Fruit, nut, and berry farmers across the North Central Region utilize biodiversity in their farming systems for a number of reasons. Diverse crops and varieties can spread labor needs across the growing season and increase profitability by spreading risk. Diversification can also intensify productivity by utilizing biological niches, and diversified farms can enhance ecosystem benefits by mimicking natural systems. At the same time, however, poorly planned farm diversification could lead to diseconomies of scale and scope as well as other inefficiencies, management challenges, and barriers to competitiveness.
This project, “The Fruit and Nut Compass: Developing a Tool and Guiding Principles for Diversified Farms” helps farmers take advantage of the positive aspects of diversification while avoiding its potential pitfalls. To do this, we have two main objectives: 1. Develop a decision support tool that integrates options for different fruit, nut, and berry crops as well as alternative marketing channels 2. Identify common principles that underlie success in perennial diversification for whole farm enterprises.
To achieve the first objective, we are building on the success of the Veggie Compass (www.veggiecompass.com) developed by members of our project team, and extending it into fruit and nuts through developing a new tool, field testing it with growers, and vetting it with University and Extension collaborators with expertise in fruit and nut crop production and economics. The tool projects enterprise expenses and income over fifteen years for multiple crops and multiple markets.
To achieve the second objective, we are using a participatory approach that draws from the knowledge, experience, and lessons learned from farmers themselves. We are working with a professional videographer, Windborne Media, to develop a series of case study videos presented in a mini-documentary. Already we have filmed six farmers and their operations. The video highlights our research findings to date in rich, engaging, and accessible ways.
A robust outreach approach will then combine in-person trainings, field days, and individualized technical support with targeted online content featuring a downloadable tool, how-to videos, training videos, and a user’s manual. Further outreach will include publication of 3 peer-reviewed journal articles, distribution of printed research briefs, conference presentations, and a public screening of case study videos. Already we have presented at the Perennial Farmers Gathering and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Conference, outlining our work to-date. We are also scheduled to host a round-table session at the MOSES Conference in February.
The idea for the project came from farmers who saw a need for more informed decision-making in diversified perennial systems. By meeting this need, the combined outputs of the project strengthen grassroots enterprise development. Our goal is to provide farmers with a “Fruit and Nut Compass” that will point in a general direction for making diversified farms more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable.
The project includes learning, action, and system outcomes.
- Farmers and agricultural professionals trained in the use of a new decision support tool to assess profitability of diversified crops and marketing channels
- Enhanced knowledge among farmers, researchers, and agricultural professionals about common principles, management practices, and compatible enterprises that underlie successful farm diversification
- Increased use of a decision support tool to choose more profitable crops and marketing channels
- More informed farm planning and management decisions for perennial crop growers
- More productive and profitable perennial farms across the North Central Region
- More pathways to success for a diversity of people interested in pursuing diversified perennial enterprises
- Increased agricultural sustainability through enhanced use of farm diversification
To achieve these learning, action, and system outcomes, the project includes both research and outreach outputs.
Research outputs include:
An interactive and user-friendly Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet, with 1) a 15-year timeline including multiple crops and multiple markets, 2) a user’s manual, and 3) 2 “How-to” videos. –The Spreadsheet and its user manual are nearing completion and online release for farmer’s use. “How-to” videos are planned to be released in conjunction with the Spreadsheet.
1 mini-documentary covering 6 case studies which highlight the principles that underlie successful perennial farm diversification –completed and debuted at the Perennial Farmer gathering (see Persistence mini-documentary film here: http://www.savannainstitute.org/persistence-documentary.html)
1 Printed research brief describing the overall project with links to more information – 500 copies to be distributed at conferences and workshops by CIAS
1 multi-media article highlighting a single case study, including photo journalism –Rather than separate out a singular case study, we decided to fold this into the Persistence documentary, which incorporates multiple case studies and better engages our audience through video journalism.
2 published research papers, including one on each of the following:
-Principles underlying successful diversified perennial farms –This paper is currently being written and will be submitted for publication in summer 2019.
-Intersectionality in Diversified Perennial Farming –A former Research Assistant on the project who wrote her thesis on this topic is pursuing publication, but not necessarily in the timeframe of the project.
Outreach outputs include:
A comprehensive project webpage which will be folded into a larger page on all CIAS’s compasses (listed below). The webpage will include:
-A downloadable Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet
-A users manual
-Videos of a training event –As we have continued to pre-test the Fruit & Nut Compass tool with farmers, we have realized this method is not pedagogically appropriate, so we will no longer produce these videos, instead focusing on making highly comprehensive training videos.
-Integration of the Veggie Compass, Livestock Compass and Pasture Dairy Compass
-Mini-documentary of 6 case studies
-Links to all publications and to external resources
-An external link to the Fruit & Nut Compass page on Savanna Institute’s website
2 trainings on use of the Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet and strategies for success (50 participants
each) –Trainings were changed from day-long to 2 to 3 hours to better fit our audiences’ availabilities. While more trainings are planned, trainings have already been conducted at: MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, WI on Feb. 22, 2018; The Midwest School for Beginning Apple Growers near Madison, WI on March 16-18, 2019; The North American Fruit Explorers’ Annual Meeting in Danville, IL on July 26-28; Perennial Farm Gathering in Madison, WI on Dec. 8, 2018; The Midwest School for Beginning Apple Growers near Madison, WI on April 6, 2019;
2 follow up field days on farms using the Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet (50 participants each) —Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet presentations were conducted in conjunction with other fruit and nut grower field days in order to highlight and enhance potential synergies with existing grower groups. These included:
The Midwest School for Beginning Apple Growers
Date: April 6, 2019
Locations: Door Creek Orchard, West Madison Agricultural Research Station, Atoms to Apples
-Orchard Tour 1 (focus on farm business development, markets, and marketing)
-Lunch and Classroom Session (Fruit and Nut Compass financial planning tool)
-Farm Tour 2 (focus on orchard design and infrastructure)
-Optional visit to Brix Cider
Participants at this farm tour field day got in-depth views of two orchard business and an introduction to the Fruit and Nut Compass spreadsheet. The idea was to introduce people to examples of successful businesses and encourage them to use our new planning tool.
The North American Fruit Explorers’ Annual Meeting
Date: July 26-28, 2019
Location: Danville Area Community College conference Center, Danville, IL
‘Special Topic’ presentations explored avenues for growing uncommon fruit. Tour sites focused on chestnut, hazelnut, currants and a very diverse plot with over 400 varieties of edible fruit/nut species. An accompanying introduction of the Fruit and Nut Compass intended to aid participants in thinking about practicable financial planning for beginning an operation like those demonstrated on the field tours.
-Case study video screening and discussion –conducted at the 2018 Perennial Farm Gathering
Follow up individualized technical support (25 individuals)
2 conference presentations, including MOSES, the Wisconsin Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference and the Perennial Farmer Gathering. Already we have presented at two of these conferences and reached well over our target of 100 participants. We will continue presenting as the tool continues being developed. This will begin summer 2019, but will also be an ongoing commitment of CIAS and the Savanna Institute.
1 public screening of the mini-documentary (100 participants; conducted at the 2018 Perennial Farm Gathering)
2 press releases to increase project visibility –One press release has been completed with the release of the project documentary. A second press release is planned at completion of the Fruit & Nut Compass Tool spreadsheet.
To monitor progress towards our outputs and outcomes, 19 indicators were chosen to meet SARE Research & Education Grantee reporting and evaluation expectations. For indicators only requiring a straightforward, numerical count we will track:
1.Farmers participating in research – Target of 24 (currently at 16)
2.New tools developed – Target of 1
4.Educational videos produced (how-to videos and mini-documentary)– Target of 8
5.New collaborations formed as a result of the project – Target of 2
6.Presentations conducted to share project results – Target of 3 (target reached)
7.Journal articles published – Target of 2 (amended)
8.Citations of project results (based on journal reporting of citations) – Target of 150
9.New grants received based on project results – Target of 1
10.Educational programs delivered (disaggregated by type) – Target of 5 (three completed)
11.Research briefs disseminated – Target of 500
12.Press releases submitted – Target of 2
13.Farmers reached through individual technical support – Target of 25
Learning outcomes will be tracked using a survey of participants during each educational activity (training events, field days, presentations) for the following indicators:
14.Farmers reached through educational activities – Target of 300 (Already reached about half of target)
15.Ag Educators reached through educational activities – Target of 50
16.Farmers that report changes in KASAs (Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Awareness) – Target of 300
(Note that participant lists will be crosschecked to avoid double-counting participants who attend more than one educational activity)
To track action outcomes, an additional survey will be conducted 3 months after each educational activity to assess the following two indicators:
17.Farmers reporting a change in practice (disaggregated by farmers using the Fruit and Nut Compass spreadsheet, farmers altering choices about cropping choices or marketing channels, and other types of changes) – Target of 250
18.Benefits of making a change (farmers who report a change in practice will be asked to qualitatively describe the social, economic, and/or environmental benefits of the changes they made) – Target of 250 reporting benefits of a change
We will also track online outreach through one additional indicator:
19.Number of individual users of the project website (measured through Google Analytics and disaggregated by downloads of the Fruit and Nut Compass spreadsheet, viewers of “how-to” videos, viewers of training videos, viewers of case study videos, viewers of crop information sheets, and viewers of project publications) – Target of 10,000
We hypothesize that perennial polyculture farmers require more comprehensive economic planning tools, and that our team can develop an effective tool for such purposes with the help and feedback from our farmer collaborators as well as from conference presentation attendees.
Through ongoing meetings with our farmer team, we are drafting multiple versions of the tool and incorporating feedback for the following draft. We are also including feedback from our conference-distributed surveys following presentations of the tool.
Following the finalization of the Economic Planning Tool, we plan to create how-to videos and educational workshops to teach the use of the tool. In addition, our “Principals of Success” will be taught through grey literature and potentially also through workshops.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The above activities are delineated more explicitly in the “Project Activities” tab, and refer to the presentations given at three separate conferences.