Entrepreneurial Sustainable Agriculture for Latinx and Limited-resource Producers in Missouri

Progress report for LNC20-434

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $245,505.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Lincoln University
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Eleazar Gonzalez
Lincoln University Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the total number of farms in the U.S. declined 3.2 % from the Census of 2012.  Latino farm owner-operators increased 16% going from 67,000 farms in 2012 to 77,416 farms in 2017. Latino farmers are the only ethnic minority group with a significant and consistent increase in number since the Census of Agriculture 2007. In Missouri, the number of Latino producers significantly increased (100%) from 548 to 1097 farm owner-principal operators. The Latino farmer's profile matches the predominant demographic profile of Missouri farmers. In general, in Missouri, 78% of farmers averaged had farm sales of $49,999 or less per year, and 65% of farms are of less than 179 acres.

This program builds on a recent NCR-SARE program (SARE project LNC15-368) among Latino producers in Missouri. In that program, a sample of 100 Latinx producers helped to document factors constraining them to practice sustainable agriculture. The study suggests that four challenges keep Latino producers in Missouri from practicing sustainable agriculture. Including; a) farm households incomes depend on off-farm sources, b) the existence of a socio-economic farm framework system influencing farmers to opt for conventional production methods, c) lack of knowledge and skills in agro-ecological practices, and d) poor understandings of financial and managerial skills needed to follow agribusiness plans.

 The program Entrepreneurial Sustainable Agriculture for Latinx and Limited Resource Producers in Missouri aims to expand those findings with an additional approach to evaluate current sustainable production methods among Latino producers. It will use a convenient sample of 50 Latino producers and document the current levels of skills, knowledge, and attitudes toward partially and fully transitioning into sustainable and organic production methods supported by a mixed- methods analysis. Then, an enhanced Entrepreneurial Sustainable Education curriculum (ESA) https://projects.sare.org/information-product/entrepreneurial-sustainable-agriculture-esa/ will directly increase engagement, skills, attitudes, and knowledge of 30 Latino producers in sustainable agriculture and organic production methods. This program will create a Latino-producer advisory group to enhance farmer's participation and communication with program activities.

New skills, knowledge, and implementation of innovative and good agricultural practices will eventually reduce farm inputs, enhance the farm's natural resources, and increase the diversity of fresh produce food into local community markets.

Project Objectives:
  • To increase the entrepreneurial, production and community capacities of Latino producers by educating producers and creating an advisory/mentor group of Latino producers.
  • To implement sustainable production activities on Latino producers’ farms. Successful sustainable producer mentors will join in on gatherings that implement sustainable practices on farms.
  • To train 30 Latino producers and we expect 20 to implement sustainable practices, including greenhouses, geothermal systems, and regenerative soil practices.
  • To evaluate gains in knowledge, attitudes, skills and on-ground activities of 50 producers  transitioning into organic and agro-ecological systems use.
Introduction:

The global agricultural industry continues to evolve in different production systems, where large farms mainly focus on conventional ways of production, while many small and medium farms continue developing interest in sustainable and organic production systems. Conventional systems use automatized technologies and require less labor-intensive needs because of economies of scale. On the other side, limited resource producers of sustainable and organic systems continue demanding intensive labor involvement to meet their production needs. However, sustainable farming innovations continue to motivate the resilience of these limited resource producers. Most Latino farmers and ranchers in the United States are limited resource producers but most of them are unaware of how to produce sustainably and organically. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture in the U.S., seventy percent of Latino producers registered $10,000 or less in value of sales per year. This fact is also similar in Missouri where most producers diversify with livestock and crops in small plots of land. A recent NCR-SARE study (Gonzalez E. 2018) observed that more than 90% of the Latino producers interviewed (n=100) owned farms and ranches of equal or less than 50 acres and a high proportion of those owned 1 to 15 acres. After years of working with Latino farmers, we observed their resilience to remain in farming regardless, yet some complain how they must complement their farm needs with their outside farm income. 

Cooperators

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Research

Hypothesis:

The program will use a cross-sectional analysis to evaluate current skills, knowledge, and awareness of sustainable production methods. During our data analysis, we will be using multivariate analysis to test the general hypothesis that Latinx farmers significantly increased the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices over time. A database of 2018 (time 1) used with an NCR-SARE grant program will help this program estimate longitudinal effects in adopting and following sustainable production methods in time 2 (2021). We will test multiple explanatory variables that align with sustainable agricultural conservation practices, sustainable livestock grass management practices, and the use of community-agribusiness models that encourage and align with local and regional food production systems. 

Materials and methods:

The field  research activities will start with an outreach evaluation survey to assess knowledge, skills and on-ground sustainable systems among a sample of 50 Latino producers in 2 regions of Missouri. This initial assessment will help the program to have a before program evaluation tool. The program will also enhance the relationship with the Missouri-Granjero Cooperative (MGC) and Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA) by facilitating access to an advisory group to help implement on-ground systems such as geothermal, solar, greenhouses and regenerative soil systems. 

In this first stage, we will collect data to assess current knowledge and on-ground activities of farmers by using a mixed-methods approach. This mixed- methods approach will consist of a survey interview to collect cross-sectional data to inform about awareness, skills, knowledge, attitudes towards sustainable agriculture techniques. Simultaneously, we will conduct a qualitative methodology based on direct observation and photovoice techniques to collect on-ground information about the current ground production activities of 50 Latino limited resource producers in two regions of Missouri. Stage one will have different sub-stages; at the beginning of stage one, we will develop our evaluation and research tools and a pilot sample of five producers, who will be conveniently selected because of their production system, farming activities, and experience of at least 5 years in farming. This pilot survey will be very helpful to evaluate the effectiveness of this program research and evaluation tools (survey, direct observation, and photovoice techniques). We will learn from this pilot sample and through feedback from the advisory group of farmers to improve these tools.  Then we are going to create an improved research set of tools including updated protocols to collect data from forty-five additional producers. A selection criterion will lead us to select producers for this program. For instance, we will considerer the production activity used, years in production, and willingness to adopt sustainable production methods.

Data will be analyzed in SPSS and NVivo software, and we will be able to identify whether the farmer is willing to implement specific sustainable technology (soil regenerative techniques, high tunnels systems u other climate control techniques). This methodology will also help to identify Latino producers with the best potential to complete the training and implement the new knowledge in their farms. By the end of year one, we will be able to identify and market the program with participants willing to take the complete proposed training of 4 in-room and 4 on-farm demonstrations with on-ground implementation sessions between on farm-demonstrations.

Similarly, at the end of year one, we will have a revised draft of educational materials in English and in Spanish to conduct the first pilot educational training with the proposed ESA curriculum-manual https://projects.sare.org/wp-content/uploads/ESACurriculum-manual-SARE-LNC15-3682.pdf

 

Year two. A second stage of the program will occur at the end of year one and the beginning of year two. We will organize a pilot workshop to instruct an Entrepreneurial Sustainable Education approach methodology developed in a previous NCR-SARE program and referred to above. The pilot training will be in Spanish; however, other limited resource producers will be welcome to attend, we will have translation services in place from this program personnel (Dr. Salinas, Dr. Navarrete, and program assistant). The program will offer an English translator as needed, most of the program personnel are bilingual. Twenty producers will receive training in year 2 in two different locations in Missouri. One will be in the central west region and one in the southwest region of Missouri.

The educational approach proposed will mix three components; a) in-classroom sessions, b) on-farm demonstrations and c) on-ground implementation of sustainable systems. Four in-class workshop-sessions will provide participants with the theoretical tools to enhance their understandings of sustainable agriculture, show them how to access conservation programs such as the NRCS-EQIP, RD and FSA program.

 

Workshop one (pilot)This program will follow the Entrepreneurial Sustainable Agriculture educational approach, which can be flexible to alternate inside and outside educational activities. For instance, we can follow a training of 4 in-room consecutive sessions and 4-on-farm consecutive sessions with 4 on-ground implementation practices (4-4-4). Similarly, we can follow a 2-in-room and a 2 on-farm and 2 on-ground sessions and repeat it. Also, we can follow a 1 in-room and 1 on-farm and 1 on on-ground session up to 12 total sessions. We will be able to adjust sessions based on farmers' needs and weather conditions. Based on Missouri weather and seasonal time, we are going follow a 4 in-room approach and 4 on-farm demonstration approach as necessary.  

All sessions are designed to address the SARE principles of sustainability as follows:

 

  1. In-room education. It includes the instruction of workshops over 4 in-class sessions. Information presented at each workshop might be adjusted at each session to guarantee that producers receive the appropriate information they need to acquire the knowledge and skills to experience and to learn about sustainable production methods. Instruction of sessions will be as follows:

 

  1. Session one: Producers will be able to differentiate between different production food systems along with their advantages and disadvantages. Producers will be able to rethink their farming business ideas and continue or reconsider the farm and ranch business model from an entrepreneurial approach to sustainable farming. This session also aims to help them with the on-ground implementation of sustainable practices. Program Extension personnel will present this session with the support of CCUA and representatives from government agencies.

 

  1. Session two: Production and Sustainability of Natural Resources.

Natural fertile soils are the foundation for healthy products. Producers will receive training on good sustainable soil practices management, and they on regenerative soil practices for livestock and crop production systems. Producers will also be introduced to agroecological principles and natural pest management practices. They will learn about native plants and pollinators as a way to connect with other sustainable production methods such as holistic livestock production and agro-forestry principles. Program Extension personnel will present this session with the support of CCUA and representatives from government agencies.

 

  1. Session three: Producers will learn about the business plan of their farms and ranches. They will be introduced to business plans as the financial guidance needed to achieve success. They will also learn about the role of the production, financial and management plans and how they are needed to sustain successful farms. Program Extension personnel will present this session with support representatives from government agencies.

 

  1. Session four: This session will help producers to understand their role in their local communities. They will learn about how different community capital frameworks might or might not align with their current capacities successfully, farm and ranch. Program Extension personnel will present this session with support representatives from government agencies

 

Each session will be 3.5 hours in duration and will include a quantitative approach to evaluate their knowledge and skills before and after the program. At each workshop session, we will collect data using 'end of session' and 'before and after' surveys to evaluate the program. This will help this program to have a midterm assessment evaluation. We will measure the gain in knowledge, and techniques to engage in sustainable agriculture production methods. Through on-farm demonstrations, we will measure skills acquired and experience gained during demonstration and involvement with on-ground implementation activities.

 

  1. On-farm demonstrations Four on-farm demonstrations will expose participants to sustainable practices. We will have a vegetable and horticultural farm with high tunnels systems (organic-sustainable) and a regenerative grass and soil system farm at each region available for Latino farmers to visit. The on-farm demonstration will help to provide ideas to Latino producers about how to implement and adopt those production systems in their own farms. We have received the support of five host farmers to invite Latino producers to learn about sustainable and organic production activities. Some on-farm demonstrations are going to be led by experienced English-speaking producers. We will have an English-Spanish language translator, and any non-Spanish speaker producers will be welcome to attend.

 

  1. On-ground implementation activities On-farm demonstration activities will help to link Latino producers to on-ground implementation of sustainable practices on their farms. On-ground implementation activities will be supported by the program advisory group and committee, farmers' mentors and program personnel. This activity is supported by volunteers to help Latino producers implement sustainable practices in their farms. In year one, we are going to lead Latino producers to apply for NRCS programs, such as EQIP (environmental quality incentive program) that offer high tunnel systems and other environmental practices. The approval of these programs to those qualified farmers to implement on-ground activities will be aligned with this program schedule to implement these activities at Latino farms.

 

Pilot training evaluation. An evaluation of the complete pilot training will come from:

  1. an end of session evaluation survey at each of the 8 main sessions of the training (in-room and on-farm demonstrations).
  2. a 'before' and 'after' evaluation surveys per each of the 8 main sessions.
  • a short open-question interview instrument at the end of each session in both the in-room and on-farm sessions.

 

Data will be analyzed using mixed-methods analysis. Observations, suggestions, and analysis of farmers’ feedback at each session will help to enhance the quality of the content of each session, educational materials and the educational approach as a whole. While conducting on-farm sessions, the content of the ESA curriculum manual will be updated to better approach farmers’ education. Participants will receive a stipend per session attended and providing this feedback.

 

Workshop two. The second series of educational training will start at the end of the summer of year two and will continue to the end of the second year of the program in the central west region of Missouri. At this time we have solved many issues related to the best educational approach to educate Latino farmers and guide them to implement sustainable production systems. Similarly, we will be able to have a good number of applications filed at the NRCS-EQIP programs to receive grants to install high panel tunnels and other geothermal practices. We are expecting a lot of interest in Latino producers in these programs because of the link it is creating between training, accessing resources and on-ground implementation of farming activities. Workshop two will teach another 10 Latino producers with the same educational approach used during workshop one training. The Latino Farmers' advisory group will help to get other farmers involved in this region. We have already received the support  and interest of Latino producers to attend training offered in this program.

 

Year three

Starting year three, we will continue with educational training with 10 more farmers in the southwest region of Missouri. More than 70 % of Latino producers live in the southwest region, this program will continue to develop a strong presence in this region. During a previous program, we were able to open the support of Latino producers and we brought three grants to them to improve farming activities, not limited to grazing systems and high tunnel panels. This program will help to continue with that and expand it to many other producers.

 

Workshop three and evaluation tools.The third workshop including in-room, on-farm and on-ground sessions will be provided to 10 additional producers in the southwest region of Missouri. We will continue with mentoring activities and technical assistance to farmers. In the second half of the year, we are going to replicate the evaluation and research tools we used in year one with the same sample of farmers. We will be able to compare and document action outcomes supported by data and pictures. We believe that the educational strategies proposed above will help to engage learning among Latino producers, which will influence their behavior to produce in alignment with SARE goals.

Research results and discussion:

We will use conventional and sustainable production systems methods to support the findings of this research. Fifty farmers interviewed in the past (2018) are helping as a reference to evaluate our general hypothesis that Latinx farmers increase the use of sustainable practices in their farms over time. We are still working on data collection, and we have faced multiple challenges to be able to outreach the same population of farmers we outreached in 2018. Data tables with accurate numbers are still not available.

Research conclusions:

In progress. Final results are no available . 

Participation Summary
15 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:

The educational approach proposed will mix three components; a) in-classroom sessions, b) on-farm demonstrations and c) on-ground implementation of sustainable systems. Four in-class workshop-sessions will provide participants with the theoretical tools to enhance their understandings of sustainable agriculture, show them how to access conservation programs such as the NRCS-EQIP, RD and FSA program.

Project Activities

Entrepreneurial Sustainable Agriculture for Latinx and Limited-resource Producers in Missouri

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

15 Farmers participated
5 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

In year one, our outreach activities to collect data faced diverse constraints related to factors outside the program control. We hired an assistant to support this program's activities with a proportion of the assistant time. Unfortunately, the assistant only lasts 2.5 months in the position. At the beginning of year one, we focus on developing the research tools to document Latinx sustainable agriculture practices. We presented a virtual conference on Sustainable Agriculture to a Spanish-speaking audience. The meeting is in this link https://www.facebook.com/uachfzye/videos/250985320251192 

Upcoming presentations include:

  1. 2022 ARD Research Symposium. The program purposed to present preliminary findings on the Latinx farmers' barriers to adopting sustainable agriculture production practices with the topic: "Broadband access and use among Latino producers in adopting and using sustainable agriculture production methods in Missouri." https://wwwcp.umes.edu/ard/1890symposium/ 
  2. The program plan to start the 4-4-4 educational and hands-on farming approach during the spring-fall of 2022 
  3. We are still working on some activities for year one, such as survey data collection and analysis.

Learning Outcomes

5 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
2 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation
Key areas taught:
  • Testing of surveys to five farmers. Training will start in year two of the program

Project Outcomes

Key practices changed:
    Success stories:

    The program is working on data tp offer project outcomes 

    Recommendations:

    We will be validating the research and educational tools we are using to deliver this program. These materials will be available to document their effectiveness after evaluations.

    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.