Developing a Beginning Farmer Training Program for Western New York's Minority and Low Resource Farmers

Final report for ONE20-369

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Providence Farm Collective
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Elizabeth Leipler
Providence Farm Collective
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Project Information

Summary:

Through this project Providence Farm Collective (PFC) partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and partner farmers to develop a training program specifically designed to meet the expressed needs of PFC’s culturally diverse farmers. PFC provides farmland, agricultural resources, and educational opportunities to over 200 participating minority and low-resource farmers through an incubator farm program and community organization plot program. Participating farmers are predominantly immigrant and refugee populations with agrarian backgrounds.

PFC and CCE worked with farmers to determine their educational needs and preferences, and created a curriculum based upon these findings. The resulting training program included an 8-workshop sustainable agriculture series, a demonstration poultry project, technical assistance, mentorship, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

In addition to training, farmers received access to 14 acres of prepared farmland and shared tools and infrastructure. Outcomes of this project included development of a targeted curriculum, 100% of farmers reporting increased knowledge of sustainable agricultural practices from workshops, 38% of farmers reporting application of a learned technique, increased access to farmland for PFC's 200+ farmers, and 100% of farmers reporting improved well-being from participation in PFC's programs.  

Project Objectives:
  1. This project seeks to develop and implement an effective, audience-specific sustainable agriculture training program including CCE/PFC workshops, hands-on training on PFC's demonstration project, technical assistance, and mentorship.
    • Expected benefits include increased knowledge of animal husbandry, mushroom cultivation, beekeeping, and marketing.
    • Expected benefits include adoption of learned practices resulting in increased productivity and profitability of participating farms.
  2. This project seeks to increase access to prepared farmland for beginning and aspiring farmers by providing a minimum of 6 acres of plowed, amended, and fenced farmland to be divided among participating farmers.*
    • Expected benefits include providing up to 100 socially disadvantaged farmers with the ability to farm for profit. 
  3. This project seeks to improve farmer well-being through farming at PFC.**
    • Expected benefits to farmers include increased access to traditional foods; increased sense of community; increased ability to connect with cultural practices; improved mental health; increased household income.

*This land will be worked in conjunction with other educational projects being offered to farmers.

**Farmer well-being was reported through end-of-year interviews and was expressed as a result of participation at PFC which includes this project as well as other programs.

Introduction:

The growing need to develop a new generation of farmers is well known in the farming community. Consequently, what if we could assist individuals with previous farming experience to help address this problem? In Buffalo, NY, a large population of immigrants and refugees with extensive agrarian backgrounds have been resettled. There is a desire among these new Americans to reconnect with their agricultural roots. Unfortunately, these communities do not have the financial resources or social capital to find land and start a farm on their own. In most cases, these future farmers also require education on adapting their traditional farming skills to a new climate and market system. Providence Farm Collective (PFC) provides farmland and shared resources for these beginning and aspiring farmers and through this project has created a training program designed specifically to meet farmers’ expressed needs.

PFC’s low-resource farmers experience tremendous barriers to land access which make it nearly impossible for these aspiring farmers to start their own farm. The cost of farmland, combined with equipment, infrastructure, and supply costs, require immense capital that PFC’s farmers do not have access to. In response, PFC offers plots of prepared farmland and shared infrastructure, free of charge, to their farmers to enable low-resource farmers to start their farming operations. In 2021, PFC provided a total of 14 acres of fenced, amended, and plowed farmland to participating farmers.
Beyond access to farmland there are barriers to accessing agricultural education for low-income and minority farmers. As most of PFC’s farmers are immigrants or refugees, they have a wide range of spoken languages, literacy, and educational backgrounds which make it difficult to gain knowledge from existing agricultural-education opportunities. PFC’s training will bridge this gap in services by developing workshops, technical-assistance, and mentorship opportunities designed specifically for PFC’s farmers. In development of PFC’s proposed project, the farm director spoke with 35 participating farmers representing Somali Bantu, Congolese, Burundian, Chin, Karen, Karenni, and African American communities in February and March of 2020. In these interviews it was found that:
-Farmers’ primary goals are to pass on cultural traditions, grow traditional crops, build food access within their communities, and earn income
-90% farmed in their home country
-83% indicated an interest in participating in educational activities
-97% preferred hands-on learning in the field to classroom-based education

Through this project PFC, CCE, and partner farmers sought to grow the number of viable farm businesses in our region through increased land access, shared resources, and development of appropriate agricultural training. As a result of this project farmers reported an increase in knowledge, adoption of new techniques, and an increase in well-being.

Cooperators

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  • Amy Barkley - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Mahamud Mberwa - Producer
  • Beth Leipler (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

This project provided education and farmland to PFC’s diverse farmers through collaboration with participating farmers and CCE. Through funding support through Northeast SARE’s Partnership Program, PFC sought to enhance and expand its existing educational programming. A comprehensive training program was created for PFC’s interested farmers. The training program consisted of an 8-workshop beginners’ agricultural series, experiential learning on PFC’s demonstration project, 1-on-1 technical assistance, and mentorship opportunities. In addition to training opportunities, all farmers received a prepared plot of land and shared tools for their farm operation.

Collaborators at CCE worked with PFC to develop an audience-specific workshop series designed to meet farmer’s expressed needs. PFC arranged multiple meetings with incubator farmers and each participating community organization to discuss and determine farmers’ educational needs and goals.  Through these meetings farmers expressed interest primarily in learning about animal husbandry, mushroom cultivation, and beekeeping. Once farmers’ educational needs and goals were collected, PFC and CCE began compiling existing curriculum from appropriate sources such as CCE, PFC, NIFTI, SARE, and others. Workshops were designed to be accessible to all farmers, despite literacy, language, and former education. To ensure understanding, interpreters representing each language group were hired for each workshop.  Based on farmer input during the design of this project, workshops were hands-on and field based as much as possible.  Workshop topics chosen for this project included: Broiler Brooding and Rearing, Broiler Health and Nutrition, Broiler Marketing and Food Safety, Broiler Processing, Introduction to Mushroom Cultivation, Introduction to Raising Goats (farm tour), Introduction to Raising Pigs (farm tour), and Introduction to Beekeeping (farm tour).  A lesson plan and appropriate resources were created for each tour and can be found as a PDF attachment in this report.  Existing materials were gleaned and adapted when possible, and new materials were created as needed.  As requested by participants, handouts were highly visual and all in English, as most households have youth that can assist adults in understanding English resources even if the participant themselves can not understand written English.  Workshops were free and open to all of Providence Farm Collective’s farmers. Transportation services were provided as needed for these workshops.

PFC operated a demonstration poultry project for training opportunities and program income generation.  All poultry workshops and the mushroom cultivation workshops took place at PFC’s farm.  The beekeeping, goat, and pig introductory workshops were in the form of guided tours at partner farms.  All of these workshops included time for hands-on learning in order to further farmers’ knowledge and comfort of the practices discussed.

PFC raised 25 broiler chickens on pasture for demonstration and hands-on training through this project.  Participants were provided opportunities to assist in this project through construction of a chicken tractor, health checks for chickens, daily upkeep, and final processing.  Additionally, PFC operates a demonstration vegetable and flower plot.  Through these projects, PFC aims to demonstrate best practices for small-scale poultry, vegetable, and flower production, using appropriate tools and materials that are easily accessed by PFC’s low-resource farmers.

Technical assistance and mentorship services were an important component of this project to advance farmers’ education outside of workshops. Technical assistance was scheduled through regular field visits by CCE specialists.  PFC staff also provided mentorship and technical assistance to farmers and were available daily on-site. 

PFC’s farm programs are limited to 4 to 8 new incubator farmers per year and 4 to 6 participating community organizations per year. PFC performs outreach and recruitment year-round by spreading knowledge and visibility of PFC programming to organizations and individuals in the WNY region. Additional outreach methods include on-farm events, social media, fliers, distribution of pamphlets, and word of mouth (dependent on COVID-19 and social distancing recommendations). PFC’s partner network and farmers actively share PFC’s work and opportunities with prospective farmers.

To evaluate the efficacy and outcomes of this project, multiple techniques were utilized, including but not limited to: workshop attendance; workshop assessments; year-end incubator farmer interviews; year-end organization interviews; required record keeping for all farmers; and quarterly advisory board meetings. Year-end interviews provide qualitative feedback on PFC’s trainings and support services. All farmers are asked to keep track of their harvests and sales at PFC, using templates adjusted for each farmer’s language and literacy levels. Sales and harvest data collected during the 2020 and 2021 seasons are used to determine any change in farmers’ productivity or profitability. Lastly, PFC facilitates regular incubator farmer meetings and quarterly advisory board meetings to keep up-to-date with farmer’s needs, while providing opportunities for peer-to-peer knowledge and skills sharing. These meetings also serve as a source for qualitative feedback on workshops and support services. Data is compiled digitally as it is collected.  PFC staff analyzes collected data, with input from CCE, for evaluation and reporting.

Please note that complementary materials and educational workshops funded by USDA’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program (BFRDP) will be offered during the duration of this grant. BFRDP workshops and support services will focus on annual vegetable production and introductory business topics while SARE grant funds will be used to create and implement an additional 8-workshop series covering additional topics requested by farmers. Additional support services will be funded by SARE and will be independent and complementary to any support services provided through BFRDP funding.

Research results and discussion:

Based on input from PFC's farmers, we believe this was a very successful project.  One hundred percent of participating farmers reported having increased knowledge due to their participation in workshops.  Additionally, 38% reported having implemented a technique they learned within 6 months of attending the workshop.  Many of those who had not implemented a practice learned through a workshop reported plans to in future years.

The project objectives were met as followed:

1.  This project developed an audience-specific sustainable agriculture training program including CCE/PFC workshops, hands-on training on PFC's demonstration project, technical assistance, and mentorship.

○     100% of participants reported increased knowledge of animal husbandry, mushroom cultivation, or beekeeping (39 of 39 participants who attended workshops).

○     38% of participants adopted a learned practice, resulting in increased productivity and profitability of participating farms. (15 of 39 participants who attended workshops)

2.  This project increased access to prepared farmland for beginning and aspiring farmers by providing a total of 14 acres of plowed, amended, and fenced farmland to participating farmers.*

○     Over 200 socially disadvantaged farmers access farmland at PFC, providing them the ability to farm for profit.

3. This project seeks to improve farmer well-being through farming at PFC.

○     100% of farmers expressed increased quality of life through at least one of the following indicators: increased access to traditional foods; increased sense of community; increased ability to connect with cultural practices; improved mental health; increased household income. (Percentage based on interviews with 43 farmers representative of PFC's 200+ farmers.)**

*This land was worked in conjunction with other educational projects being offered to farmers.
**Farmer well-being was reported through end-of-year interviews and was expressed as a result of participation at PFC which includes this project as well as other programs.

The project team found that participants were highly engaged in workshops and the poultry workshops were particularly successful.  Farm tours had the lowest attendance numbers but those that did attend indicated that a significant amount of learning resulted from the tours.  Attendance in workshops was sometimes lower than anticipated, especially later in the season.  We plan to use different strategies to promote workshops in the future, such as through What's App messaging, a visual workshop calendar, and highly visual flyers.  Additionally, we have learned that all of our field staff can serve as mentors to farmers and mentorship is sometimes preferred by farmers as it not scheduled and can meet a farmer's specific needs.  Workshops, participation in curriculum development, and operation of the demonstration poultry project all helped to build PFC staff capacity resulting in higher quality mentorship and technical assistance for PFC's farmers. 

Additional project results can be found in the Project Outcomes section of this report.

This project was edited once after submission due to another grant award with overlapping activities.  The project team consulted NE SARE to shift the project from a crop focus to a livestock focus to enable PFC to run two concurrent educational programs from different grant awards.  Beyond these original edits, no significant changes were made to the project.

Research conclusions:

Developing a Beginning Farmer Training for Western New York's Minority and Low Resource Farmers project was a collaboration between Providence Farm Collective (PFC) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).  Through this project PFC and CCE worked together to create an educational program consisting of 8-workshops, a demonstration poultry project, technical assistance, and mentorship available to PFC's 200+ diverse farmers.  The project team sought to develop an educational program to meet PFC farmers' expressed needs including specific workshop topics, hands-on training opportunities, transportation support, interpretation services, and free services. 

The objectives of this project were to: develop and implement an audience-specific sustainable agriculture training program; increase farmer knowledge and use of sustainable agricultural practices; increase access to farmland; and improve farmer well being.  All objectives were met with many surpassing expected results.  

Through this project our project team has learned to be better educators for the diverse population we serve.  Other agricultural organizations serving minority or low-resource populations may find this project's curriculum and report helpful in creating their own educational programs.  

Educator Amy Barkley and farmer Abdi Sundi move young chickens to pasture
PFC farmers learning how to grow oyster mushrooms on straw
Rosa and Gabriel with their freshly inoculated mushroom bags. Both farmers have since began producing oyster mushrooms on a larger scale
Burundian farmer Nicodeme learns about beekeeping from local expert

Participation Summary
39 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

20 Consultations
7 On-farm demonstrations
3 Tours
8 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

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

At the start of this project, PFC reached out to farmers through casual conversations and meetings to determine what farmers were most interested in learning about through this workshop series.  Visual handouts were prepared, with images of potential workshop topics, to enable farmers of all languages to provide input on workshop interests.  Project staff and partners then completed annual interviews with all participating organizations and incubator farmers.  In these interviews, seasonal data was collected and farmers provided additional input on workshop interests.  Based on farmer input, workshop topics were determined to be: Broiler Brooding and Rearing, Broiler Health and Nutrition, Broiler Marketing and Food Safety, Broiler Processing, Introduction to Mushroom Cultivation, Introduction to Raising Goats (farm tour), Introduction to Raising Pigs (farm tour), and Introduction to Beekeeping.  

PFC staff and partners collected relevant curriculums and resources from NIFTI, SARE and CCE.  These resources were utilized to prepare for the workshop series.  New materials were created as needed.  In addition, the Project Lead attended virtual classes to increase knowledge and understanding of workshop topics. 

The project team met regularly for planning purposes and in order to develop and tailor educational activities for PFC's unique audience.  PFC developed a demonstration poultry project which provided hands-on learning opportunities for farmers.  The project team coordinated educational tours with partner farms to provide additional opportunities for experiential learning.  Workshops took place between April and August of 2021 and were promoted to farmers via email, website, flyers, text messaging, and word of mouth. 
FINAL-Workshop-Binder

In addition to 8 workshops PFC and CCE staff provided regular mentorship to farmers, both scheduled and by demand.  For example, scheduled technical assistance and mentorship was provided throughout the demonstration poultry project.  During these times farmers had the opportunity to consult a livestock specialist, assist in building a chicken tractor, take part in chicken health checks, and assist in processing.  Additional mentorship was provided in person and on the phone mainly to address poultry production and mushroom cultivation needs and questions.  

With the conclusion of this project, PFC and CCE are working to share project results with appropriate audiences.  After submission of this report, project results and curriculum will be made digitally available to PFC's partner farmers and partner organizations.   PFC will also digitally share project findings and curriculum with NIFTI.  Collaborators at CCE will make project results available though their network and through a publication in SWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Newsletter.  Also planned is a submission to Small Farms Quarterly.  

Learning Outcomes

39 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:

From the 8-workshop series developed through this Partnership Grant farmers reported a wide range of changes in knowledge and awareness.  Through outreach and evaluation calls to participants, PFC farmers most commonly reported learning how to properly care for chickens.  Proper care for chickens included comments about learning about caring for chicks, feeding practices, sheltering chickens at different stages of development, common diseases, and preventing spread of disease through proper carcass disposal.  While most participating farmers have raised chickens before the majority have done so outside of the United States and have used very different practices with heritage birds.  One farmer, Abdullah Sundi, said that “Back home when we raised chickens we just kept them and let them out for the day.  They mostly take care of themselves.  Here we learned that we have to take more care of the chickens by giving them the right kind of food, water and shelter.” 

The second most common change in knowledge noted was learning how to grow mushrooms.  Other knowledge and awareness changes notes by participants included learning the basic components of raising goats, pigs, and bees.  Many farmers mentioned that they learned about what they need to get started, so are better prepared to plan and make important start-up decisions.  

Project Outcomes

15 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

As a result of this project, 15 farmers adopted techniques learned through workshops and technical assistance provided.  Several farmers began raising chickens using techniques learned and many farmers began cultivating mushrooms. 

Mahamud Mberwa, the farm partner for this project, partnered with another participating farmer and began raising broilers as a result of this project.  Mahamud used his experience from the workshops and demonstration poultry project to branch out from his normal vegetable cultivation and begin raising 75 Red Ranger birds.  Mahamud built a chicken tractor, similar to the one created for the PFC demonstration poultry project, and raised his birds on pasture.  His project was wonderfully successful.  He was able to sell the majority of the chickens back to his community to fill a market need for fresh, halal chickens that were slow-growing and similar in taste to chickens his community raised back in Somali and Tanzania. In reviewing the project Mahamud discussed the importance of growing his operation to increase his profit margin as he learned the marketing class, “Next year we plan to raise almost a thousand chickens and continue selling to my community.  People should know that we have fresh, halal chicken available which is hard to get now. That is the plan and that is the future!”

The mushroom growing workshop was one of our most popular workshops as all participants made their own grow bags of three different oyster varieties on straw.  Participants were excited to report their mushrooms growing at home and as a result of this success, six families in the Burmese Karenni community began growing oyster mushrooms on a larger scale.  When this community reached out, mentors from PFC and this project were able to meet the farmers to help create a plan, order supplies, and assist in the inoculation stage of production.  These farmers plan to trial their larger scale production for home use, then if successful will reach out to their existing sales outlets to market their mushrooms for sale.

An unexpected outcome of this project was the potential application of information taught to livestock operations abroad.  Several farmers at PFC have agricultural projects outside of the US, and many more aspire to.  These farmers are eager to learn about operations and techniques in the US to adapt and apply to operations abroad.

Beyond the success of implementation, many farmers reported wanting to continue learning about the topics taught through the project.  Many farmers also reported that they plan to use information taught in the workshops and materials acquired through the workshops at a later date, for example through raising chickens in 2022. 

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

When developing this project our team knew that PFC's population of diverse and under resourced farmers needed an agriculture education that broke the mold of existing agricultural education opportunities.  Specifically, PFC's farmers had voiced needing hands-on agricultural education that was accessible to them.  Accessibility meant providing workshops that were free of cost,  available in multiple languages, and had transportation provided if not accessible by a bus route.  We knew that we needed to meet the expressed educational needs of our farmers and that we needed to start from the basics.  We also recognized the importance of learning that takes place after a workshop, through mentorship or technical assistance.  Through the course of the project our team's understanding of these needs grew and our educational approach was able to be adapted to better meet the needs of our farmers.

Educational Approach Successes:

-Hands-on learning provided a way for diverse populations with a variety of languages, backgrounds, and literacy levels to learn the same content more effectively than in a lecture setting.  Farmers were kept engaged and seemed to follow along much better in person with hands-on activities provided than virtually (virtual workshops were provided through another project).

-Mentorship served as an effective tool in the field to assist farmers with exactly what they need.  Individualized help was used as a next step after workshop attendance for many farmers.  Mentorship helped farmers put techniques they learned into action.

-Tours were a great a tool to introduce farmers to a new enterprise.  Tours created a connection with a local farm/farmer for possible mentorship opportunities as well as an opportunity to learn in the field rather than in a classroom.

Educational Approach Challenges & Adjustments:

-Interpreting workshops into multiple languages was a minor challenge because it takes more time to cover a set amount of material and it is important that the interpreter understand the content in order to effectively interpret.  We addressed this challenge by recommending instructors to plan for half the content they would usually plan for the same amount of time.  To aid in interpretation and understanding, instructors kept to relatively simple English and were asked to only say a couple of sentences at a time before interpretation.  Finding interpreters with agricultural experience was also an important part of ensuring that workshops were successful in delivering content.

-Cultural norms presented challenges in the middle of instruction on multiple occasions.  As participants represented many different cultural practices and backgrounds it is only natural that some taught practices conflict with cultural norms and practices.  For example, many farmers had culturally appropriate techniques for culling or slaughtering livestock.  PFC staff used interpreters and PFC mentors to provide a cultural bridge and ensure that any concerns or conflicts were handled with the utmost respect and understanding. 

-Peer-to-peer learning was somewhat difficult to facilitate during this project.  While questions were asked to farmers to encourage discussion, the amount of peer-to-peer learning that took place during workshops was minimal.  In the future, we would like to reserve flexible funds for mentors and instructors that represent the communities participating in workshops.

Lessons Learned:

-One important lesson for our instructors was to “Meet the farmers where they are”.  Many of the farmers served by this project already had experience in animal husbandry in their home countries, but the traditional techniques were very different from the ones being taught in the workshop series.  We learned the importance of starting the workshop by discussing what experience farmers already had, and what techniques farmers have used in the past so lessons could be adjusted to best meet the needs and wants of the participants.  

-Another lesson we have been learning for our audience is to not plan for too much content in a workshop.  All workshops had some sort of handout to enable continued learning on behalf of the participant and mentors were also always available to guide participants in continued learning.  Avoiding content overload in workshops helped keep participants engaged, and seemed to improve overall understanding.  

 

Content developed and lessons learned from this project would be best applied to under resourced beginning farmers, specifically those from immigrant and refugee populations.  Creation of educational opportunities to specifically meet the needs of these populations is essential to creating more equitable and effective agricultural education in the United States.  Beyond content, we believe other strategies implemented through this project are essential to effectively serve these populations such as free workshops, interpretation, and transportation services.

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.