The Ag Engineering Podcast: Tools, Tips and Techniques for Improving Sustainability on Your Farm

Progress report for ONE19-331

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $27,280.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2021
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to educate vegetable farmers about ways they can improve their farm by learning from peers via audio podcasts. This goal will be achieved by completing the following objectives:

  1. Identify topics of interest to growers – Leveraging the team’s experiences from educational events and direct technical assistance on-farm combined with social network interaction we will refine a topic list to ensure relevance, specificity and meaning.
  1. Develop meaningful episodes for podcasting – Farmer interviewees will be conducted based on the topics listed and by using social networks. Multiple farmers may be interviewed on a single topic to provide perspective and to better understand nuance.
  1. Promote and distribute podcasts – The podcasts developed will be distributed using a variety of existing distribution channels including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
  1. Evaluate listenership and benefit – Listenership will be measured by subscription and episode download statistics gathered automatically by sharing platforms. Social networking will be used to evaluate engagement, change of behavior, adoption of practice and impact on a case-by-case basis.

The development of an accessible podcast will benefit farmers by improving the availability of nuanced, individualized knowledge from peers to enable efficiency, growth, and profitability.

Introduction:

Produce growers are always on the move, always tending to the needs of the farm. Finding time for education often gets pushed off as a low priority and not actively pursued. Yet, education is an important factor in the success of farm businesses. One of the most effective forms of learning is from peers, but taking time away from the farm to talk with others is challenging. 

In a recent survey by the project team of 57 produce growers about post-harvest resources 90% of growers assigned a high level of importance and 58% of the responses indicated poor availability of the information. The top five sources where growers indicated receiving information from was reported as: 1. Other Farmers (82%) 2.Conferences (68%), 3.Extension (65%)  4. Web Research (60%) 5. Grower Meetings (51%). This indicates that peer to peer learning and online resources are extremely important for this audience and that information provided from extension is trusted and valued. Respondents also noted that they prefer information from podcasts equally as much as from facebook. (Callahan and Chamberlin 2019) 

Many produce growers in the Northeast are experimenting with new practices or equipment that have impacts to the industry. The motivations for this constant experimentation and innovation include improving soil or water quality, increasing labor efficiency, increasing product quality, improving yield, and supporting overall farm profitability. The availability of information on a new practice or tool can be difficult to find, but is needed before the adoption of a new practice takes place. Driving the implementation of new environmental practices is one aspect of sustainability, but business and lifestyles need to be sustainable as well in order for farms to succeed (Heleba, 2018). If the quality of life is too poor or the business isn’t profitable the farm will not be sustained. Anecdotally, we have also found that growers find value in the affirmation provided by seeing someone else do the same practice on YouTube or hearing them describe it on a Podcast. Learning through experimentation in isolation is certainly feasible, but having one’s learning and adoption of practice affirmed by far-flung peers enables growers to proceed with confidence in one practice and focus on other issues.

This project is an opportunity to capture the audio recording of one farmer sharing their experiences, thoughts, and findings with others in a convenient and effective format.  By recording interviews with farmers, it will enable a wide range of listeners in Vermont, the Northeast, and beyond, to hear trusted, honest reviews and to hear the nuances of equipment or practices that they wouldn’t be able to receive otherwise. 

When asking farmers about their interest in this type of learning they were excited! Some of these interactions were recorded and assembled into a sample episode of what the podcast might sound like. It can be heard here: go.uvm.edu/ep0

This project is motivated by four separate observations: (1) Podcasts are gaining popularity, (2) podcasts can serve as a convenient educational channel for adult learners via mobile devices, (3) learning can be enhanced by synchronous physical activity, and (4) farmers like to learn from peers.  

  1. Podcast Popularity – Podcasts as a form of user-driven social media are gaining popularity. Integrated into people’s lives, they have been adsorbed as an effective form of learning about new topics or expanding their knowledge of current interests. It has been shown that adult learners now use the internet to receive information at “twitch speed” and “they prefer on-demand access to media.” (Duffy 2016). The popularity of podcasts has increased, especially among farmers who are doing physical activities while they listen. Previous SARE funded projects that involved podcasts have focused on soil health specifically in a highly scripted, low episode volume approach (Lounsbury 2017) or were focused on creating searchable and discoverable transcripts of existing episodes (Blanchard 2019).
  2. Convenient Audio Education – Education in the form of audio is convenient for farmers. Podcasts are entertaining and engaging for adult learners, including farmers and farmer educators. Podcast listeners choose what topics they listen to which is an important motivational element of effective adult learning (Bell and McAllister 2013). In survey results reported 10 years ago over 76% of students had ipods or other portable MP3 players (Luna and Cullen 2011). Meanwhile, cell phone ownership among US adults grew from 77% January 2008 to 95% in January 2018 with smartphone ownership growing from 39% in January 2012 to 77% January 2018. (Pew Research Center 2019). Our own experience working with farmers in the northeast suggests there is a high level of use of smartphones for recordkeeping, communication and learning among farmers and this aligns with research in other areas where smartphone use was a high as 89% among farmers (Dehnen-Schmutz 2016). Students surveyed have identified many benefits of podcasting including: flexibility and portable convenience, ability to catch up on content, reduction in anxiety being removed from the classroom setting, increased student engagement, improved teaching and learning, and enhanced learning experiences. Adult learning theory has also been connected to podcasting. Using podcasts for education causes the listener to “Draw upon past life and work experience, which enables reasoning and reflective thinking during the learning process; Exhibit a high need to find relevance and applicability of learning; Possess healthy skepticism related to well-established attitudes, beliefs, and values; and Require readiness, stimulation, and motivation to learn” (Luna and Cullen, 2011). Podcasts are delivered via a “push”; they are automatically downloaded by subscribed users. These resources are then at their fingertips when they are out and about. This push of information, inherent flexibility in access, and mobility of learning allows for “just in time learning” (Evans 2008). This form of education is particularly convenient for farmers whose hands are often busy but their ears and brain are open for ideas. 
  3. Physical Activity – Podcasts are a form of education that supports physical activity during the learning period. Recent research supports secondary fidgeting as an educational enhancement. Rotz and Wright (2005) summarize decades of research connecting physical movement and fidgeting to multifocal brain activity, cognitive arousal, and increase in naturally occurring, attention supporting brain chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Karlesky and Isbister (2013) have taken this one step further and have actually designed “fidget widgets” to enhance learning. They developed “a playful technology to purposefully engage users’ interrelated bodily motions, affective states, and cognitive functions to selectively enhance creativity, focus, etc. integral to modern productivity.” Farmers have plenty of opportunities to “fidget” while listening in the form of seeding, weeding, harvesting, etc. This form of multitasking is great for the brain during these mundane and tedious tasks of production. 
  4. Peer Learning – Peer educators have been documented as an important and effective component of Extension agricultural education programs (Grudens-Schuck et al 2003). A key component of this project is to use farmers as subject matter experts. Although agricultural podcasts exist, the number is limited and they use a different method. The two most popular agricultural podcasts, Farmer to Farmer Podcast (Blanchard) and Farm Small Farm Smart Podcast (Footer), are both long-form hour-plus long podcasts covering everything about an individual farm in a case study format. These cover the farm’s crops, practices, markets, struggles, successes, etc. The podcasts planned as part of our project will have a topic-centered approach, be built around a shorter format, and allow specific topics to be more easily shared and discovered among peers.

Bell, S., & McAllister, J. (2013). A Guide for Educators: Sustainable Agriculture through Sustainable Learning–Improving educational outcomes with best practices for adult learning. USDA NE SARE. Retrieved from 

http://www.nesare.org/Media/Public-Files/Northeast-SARE-Files/Grantee-Produced-Products/Adult-learning-guide

Blanchard , Chris. “Farmer to Farmer Podcast.” Farmer to Farmer Podcast, 2018, www.farmertofarmerpodcast.com/.

Blanchard, Chris. ONC17-024 – The Best of ‘Farmer to Farmer’ Podcast: Revisiting and Expanding Solutions for Market Farm Start-up, Scale-up, CSA Modeling, and Employee Management. 5/31/2019

https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/onc17-024/

Callahan C. & Chamberlin A. Staying Ahead in the Packshed: Postharvest Topics, Sources of Information, and Ideas from Growers. Survey Results. March 14, 2019. http://blog.uvm.edu/cwcallah/2019/03/14/staying-ahead-in-the-packshed-postharvest-topics-sources-of-information-and-ideas-from-growers/#more-1703

Dehnen-Schmutz, K., Foster, G. L., Owen, L., & Persello, S. (2016). Exploring the role of smartphone technology for citizen science in agriculture. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 36(2), 25. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-016-0359-9

Duffy, P. (2016). Engaging the YouTube Google-Eyed Generation: Strategies for Using Web 2.0 in Teaching and Learning. Electronic Journal of E-Learning, 6(2), 119–Learning, 2008, Vol.6(2), 119–130.

Evans, C. (2008). The effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education. Computers & Education, 50(2), 491–498. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2007.09.016

Footer, Diego. “Farm Small Farm Smart.” Paperpot Co., 2019, paperpot.co/podcast/.

Grudens-Schuck, N., Cramer, J., Exner, D., & Shour, M. (2003). The New Adult Education: Bringing Peer Educators Up to Speed. Journal of Extension, 41(4). Retrieved from https://www.joe.org/joe/2003august/a2.php 

Heleba D. Social Sustainability on the Farm: Focus on Resilience. SARE Grant Project Overview. https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/nevt14-001/. Accessed April 9, 2019.

Karlesky, M., & Isbister, K. (2013). Fidget Widgets: Secondary Playful Interactions in Support of Primary Serious Tasks. In CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1149–1154). New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2468356.2468561

Lounsbury, N. ONE15-251 – Priming for production: A podcast on soil health 9/30/2017

https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/one15-251/

Luna, G., & Cullen, D. (2011). Podcasting as Complement to Graduate Teaching: Does it Accommodate Adult Learning Theories? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Volume 23(Number 1), 40–47.

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ938577.pdf

Pew Research Center. Mobile Fact Sheet. February 2018.  https://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/ 

Rotz, R., & Wright, S. (2005). Fidget to Focus. Outwit Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living with ADD (11/20/2009). New York: iUniverse.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Taylor Mendell (Educator)
  • Kyle Doda (Educator)
  • Silas Doyle-Burr (Educator)
  • Chris Callahan (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

The materials and methods of how this podcast is made is comprised of the following parts. 

  1. Interviewee Selection – Interviewees are selected initially based on prior conversations or interactions with the farmer via previous technical assistance visits from UVM Extension outreach. When the farmer shares particular topics that they are skilled at or a tool they are excited for they stand out as a great subject matter expert that would be great to share with others. Once invited onto the show, the questions are shared in advance so they can prepare any notes on the subject or become more comfortable with the conversation knowing what is going to be asked of them. Other farmers of interest are often recommended by those being interviewed. During a typical recording session three different topics and a “stories” episode are recorded to make the best use of our time together. The stories episode lets the farmer share a time of success and failure during their experience farming and this provides four episodes to be published from that farm. 
  2. Preparation for the interview – The preparation for the interview includes setting a time for the interview that is convenient for the farmer, which usually means recording at their house around their kitchen table. They are then asked a set of questions asking the basic stats about their farm to frame their size, and scope for listeners to relate to. Then questions are asked about the topic including where they found about it, how does it work, how much does it cost, and is there any nuance tips about the equipment, tool, or technique that others should know.  
  3. Equipment Used – This podcast is recorded via a Rodecaster Pro, 4 person kit including boom arms, headphones, and Rode Podmic’s. This recording deck allows audio mixing on the fly with individual headphone volume adjustment with-out a computer as well as multitrack recording for easy post-process editing. Secondly, this podcast project includes the use of a Canon 90D DSLR with a Rode VideoMic Pro+ and a 24-70mm Lens to capture any related photos or videos of a particular piece of equipment discussed on the audio portion to be shared in the show notes or on YouTube as supplemental material.
  4. Editing and publishing. This podcast and supplemental videos are edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. There are other free audio editing programs (Audacity) that work well for others but Premiere Pro was must familiar by the principal investigator. The podcasts are uploaded and hosted on Buzzsprout where metadata is entered, stats are collected and episodes are distributed to the major podcast players. Show notes including any helpful links and resources including additional pictures or videos are shared via a WordPress website set-up specifically for this podcast project. Editing and publishing time varies on the conversation, but a rule of thumb is that the time to edit will take twice as long as the recording to complete. This process does get quicker when you are fluent with the editing program and have a standard description template to re-use for each episode. To date, this podcast has taken half a day to record, and a full day to edit the four episodes from the recording session. per farmer. Additional time including equipment acquisition and website development was heavy in the early stages of the project. 
  5. Promotion – The podcast episodes are promoted via social media with a Facebook and Instagram post about each episode to drive excitement and traffic to the podcast. 
Research results and discussion:

As of 1/14/2021 The Ag Engineering Podcast has published 49 Episodes and gotten 13,497 downloads with an estimated 265 unique listeners. The total educational contact hours total 4,927. Downloads have been made in all 7 continents reaching 35 total countries. 95% of the downloads (12.9K) have come from North America with the most popular city being South Burlington Vermont with 2% (347) of the total downloads.

These podcasts are published on the project website agengpodcast.com and can be found on many of the common podcast players including Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify. This podcast launched on December 12th, 2019 and new episodes are distributed on Monday mornings. 92% of the Audience has been listening to this podcast on their mobile device and 8% on desktop computers. 

Episode downloads continue to grow linearly, showing new listeners are downloading back episodes as the most downloaded episodes trend in the order they were published. 

Episode Title

All Time Plays

Managing Multiple Sales Channels: EP02

433

Forming Habits to Create a Sustainable Farm: EP03

429

Love ’em or Hate ’em – Caterpillar Tunnels: EP01

407

Walk-in Coolers and Climate Controlled Rooms: EP05

380

Stories of Success and Challenge at Footprint Farm: EP04

343

Research conclusions:

This project is on track to meeting the deliverables originally proposed. The project had a slight delay in getting started, but a change to an increased number of episodes we are delivering the goals set forth. All of the farmer cooperators have mutually agreed on the direction of the podcast and helped to steer the direction of the project to appeal to other farm listeners like them. Audio quality, and additional video capture was significantly restricted in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Audio recording of the podcast still continued over the internet. The interview experience for both the producer and the participants suffers as a result of not being physically co-located, but production continued with the aim of sustained delivery of new and interesting episodes.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

265 Consultations
49 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

13 Farmers
4 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

265 Consultations (listeners)

49 Published episodes

13 Farmer guests on the show

4 Ag Service provider guests on the show

Learning Outcomes

10 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Reviews have been positive for the podcast and have received 8 ratings in Apple podcasts averaging 4.6/5 stars.

The project has received several comments of positive feedback including the following.

  • “I have been loving the podcast!”
  • Thanks for the great podcast!!
  • Love your podcast!!! Just listened to your first episode… Great Job.
  • “Great job on the hand washstation episode. It sounded perfect.” 
  • “Hey Andy! I just listened to my first podcast episode. You did a great job editing. I look forward to the other episodes! Thanks so much for thinking of me :)”
  • “I love hearing about what other farms are doing. Different stuff and techniques. Yeah, real into it.”
  • I like this format a lot. I am an obsessive podcast listener.
  • I have basically made it a habit to figure everything out about farming on my own.  But, between YouTube and podcasts, there have been a ton of things I have learned.  Typically, the value is they affirm stuff I think I knew.  They help me realize that I actually did figure it out and don’t need to think much more about it.
  • Thanks! I’ve been listening on and off from the beginning. I’ve really enjoyed these last two episodes and just shared them to our https://www.facebook.com/groups/onlinefarmstore facebook group Thanks for your work!!!

One Grower shared the following feedback when asked what they learned: “Why online stores might not be great for some farms. Also in the following episode, loved the time slot online tools.” This grower reported they will implement scheduled time slots on their farm for certain pick-ups.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The farmer cooperators of the project have been excited to be a part of this new podcast which shares tools, tips and techniques to improve the sustainability of your farm. They shared that it makes them feel like they have a community of like-minded individuals who can relate to the similar challenges and struggles they are going through.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

This podcast had a delayed launch date from that originally planned due to the lack of critical equipment that was back-ordered. Once the equipment was acquired a meeting with the farm cooperators was held and discussed how best to deliver the project. As a team, we decided to interview 3-4 episodes with each farmer and disseminate the episodes on a weekly basis vs. the one episode per month originally planned. We feel this will help build an audience, share more relevant information with more people and make the best use of everyone’s time involved in the making of the episodes. 

Each episode gets shared via an Instagram and Facebook post, tagged with the farmer that was interviewed which has helped drive traffic from the target audience of other small, medium and diverse farmers. 

As a way of assessing the project approach there is a feedback form linked on the website. In response to asking “How can we improve the podcast?” One user commented to increase the published schedule (more frequent episodes), share more photo/video examples of the subject, and share more resources developed from Extension

Evaluation of this type of project is particularly challenging when the participants are relatively disconnected from the educator. There is no accurate way to know exactly who listens inorder to receive feedback. The type of content presented in this podcast is educational though is consumed in an entertaining way, so knowledge gain may be “tucked in a back pocket” to be recalled later and may not remember or be able to report where they originally heard the contex from the stories. When fans leave comments stating “I love the podcast!” it is up to the PI to reply back asking for additional detail on what they got out of the show. We plan to address this by leveraging social media, existing networks, and more frequent email pushes of the evaluation form. Diligent record keeping includes the feedback form collected from a variety of these sources.

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.