Growing Together: Latino Farmer Learning Circles for Knowledge and Networks

Final report for ONC17-032

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2017: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: Center for Rural Affairs
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Kathie Starkweather
Center for Rural Affairs
Wyatt Fraas
Center for Rural Affairs
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Project Information


This project empowers Latino farmers and ranchers to overcome social and informational isolation. Latino farmers are a
highly motivated, growing population in Nebraska. But they are largely unrecognized by agriculture agencies, lack access
to resources and support, and lack peer support and learning networks. Targeted outreach, bilingual and culturally
conscious training, and personal relationship building surmount these barriers to promote success.
The goal of this project is to support Latino farmers to start or expand environmentally and financially sound livestock
operations and to develop peer and professional networks for long-term support. We will convene a learning circle of
Latino farmers and ranchers in eastern Nebraska, co-led by agricultural professionals at the Center for Rural Affairs and
farmer/rancher-leaders. Participating Latino farmers are small scale, diversified farms either currently or prospectively
including animal production.
Collaborative, bilingual learning sessions will address successful and sustainable livestock farming and ranching and
related business topics. The learning circle format combines peer learning, expert training, resource introductions, and
community building.
Over the two year project, learning circles will transition from professional leadership to a self-sustaining peer group. This
approach enables long-term peer support, provides ongoing learning opportunities, and promotes business sustainability.

Project Objectives:

Increase Latino farmers and ranchers’ knowledge and skills in sustainable livestock production and marketing, Through 6 learning circle sessions including discussion and farm tours, as shown on post-session surveys.

Develop personal connections between Latino farmers/ranchers and professional service providers (NRCS, Natural Resource Districts, and others), by having them attend learning circle sessions.

Throughout the project, facilitate peer learning, mentoring, and networking through learning circle activities.

Build a self-sustaining community of Latino farmers and ranchers of varying skill and experience levels with strong internal leadership through learning circles. 


  • Juan Flores
  • Carlos Avarado
  • Hilda Moreno
  • Justino Borja


Involves research:
Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
6 Published press articles, newsletters
6 Tours
6 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

67 Farmers participated
12 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Utilizing our Latino Leaders for this project, all promotion was done by our leaders to people in their area.  We have found that this is the best way to promote events.

The Center for Rural Affairs gave leaders technical assistance on how to create flyers ,these were  left at stores, churches, schools with co-workers and relatives. The Center also assisted leaders with contacting and scheduling the Ag professionals needed to give presentations. Farmer leaders made phone calls, visited and texted participants about their learning circles.

The 6 learning circles encompass demonstration of soil testing, pest management and group discussions about the struggles and successes of managing a small scale farm. The farmer leaders felt that as much transparency in their presentations is important because they wanted to make sure that their attendees knew the ins and outs of what farming is about. They convey the importance of planning well, taking advantage of workshops from agencies such as the Center for Rural Affairs for further training and develop the art of asking questions to get what's needed to develop a robust farm business.

Five ag professionals were invited to give presentations. The pest management was an explanation on how to make a pesticide free spray made with tobacco leaves and soapy water to control pests on vegetable plants. Participants were also shown at the same presentation a demonstration on how and when to pick a ripe watermelon. An extension office professional demonstrated how to test and read the soil test. Another presentation was conducted by an FSA agent explaining about the financial help through various USDA programs, because of this presentation several inquiries were made to that FSA office regarding loan options.

Leaders had a greater sense of confidence organizing, advertising by word of mouth and hosting their learning circles. One of the farmer leaders said that his brothers showed more interest in starting to farm at his last learning circle, offering to help him around his farm to gain experience. Another farmer reported that one of their attendees came all the way from Texas to see their operation due to hearing about their operation by another attendee.

We noticed that Latino farmers have various ways to reach out to each other via Facebook, texting or calling each other to see how they are doing and a willingness to help each other, when needed. We created and released case studies of our farmer leaders.  

Below are links to the newsletter articles and case studies on our farmer leaders. 

Justino Case Study

Justino Farms by Creating Opportunities

Hilda Case Study

Hilda Considers Farm to School

Enriqueta Case Study

Enriqueta Advice For All To Consider Farming

Learning Outcomes

53 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Conservation Programs

  • sustainable production techniques

  • Resources available for sustainable farming

Project Outcomes

36 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Project outcomes:

Our leaders have a greater sense of confidence organizing, advertising by word of mouth and hosting their learning circles. Their enthusiasm and transparency have moved attendees to revive their passion of farming, inquire about financial resources and to travel a long way because of the impressive way an 11 year old conducts his egg business.

One of our farmer leaders said that his brothers showed more interest in starting to farm at his last learning circle, offering to help him around his farm to gain experience. His brothers have been moved to plant and harvest vegetable in order to lighten load for their farmer brother. Their willingness has also encourage the farmer leader to diversify their vegetable and the amount of produce they will be harvesting this season as well as using the pest management techniques demonstrated at one of the learning circles.

Another farmer reported that a couple of their attendees came all the way from Texas to see their operation due to hearing about their egg operation headed by their 11 year old son. They were impressed by the focus he has and his knowledge of ingredients in the feed he gives his chickens. He gave a presentation on why organic practices are better than conventional ones.

Yet another attendee visited an FSA office and was able to inquire about potential financing in buying additional land to expand his cattle operation. They were moved by the presentation that the FSA agent gave. The attendee mentioned that after attending the learning circle they felt less intimidated by going to FSA and asking about financing.

This project has given our farmers the ability to not only encourage personal growth, by networking with other farmers, increased self confidence, along with the importance of being aware of staying in touch with each other through various avenues of social media to promote encouragement and closeness as a group.

Learning circles encouraged by this project helped farmer leaders to not only promoted  business management practice to help attendees see that farming is just as viable like any other profession. The farmer leaders also emphasis the importance of having  a solid business plan especially after they experience smaller yields and profitability without having a business plan. Economic literacy through the encouragement of USDA agents and ongoing support by providing program details in their own language.

The demonstrations through this project helped tremendously and made a big impact on the attendees because they could see the difference in various soils if improper handling was to continue. These also educated them on best pest management practices by using non-toxic pesticides sprays, deadly for the pest but environmentally safe.

Success stories:

A vegetable farmer in eastern Nebraska is being mentored by an existing farmer. The vegetable farmer had been dealing with pests, the existing farmer suggested for him to soak a couple of tobacco leaves in water and soap, solution will reduce and/or rid the crops from pests. The vegetable farmer said " I get more excited about farming when I learn things such as pest control and especially tips that don't require pesticides."

The farmer continues to put to good use the on-going mentoring from the existing farmer. He plans to stick closely to farmer because the farmer leader knows that he can gain hands on knowledge, experience by planting, harvesting new vegetables and fruits that in the past would've been impossible in him to tackle. Due to mentoring, his confidence to diversify his vegetable production is growing each season.

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.