Building Grassroots Infrastructure for Peer-to-Peer Learning and Support for Sustainable Farmers in Alabama

Final report for LS20-331

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,992.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Alice Evans
Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network
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Project Information

Abstract:

With Southern SARE’s support, ASAN will coordinate farmers and aspiring farmers in Central Alabama in order to form a CRAFT Network for peer-to-peer, on-farm, and farmer-led training that includes intentional space for community-building and social support.  Meanwhile, we will conduct an intensive, relational farmer inventory of sustainable farms throughout Alabama, to inform the future development of (1) additional regional CRAFT networks and/or (2) other needs-informed programming to support Alabama’s sustainable farmers.

CENTRAL ALABAMA CRAFT NETWORK:
CRAFT stands for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training and is a farmer-led training model well-established elsewhere, but relatively unestablished in the Deep South.  In 2019, at the request an initial interest group of farmers, and with the support of a mini-grant from Southern SARE, ASAN organized a pilot run of the Central Alabama CRAFT Network.  This pilot built on ASAN’s already-strong reputation and long history of providing relevant, practical, farmer-led training with attention to relationship- and community-building; the CRAFT model added name recognition as well as the element of formal steering committee and structure, by which the network can be fully farmer-led.

This model, we believe, is an elegant way to tackle many of our food-system challenges at the same time, all while underscoring farmers’ power and expertise by holding them as the central decision-makers.  We are seeking SSARE’s continued support for this project, in order to build out the pilot into a fully-fledged CRAFT network with a formalized structure and governance.  We also hope to begin exploring whether – using the Central Alabama CRAFT Network as a template – there is a need and desire for additional CRAFT Networks in other regions of Alabama.

FARMER INVENTORY:
As we work to grow the Central Alabama CRAFT Network, we plan to also do some deep listening and data-gathering within the sustainable farm community around the state.  We know that many of the needs and conditions are similar among farmers in different regions of the state; we know that important differences exist between regions as well.

With Southern SARE’s support, we will conduct an inventory of the needs, assets, and goals of 50 sustainable producers (and aspiring producers) in Alabama. We will be listening to gain a more textured understanding of what their goals/visions are, what their operations currently look like, and what stands in between.

We will interview farmers within the Central Alabama CRAFT Network footprint, and outside of it.  We will conduct this survey in a way that builds power and connectivity within our network and the communities that comprise it – rather than being “just another survey.”  The data we gather will inform both: (1) the ways that a CRAFT network might grow to meet farmers’ needs, and (2) the development of additional complementary programming to meet those needs even more effectively.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1) Establish structure, governance, and other “infrastructure” for a CRAFT Network for farmer-to-farmer training in Central Alabama.  CRAFT, a model first established in New England and replicated throughout the world, does not yet exist in Alabama or, to our knowledge, in any adjacent state; the Central Alabama CRAFT Network will serve as a pilot for possible future CRAFT Networks in other regions of Alabama.

 

Objective 2) Mobilize this CRAFT Network to hold a series of 8-10 monthly on-farm workshops for farmers and aspiring farmers in Central Alabama.  Workshop topics will be selected by the farmer-led steering committee in winter 2019-2020.  Each event will include a farm tour and a social component (e.g. a potluck meal) as well as a workshop on the advertised topic. 

 

Objective 3) Conduct a thorough, relationship-centric inventory of the needs, assets, and goals of at least 50 sustainable producers (and aspiring producers) across Alabama.  The survey will be conducted in the form of a 2-3 hour interview, ideally in person, and will gather information on a wide range of topics including: demographics, farm family/ies, production, marketing, business/legal, support structure, and more.  These interviews will be conducted by the project coordinator (based in Birmingham, Central Alabama) along with 3 outreach fellows based in other regions of the state.

 

Objective 4) Conduct 2-4 farmer focus groups, to brainstorm ways to operationalize the findings of our farmer inventory.  These focus group sessions will be held in diverse farmer communities around the state in winter 2020-21, and will serve as an opportunity for our constituents to reflect on initial inventory findings, and to offer ideas and suggestions for potential programmatic ways to meet the needs expressed in those findings.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Research

Materials and methods:

n/a

Research results and discussion:

n/a

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Approach for Objective 1:

Many (but not all) CRAFTs are structured to have season-long membership, where farms join on behalf of all their employees, or individuals join on their own behalf; after paying the annual membership fee, the events are free.  To remain open to learning who was interested – rather than dictating it at the outset – the 2019 CRAFT mini-series was held without any restrictions on who could attend workshops, and we opted for a nominal “a la carte” fee per person per event.  These decisions were made in conjunction with the “pilot” steering committee in May 2019.

 

When the steering committee meets for the first time in winter 2019-2020, they will synthesize post-event feedback from each of our four 2019 workshops, plus additional feedback from our end-of-season survey.  Drawing on this, as well as on their own experiences, they will formally set the Network’s membership structure, including who is able to attend, the costs, and more.  They will help refine our evaluation processes, and set outreach goals.  They will also set the topics, host farms, and dates for the 2020 workshop series (see next objective).

 

The decisions made by the steering committee are not set in stone.  One of the strengths of this model is that it can constantly refine itself, adapt, and improve itself as time goes on and conditions change.  The 2020-21 steering committee will evaluate the model attempted in year one, and make changes to improve upon it.

 

Approach for Objective 2:

Specific workshop topics will be selected by the steering committee, relying on their own experience, post-event and post-series evaluation data from 2019, and the results of our initial interest survey conducted in May 2019.  The topics for our 2019 trainings were: permaculture, cut flower production, perennial fruit production, and no-till production.  Other potential topics of interest include: biodynamics; farming with draft animals; equipment selection, maintenance, and repair; on-farm compost production; small animal on-farm processing; mushroom production; and more.

 

As it was in 2019, each training in 2020 will include a workshop, farm tour, and shared meal or social component.  Trainings will be farmer-led; host farmers may invite their Extension agent or other resource personnel, if desired.  Evaluations conducted after each workshop and after the entire series, will collect feedback for the steering committee to incorporate into the 2021 season.  CRAFT members will be sustainable farmers, farm employees/interns, and aspiring sustainable farmers in Central Alabama (~2-hour radius of Birmingham).  Target attendance is 200 (nonunique) participants across all 2020 trainings combined.

 

Approach for Objective 3:

As stated above, the farmer inventory will be developed and implemented with a focus on relationship-building

The content of the inventory will be developed in spring/summer 2020 by the project coordinator, and will touch on:

  • Demographic information
  • Farm family/ies info – ex. how many jobs does the farm sustain? do workers have health insurance?
  • Farm information – ex. crops grown, ownership/tenancy structure, labor, growing methods
  • Farm business information – ex. legal structure, business plan, source(s) of capital, crop insurance, certifications
  • Market information
  • Interaction with other organizations / institutions and technical support
  • Farm goals/vision
  • Stories and unique elements of each farm

We will rely on support from the Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON), who have done similar surveying of their farm-constituents in other southeastern states. They have shared their existing inventory (a 2-3 hour interview with over 100 questions) and have agreed to help us as we develop and implement ours.  We have also agreed to a cooperative partnership with them, whereby we will connect them to any black farmers we interview who express an interest in learning more about SAAFON.

 

Also in spring/summer 2020, the coordinator will begin to recruit potential outreach fellows.  These fellows may be farmers themselves, students, or other community members.  Each fellow will be expected to conduct 10 interviews.  The coordinator will conduct the remaining 20, or more as time allows.  Fellows will be recruited to start in the fall, and trained on how to gather accurate data, as well as how to build trust and familiarity with farmer-interviewees – this is critical both because some of the interview questions may be sensitive, and because our long-term goal is for the trust and familiarity built during the interview, to be a foundation for a longer-term, deeper collaborative relationship.  Interviews will be scheduled at a time/place (or in multiple installments) convenient and comfortable for the farmers being interviewed, with an emphasis on in-person interviews unless the farmer requests otherwise.  Farmers will be compensated for their time.

 

The coordinator will begin interviews in late summer, before the fellows, in order to pilot the process and inform the fellows’ training.  The full team will conduct interviews throughout the fall and winter, and the coordinator will aggregate data as they go.

 

Note: ASAN commits to matching funds required for the farmer-interviewee compensation (likely a $50 cash card per person).   We also commit to matching funds required for the program coordinator and the outreach fellows to attend the ASAN Food & Farm Forum in December 2020.  The Forum is ASAN’s annual conference/convening, and is both an opportunity to conduct several interviews with attending farmers, and an opportunity to present initial inventory findings to ASAN’s full constituency, as part of our annual meeting.  It’s possible that the Forum could serve as a site for one of the focus group meetings, as well.

 

Approach for Objective 4:

Between December 2020 and February 2021 ASAN will hold 2-4 focus group gatherings with farmers around the state – with a focus on those who were interviewed as part of the inventory, but open and advertised to other farmers as well.  At these events we will present what we heard in the inventory, highlighting any trends especially in the gaps between where farmers say they want to be, versus where they are right now.  By focusing on these gaps, we will be able to identify some of the primary barriers to a more robust, accessible, and just sustainable farming community in Alabama.  We will engage participants in helping to identify those barriers, and then move into collectively brainstorming ways that ASAN might initiate projects/programs (independent or collaborative) that address them.

 

These events will be planned and facilitated so as to be approachable and comfortable.  We understand that just saying you want people’s input, doesn’t always adequately make space for them to really share it, so we will be attentive to how we “set the space” both physically (how the room is set up) and process-wise (what questions we ask, what activities we do, etc).  We will hold them in informal/familiar locations, serve food, and provide travel stipends as needed.  (We generally have a good working knowledge of what locations are familiar and conveniently located for the farmers we’re trying to reach, but in the event we need support in this area, we will reach out to the farmers we interviewed and ask for their recommendations.) 

 

Note: ASAN commits to matching funds required to host these events, including all costs associated with reserving the space, providing food and travel assistance, and promoting the events.  We are asking for SSARE’s support for the staff-time associated with planning and conducting them, and synthesizing the feedback gathered at them.

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
8 Online trainings
6 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

279 Farmers
50 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Objectives 1 & 2 (Central Alabama CRAFT Network):

The grant period began right as the COVID pandemic shut down much of the world.  Our planned April 2020 CRAFT workshop was cancelled, but we transitioned quickly to doing virtual CRAFT workshops, as follows:

  • May 2020 - McDowell Farm School, Homestead Poultry Keeping (virtual).  This workshop featured a virtual farm tour of the McDowell Farm School as well as a video workshop on selection, nutrition, care, and infrastructure for homestead-scale poultry.  Host Aubrey Gallegos alternated between sharing pre-recorded videos of different parts of the farm, with live commentary and Q&A.  Full video available here.
  • June 2020 - Blue Rooster Farm, Perennial Cut Flowers and Basic Cut Flower Design (virtual).  This workshop featured a virtual farm tour of Blue Rooster Farm which raises cut flowers both in a high tunnel and in the field.  It also featured a short workshop of cut flower design basics led by Allison Creel.  Kirk and Allison shared information about farm funding, including about the NRCS grant that helped Kirk and Allison acquire their high tunnel.  Full video available here.
  • July 2020 - Marble Creek Farmstead, Advanced Poultry Production and Processing (virtual).  This workshop featured a virtual farm tour of Marble Creek Farmstead and Marble City Meats USDA Certified meat processing facility.  Led by Matthew Lawrence, the prerecorded video clips were interspersed with slides detailing everything about the farm's production, from feed costs and vendors to shelter specs to potential animal health issues.  Participants were able to hear from Matthew about his process creating and certifying his USDA Certified meat processing facility for poultry, beef, and goat.  Matthew was also transparent about funding and farm business management, investments and debts.  Full video available here.
  • August 2020 - Farm Business Management Panel featuring Laurie Moore of Moore Farms and Friends, Sheila Dicks of Joy Haven Farm, and Travis Kress of Wallace State Community College Agriculture/Horticulture (virtual).  At this virtual panel discussion, each farmer shared about the evolution of their farm business over the life of their farm, and what informed their decision-making at each step along the way.  They shared strategies for recordkeeping and accounting, budgeting and profitability, insurance, and hiring help. Travis Kress provided information about beginner farmer business program through WSCC, information on where to sign up, duration of class and learning objectives.  Full video available here.
  • September 2020 - Dynamite Hill Smithfield Community Land Trust and Fountain Heights Farm - Ancestralization, Healing and Reclamation: Earth Narratives in Urban Farming (virtual). Majadi Baruti & Susan Diane Mitchell from Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust and Dominique Villanueva & Christopher Gooden from Fountain Heights Farm spoke about their process in starting their farming projects and their commitments to Black urban farming and reclaiming, restoring, and reconnecting with city land to benefit their communities. Each presenter spoke to their particular rituals, values and belief systems that they use to connect with their ancestry and the earth throughout their cultivating and caretaking of the land they farm. Participants were invited to share their particular earth traditions with each other in this session. Included in the presentation was technical information about the formation of the Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust. Full video available here.
  • October 2020- Luddite Farm, Biodynamic Farming (virtual).  This workshop featured a virtual farm tour of Luddite Farm, which primarily raises goats and garlic.  Host Joan Robertson shared information about Draft animals and biodynamic farming, as well as information about collaborating with local extensions and universities to do research projects (Joan is currently working on a research project on Husk Cherry production).  Full video available here.
  • May 2021 - Farmer Physical Health, with Joanna Mann, Licensed Massage Therapist and Herbalist of Walden Farmacy, Bessemer, AL and Carmen E. Capó-Lugo, PT, PhD from UAB (virtual). This workshop provided farmer-specific ergonomic exercises, tips, and resources to ease pain and support body health, as well as a wealth of nutritional and movement-focused information for promoting overall physical health, for farmers whose body is their most important tool.  Full video available here.
  • June 2021 - River Queen Greens, Building Strong Farm Teams (virtual)Cheryl Nunes and Annie Moore of River Queen Greens shared about their management strategy and guiding principles, apprenticeship program, the nuts-and-bolts logistics of coordinating multiple crews on two farm sites, and so much more. Co-moderators Sarah Bell from Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Charlie Griffin from Hepzibah Farms, posed questions of Cheryl and Annie, and also shared some from their own experience as farm managers and employees. This workshop was not exclusively geared towards farm owners, crew leaders, and supervisors, but was intended to be particularly useful for members of the ASAN network in those positions, as well as farm employees. Full video available here.
  • July 2021 - EAT South, Tool School (in person).  This workshop hosted by Caylor Roling of EAT South focused on tool repair and maintenance with information on ergonomic use of tools and finding quality tools that are easier on the body. Participants shared their favorite tools, tool care tips, and homemade tools that they brought along. There was a social gathering following in person where farmers connected with each other.

Outreach for the above activities included:

  • Promoting each event in ASAN’s monthly e-blast (sent to over 2000 contacts by email) and online events calendar (http://asanonline.org/events)
  • Promoting each event on ASAN’s social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  This includes creating Facebook event pages for each event, direct-inviting individuals to those events and sharing them in groups and on partner pages
  • Calling, texting, and sending targeted emails to past CRAFT participants and other engaged CRAFT members 
  • 1:1 leadership development meetings with CRAFT SC members
  • Grassroots outreach through CRAFT SC members and other engaged CRAFT attendees, ie sharing on their social media pages and to their networks through other channels.

Other project activities related to the Central Alabama CRAFT Network included a virtual Steering Committee (SC) meeting in February 2021, where the SC evaluated the 2020 CRAFT season and made programming decisions for the 2021 season.

Some unanticipated challenges and key takeaways include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic required new ways of reaching and working with farmers. For some of our farmers, 2020 CRAFT workshops were the first time they were attending or leading a workshop on Zoom.  We provided ample tech support, and did individual coaching with farmer-presenters to build skills on online presenting and tools.  We streamed all workshops simultaneously on Facebook as well.
  • ASAN staff learned from other programming and from post-workshop feedback, how to make CRAFT programming more effective and engaging in 2021. Changes included shifting the time for networking/socializing to the beginning of the session and creating a facilitator role for SC member hosts.
  • In January 2020 the CRAFT SC decided that the year's workshops would cover a mix of in-depth/advanced and introductory level topics.  Attendees, accordingly, were a mix of farmers as well as gardeners, homesteaders, and interested members of the general public.  In 2021, the CRAFT SC decided to focus on more intermediate and advanced level topics only, in order to appeal more exclusively to those who were actively farming.  
  • In 2021 the SC was able to use the (preliminary) results of the FNA to guide programming decisions.
  • In 2021 the SC also decided to break from the established format of CRAFT being hosted only by farmers themselves, in order to bring in vetted non-farmer experts on certain topics (e.g. mental health, physical health).  These speakers were selected for their ability to make their expertise relatable and accountable to farmers' experience, and farmer-experts "co-hosted" the workshops as interviewers and moderators of the Q&A with their peers.

Farmer Needs Assessment (Objectives 3&4)

In October 2020 ASAN hired three Farmer Needs Assessment (FNA) Fellows: Nonhlanhla Jones, Darren Beachem, and Olivia Cleveland. Fellows were selected for their familiarity with farming and the Alabama sustainable farming community (all three are farmers themselves), their geographic distribution, their ability to connect with a diverse target audience of interviewees (all three Fellows are Black, two are women, and represent a range of ages and cultural backgrounds).

The Farmer Support Coordinator provided training for the Fellows in October-November 2020 (as well as throughout the interview process), which included:

  • Education on interview skills for research projects
  • Education on ASAN history/structure/programming
  • Technical competencies - Zoom, Google Docs, Survey Monkey, Chromebooks, Google Docs phone app, recording audio on Chromebook, and effective interview notetaking
  • Working knowledge of a wide variety of topics like farm equipment, healthcare navigation, and government programs and grants, for purposes of education/resource-sharing during interviews

Between November 2020 and February 2021, the Farmer Support Coordinator and the FNA Fellows collectively conducted 50 interviews with sustainable producers across Alabama.  These interviews were not primarily educational events, but did provide some indirect education including:

  • Education on ASAN mission, values, structure
  • Government grant and loan funding and other resources, including resources specifically for women farmers and farmers of color
  • SAAFON
  • Gender Identity and pronouns, what LGBTQ stands for
  • Importance of written business plans and growth plans, in order to apply for funding
  • There were questions that were geared towards assessing the level of familiarity farmers had with certain technologies of sustainable farming including familiarity of succession planning, seed saving, and how often farmers soil test. Included in this section were opportunities for farmers to reflect on the way that their land has changed over time and their impact on this land. This part of the assessment provided a structural framework  to encourage farmers to reflect on themselves as land stewards, through the questions asked and with the support of the interviewer.
  • Because we hired three fellows who are themselves all Black farmers, two of whom are young farmers, and two who fall in the beginning farmer category, the assessment process connected Black farmers to each other and provided opportunity for mentorship.

In March 2021 we conducted a Farm Employee Focus Group virtually over Zoom. The slides, which include notes, from this event can be found here.  As all 50 FNA participants were farm owners and/or primary operators, we realized we unwittingly excluded the voices of sustainable farm employees. The farm employee focus group was intended to begin to fill this unintentional gap in the FNA data. Participants in the focus group shared that while there are a multitude of wonderful aspects of being a farm employee, they also have witnessed and/or experienced firsthand a number of labor concerns (outlined in the Farming in the Margins final report accessible in full here).

In late March 2021 we held a Network Wide Focus Group, also virtually over Zoom. The slides from this event can be found here. This focus group was a “first look” at the initial findings of the FNA, and an opportunity to receive feedback from FNA participants (and others in the ASAN network) about what they felt was pertinent to include in the final FNA report.

Like the FNA interviews themselves, the primary goal of these focus groups was not educational, but they nonetheless had indirect educational impact, including: 

  • The initial findings of the assessment itself. One attendee, a white man, reported that it was his first time hearing about the racialized discrimination of farmers of color in loan offices. Another educational moment was the stratification of income.
  • For the farm-employee group, participants were concerned, though not surprised, based on their own experiences to hear that farmers by and large recruit through word of mouth and family connections and often are not hiring full time employees.

In June 2021 ASAN released Farming in the Margins: A 2020-2021 Needs Assessment of Alabama Sustainable Producers Report. Beside connectivity through the interviews and focus groups themselves, and influence of the findings on programming, the Farming in the Margins report is a resource for small, sustainable farmers and supporting organizations for the years to come. The report was distributed through traditional media (press release), social media, ASAN’s email distribution list, on ASAN’s website, and through ASAN partner organizations and agencies. Follow-up promotion on ASAN’s social media included educational posts highlighting the findings. All 50 farmer participants received printed copies of the report in the mail. Initial feedback from partners (including ACES Extension agent and Alabama Arise advocates) endorsed the report and spoke highly of it as an educational resource for direct service providers and non-profit organizations who support farmers. 

Some unanticipated challenges and key takeaways include:

  • Interviews were conducted in person but socially distanced due to COVID, which meant that recordings were sometimes difficult to make out; since this process was an important oral history collection opportunity, if we were to do it again we would have invested in more sophisticated recording equipment for interviews.
  • As is consistent with the nature of research projects, as time progressed some interview questions proved to be especially generative and important, while others turned out to be less so. We learned what questions, especially open ended questions to ask farmers, and the insights gleaned from these observations are already being incorporated into program evaluations and conversations with farmers.
  • The findings from the FNA were incorporated into CRAFT 2021 programming and the program selection for the 2021 Food and Farm Forum, including CRAFT sessions on access to capital, building strong farm teams (labor), and collective/cooperative farm business structures, and Forum sessions on farm/business management software, shipping frozen meat, climate change mitigation strategies, and more.
  • ASAN staff and Board of Directors utilized the data from the FNA to inform significant organizational development work in 2021, including an organization-wide shift towards a deepened focus on community organizing, collective action, and policy work in the next several years.

Learning Outcomes

219 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

219 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
5 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project built on ASAN’s long history of down-to-earth farmer training and farmer community-building, in order to feed several elements of agricultural sustainability simultaneously: practical, accessible farmer training; decreasing farmer isolation and increasing farmer social support; and laying groundwork for continued and expanded work in the future.

Central Alabama CRAFT Network

The Central Alabama CRAFT Network provides relevant, practical farmer training to deepen farmers’ knowledge and lower barriers to implementing new practices on-farm.  Eighty-three percent of end-of-workshop survey respondents (and proportionately, roughly 219 of the total 264 farmers who attended) indicated that they learned something that they planned to implement on their farm or garden within the next year, and that the workshop was relevant and helpful to them as a farmer.

CRAFT also broadens and deepens the web of social relationships that bolsters farmers and keeps them from burning out or feeling despair, and creates opportunities for aspiring and existing farmers to deepen the roots they’ve put down in their particular place. Seventy percent of CRAFT end-of-workshop survey respondents said they experienced an increased sense of connection to fellow farmers, as a result of participating in the workshop; 82% experienced an increased connection to the broader sustainable farming community; 84% an increased sense of enthusiasm and inspiration; and 86% an increased sense of support overall.

CRAFT and ASAN more broadly are particularly interested in serving the needs of -- and building an accessible and inclusive community for -- Black and Indigenous farmers and other farmers of color (BIPOC farmers), women farmers, and LGBTQ+ farmers.  As these farmers often face larger and more complex barriers to success and sustainability, one measure of the success of our work is how well our programs cater to the needs of these farmers.  Thirty-four percent of end-of-workshop respondents (or proportionately, 90 of 264 farmers in attendance) identify as BIPOC; 74.8% (or 198 farmers) identify as women; and 20.9% (or 55 farmers) identify as LGBTQ+.  It should be noted that demographic diversity is only one measure -- and a fairly limited one -- in assessing the actual accessibility and inclusivity of any program, and so we also monitor more anecdotal, personal/relational, and qualitative indicators of individuals’ experience at/with the program and the organization.  

Lastly, an added outcome of CRAFT is the leadership development we are able to facilitate with farmer-presenters and workshop hosts.  Hosting and leading a workshop contributes to farmers’ sense of self-worth and expertise; as one 2020 presenter noted, “Being a presenter increased my confidence in my knowledge and experience”.

 

Farmer Needs Assessment:

In our initial project proposal we said that we would measure the success of the farmer inventory portion of the project, by assessing:

  • Whether we met our target number of interviews (50)
  • Whether the interviews represent the full diversity of stakeholders in the sustainable farming community in Alabama – racially, gender-wise, age-wise, and geographically
  • How willing participants (interviewees) are to refer us to their friends/neighbors/colleagues, at the end of the interview
  • Whether we deepened community relationships with those we interviewed – Do they feel their experiences, needs, and ideas are heard, respected, and valued? Are they more likely to participate in / contribute to CRAFT and/or ASAN spaces in the future?

We are pleased to report that we achieved full success in all of these measures.  The FNA reflects in-depth interviews with 50 farmers, of whom 40% identify as Black or African American; 56% as White; 2% Latino; 4% Asian American; 6% Indigenous or Native American.  Forty-five percent identify as women and 55% as men.  Interviewees span over 5 decades in age, with 6% identifying as 29 or younger; 18% aged between 30-39 years; 18% aged between 40-49 years; 26% aged between 50-59 years; 22% aged between 60-69 years; and 10% aged 70 or older.  A visual representation of geographic distribution of farms can be found on page 5 of the full FNA report.

Farmers were very willing to refer contacts and supported us in finding farmers to interview. We collected 40 contact names as the result of participants’ willingness to make referrals. 

We deepened individual and community relationships with interviewees, and are already well into continuing to build with participants on into the future.  FNA Fellows Olivia and Darren are now ASAN’s board president and vice president, respectively; our third Fellow Nonhlanhla hosted a CRAFT workshop (co-led by Darren!) at her farm in August 2021. Several FNA participants have since participated in other ASAN programming, including our virtual huddles for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people.  

This FNA is a positive contribution to agricultural sustainability in Alabama because the detailed information about the specific experiences and conditions of the 50 participants will inform member-led decision making for ASAN programming and policy work in years to come. The data from the FNA has already been applied in organizational visioning and planning of the Board, planning for our annual Food & Farm Forum convening (2021), and the selection of farmer-to-farmer education topics for CRAFT 2021 programming. Additionally, there has been careful consideration and distribution of the Farming in the Margins Report to statewide community partners. 

Several other specific outcomes include:

  • Economic -- In response to the FNA’s identification of the strong need for additional/better information and resources connecting farmers with government funding and additional access to capital, the CRAFT Steering Committee decided to devote multiple events to covering access to capital in the fall/winter of 2021, with one SC member envisioning a peer support/working group to participate in Alabama Ag Credit’s Farm Credit University together.
  • Social and economic -- The farm employee focus group provided critical connectivity for farm employees, a group not often named and focused on specifically.  They expressed a desire to meet in an ongoing way, which ASAN is planning to facilitate.  They informed the development of the Strong Farm Teams CRAFT event in June, which was geared more towards farm employers and would-be employers, but with an emphasis on creating equitable, enriching workplaces for all.  Furthermore the desire for more farm employee-specific programming catalyzed a growing partnership between ASAN and Not Our Farm (https://notourfarm.org/), including a collaboration on a training program to debut in fall/winter 2021.

Information Products

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.