demographics were asked. The paper survey was designed as an eight-page booklet that was mailed out to a list of potential survey participants.


Our list of survey participants was compiled with the help of Cultivate Kansas City, the Kansas City Food Policy Council, the Kansas City Food Circle, and several area farmers’ market managers. The initial list of participants consisted of 133 farms in the nine-county study area of metropolitan Kansas City. Several farms declined to participate and several surveys were undeliverable by the mail service. One hundred and nineteen farms were the final number of farms included in the study.


Dillman’s five part mail-out survey method was used to distribute the survey.  Of our 119 farms included in the study, 69 returned surveys with 65 of them usable. That corresponds to a 54.6% response rate.  Returned surveys were then collected and tallied to find descriptive statistics and trends. Further statistical analysis was run to find significance on high priority questions. These questions included what types of information were most needed by urban farmers, how difficult was it to gather information on certain topics, what sources were currently used by urban farmers, what media formats and interpersonal formats were used by urban farmers, how did urban farmers prefer to learn, and how did urban farmers rank Extension next to farm community and non-profits in regards to quality, quantity, and reliability of information. Appropriate statistical tests were identified through consultation with the Kansas State University’s Statistical Consulting Lab.


Extension Educator Interviews:  Our interview script was designed in the spring of 2012 and was approved (#6168) by the Institutional Review Board of Kansas State University in May 2012. Interviews were semi-scripted and followed an interview schedule that was designed to investigate Extension educators’ general job responsibilities, their programming emphasis on urban agriculture or related programs, and their awareness of other urban agriculture activities in their county or region. The initial list of potential interviewees consisted of all the Extension educators from University of Missouri, Kansas State University, and Lincoln University that focused on horticulture or family and consumer sciences. Personalized e-mails were sent out to all educators who fit this description to see what areas of horticulture and family and consumer sciences they worked in. If they worked in an area that was related to the production, processing, distribution, financial resources, marketing, or equipment of urban farmers they were interviewed. 


Interviews were conducted from May – November 2012. Fifteen Extension educators were interviewed from the nine-county study area as well as the executive director of Cultivate Kansas City and a heavily involved Extension educator from Douglas County, which is just outside the study area, for reference. Seventeen interviews were done in total. Interviews were taped and transcribed. Transcribed interviews were then uploaded into QSR International’s NVivo 10 software program  to define themes, or nodes, within the interviews. A secondary coder unassociated with this study was used to validate the conceptualization and categorization of themes from the interviews.

Research results and discussion:

Farmer/Grower Survey Results:  The majority of our farmer respondents had small, diversified farms and were relatively new to farming. Our respondents were primarily older white men and had at least a Bachelor’s degree. Most respondents have off farm jobs and their farming efforts are supported by product profits and funds from other jobs.

Respondents used primarily independently-driven sources, with self-research, other farmers, and family/friends ranked as highly used. With most sources and formats used being self-driven, respondents are not currently relying on outside organizations for needed information.

When asked to rank Extension, farm community, and non-profits based upon their quality of information, quantity of information gathered, and which was their “go to” source, respondents consistently ranked Extension higher in all categories.

Extension Interview Findings:  Production and processing information is offered by over 70% of Extension educators while distribution, equipment, and marketing information is offered by between 53% and 40% of educators. Financial information is only offered by 26% of educators. Extension educators also used a wide variety of methods to distribute information, with 80% of educators using one-on-one meetings and digital media resources.

The role of Extension offering research-based, non-bias information was the most discussed role by educators. Being a facilitator was discussed by 2/3 of educators while over half of educators discussed being an educator. 

Synthesis:  It seems that Extension knows what urban agriculture is and is familiar with most of the needs of the area’s urban farmers, but they are not offering some needed urban agriculture information topics for various reasons.

Although farmer respondents are using primarily self-driven independent sources for information, such as self-research, friends and family, and other farmers, they still are using workshops/classes, and websites. Extension is using some of these formats with 80% using digital media and 67% doing workshops on urban agriculture topics.

Trends show that farmer respondents prefer to learn with either classes/workshops, field days/farm tours, or trial and error. These preference overlap somewhat with what Extension is offering. Classes and workshops were the second most used interpersonal format by Extension, although no educators mentioned farm tours or field days hosted by Extension for urban farmers.

There was also some potential for more interaction between these two groups. Farmer respondents mentioned finding localized information with access to non-biased information would be helpful for their growing endeavors while 67% of Extension educators discussed being a research-based, non-biased organization as a crucial role of Extension. Although Extension described their role in this way, it is possible that farmer respondents do not know this is the ideal Extension is based around, and that all their information has a certain standard in order to be used.

Each Extension institution is addressing urban agriculture in a different way – Lincoln University has the most involvement with their clients, is on the cutting edge of urban agriculture technology, and is proactive about programming. University of Missouri has a statewide local food team that is exploring Extension’s role in urban food and also uses proactive programming. Kansas State University is reactive to urban agriculture and answers specific questions as they are brought to educators.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Caroline D. Tanner, 2014. Evaluating the interaction between extension educators and urban farmers in the Kansas City metropolitan area. M.S. Thesis, Kansas State University,
Available at: http://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/handle/2097/17604


Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The impact we hope for would be for extension educators in metropolitan regions in Kansas and elsewhere to become aware of, and respond to urban farmers/growers information needs with new and appropriate programming efforts.  It is too soon to see if the desired impact was achieved, as this may take 2 to 5 years from the completion and dissemination of the study.

Economic Analysis

This was not an objective of this research.

Farmer Adoption

This was not an objective of this research.


Areas needing additional study

One area of future research could include further identifying the relationships between several key factors regarding urban farms: farm production type, farm size, farmer demographics, farm location, and farmer information needs. There might be a relationship between farmer information needs and farm production type and size. We expect small farms would have different information needs than larger farms and need more information about intensive cultivation through small but efficient techniques. Similarly, farms producing different types of products, such as dairy and vegetables, are going to need different types of information specific to their farming practices.  It is also expected that farm production type and farm location would be related with more of the dairy and meat producers in the more peri-urban or rural locations and vegetable producers being located all over. Similarly, there could be a relationship between farm product type and farm size with dairy and meat producers needing more land to produce.

Other questions that could be explored are regarding Extension services used. In this study, farmers ranked Extension consistently above the farm community and non-profits. However, we didn’t ask about which Extension Institution(s) they are turning to. We would expect this answer to be a blend of local Extension services coupled with online resources from national Extension leaders, such as Cornell or Purdue. It would also be interesting to know what specific services urban farmers are using from Extension, such as online information, workshops, or contacting their local Extension educator directly about specific questions or problems.

On a larger scope, looking further into types of sources that urban farmers prefer could yield some useful information and give education organizations some direction. This study found that urban farmers are using primarily self-driven sources of information, such as internet, self-research, and books. However, these farmers preferred to learn in classes/workshop or through field days/farm tours. Is this discrepancy because the classes and farm tours farmers want are not being offered? Do they prefer to research certain information topics themselves while preferring classes for other types of topics? Are online sources or personalized sources more useful to them, or is that dependent upon the experience of the farmer? Exploring these questions would help better understand urban farmers and meet their education needs.

Following up on some of the urban farmers’ comments about barriers and aids to overcoming barriers in urban farming could yield some interesting answers as well. Though not one of the most popular answers to the question what are some barriers to obtaining the information you need about your farming/growing business several participants mentioned that they didn’t know what questions to ask. That coupled with several comments stating that a mentor or network for urban farmers would be helpful to overcome these barriers supports the idea that feasibility research about starting an urban agriculture network for producers either within each state or within the region is another potential area of fruitful research.

            Researching urban agriculture networks would be helpful for education organizations as well. It was mentioned by Cultivate Kansas City that there is not currently a formal regional or national urban agriculture network or society to be used as a resource although some informal ties between farmers and organizations exist. The University of Missouri has their Metro Foods Team (which is statewide program) for their Extension educators to start addressing Extension’s involvement in urban food systems, but Kansas State doesn’t have a comparable program. Perhaps a program like this would encourage more participation in this area from K-State Extension educators and act as a support throughout the state for educators working on new programming in this area.


            Another direction for future research would be to conduct similar-type studies in other metropolitan areas. Looking at how different Extension institutions interact with urban farmers could be helpful for those institutions trying to become more involved in this movement. It would also be interesting to see if the number of Extension institutions has an effect on the types of interactions with urban farmers or on farmer information needs.  Using a similar study for non-profits that emphasize urban agriculture in other metropolitan areas could be very useful in pinpointing effective ways to reach urban farmers as well. 


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.