Final report for NEVT14-001
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
Year 1 Milestone Accomplishments
YEAR 1 (October 1, 2014 – September 30, 2015)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Year 2 Milestone Accomplishments
YEAR 2 (October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)
Social Sustainability Awareness Building through Webinar Trainings and Factsheets.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Sustainability Indicators / Evaluation Project.
- 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.
Social sustainability awareness building among agricultural service providers.
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.
Develop social sustainability indicators for use in Extension and other educational programming.
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:
|Activity||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
|Curricula, factsheets or educational tools||1||2||3||6|
|Published press articles, newsletters||0||0||1||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:
|Audience||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total Individuals|
|Service providers (other or unspecified)||0||10||0||9|
|Farmers / ranchers||0||12||0||8|
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
|Activity||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
|Curricula, factsheets and other educational tools||0||1||4||5|
|Published press, articles, newsletters||0||0||1||1|
|Webinars, talks and presentations||0||1||3||4|
|Workshops and field days||0||3||1||4|
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.