Strategies for Adaptive Resilience in Sustainable Agriculture for Beginning and Historically Underserved Farmers

Progress report for LNC20-442

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $199,997.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS)
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Jennifer Silveri
Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS)
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Project Information

Summary:

Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) and Julian Samora Research Institute (JSRI) will collaborate with Michigan State University Extension Staff, USDA NRCS, Conservation Districts, innovative partner organizations, and farmers in Michigan and other states in the North Central Region to deliver sustainable agriculture outreach and education that supports socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers in adapting to changing climates and markets, topics relevant to farmers in the region and country. Educational programming will support historically underserved farmers in operating resilient, sustainable agriculture business operations that are more adaptable to external risks and environmental factors. Programming will be developed in response to the needs identified and co-developed through long standing collaborations with Spanish-speaking Latino and African American blueberry farmers in Southwest Michigan. 

The project team will collaborate with regional farmers and innovators to host educational farmer network meetings and immersive field days, in Spanish and English, to offer replicable trainings on principles of sustainable agriculture production, soil health, scale appropriate mechanization, nutrient management, water stewardship, crop diversification, Integrated Pest Management, and opportunities for farm revenue diversification by leveraging Farm Bill programs to support working lands conservation and natural resources management on farms. Michigan currently lacks cohesive programming to serve its nearly 1,000 Latino farmers and deliver culturally appropriate training programs or technical services in Spanish (Martinez & Kayitsinga, 2016). Existing services and free technical assistance programs available in the state will be leveraged to collaborate in developing cohesive programming that builds stronger relationships and develops trust between disenfranchised farmers and institutions.

 

Project Objectives:

Objectives

  1. Increase sustainability of agricultural businesses operated by limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers
  2. Increase trust and strengthen relationships between underserved farmers, educational institutions, government organizations and technical assistance programs
  3. Increase sustainable management of  natural resources among socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers 

Outcomes

  1. Increased knowledge about sustainable agriculture and natural resource management on farms
  2. Increased knowledge about existing technical assistance and resources that can support sustainable agriculture operations 
  3. Increased knowledge about strategies to build more resilient business operations through diversification of  production and revenue streams
  4. Increased participation in USDA Farm Bill Programs and utilization of free technical assistance services
  5. Increased adoption of sustainable agricultural practices
Introduction:

In Michigan, the market value of agriculture production by Latino farmers reached close to $64 million in 2012, reflecting an increase of 54.6% since 2007. According to agricultural census counts, field experts, and surveys, approximately 35% of Latino farmers in the state are involved in the production of blueberries, namely in Southwestern Michigan. They have information needs that are similar to other socially disadvantaged farmers in the areas of sustainable production methods, marketing, business planning, record keeping, and more (Martinez, Sarathchandra, Babladelis & Miller, 2016). They want to increase farm revenue, invest in new equipment, and expand farm acreage, but they experience financial challenges and difficulties in obtaining loans. Many do not have business plans, farm conservation plans, integrated pest management plans, or approved Good Agricultural Practices plans (Ibid.). 

Despite the rapid growth of Spanish-speaking Latino and women farmers, Michigan offers extremely limited culturally- appropriate education and technical services that were designed to meet the needs of socially disadvantaged producers or that are delivered in English and Spanish (Martinez & Kayitsinga, 2016). 

Currently, a high percentage of Latino small farmers in Michigan have their operations concentrated in the production of blueberriesHowever, the production of blueberries is no longer profitable for many of them, threatening farm viability. Having purchased older farms, the blueberry plants are old and should be replaced by new varieties that are more resistant to pests and in greater market demand. Further, mechanization to mitigate labor shortages has contributed to reductions in profits. Other factors include inadequate irrigation systems, lack of exposure to new or improved crop varieties, lack of effective nutrient management to manage and amend soils, and the devastating industry impacts of an invasive fruit fly, the Spotted Wing Drosphilia. This program will encourage participants to diversify their agricultural production to include other fruits and vegetables; incorporating best management practices for sustainable agriculture to support farm viability. (Ruben,R; Siles, M; Villa Gomez, F.; JSRI 2019)

The Latino population is the second largest population in the country and the least connected of all groups to the nation’s core institutions, including those in sustainable agriculture. Moreover, Latino farmers in the Midwest are not integrated into the nation’s agriculture industry, including service agencies, markets, and networks. The Midwest is considered a “new destination” for Latinos, both native-born and immigrants, meaning that they are relative newcomers and local institutions have yet to develop capacity to address their needs, including those of Latino farmers. (Ruben,R; Siles, M; Villa Gomez, F.; JSRI 2019)

Currently Michigan lacks cohesive programming to serve its nearly 1,000 Latino farmers and deliver culturally appropriate training programs or technical services in Spanish (Martinez & Kayitsinga, 2016). Similar challenges exist for other socially disadvantaged farming communities including needs identified to the project team identified by African American blueberry farmers in Southwest Michigan through our work related to our USDA Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program. Through that ongoing work, co-developed and implemented with farmers, we have documented, and worked collaboratively for 3 years to address the following opportunities to support the needs of socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers (Siles, M; Villa Gomez, F.; JSRI 2019).

Main Constraints that Latino Farmers Face

  • Average farm size 9 acres or less, with low productivity.
  • They lack the knowledge to assess and purchase productive land, assess health of existing perennial crop plantings and mitigate potential environmental risks.
  • Their social and business networks are limited to nuclear and extended family members and friends, which constrains their access to information about sustainable agricultural practices and markets.
  • They often lack awareness of markets outside of their local communities.
  • They have language and cultural barriers, and some of them have literacy challenges.
  • They lack farm management plans and knowledge about sustainable cropping practices.
  • They lack access to formal financial markets.
  • They lack knowledge of improved technologies and capital to buy equipment for more efficient production.
  • They lack knowledge about industry standards for quality management of harvested products
  • Lastly, they lack knowledge about best practices for conservation and management of natural resources on farms.

Our project will promote the adoption of sustainable production and management, working lands conservation, and natural resources management practices, while strengthening social relationships that influence the adoption of these new practices and access to technical assistance. This project was developed in collaboration with farmers who have collaborated with and shared their knowledge to support us in developing and delivering responsive programming to meet their needs through ongoing, active participation in Network meetings of the Agricultores Latinos Unidos, and piloting of a two semester, Farm Business Management course delivered in Spanish at Lake Michigan Community College: South Haven. Their request for additional programming and support of this nature, following successful delivery and graduations of two cohorts of students, provided the motivation to seek support for this project.

Cooperators

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  • Marcelo Siles
  • Filiberto Villa Gomez
  • Lakwiita Garbarini
  • Ruben Martinez

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary
7 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:

The project team will collaborate with regional farmers and innovators to host educational farmer network meetings and immersive field days, in Spanish and English, to offer replicable trainings on principles of sustainable agriculture production, soil health, scale appropriate mechanization, nutrient management, water stewardship, crop diversification, Integrated Pest Management, and opportunities for farm revenue diversification by leveraging Farm Bill programs to support working lands conservation and natural resources management on farms. Michigan currently lacks cohesive programming to serve its nearly 1,000 Latino farmers and deliver culturally appropriate training programs or technical services in Spanish (Martinez & Kayitsinga, 2016). Existing services and free technical assistance programs available in the state will be leveraged to collaborate in developing cohesive programming that builds stronger relationships and develops trust between disenfranchised farmers and institutions.

Project Activities

Resource Identification and Analysis

Educational & Outreach Activities

7 Consultations

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Planning is underway for 2022 field season and we plan on applying for an extension to accommodate delays resulting from COVID 19

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.