Building a System of Sustainable Agriculture in the Southeast Black Belt Region Through Education and Technical Assistance

Final report for LS18-293

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $47,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2020
Grant Recipient: McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
John Littles, Sr
McIntosh SEED
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Project Information

Abstract:

Our farming constituency have a wealth of know-how, but are disconnected from lucrative markets because their farms are small, in low populations areas, and lack sufficient upfront capital; have old and/or no equipment; cannot access loan programs, and have limited and/or no family involvement in the farming business. All of the regions identified by this project are high poverty, limited resource and/or impoverished. The farmers live in low-wealth, impoverished and neglected communities.

By providing capacity building and support, McIntosh SEED and partners propose to help farmers to assess and better understand the existing and potential agricultural opportunities and demands, discover connections and find common vision among growers, develop individual and collective action plans to expand livelihood opportunities, build more local and regional self reliance, connect inter-generational farmers in order to sustain farming knowledge and practices, preserve the land, and retain local ownership and control of farms and local food systems.

Project partners view this project as a great opportunity to improve conservation practices and create economic development and job creation in rural and impoverished areas in the Southeast. This project will benefit communities located in areas of concentrated poverty with limited access to supermarkets and will be implemented in and support agribusinesses located in rural areas or towns that have populations of 50,000 or less.

Through outreach and educational efforts, the project will increase the number of farmers added to FSA roles, increase participation in NRCS financial assistance programs, including EQIP programs to receive hoop houses, irrigation wells and irrigation systems. In addition, the project will assist farmers increase underutilized land into production, improve growing practices and methods, provide access to resources for farmers to improve their farms, and diversify their product lines with the potential to increase and generate potential income for their farms, farm business and households. With access to resources from FSA and NRCS, universities, and extension cooperatives, the project will help build capacity to help farmers understand potential agricultural opportunities and demands and put them on track for sustainable practices for their land.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: To provide outreach and technical assistance and training to minority and/or small-scale farmers in:

  • programs and assistance from USDA and FSA;
  • NRCS programs and application processes;
  • food safety and growing protocols;
  • GAP or GHP certification on 50 acres;
  • hoop house development and management;
  • Best Management Practices;
  • connecting and expanding local and regional markets; and
  • putting under utilized land into production.

Objective 2: Assist farmers and ranchers in obtaining access to USDA programs in partnership with NRCS.

Objective 3: Cultivate new wholesale market channels for locally grown foods by providing peer to peer training on how to grow for market demand and how to grow crops together from farm to farm to meet market demand.

Cooperators

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  • Paul Gleason (Educator)
  • Amy Bell (Educator)
  • Rita Barrow (Educator)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

While there are farmers who are familiar with NRCS, there’s a cadre of farmers and landowners who are unaware of these resources.  To address this knowledge disparity, the project implemented an educational strategic approach aimed at specific demographics and a targeted audience. The goal of the approach was to introduce and educate farmers and landowners about the programs and resources that are provided by USDA NRCS. The strategy included workshops, technical assistance, one-on-one support, peer-to-peer learning journeys and training sessions.  To help the farmers overcome the barriers that prevent or limit their participation in USDA programs, the workshops included presenters with a wealth of agricultural knowledge and expertise. The workshops also included USDA and FSA agency representatives, so that farmers would have the opportunity to ask questions and/or receive training directly from agency personnel.  Agency personnel also lead small group training sessions and worked directly, one-on-one, with farmers and landowners. Project coordinators and staff were available to answer questions, provide guidance, and assistance for the farmers and landowners who needed help completing the forms needed by agency personnel. 

 

Educational & Outreach Activities

5 On-farm demonstrations
15 Webinars / talks / presentations
14 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

225 Farmers
28 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Education and outreach activities have been conducted targeting new and beginning small farmers, ranchers and veterans.  Fifteen (15) outreach meetings have been held.  The meetings were held in the states of Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. Over 225 participants attended the meetings and were able to gain knowledge and access to USDA and NRCS programs.  

  • Farmers were educated on how to fill out and complete applications to obtain their Farm and Tract number.  
  • Farmers and landowners learned how to complete and submit applications for NRCS’s EQIP program.
  • Farmers and landowners received site visits, on their property, from the local NRCS office and received Conservation Management Plans (CMP) and Conservation Stewardship Plans (CSP). 

Learning Outcomes

225 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • The farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness in the following areas:
    -Familiarity with the processes of NRCS and FSA
    -Knowledge of market and processing infrastructure in order to grow produce to meet market demand versus growing for supply
    -Increase in knowledge of conservation programs and practices (EQIP, CMP, CSP, BMP)
    -Increase in interactions with NRCS agents
    -Increase in the number of site visits by NRCS agents
    -Increase in the knowledge of growing protocols

Project Outcomes

225 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The project has affected agricultural sustainability now and in the future due to the increase in the number of farmers and landowners who are applying for NRCS resources, EQIP funding, and implementing conservation practices.  The farmers and landowners are engaging with NRCS agents and obtaining farm and forest management plans and conservation stewardship plans.  The project has incorporated opportunities for trust and relationship building. The farmers and landowners are interacting with their peers and are forming cluster groups and networks for implementing conservation practices. The project intentionally engages and empowers farmers and landowners to assist with recruitment and outreach to other farmers and landowners. 

To create economic benefits, the project also connects farmers and landowners with potential markets for their agricultural products. Farmers have been connected to wholesale and retail buyers.  Farmers have also been supported and encouraged to grow cooperatively and collectively. 

The project also increased economic benefits for farmers by providing them with Ag Enterprise plans to help identify on-farm assets and liabilities.

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.