Final Report for LNC00-169
Seven enterprises, including agritourism, agroforestry, aquaculture, free-range poultry, grass-based livestock, organic vegetables, and viticulture, were identified as having potential. A binder with information on the alternative enterprises was developed and workshops were conducted throughout Illinois. In the second year, we partnered with Michael Field’s Agriculture Institute to bring an Advanced Organic Vegetable Workshop to the state. Marketing symposiums were held at Claytonville and Evanston. The audiences ranged from five to 60 people and included farmers, Extension staff, students, and instructors. A mail survey indicated that the events were well received. Six instructors were trained and a pilot NXLeveL session held. Several problems with NXLeveL for this audience were identified and suggestions for changes developed.
Small-scale farms are an important sector of agriculture that has been ignored by traditional extension and outreach programming in Illinois. Even the term “small farm” is debated, and definitions differ from gross sales of less than $250,000 (Perry and Johnson, 1999) to less than $5,000 (Thomas et al., 1996), or to farms with less than 100 acres. Because of the variance in definitions, we prefer to concentrate on farmers in crisis that will potentially be leaving agriculture.
There are a variety of statistics about small-scale farms, many contradictory. This sector of agriculture accounts for over four-fifths of all U.S. farms, but represents only 24% of farm sales in 1992 (Tweeten and Amponsah, 1996). Small farms produce a substantial portion (38 %) of the value of U.S. farm production (Perry and Johnson, 1999) and hold much of the farmland of the United States (Perry and Johnson, 1999). They are key participants in environmentally-based government programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Program (Perry and Johnson, 1999).
Small-scale farms differ from large corporate farms in a variety of other ways. Most families are on small-scale farms because it is a way of life or hobby that they support from off-farm income (Tweeten and Amponsah, 1996). In the limited studies conducted in Illinois, it was found that income from farming was higher for Swiss and German small-scale farmers than for Southern Illinois farmers (Herbst, 1979). The Southern Illinois farm families had higher income from off-farm work than did Swiss or German farm families (Herbst, 1979). Harper et al. (1981) surveyed 384 small farms in Peoria and Wayne counties of Illinois. Most of the small farmers bought the land and made a deliberate choice to begin farming. Thus small-scale farms are an important avenue for beginning farmers in Illinois. They found that the farms themselves did not contribute the full income needed to support the family (Harper et al., 1981). We have found that small-scale farms, those with less than 50 acres or with less than $250,000 in sales, dominate the fruit and vegetable industry in Illinois (Drury, 1996).
The American public considers small-scale and family farms as an important part of our heritage that must be preserved (Tweeten and Amponsah, 1996). Yet, these farms are failing at an alarming rate. Tweeten and Amponsah (1996) reported that small farm numbers have been falling approximately 2% per year since 1987 while large farms have been increasing. They stated that what was once the most predominant category of farm operators, the full-time, able-bodied, small farm operator, is now an endangered species (Tweeten and Amponsah, 1996). Thomas et al. (1996), in a county-based analysis of U.S. agriculture, found that there has been a transitional shift from small farming to corporate and firm-orientated patterns of agriculture. This shift resulted in small farm counties declining from 43% of all counties in 1982 to 28% in 1992. This decline was due to the encroachment of corporate and firm-orientated farms into counties that were formerly dominated by small scale, family farms. In Illinois, this decline has been even more dramatic.
What can be done to stop this decline? Technology and farm programs are oriented toward larger farms. Thus, these are not solutions. Improved extension education and human resource development offer some of the most promising public policy opportunities to help small farms (Tweeten and Amponsah, 1996). Several previous SARE and USDA funded projects offer possible options for small-scale and beginning farmers in Illinois. This project will be built upon those previous efforts.
Our project is aimed at educating farmers in crisis — small scale farmers and those wanting to begin farming — to develop niche marketing opportunities that overcome poor grain and animal prices. Our specific objectives were to:
(1) Provide producers with information on sustainable farming and marketing alternatives.
(2) Develop an intensive workshop and mentoring program to assist farmers in crisis to adopt sustainable farming and marketing opportunities.
(3) Evaluate the impact of these programs on farmers who participated in the project.
(1) Provide producers with information on sustainable farming and marketing alternatives. The enterprises we targeted were agritourism, agroforestry, aquaculture, free-range poultry, grass-based livestock, organic herbs and vegetables, and viticulture. We developed a notebook that contained information for each enterprise, marketing resources, and materials on developing business plans. The information came from AATRA and Illinois sources. The notebook will serve as a future resource for farmers as they adopt alternative enterprises and develop marketing strategies.
(2) Develop an intensive workshop and mentoring program to assist farmers in crisis to adopt sustainable farming and marketing opportunities. In the first year of the project, a series of seven intensive workshops were conducted. These workshops were:
A Small Farm Enterprise Workshop at Rock Island County Extension Office in East Moline
A Small Farm Enterprise Workshop at Lake Land College in Mattoon
A Small Farm Enterprise Workshop at Dunn-Richmond Development Center in Carbondale
A Small Farm Enterprise Workshop at Shawnee Community College in Ulin
A Small Farm Enterprise Workshop at the University of Illinois in Springfield
A Marketing Workshop at Rend Lake College in Mt. Vernon
A Marketing Workshop at Lincoln Community College in Oglesby
At each all day workshop, three of the enterprises were presented in-depth. The workshops’ objectives are to take these farmers to the next step, to evaluate and possibly adopt an alternative enterprise on their farms. The farmers were provided with information on production and marketing.
In year two of the project, three more workshops were conducted. The workshops aimed to provide more in-depth information on one of the enterprises, organic vegetable production, and on specialty marketing. We partnered with Michael Field’s Agriculture Institute to bring the Advanced Organic Vegetable Workshop to small-scale farmers in Illinois. This intensive three-day workshop was taught by three successful organic farmers. It provided the participants with information on farm plans, nutrient management, certification, vegetable production, pest management, post-harvest handling, financial management, and marketing. The workshop was conducted at the Holiday Inn in Davenport, IA.
Two specialty marketing workshops were held. These workshops aimed to provide small-scale farmers with information on selling in upscale and ethnic markets in the St. Louis and Chicago metropolitan areas. These are the major market areas for Illinois specialty farmers. The St. Louis event included a tour of the Claytonville farmers market, a lecture by the market master about requirements for upscale marketing, and a discussion with chefs on selling fresh produce to restaurants. The event in the Chicago area included a visit to the Evanston farmers markets and to ethnic markets in Chicago. The specific needs for marketing to ethnic and upscale customers was discussed.
The workshops were be followed by NXLeveL, an intensive session program on developing business plans. Juli Brussell, project coordinator, attended two sessions of NXLeveL’s entrepreneurship courses for trainers held in Illinois. This included NXLeveL’s “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity” for agricultural entrepreneurship, which prepared her to teach a pilot course in Illinois in association with this project. Illinois’s Department Commerce and Consumer Affairs Small Business Development Center agreed to serve as the contact agency in Illinois for all NXLeveL courses and sponsored the training events.
The project’s pilot agricultural course was held in the winter of 2001/2002 in Mattoon, Illinois, hosted by Lake Land Community College’s Agricultural Department. The session schedule was intended to optimize farmer attendance, as the course is very demanding. The schedule was built around a series of classes held on Tuesday evenings, with two all-day Saturday sessions to reduce the number of weeks a farmer would need to attend. The Saturday sessions were held at the Mattoon Public Library’s conference room to accommodate lunch needs (Lake Land Community College does not permit food or beverages in the classrooms) and for resource access to reference materials. The objective was to produce a business plan for an enterprise, either actual or hypothetical, by the end of the course. Fee rebates were used as incentives for completing the course.
The original schedule consisted of:
November 10 (Sat. all day) I. Take Stock of Your Resources
II. Basic Equipment Required: Planning and Research
November 12 (Tues. night) III. Legal Terrain
November 20 (Tues. night) IV. Manage From the Ground
November 27 (Tues. night) V. Plant It-Grow It-Market It
December 4 (Tues. night) VI. Reap the Benefit
December 8 (Sat. all day) VII. Get your Budgets in Line
VIII. Analyze This: Cash Flow and Financials
December 11 (Tues. night) IX. Cultivate Money Resources
December 18 (Tues. night) X. Harvest Your Future and GRADUATION
In addition to the posted schedule, the participants requested re-scheduling the December 18 session after the holidays. So two additional sessions in January and February were held to allow participants to catch up and to discuss course outcomes.
The participants were primarily farmers or those living on farms (with the exception of one participant, an attorney working with farm families in crisis). Three families represented seven out of the nine participants. The general age spread was from high school senior through college age to middle-aged adult. All actual participants were male; of the two women who originally signed up for the course, one dropped out and the other had limited participation due to her teaching schedule.
(3) Evaluate the impact of these programs on farmers who participated in the project.
A total of approximately 160 individuals attended the workshops and seminars. To determine the impact on participants of the seminars and workshops as well as to evaluate optimal delivery times, we mailed a survey to 70 randomly chosen attendees. Of the mailed surveys, three were returned without a forwarding address. Reminder cards were mailed two to three weeks after the survey form was mailed. A copy of the survey form is attached in the Appendix.
A variety of interview media were employed for the follow-up evaluation for the NXLeveL course. Interview opportunities included: a group discussion, held at Lake Land Community College during their January 2003 Small Farm Enterprise Conference with many of the participants; a face-to-face, in-depth interview with a participant; two phone interviews, and an e-mail questionnaire.
The group discussion focused on general reactions to the course and its impact on participants a year later. The primary questions asked during the face-to-face interview, the phone interviews, and the e-mail questionnaire in the spring of 2003 focused on improving the class as well assessing its impact.
These questions were:
1) What are the biggest issues with the class itself?
2) What would be the single most important change to be made to improve the course?
3) Can you think of any specific examples of how this course improved your enterprise or some general impact it had on what you’re doing?
4) Do you have suggestions for additional topics to be covered?
5) How are you doing now?
Reactions to the course and its impact from the general discussion at Lake Land College in January 2003 were summarized more succinctly in the subsequent interviews. The evaluation focuses on the content of these interviews and comments with additional notes from the trainer’s perspective.
(1) Provide producers with information on sustainable farming and strategic marketing alternatives. Brainstorming sessions were conducted with the Illinois Small Farm Task Force and small-scale farmers to identify enterprises that are considered to have potential for small-scale and beginning farmers. The seven enterprises we chose were:
Organic Herbs and Vegetables
We were able to obtain a $21,000 grant from the USDA Risk Management Agency to cover a portion of the cost of the binder and other project activities. We developed a binder with production and marketing materials for the seven alternative farming enterprises that have the capacity to increase small farm profitability. These materials came from AATRA and Illinois sources. We also included materials on small farm-based marketing strategies. (This binder, The Small Farm Enterprise and Marketing Workshop Series, was sent with the first year annual report.) All 300 notebooks prepared for this project were distributed throughout the state, including at the seven seminars and workshops conducted at different sites in Illinois during summer 2001. A number of additional events were held in conjunction with Extension and grassroots organizations such as the Southeastern Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Association.
We developed an intensive workshop and mentoring program that assists farmers in crisis to adopt sustainable farming and marketing opportunities. The events were held at the Rock Island Extension Office in East Moline, Lake Land College in Mattoon, Dunn-Richland Economic Development in Carbondale, Shawnee Community College in Ulin, University of Illinois – Springfield, Rend Lake College in Mt. Vernon, and Lincoln Community College in Oglesby. Attendance at these events ranged from approximately five to 15 farmers, four to eight Cooperative Extension agents, and two to 30 college agricultural students and instructors. We chose workshop sites that corresponded to areas with a relatively high percentage of small farms, as identified by University of Illinois Extension members or community college agricultural instructors.
Two seminars, Oglesby in North Central Illinois, and Mt. Vernon in South Central Illinois, featured SARE recipient Herm Beck-Chenoweth and specifically dealt with marketing. In the five enterprise workshops, we featured three topics geographically appropriate for that region. We did not try to cover all seven enterprises in each workshop, but did provide every attendee with the binder containing information on all seven enterprises.
One workshop, given at Shawnee Community College in Ulin, south of Carbondale, was not listed on the brochure promoting the events. This workshop resulted from a call made by Darryl Dillow, agricultural instructor at Shawnee Community College, who asked if we would hold a Saturday workshop specifically for farmers in his area. We responded by scheduling another workshop back-to-back with the one held in Carbondale and had approximately 12 farmers attend.
Speakers for the workshops agreed to “be on call” and act as mentors or give appropriate assistance to workshop attendees if they needed help in future help developing that enterprise. We had at least one farmer-presenter in each workshop as well as University and Extension educators. One farmer-presenter, Joanna Gioja, who spoke about grass-based livestock production and marketing for small farms, was particularly well received. At the age of seventeen, she has been producing and marketing goat milk and grass-based poultry and lamb for more than four years. She made the point that if she could run her operation profitably, any one else could develop a similar business.
Through this project, we are cooperating with Extension and grassroots organizations to sponsor additional sustainable farming and enterprise development workshops and seminars for winter/spring 2002. We cooperated with the AEDI program of Extension and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute to conduct an Advanced Organic Vegetable Workshop in the Davenport, Iowa/East Moline, Illinois area on January 10-12, 2002. This workshop was conducted by three successful organic vegetable farmers, including one farmer from Illinois. There were 50 attendees, including 20 farmers from Illinois. Illinois farmers were provided a scholarship if they attended the workshop and submitted a form. Five scholarships were provided. This was the first time that the Advanced Organic Vegetable Workshop was offered in Illinois and was very well received by both Extension Educators and farmers. Plans are being made to offer future workshops in cooperation with Michael Fields Agriculture Institute and other groups.
In the fall of 2002, two market tours were conducted. Attendance was limited in both tours. The first tour was of the Claytonville Farmers Market, an upscale farmers market in the St. Louis area, and included a meeting with chefs from the area. Approximately 12 farmers, students, and an Extension advisor attended the tour. The second market tour, in the Chicago area, included the Evanston Farmers Market and four ethnic markets. Approximately 10 farmers, students, and Extension educators attended the tour. At both tours the requirements to successfully market to their customers were discussed.
Another educational opportunity for Illinois small and family farmers resulting from this project has been the first NXLeveL agricultural course, “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity,” held in Illinois. We partnered with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Development to bring NXLeveL to Illinois. We provided the agricultural expertise. Through this project, we first sponsored six individuals in the NXLeveL Entrepreneurship Trainers’ course in Illinois. This gives us a pool of instructors for conducting NXLeveL agricultural courses in Illinois. The Illinois state budget crisis has impacted the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Development, so we are working to ensure that a version of entrepreneur development for small-scale farmers is available in Illinois.
The purpose of “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity” is to teach farmers to research and develop their own business plans for their alternative, farm-based business. This in turn increases the likelihood that these businesses will succeed and the farmers will increase their profitability. This first pilot course has enrolled nine farmers, most of whom attended one of our workshops. A separate evaluation of the pilot NXLeveL course “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity,” will be discussed in part three of this section, following the general survey results.
(3) Evaluate the impact of these programs on farmers who participated in the project. A mail survey was conducted to provide information about the participants in the workshops and market tours. The NXLeveL course was followed-up by open-ended interviews of the participants and the instructor that are reported in Part B.
Part A: Survey of Workshop and Other Participants
A total of 67 surveys were mailed to Illinois farmers and Extension personnel, and 33 surveys were returned. This gave us a 49% return rate, an excellent rate of return for a mail-in survey.
Demographics. The participants who returned the survey represented 18 counties in Illinois. The respondents’ ages were as follows: 3% were 18-25, 7% were 26-35, 42% were 36-50, 19% were 51-65, and 7% were more than 65 years old. Twenty-six percent of the respondents were female and 68% were male. Fifty-two percent reported their primary occupation as farmer, 13% were Extension or government agents, 10% were students, and 26% listed their occupations as “other” (this included retired individuals who indicated they also farmed). Most participants (71%) are currently farming and 26% did not farm. Of the farmers who responded, 23% farm between 1-10 acres, 9% farm 11-25 acres, 9% farm between 26-50 acres, 9% farm between 51-100 acres, 32% farm between 101-500 acres and 18% farm more than 500 acres.
Scheduling Events. When asked the optimal time of week and day to schedule these kinds of educational events, 45% chose weekday mornings, 42% chose weekday afternoons, 16% chose weekday evenings, 36% chose Saturday mornings, 16% chose Saturday afternoons, and only 3% chose Saturday evenings. Only 3% identified spring as the best season to hold these types of events, 26% chose summer, 7% chose fall, and 74% chose winter. The time of the week and day responses might be biased because we held the workshops during weekdays. Conversations between the Project Investigators and farmers unable to attend the workshops indicate a preference for Saturday meetings.
Distance from Farms. Of all respondents, 13% indicated that the nearest large urban area was within 10 miles of their farm, 16% indicated that their farm was within 50 miles, 19% indicated that it was within 100 miles, and 32% indicated that the nearest large urban area was more than 100 miles from their farm. As a measure of people’s interest, we asked how far people had traveled to the events and workshops. Of those responding, 7% traveled between 0-10 miles, 16% traveled 11-30 miles, 32% traveled between 31-60 miles, 10% traveled between 61-100 miles, and 32% traveled more than 100 miles to attend the event or workshop.
General Comments. The following are comments written in the spaces provided on the survey sheet:
Need more advertising for the events.
Very useful for grape production.
Need more time between sessions for networking.
Workshop well-organized—excellent instructors—networking was valuable.
Excellent organic workshop. Hold more organic workshops (all levels of knowledge) throughout the state—need row crop, vegetables, and herb courses.
Offer these again—I had conflicts and couldn’t attend more of them.
Keep doing these events—offer a diversity of topic—more on-farm and market tours.
Try listing events in trade journals for small farmers like Small Farm Today.
This information will be helpful in the future—gave me new ideas for expanding my farm business—it was very useful.
Most valuable to hear producers who are actually doing what they are talking about (more than “educators”).
Offer advanced sessions on topics of high interest shortly after initial sessions—then refresher courses a year later.
We are new farmers and this workshop opened our eyes to many possibilities.
Find some way to keep up-to-date contact information for presenters in a database we can access.
Part B: Teaching NXLeveL’s “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity”
Several problems were identified with the current form of NXLeveL that limited its utility to small-scale growers in Illinois. Many of these problems involved the limited time and resources that the farmers had and their expectations from the course.
One major issue with the course itself was the amount of time required to complete the course work. Few if any participants felt they had enough time to put into the course to do a truly good job.
One participant noted that, although he was warned the course was demanding and required a lot of outside time, he had not realized just how much time he would need to “do a good job.” “I was not prepared for the amount of time (the course required.) I didn’t realize how detailed it would be to come up with a business plan. It’s very intense, more like summer school. You need to be ready to knuckle down.”
Another participant stated that time was the only conflict he had with the course. He also noted that this problem stemmed less from the course schedule and more from his other commitments. All of the participants worked off-farm jobs or went to school as well as living and working on their farms (with the exception of the attorney, who taught as well as practiced law.) The course’s demanding schedule of attendance as well as rigorous homework assignments left little latitude for catching up for those who fell behind.
A third participant noted that the course presented “a catch-22 situation, where there was no time to follow through with the business plan outside class if you are working another job.” The participants agreed that the time requirements for the course and the outside assignments were rigorous and intense but no one had any real suggestions for improving the schedule. Stretching the course to a full semester could potentially cause conflicts with the farming season and was not regarded as a good option. One participant noted, “If you stretch it out too far, you lose it.”
The Need for Previous Preparation Regarding Enterprises
The second most commonly voiced issue with the course was the need to choose a specific enterprise to work on prior to the course starting. Even those participants who already had existing enterprises felt they “started in the middle.” Although the course has a section in the beginning for discussing new enterprises, participants still wanted additional preparation before jumping into a business planning process.
One participant, whose business plan involved expanding into additional livestock products to add to his existing farmers’ market sales, noted “you are creating your business as you go along — the course could be overwhelming for someone just getting started.” He noted further that he, as a more experienced entrepreneur, could pick up and apply some of the concepts and ideas right away because he had already made some mistakes. He suggested taking part of the class time and dividing the class into smaller groups — one group who already had an enterprise and another of those looking into different enterprises but who had less experience. He believed this might optimize the time spent networking by addressing specific solutions to issues being faced by both groups. He also noted that having the whole class together talking about problems and solutions was a highly useful aspect of the class.
Suggested Course Changes
One participant suggested building additional working time into the in-class schedule for working on the business plans but acknowledged that this might mean reducing time allocated to class discussions, which were useful. He also noted that he didn’t want any topics removed from the course, that all the information was useful. He suggested that dividing the course into several segments to be completed over a longer period of time, like 18 months, might be one solution to the time crunch.
Another participant suggested additional prep time could be spent ahead of the course itself, maybe spending several seminars getting ready with an enterprise concept before the NXLeveL course itself started. He also suggested more time for one-on-one development would have helped him, but didn’t know where the time could be found to accomplish this.
Another participant suggested spending more time on computer and Internet skills, especially with search engines to do background research. He suggested that having a classroom with a computer and Internet access for all the class times would have helped him because he had so little time at home for these activities.
No one wanted to leave out any of the topics. Everyone thought the material was well-presented and highly useful. Many of the participants indicated that they would like to take the course over again, if they had the time.
As the trainer with this pilot course, I felt something was missing at the beginning, although everyone was prepared to work. I think that participants would benefit from at least one day-long seminar on goal-setting and quality of life issues and another on how to choose potential enterprises before starting NXLeveL. This would help people hit the ground running and not get bogged down with trying to evaluate different enterprises while they are supposed to be learning how to write a detailed business plan.
I also believe that small-scale farmers as a training audience have special time requirements that are difficult to get around. Most of the Illinois audience has to work around the growing season. Perhaps holding the preliminary all-day sessions in August, starting a six-week session in late October and another in January through March, with a follow-up session the following August might assist with the severe time crunch. It would be worth trying in another pilot setting. I would also couple the training with mentoring between experienced entrepreneurs and “newbies” or “wanna-bes.” Both groups would benefit from the networking and problem-solving opportunities.
One of the more interesting aspects of the evaluation process was the overall impression that the course was very useful and that the participants felt they got a lot of useful information from attending and going through the business planning process, even if they didn’t complete a lengthy business plan. Several of them indicated that taking the course changed what they were planning on doing as an on-farm enterprise.
One participant put his original idea of generating bio-gas from his cattle operation on the back burner after preliminary research indicated that the enterprise would not generate sufficient income due to herd size, and he might find better uses for the manure generated from the cattle. He stated that the course gave him a framework to make better decisions on and off the farm because he looks at reducing associated risks inherent in opportunities and figures out how to reduce those risks before starting something new.
Another participant noted that two ideas he picked up at the course had already made a big difference in his alternative farming operation. These were the concept of paying for expertise, specifically hiring a certified accountant to manage his business, and setting goals for his business growth. This has led him to set specific objectives for future growth and expansion, instead of just letting it happen.
Another participant tabled plans for being self-employed and found a paid position, noting that the benefits of being employed by someone else outweighed the risks of entrepreneurship at this point in life.
Another participant noted that the concept of having a solid business plan that could be used as a planning tool changed his approach to his existing on-farm business. He stated that the business planning process covered in the course would make him more cautious about expanding into multiple new enterprises.
Our project did not analyze costs, returns, and risks. General information was presented in the notebook and workshops on the costs, returns, and risks associated with the enterprises. The NXLeveL course provided the farmers with the skills they need to perform economic analyses of the enterprises.
A total of 160 people participated in the workshops, tours, and NXLeveL course. Three hundred people (including 100 workshop participants) received a copy of the resource notebook. Of the participants in the workshops and tours, 60%, or 96, were farmers. The survey of workshop and tour participants and interviews of NXLeveL participants was conducted approximately one year or less after the event. This will limit adoption of the information that was presented.
The survey contained questions about the effectiveness of the workshops and tours. Of all respondents, 94% stated that the event(s) they attended increased their awareness of alternative enterprises; no one responded negatively. Eighty-four percent stated that they had applied information they learned at the event(s) to their own farm situation or had used the information for a client. Only 13% responded negatively to this question. When asked if they intended to apply this information in the future, 90% responded affirmatively and only 3% responded negatively. Ninety percent of the respondents also reported that attending the event had been worth their time. No one responded negatively to this question. From the “yes” answers, 43% reported that the notebook and handouts were most valuable, 57% reported the networking opportunities were most valuable, another 57% listed the instructors or guides as most valuable, and 11% listed the on-sites visits as most valuable. (Some respondents listed more than one, although they were asked to check only the most valuable aspect of the workshop/seminar activities.) Of the total respondents, 61% indicated that the information they received would help improve their farm’s profitability; no one responded negatively.
Interviews with NXLeveL participants are summarized, and several commented about the impact of the course on their adoption of an alternate enterprise.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We conducted an outreach project. Our project conducted several workshops and tours (see above) and produced a workbook, “The Small Farm Enterprise and Marketing Workshop Series.” Copies of the workbook were provided with our first year annual report. A summary of the workshops and the evaluation is provided in the Results and Discussion/Milestones section.
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Areas needing additional study
The workshop portion of our project led to several continuing activities and new partnerships. During the project, the Executive Director of the Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Society resigned and the Society has gone through a difficult period. This limited the participation of an important partner and probably reduced our ability to reach some small-scale grower audiences. The organic sessions stimulated an interest among Extension educators and unit leaders about organic agriculture and led to the establishment of an Organic Task Force among Extension educators. The activities of this project have been complemented and continued by activities being conducted by Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant, who has for the past two years been conducting tours of sustainable agriculture/alternative enterprises.
We heard from many of the participants that they would like to take the NXLeveL course over again, now that they have some familiarity with the material. I wish we could find the funds to do this, as well as try an alternative schedule with additional preparation time for a new group. At this stage the continued offering of NXLeveL is uncertain given the state budget. Some of the entrepreneur development that we envisioned for NXLeveL is being conducted by the Initiative for Development of Entrepreneurs in Agriculture (Illinois IDEA), directed by Martha Bazik and housed in the Quad Cities area.