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
-A 15-year timeline including multiple crops and multiple markets
-A user’s manual
-2 “How-to” videos
1 mini-documentary covering 6 case studies which highlight the principles that underlie successful perennial farm diversification
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
2 published research papers, including one on each of the following:
-Principles underlying successful diversified perennial farms
-Intersectionality in Diversified Perennial Farming
Outreach outputs include:
A comprehensive project website, including:
-A downloadable Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet
-A users manual
-Videos of a training event
-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
2 daylong trainings on use of the Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet and strategies for success (50 participants
-5 videos capturing key moments from the training
2 follow up field days on farms using the Fruit and Nut Compass Spreadsheet (50 participants each) including:
-Case study video screening and discussion
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.
1 public screening of the mini-documentary (100 participants)
2 press releases to increase project visibility
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, videos of training events, 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 3
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.