Implementing Beginning Farmer Training in Geographic Areas via WV Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training 

Progress report for ONE19-342

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $29,067.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2021
Grant Recipient: West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, Inc.
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Spencer Moss
West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition
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Project Information

Summary:

The WV Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) Program 2.0 is a farmer-led, peer-to-peer learning program that offers farmers an opportunity to participate in farm tours, trainings, and/or roundtable discussions within specific multi-county regions of West Virginia. The project aims to bring farmers together for training, tours, and networking from within smaller regions of the state. 

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to:

  1. Support development of local/regional recurring peer-to-peer farmer training/mentoring in five multi-county communities
  2. Support education, mentorship, and collaboration among farmers to increase the sustainability of farming locally
  3. Empower the food and farm community to continue organizing educational trainings and events in the future with the aid of a comprehensive toolkit created through this funding opportunity.

The success of these goals will result in:

  1. 25 farm tour trainings across five foodsheds
  2. Engaging 250 farmers in training events spanning 17 counties
  3. Identifying a leader within each community to organize ongoing trainings and events
Introduction:

The WV Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) Program 2.0 is a farmer-led, peer-to-peer learning program that offers farmers an opportunity to participate in farm tours, trainings, and/or roundtable discussions within specific multi-county regions of West Virginia. Specific issues to be addressed include sustainable farming practices, developing connections with other farmers in the region, and exploring the potential for collaborative business endeavors. This programming seeks to increase farmers’ access to continued training and community building opportunities within their communities. The goal is to foster stronger regional food systems and increase access to regionally pertinent trainings.  

Working within our five foodshed coverage area (17 counties), foodshed coordinators are partnering with farms to provide five CRAFT tours per foodshed (25 each) which will include workshop, networking, and tour opportunities.  Farmers and interested parties are then invited to these CRAFT tours, to network and learn new techniques. This approach has been piloted by the WV Food and Farm Coalition for two years, throughout different regions of the state.  The shift to focusing activities in smaller regions will provide structure and create networks within foodsheds for growers, farmers, and consumers to learn from one another in a much mo

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Research

Materials and methods:

Impacts of COVID-19 pushed on-farm tours to a virtual platform. 25 tours were pre-recorded and presented both through a live Zoom and Facebook Live where attendees could interact, ask questions, and share contact information. 19 tours and live workshops have been completed  there are 6 tours that remain to air in January 2021. The last one concluding on January 21st. Data collection will be finalized at that time. 

Utilizing Social Science methods, the WV Food and Farm Coalition is collecting pre and post-survey data from all attendees, anecdotal information, and qualitative impact stories from a small sample of attendees.  Pre-survey will be distributed at the first tour for attendees in each foodshed to create the baseline, while the post-survey will be given at the final tour in each foodshed. Data is being coded, with each participant being assigned a reporting number in the database.  

Additional information to be collected includes participant sign-in sheets, media (photo and video), and anecdotal stories.  Additionally, foodshed coordinators will collect big picture data such as participant engagement and behavior, conversations about specific farm topics and interest in future farm topics, and information about networks being built. 

Research results and discussion:

Questions asked in the post-survey (answers to be added at the conclusion of data collection):

Contributed to you expanding your farming network of partnerships and connections?

Contributed to you considering making changes to your farm operation?

What do you see as the impact of WV Farm to Computer Virtual farm tours in your local farming community?

What part was the most helpful?

What would you like to see done differently?

Would you like to continue to see these events in your community?

What topics would be most helpful to you and your operation?

Changes to the Project:

The original intent of WVCRAFT 2.0 was to offer hands-on and on-site training for farmers of all levels and also promote shared learning between farmers. The smaller geographic focus was to offer an accessible community to all interested parties and allow for relationships to be built over a number of trainings and events. Due to restrictions brought on by COVID-19, the project was shifted to a virtual platform. Moving the project to a virtual platform broadened the reach of each tour, and expanded the networking opportunities. There is still significant interest in conducting on-farm tours in the future and building a more localized network.

Research conclusions:

Tours are still being conducted, and conclusions gathered. With COVID-19 restrictions, the online platform has created difficulties in recording data. Pre-survey and post-surveys are posted and encouraged throughout the process, and follow-up e-mails are sent to attendees. This data is still being collected and synthesized and will be available for the final report. 

Project goals and In-process anecdotal data: 

  1. Support development of local/regional recurring peer-to-peer farmer training/mentoring in five multi-county communities
    1. Although on-farm tours were substituted for a virtual platform due to COVID-19, there were still several instances of regional and state-wide connections made between producers, service providers, and potential (future) producers. While participants were from the five multi-county regions, with several of the regions sharing borders, there were several connections made beyond what in-person tours would have allowed.
  2. Support education, mentorship, and collaboration among farmers to increase the sustainability of farming locally
    1. West Virginia is home to a diverse spectrum of agricultural producers, and with the socio-economic effects of the pandemic, there is even more interest in sustainable agriculture and building a resilient local food system. Several connections were made through the CRAFT virtual tours, and with the continued accompaniment of foodshed coordinators, a more sustainable farming network can be built from this foundation.
  3. Empower the food and farm community to continue organizing educational trainings and events in the future with the aid of a comprehensive toolkit created through this funding opportunity
    1. COVID-19 is limiting the ability for community-based in-person learning opportunities, but there is an interest in continuing to find innovative ways to connect producers and support the local food system. Other organizations in the state have also followed suit with online learning platforms, and there is interest for future in-person events. 
Participation Summary
25 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

25 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

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

WVCRAFT 2.0 was shifted to an online interactive virtual platform due to COVID-19 restrictions. 25 Zoom-based webinars were held over the course of two months in the 5 identified foodsheds below. The webinars include a 10-minute pre-recorded video of a farm tour or workshop exhibition and then there is a live, facilitated Q&A between the farmer and the audience. Subject areas covered included beekeeping, mushroom inoculation, ginseng harvesting, and various farm tours. These videos will be available on the Coalition’s website as soon as the last tour/workshop has aired. 

Regions Covered: 

        1. Foodshed 1: Pendleton, Randolph, and Pocahontas counties 
        2. Foodshed 2: Lewis, Gilmer, Braxton, and Webster counties
        3. Foodshed 3: Ritchie, Doddridge, and Harrison counties
        4. Foodshed 4: Mingo, McDowell, Mercer, Wyoming counties
        5. Foodshed 5: Clay, Calhoun, Roane counties

Learning Outcomes

18 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:

28 pre-surveys and 22 post-surveys have been completed. While far more than 28 people have attended 19 tours/workshops, utilizing an online platform has made it more challenging to collect data, but more post-surveys should be collected at the conclusion of the CRAFT virtual presentations. The final presentation is scheduled for January 21st.

Project Outcomes

4 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
6 Grants applied for that built upon this project
5 Grants received that built upon this project
$55,800.00 Dollar amount of grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Although data is still being collected, there have been a number of relationships already developed through the CRAFT virtual tours. The following success stories have been collected by foodshed coordinators:

After watching the mushroom presentation by Kenny Point of Every Herb Bearing Seed Farm & Apiary, a producer reached out and visited his farm to see his cultivation methods. They have since purchased several mushroom blocks from a source Kenny recommended and already secured sales to one local restaurant with plans to reach out to more soon. They have partnered with another local farmer and are excited about prospects of expanding into other markets. 

Several attendees have noted that they were not aware farmers in their area, and are looking forward to connecting- “I am actually pretty excited there are several farms very close. I had already known about & visited Rt 18 Farmers Market but there are several more I plan to go to. I just watched the one with Spotted Horse Farm, it’s actually just a few minutes away by sideXside…I’ll definitely be contacting Barbara [Volk]. We also plan to visit several others as well.” – Kris Marsh

Since their tour, Shady Grove Botanical has attributed four new sales to their CRAFT tour and have assisted each with site selection and preparation.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

With the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19, on-farm tours were pivoted to virtual, interactive platforms. Low-bandwidth was a concern due to many of the participants’ rural location so Zoom was utilized for it’s compatibility and flexibility. Participants were able to join in the Zoom conference room, or were also able to participate through a Facebook Live stream on the WV Food and Farm Coalition’s page. Pre-recorded virtual tours were shown to give participants a visual “on-farm” experience and allow for a more in-depth experience. A question and answer session followed that was facilitated by the Foodshed Coordinators. The move to a virtual platform allowed for a state-wide reach, and recorded sessions were uploaded to the WV Food and Farm Coalitions YouTube Channel for future reference.

Although the online platform was beneficial in reaching a larger audience, there is still a desire for hands-on peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Additional promotional and marketing work can be done around this topic. The rural nature of this state makes reaching all interested parties difficult at times. Creative and collaborative promotional work can still be done. Further partnering with the WVDA Project Coordinators could also help reach a larger audience and broader knowledge base.

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.