Social Sustainability on the Farm: Focus on Resilience

Final report for NEVT14-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $44,444.00
Funds awarded in 2015: $44,444.00
Funds awarded in 2016: $46,111.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2017
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
State Coordinator:
Debra Heleba
Northeast SARE
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Project Information

Summary:

“Social sustainability” is generally defined as “the ability of a social system (in this case, a farm) to function at a defined level of social well-being indefinitely.” Farm families face a myriad of social issues. This project provided training and resources to agricultural service providers to better help them in their work with farm families as they recognize and plan for impacts on social sustainability when making family, business and production decisions. A total of 98 agricultural service providers learned about these concepts via the projects webinars, workshop and poster presentations.

The project also worked to develop social sustainability indicators that could be incorporated into Extension program evaluations to elevate the importance of including social sustainability in sustainable agriculture research and education to better achieve holistic programming. Resources produced by the project leader and a working group of five project participants included two fact sheets on farm succession and farmer health and well-being that include lists of potential indicators educators may use in their program evaluations.

As a result of these efforts, 13 ag service providers (10 Extension educators, 1 nonprofit staff and 2 for-profit employees) reported using social sustainability information learned through this project to address social issues farm families face in their programs that reached at least 365 farmers. Topics of programs in which educators incorporated the concepts included business management, legal education for dairy and livestock producers, beginning farmer support and agritourism.

Performance Target:

20 Extension educators and other service providers will increase their knowledge of social sustainability issues that farm families face; 5 will implement a change in their current work to include social sustainability topics and will teach no fewer than 20 total service providers what they learned as a result; 5 will include social sustainability indicators in their program evaluation and reporting.

50 farmers better understand how social sustainability issues affect their businesses and families. 30 are better able to cope with and/or adapt with climate change through increased resiliency.

Introduction:

“Social sustainability” is generally defined as “the ability of a social system (in this case, a farm) to function at a defined level of social well-being indefinitely.” Farms face a myriad of social sustainability issues both internally (including health and wellbeing, human resource management, etc.) and externally (interaction with the community). How farm families identify, plan, and manage social sustainability on their farms have significant impacts on the viability of not only their own farming operations but of their communities as well. While every farm faces social issues at different phases of a) their business development and b) family life cycles, there are varying degrees of preparedness and/or “wellness” (including ability to cope and adapt) among farm families. 

Outfitting farm families with tools and support resources they need may help them recognize and plan for any impact on social sustainability when making business and/or production decisions. Further, steps to incorporate social sustainability indicators into Extension program evaluations may serve to elevate the importance of including social sustainability in sustainable agriculture research and education to achieve holistic programming.

Therefore, this project built on initial efforts of focusing on social sustainability issues that affect farm families by offering professional development training on social sustainability topics to build Extension educator and agriculture service provider knowledge around social issues and provide tools they may use in their work with farm families. 

Advisors/Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Beth Holtzman
  • Dr. Lisa Chase
  • Dr. Jason Parker
  • Florence Becot

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

The project used in-person workshops and online webinars to provide educator and service provider training. In addition, we collected feedback from farmers and service providers about social sustainability issues that were perceived to be of high impact on the farm business through a number of farm conferences and events; while results were not scientifically rigorous, they did help guide the project. Here is an example of a survey used. Trainings offered (in-person and online) drew on adult education techniques, helping to ensure that we established links between the content and participants’ prior knowledge. In addition to trainings, this project convened a working team of researchers and Extension educators to further dig into the large and complex area of social sustainability with the goal of developing indicators that could be named and integrated into Extension programming and evaluation efforts. 

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Year 1 Milestone Accomplishments

Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2015
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

YEAR 1 (October 1, 2014 – September 30, 2015)

  1. 90 Extension educators and other agricultural service providers learn about the training project.

Complete. 15 people expressed potential interest in the project through invitations. 5 Extension educators participated in farm-based training offered in October 2014.

  1. 20 participants commit to learning about social sustainability and reviewing the diagnostic tools and info sheets through an online survey; they provide information about their specific learning goals and interests.

Complete. Received firm commitment from 4 Extension educators to learn more about social sustainability and review the tools developed.

  1. 12 participants are accepted to the project and participate in year 1 webinars.

In Progress. Because of low pre-registration, webinars were postponed to year 2. The audience of the webinars has been expanded beyond Extension educators to include other agricultural service providers; webinar topics have been expanded from a focus on the 5 themes of social sustainability (equity, farm succession, entrepreneurship, community connections, and quality of life) to broader social issues with the goal of building awareness and knowledge of social and interpersonal communication issues that farmers face that lead to poor communication among family members and/or with neighbors, stresses due to labor and time management, and tensions of balancing work and family.

  1. 12 participants participate in bi-monthly check-ins.

Complete. Two planning calls were held in year 1 with 6 participants to discuss project; there was specific interest in focusing on a) social sustainability indicators and b) general social issues, such as ways to manage stress and encourage personal resiliency.

  1. 12 participants review information sheets developed by the state coordinator that provide an overview of each of the 5 themes of social sustainability (equity, farm succession, entrepreneurship, community connections, and quality of life); they learn how to integrate social issues into their current programs through half day on-farm training.

In Progress. The information sheets are under development; they will be reviewed in year 2 using a peer review style process.

  1. 12 participants review and refine life cycles of family system and business system diagnostic tools through half-day in-person training.

In Progress. The diagnostic tools are under development; they will be reviewed and field tested in year 2.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Year 2 Milestone Accomplishments

Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2016
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

YEAR 2 (October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)

Social Sustainability Awareness Building through Webinar Trainings and Factsheets.

  1. 20 participants gain knowledge about social issues farmers face through quarterly webinar trainings presented by experts, with a particular focus on stress management and farmers in crisis: recognizing the warning signs and providing effective referrals.

Complete. To increase awareness of one of the five social sustainability themes—farm succession—a series of two webinars were held in March 2016 that were attended by 15 farmers and service providers; 85% said they gained new knowledge from the webinars and 67% said they intend to make a change on their farm or in their work with farmers as a result of what they learned. A training webinar was held on 4.27.16 called, “Supporting the Health of the Farm & the Health of the Farm Family,” with presenter Dr. Leslie Forstadt, University of Maine. Of 24 service providers who registered, 18 participated in the webinar. Of those, 94% said they learned new information from the webinar, and 86% said that as a result of what they learned, they will make a change in how they communicate with farmers. One NH-based non-profit used webinar recording for their in-service.

Another training webinar was held on 6.7.16 called, "Farmers, Change, and Resilience" with presenters Dr. Sharon Danes, University of Minnesota, and Dr. Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies LLC, that focused on farmer perceptions of change and strategies service providers can use to support farmer coping skills and resiliency. Of the 35 service providers who registered, 25 participated in the webinar training. Of those, 81% said they learned new information from the webinar, and 78% said that as a result of what they learned, they will make a change in how they work with farmers.  

  1. A team of 10 Extension educators and other ag professionals provide a peer review of the social sustainability information factsheets; 2 reviewers per factsheet; 5 total factsheets (addressing equity, farm succession, entrepreneurship, community connections, and quality of life). Once reviewed, coordinator edits and publishes factsheets to web as well as makes available in hard copies – Oct 2015 to Jul 2016.

In Progress. The information sheets are under development; a team of 5 university researchers and Extension educators has been formed and meet routinely to help develop the factsheets. One factsheet has been developed and vetted by the team. It is ready for peer review among a group of 8 peer reviewers that have been identified.

  1. 40 farmers and ag professionals learn more about social sustainability issues through the factsheets distributed at agricultural events (workshops, field days, and conferences) – Jul to Sep 2016.

In Progress. The information sheets are under development, see above. In the interim, six social sustainability posters were developed and included as part of a poster presentation conducted at the NE-SARE annual summer meeting in July 2016. Thirty-five Extension educators and other service providers and three farmers participated in the poster presentation.

Development of Diagnostic Tools.

  1. A working group of 4 Extension educators meets (4x) to build and refine life cycles of family system and business system diagnostic tools – Oct 2015 to Jun 2016.

In Progress. The coordinator conducted a literature review on life cycles of the family system and the business system (Oct to Jan 2016). Drafts of tables have been created that outline the family life cycle, the business cycles and potential social “pressure points.” A rough schematic that sketches the business cycle and the family development cycle together was also drafted (Jan to Mar 2016). The coordinator has convened monthly calls (Jan to Apr 2016) with Leslie Forstadt, a UMaine Coop Extension human development specialist, to help shape potential direction of the diagnostic tools. A social sustainability team of 5 researchers and Extension educators has been formed and have convened bi-monthly calls (Apr to Dec 2016) to develop the factsheets, noted above, and the diagnostic tools.

  1. Each educator field tests the tools with one farm family client and submits suggested changes based on farmer experience – Jul to Sep 2016.

Completed. A tool looking at social sustainability and family development stages was developed but was not used during the project due to lack of interest among participants. 

Social Sustainability and Family Development Stages (pdf)

Sustainability Indicators / Evaluation Project.

  1. Based on participant feedback received in Year 1, a working group of 4 Extension educators forms and meets to review current literature and develop a list of potential indicators that incorporate social sustainability elements into Extension program evaluations. The working group selects at least one indicator from each of the 5 themes and develops a common set of questions that may be integrated into Extension program evaluations. An evaluation specialist is enlisted to review and provide feedback about the indicators and questions. – Oct to Sep 2016.

In Progress. A social sustainability team of 5 researchers and Extension educators has been formed and have convened bi-monthly calls (Apr to Dec 2016) to further develop farm-level social sustainability indicators that may be incorporated into Extension program evaluation. The indicators are also being incorporated into the project’s factsheets, noted above, and the diagnostic tools. In addition to compiling lists of potential indicators and questions generated from Extension colleagues, extensive review of the literature has been conducted to ensure scientific rigor of the potential indicators.

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Social sustainability awareness building among agricultural service providers.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
22
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
August 31, 2017
Accomplishments:

The project verified that 22 Extension educators gained new knowledge about social issues farmers face and methods to assist farmers and other clients make positive on-farm / in-family changes through a professional development workshop and individual consultations offered. 

Workshop evaluation results (pdf)

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Develop social sustainability indicators for use in Extension and other educational programming.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2017
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
August 31, 2017
Accomplishments:

A core team of researchers and Extension educators met on a regular basis to help develop a set of indicators that incorporate social sustainability elements into Extension and other farm educational program evaluations. Through this work, the team developed info sheets on two social sustainability themes--farm succession and health and well-being--that included an overview of the issues, why these are important to agriculture, how service providers can help, potential indicators they may use in their work, and local resources. 

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities conducted by the project team:

ActivityYear 1Year 2Year 3Total
Consultations 3 6 2 11
Curricula, factsheets or educational tools 1 2 3 6
Published press articles, newsletters 0 0 1 1
Tours 1 0 0 1
Webinars, talks and presentations 0 4 1 5
Workshop / field days 0 0 1 1
Other educational activities: 3 poster presentations at professional conferences, performed expert review of triple bottom line standards for national agricultural company 1 2 1 4

Beneficiaries who particpated in the project’s educational activities and events:

AudienceYear 1Year 2Year 3Total Individuals
Extension 5 38 22 47
Researchers 2 2 2 2
Nonprofit 2 31 0 23
Agency 0 10 0 9
Service providers (other or unspecified) 0 10 0 9
Farmers / ranchers 0 12 0 8
Others 0 0 2 2

Participation Summary:

98 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

87 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
14 Ag service providers intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers
Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

Verified a change in knowledge regarding social issues that farm families face; intention to implement changes in your work with farmers to include social sustainability topics; and actual adoption of changes.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Activities for farmers conducted by service providers:
ActivityYear 1Year 2Year 3Total
Curricula, factsheets and other educational tools 0 1 4 5
Consultations 3 6 4 13
Published press, articles, newsletters 0 0 1 1
Webinars, talks and presentations 0 1 3 4
Workshops and field days 0 3 1 4
Poster presentation. 0 1 0 1
13 Total number of agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
365 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

As a result of participating in the trainings or team meetings, we’ve documented that at least 10 Extension educators and 1 nonprofit staff, and 2 for-profit employees used social sustainability information in their programming for farmers and service providers to address social issues farm families face. Two providers are now routinely using social sustainability concepts in their one-on-one work with farmer clients in providing business management planning technical assistance. One Extension educator utilized frameworks around change and stress management in a series of three legal education workshops conducted in December 2016, reaching 120 farmers (primarily dairy and livestock operations). One Extension educator used social sustainability concepts in a national professional development training conducted in November 2016 aimed at improving outreach and service to beginning farmer and rancher women, reaching 50 service providers throughout the U.S. One Extension educator, working with a partner non-profit, incorporated advice for considering the influence of agritourism on a farm’s social sustainability and a farmer’s well-being when assessing the farm’s potential for agritourism into a fact sheet on agritourism best practices called, “Assessing Your Farm for Agritourism.” Contributors to farmers’ well-being identified included work-family balance, personal time, satisfaction, management of health and stress, and social and personal relationships. This fact sheet is available at: www.uvm.edu/vtagritourism/files/agritourism-guide/bestpractices-assessing-your-farm.pdf

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Additional Project Outcomes

Number of grants applied for that built upon this project:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
1 1
Number of new working collaborations:
Year 1Year 2Year 3Total
3 3
1 New working collaboration
Additional Outcomes Narrative:

Our work on social sustainability indicators for use in program evaluation resulted in the development of a working group of five university researchers and Extension educators; the team provided cross-unit collaboration across three university departments to further develop and expand the indicators project. As a result, the team submitted a proposal to the UVM Foundation to provide additional funds to the indicators project and also worked on a proposal to be submitted to USDA AFRI. The team successfully submitted posters at two national conferences.

SARE Outreach

Outreach about SARE:

Information about SARE grants and information resources was shared through the events and activities listed below.

Year 1 (2014-2015) SARE Outreach Activities

Events/Activities: 10.1.14 - 9.30.15

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

National SARE Outreach Steering Committee Meeting (10.8-10.14)

4

11

Vermont Crop Storage Webinar (10.15.14)

15

3

Joint VT SARE / VASS Social Sustainability Tour (10.20-22.14)

0

5

Farm to Plate Summit (10.23-24.14)

7

23

NOFA-Vermont Board Meeting & Facility Tour of Rutland Winter Farmers' Market (11.5.14)

8

3

NE-SARE info distribution at Cover Crop Field Day, Clifford Farm (11.7.14)

8

5

NE-SARE info distribution at Cover Crop Field Day, Borderview Research Farm (11.12.14)

17

11

PAHCC Ag Advisory Meeting (11.19.14)

3

7

NOFA-Vermont Board Meeting (1.21.15)

8

3

Vermont Farm Show (1.27-29.15)

28

35

NOFA Winter Conference (2.14-15.15)

50

8

No-Till and Cover Crop Conference (2.19.15)

15

18

Vermont Hops Conference Broadcast (2.20.15)

0

17

NE-SARE info distribution at Vermont Organic Dairy Conference (3.11.15)

12

8

NE-SARE info distribution at Vermont Grain Conference (3.18.15)

8

8

Getting Started with Growing Hops (4.8.15)

77

19

NE-SARE Graduate Student Grant Info Sessions (4.15.15)

0

5

NE-SARE info distribution at NE-SARE PDP Weed and Forage ID and Management Training (6.3-4.15)

0

24

National SARE Outreach Steering Committee Meeting (6.16.15)

4

11

NE-SARE info distribution at NWCS Annual Field Day (7.23.15)

32

15

NOFA-Vermont Social (7.30.15)

22

4

NE-SARE R&E Grant Writers Webinar (8.12.15)

0

15

NE-SARE PDP Grant Writers Webinar (8.18.15)

0

6

NE-SARE Mini-Grants Refresher Webinar (9.2.15)

0

11

Facilitation of FWA and Agency of Ag water quality meeting (9.10.15)

10

15

NE-SARE info distribution at UVM Extension program meeting (9.29.15)

0

37

PAHCC Ag Advisory Meeting (10.13.15)

4

5

National SARE Outreach Steering Committee Meeting (10.27-28.15)

4

16

  • Vermont SARE twitter feed. 52 tweets to 677 followers (an increase of 10% followers from last year).
  • VT SARE state program website: www.uvm.edu/vtsare.
  • 2 NE-SARE-related blog posts for Women’s Agricultural Network blog:

Year 2 (2015-2016) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activities: 10.1.15 - 10.31.16

Number of Contacts with:

Farmers

Ag. Professionals

Hannaford Career Center Ag Advisory Meeting (10.13.15)

4

5

National SARE Outreach Steering Committee Meeting (10.27-28.15)

4

16

NOFA-Vermont Board Meeting (11.4.15)

8

3

Across the Fence Taping: Focus on Graduate Student Grants Program, see note below* (12.2.15)

0

2

Livestream NE-SARE funded research project presentations at Vermont Maple Conference (1.23.16)

5

0

Booth Exhibit at Vermont Farm Show (1.26-28.16)

25

42

Presentation on Social Media Use with Extension Clients at UVM Extension Program Meeting (2.2.16)

0

45

Booth Exhibit at NOFA-Vermont Winter Conference (2/13-14.16)

55

18

Livestream NE-SARE funded hop research presentations at Vermont Hop Conference (2.19.16)

16

3

NE-SARE info distribution at Vermont Organic Dairy Conference (3.10.16)

20

6

Transferring the Farm Webinar: Getting Started with Bob Parsons (3.16.16)

5

2

NE-SARE info distribution at Northeast Pasture Consortium (3.18.16)

10

12

Transferring the Farm Webinar: Tools You Can Use with Bob Parsons (3.23.16)

3

5

NE-SARE Regional Cover Crop Training (3.29-31.16)

1

5

NE-SARE Graduate Student Grants Program Info Sessions (4.12.16)

0

10

Supporting the Health of the Farm & the Health of the Farm Family Webinar with Leslie Forstadt (4.27.16)

0

18

Facilitation of Coffee Break for Cover Crops Webinar: Cover crops and Your Corn Herbicide Program with Bill Curran (4.27.16)

3

10

Facilitation of Coffee Break for Cover Crops Webinar: Termination strategies Pros and Cons with Heather Darby (5.4.16)

4

15

Facilitation of Coffee Break for Cover Crops Webinar: Cover crop Variety Selection for Interseeding with Kirsten Workman (5.11.16)

3

16

Facilitation of Coffee Break for Cover Crops Webinar: Options for Interseeding Cover Crops with Jeff Sanders (5.18.16)

4

12

Facilitation of Coffee Break for Cover Crops Webinar: VT NRCS & State Programs for Cover Cropping with Sandra Primard (5.25.16)

3

11

Farmers, Change and Resilience webinar with Sharon Danes and Bob Milligan (6.7.16)

0

25

Facilitation of Agritourism Tour at National NACDEP/ANREP conference (6.28.16)

0

54

NE-SARE Summer Meeting poster presentation (7.26.16)

4

55

NE-SARE Summer Meeting Tour (7.27.16)

13

67

NE-SARE info distribution at NWCS Annual Field Day (7.28.16)

125

60

Writing a Northeast SARE Partnership Grant Application webinar with Carol Delaney (9.1.16)

4

41

Northeast SARE Farmer Grants: Tips for Writing a Compelling Application with Carol Delaney (9.1.16)

22

21

Social Sustainability presentation (focus on farm succession and tenure) presentation at Women's Agriculture Network meeting (9.14.16)

0

8

Additional Outreach Activities:

  • Vermont SARE twitter feed. 50 tweets to 720 followers (an increase of 6% followers from previous year).
  • VT SARE state program website: uvm.edu/vtsare.

Year 3 (2016-2017) SARE Outreach Activities

Event/Activities: 10.1.16 - 9.30.17 Number of Contacts with:
Farmers Ag. Professionals
     
A Fall Look at Cover Crops Field Day at Farr Farm (10.25.16) 12 8
A Fall Look at Cover Crops Field Day at Foote Brook Farm (10.26.16) 12 11
A Fall Look at Cover Crops Field Day in St. Albans Bay (10.27.16) 0 12
A Fall Look at Cover Crops Field Day at Borderview Research Farm (10.28.16) 9 10
Across the Fence Taping (10.28.16) 0 1
Summit on Health, Agriculture and Rural Economic Development in Vermont (11.3.16) 0 8
Women in Ag Programs for 21st Century Farms and Ranches training (11.29.16) 4 47
Facilitate table discussion at legal training (12.15.16) 6 0
NOFA-Vermont Board Meeting (01.18.2017) 8 3
Booth Exhibit at Vermont Farm Show (1.31-2.2.17) 30 36
Exhibit at No-Till Cover Crop Symposium (2.16.17) 5 12
Booth Exhibit at NOFA-Vermont Winter Conference (2.18-19.16) 60 15
Information exchange at Extension program meeting (2.28.17) 0 17
Graduate student interview about SARE (3.1.17) 0 2
Farm Succession presentation at Vermont Organic Dairy Conference (3.9.17) 5 2
SARE Grad Student Grant program info sessions (4.4.17) 0 6
New Tools to Motivate and Promote Client Behavior Change workshop (5.10.17) 0 40
Farm access presentation at Changing Hands Changing Lands Conference (6.14-15.17) 2 16
Information exchange at UVM NWCS field day (7.27.17) 26 14

Additional Outreach Activities:

  • Vermont SARE twitter feed. 
  • VT SARE state program website: uvm.edu/vtsare.

*Note: Across the Fence is a daily, 15-minute television program co-produced by University of Vermont Extension and WCAX, a local CBS affiliate. Viewership is an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 households across Vermont, northern New York, western New Hampshire, and southern Quebec.

Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:

Audience Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Total
Service providers 437 580 260 1277
Farmers 380 348 179 907

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.