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

Final 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. Originally, the project had planned to expand on previous work by conducting CRAFT tours and workshops within foodshed areas, which are defined as 3-4 county zones. Not only had we hoped to encourage new ideas and techniques, but we also wanted to encourage collaborations by gathering farmers from close geographic regions.

Unfortunately, the pandemic restrictions didn’t allow for 25 farm tours/workshops to take place this summer. In a pandemic pivot, the coalition filmed 25 farm tours and hosted live Q&As via Zoom for registered participants, and broadcast the Zooms on Facebook Live.  While we’re disappointed in making the project virtual, we were able to reach twice as many participants, 513. Additionally, of the 46 post surveys that were completed, 31 farmers reported a change in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness. Some farmers noted learning about other farmers in their region that they were previously unaware of, and others noted new confidence in trying something new or expanding current operations. Most importantly 24 new collaborations were reported! Anecdotally, most of the collaborations were sourcing commitments, but creating collaborations was part of the goals of this project, given the restrictions, 24 collaborations are outstanding! 

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 more local level. 

Cooperators

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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. Approximately 513 individuals attended the Zoom/Facebook Live events, with the average being 17 participants per event. The Coalition has also placed live recordings of these events online for future reference material. 

Utilizing Social Science methods, the WV Food and Farm Coalition collected 52 pre and 46 post-survey data from attendees, anecdotal information, and qualitative impact stories from a small sample of attendees.  Pre-surveys were distributed at the first tour for attendees in each foodshed to create the baseline, while the post-survey were given at the final tour in each foodshed. Data is being coded, with each participant being assigned a reporting number in the database. Unfortunately, it was challenging to get participants to complete surveys, given that everything was completely virtual. 

Additional information collected includes participant sign-in sheets, media (photo and video), and anecdotal stories.  Also, foodshed coordinators collected 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:

Has this series contributed to you expanding your farming network of partnerships and connections?

40 participants answered “yes” to expanding their farming network of partnerships and connections, while 6 answered “no” or “N/A”.

“Absolutely has, have been in contact with some of the farmers to see if we can work together.”

“Yes, I didn’t know about Creekside in McDowell County at all! Also, didn’t know about Thomas at Mt. State Trout, and we’ve already hooked up and I’ve created a website for him!”

 

Has this series contributed to you considering making changes to your farm operation?

31 participants answered “yes” to making changes to their farm operation, while 15 answered “no” or “N/A”.

“Yes! We have a high tunnel that is underutilized, but through learning about different trellising methods, succession techniques, etc- we have a better production plan for 2021 and are excited to see a larger yield from last year.”

“I am working on a concept for a farm market retail hub in Morgantown, and I am encouraged by all of the wonderful operations across the state!”

“I’d like to expand our work to include growing mushrooms.”

 

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

“Increase knowledge with more educational opportunities to learn more about various farming methods results of each.”

“Hey, these folks are growing back small communities & our state.  It’s really grassroots work!”

“I feel much more confident about setting up a High Tunnel and making a “go” of it now that I’m seeing the experiences of others.”

 

What part was the most helpful?

Participants noted that the recorded tours and the Q&A sessions were the most helpful. Being able to see the methods in practice and then have a discussion with the farmer.

“I like to see others’ operations and hear how they do things.  No matter how long you have been doing it you can always learn something new.”

“The restorative effect of these wise, gracious & well-spoken folks!  Have thoroughly enjoyed them all!”

 

What would you like to see done differently?

Participants noted wanting to have on-farm tours in the future, getting this information to high school agriculture programs, including a “meet and greet” to the discussion portion of the event, and making the farm tour videos longer.

“Get them to HS agriculture programs!”

“Would love to see them on-farm in the future.”

“Time permitting it would be good to have people introduce themselves. Time permitting it would be good to have people introduce themselves.”

 

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

46 participants answered “yes” to wanting to continue to see these events in their communities.

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

Participants noted a wide array of topics of interest for future tours- high tunnel and season extension, mushrooms, forest farming, beekeeping, fruit trees and orchards, small animal husbandry, marketing, food preservation, and WV-specific farming techniques.

“Would like to see more virtual series from WV farms, Forestry, different types of gardening, mushroom gardening from Hernshaw farms, rain barrel series, more on forest farming, beekeeping, pollinator gardening. Poultry farming, container gardening for city dwelling. Gardening for Seniors, etc.”

“Growing on a slope since so much of WV is hilly. Growing on hay or straw.  What works best in WV?”

 

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:

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 were sent to attendees. The numbers of participants and views of videos on the WV Food and Farm Coalition YouTube page far exceeds the 46 post-surveys collected. Data that was collected correlated with an increase in knowledge and peer network among farmers, food businesses, and service providers around the state.

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. Below are the links to the videos. These videos will be available at https://www.wvfoodandfarm.org/craft-tours-1

  1. Awakened Artwork Farm – Farming as a Healthier Lifestyle 
  2. BriarRidge Farm – Cottage Foods 
  3. WV Wilderness Apiary – Bee Keeping 
  4. Hickory Ridge Farm– Homesteading 
  5. Linwood Alive Community Farms – High Tunnel Production 
  6. Small Town Market – Working with your Local Grocery Store 
  7. Shady Grove Botanicals – Farming and Harvesting Ginseng 
  8. Country Roads Farms – WV Maple Syrup Production 
  9. Thompson Gardens – Beginning Market Gardening 
  10. Nolan Farms – Raising Chickens 
  11. Mt. View High School Youth Farm  – Operating a youth-led farm and market 
  12. Williams Windy Ridge Farm – SMall livestock production 
  13. L&M Farms – Culinary Herbs and Teas 
  14. Ramella Park Comunity Garden of Eatin’
  15. Rt. 18 Farm Market – Growing for Profit 
  16. Smoke Camp Crafts  – Urban Micro gardening 
  17. Spotted Horse Farm – Medical Herbs 
  18. Sugar Bottom Farms – Raising Bees for Honey 
  19. Creekside Farms – The Future of Farming in West Virginia 
  20. Every Herb Bearing Seed Farm & Apiary – Mushroom Growing 
  21. Mountain State Trout Farm – Trout Farming 
  22. Aroma of the Andes – Coffee Farming and Roasterie 
  23. Hinchman Farmstead – Begninnning Farming 
  24. Glade View Farms – Growing in a High Tunnell 
  25. M&B Farms – Hydroponic Growing 

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

31 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:

52 pre-surveys and 46 post-surveys were completed. While far more than 52 people have attended and watched the 25 recorded session on the WV Food and Farm Coalition YouTube page, utilizing an online platform has made it more challenging to collect data. Of the 46 post-surveys, 31 farmers reported a change in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness. Some farmers noted learning of other farmers in the their region that they were previously unaware of, and others noted new confidence in trying something new or expanding current operations.

“Yes, updating my planting plots.”

“Growing a large amount of produce on a small amount of ground. Different farming techniques.”

“Yes, gives me courage to try something new.”

“I wanted to begin raising bees, but now I am more confident.”

 

Project Outcomes

31 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
24 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

There have been a number of relationships 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.

Hinchman Farmstead noted meeting a beginning farmer who lives a mile from his farm. Because of CRAFT, the beginning farmer has now attended an on-farm chicken processing workshop and has formed a mentorship relationship with the farmer. Additionally, he has noted an increase in sales of his eggs and chicken since the tour.

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.