Planning and Programming the 2021 National Farm Viability Conference in Oregon

Progress report for PDP20-019

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $73,119.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Host Institution Award ID: G251-21-W7903
Grant Recipient: Oregon Tilth
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Chris Schreiner
Oregon Tilth
Expand All

Project Information


Oregon Tilth seeks WSARE funds to support planning and program expenses associated with the 2021 National Farm Viability Conference (NFVC), to be held in Corvallis, OR, in October 2021. Oregon Tilth will co-host the conference with Oregon State University. This three-day event is for agricultural service providers working on dimensions of farm viability such as business development, financial management, agricultural financing, farmland conservation, succession/transition strategies, market development, value-added enterprise, food hubs, and farm incubators. Attendees learn about new program and service models, network with other professionals, tour farms and facilities, and gather ideas and models they can use in their viability work.

NFVC has been held five times since 2008. It is intended to move around the country to highlight regional issues and initiatives; the 2021 conference will be the first in the western region. Fifty to sixty sessions and events, including six farm tours, are anticipated; at least 350 people from more than 225 organizations are expected to attend. WSARE funds are requested for salary and travel expenses associated with planning the event; speaker honorariums; farm tour transportation; and attendee scholarships. Other expenses will be contributed in-kind and solicited through sponsorships and fundraising. Past hosts and organizers will be involved; two national committees and one regional committee will share planning responsibilities. A detailed set of resources has been developed to guide conference planning and development.

The NFVC's history, continuity, and collaborative approach, along with co-hosts' extensive networks and expertise in educational conference programming, will ensure the project's success. This unique event directly aligns with SARE priorities on farmers' quality of life, rural livelihoods, and sustainable, diversified agriculture. It will continue to build the field of farm viability and grow a diverse cadre of professionals supporting thriving small farms, farmers, farm families, local food systems, and rural economies.

Project Objectives:

The goal of the NFVC is to strengthen farm sustainability, build more resilient local food systems, and support the long-term profitability of farming and agri-entrepreneurs from start-ups to generational businesses. The event aims to strengthen the individual and collective ability of diverse professionals to advance this goal. We expect to attract even more attendees to the 2021 conference due to its increasing exposure and the abundance of  farm viability-focused professionals in the western region. New themes and content will be developed by the Planning Committee with broad input from regional advisors and contributors, reflecting regional issues and priorities and featuring projects, programs, and practitioners in WSARE states.

Our objectives include:

1) To increase attendees’ knowledge in domains such as farm and food business development, financial planning and management, agricultural financing, market development, succession planning, and other areas of farm viability.

2) To increase and/or strengthen attendees’ relationships and networks expected to support and/or improve their farm viability work and increase its value to farmers. 

3) To increase and/or strengthen attendees’ intentions to advance and/or expand their viability work by developing, implementing, and/or improving viability programming, services, and/or resources for farmers.



We expect to build on the success of NFVC in advancing the knowledge and networks of professionals working on diverse aspects of farm viability; with a special focus on western region issues, initiatives, and opportunities. Oregon Tilth has decades of experience in conducting educational programming, including training thousands of service providers and farmers each year and co-hosting the biannual Organicology conference, the largest multi-sector organic event in the country. We have a long history of effective collaboration with OSU as well as other regional institutions and organizations. We have substantial farm viability programming expertise; strong networks and partnerships across the US and regionally; the support and commitment of past hosts and organizers; and extensive resources for planning and guidance. We’ll have access to past organizers' "lessons learned" as well as evaluation survey data  to inform needed changes, improvements, and additions. 


Oregon Tilth will lead conference program planning and content development with a national planning committee and regional and national advisory committees. OSU will serve as the fiscal manager and operational lead with responsibility for venue hosting, registration and fees management, contracts, and site and meal logistics. Marketing, sponsorship, and other responsibilities will be shared between the co-hosts and supported by committees. Existing planning resources include a comprehensive “roadmap”, suggested timeline, budget guidance, and workshop proposal review template. The roadmap specifies the roles of three committees and several subcommittees. Past hosts and organizers, including Renewing the Countryside and the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, have committed their support and commitment.


10/2020: confirm funding; assemble planning committee
11/2020: assemble advisory committee; reserve lodging; begin sponsorship/fundraising; update website; “FYI” emails
12/2020: outreach to local colleagues/partners; national advisory committee finalized 
1/2021: revise budget; sponsorship outreach push
2/2021: finalize regional advisory committee; revise registration page; secure scholarship funds; sponsorship outreach and website updates (through Sept)
3/2021: outreach list; “Save the Date”; finalize pricing; soft launch registration for testing; create RFP subcommittee
4/2021: early bird registration; send media kit to outreach list; draft/finalize/publicize RFP; brainstorm tours/speakers/entertainment
5/2021: registration (continues-Sept.); RFP outreach; identify keynote; map breakout sessions; preliminary schedule; communications planning; form scholarship committee
6/2021: preliminary agenda; assign workshop submissions & rank; food & entertainment planning; speaker bios
7/2021: communications push; notify RFP applicants; finalize sessions/agenda
8/2021: press release; signage; materials; transportation planning
9/2021: sponsor materials; supplies; tour sites/prep hosts; speaker gifts; last-call registration; brainstorm livestream/TV coverage
10/2021: send agenda; assemble folder materials; check AV; hold conference; thank-yous; post surveys, internal evaluation; press release; financial report


Click linked name(s) to expand


Educational approach:

Because of the COVID pandemic, we are now planning to hold the 2021 event in a virtual format. The event will take place over the entire month of October with virtual gatherings that will bring together all participants at the opening and closing of the event. 

The opening and closing gatherings will highlight regional issues and initiatives and showcase programs and models for supporting farm viability. These gatherings will also address key themes from the 2019 conference - strategies to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion in our efforts to support viable farms; the intersection of climate change and farm viability; and the role farm viability professionals can play in developing policies that support viable farms. 

The main educational programming will occur over the month of October and will include traditional presenter led workshops, discussions groups, and a variation of the Reading the Farm program that will allow for farm viability professionals to work together to practice supporting a farm with addressing a viability challenge. Because of the shift to a virtual format, we plan to develop suggestions for how each of these types of programming are structured in an online format. 

Peer-to-peer learning will continue to be the primary focus of the event. To this end, we will be putting out an RFP for educational programming for the event in the spring of 2021 to past and prospective conference attendees. The highly participatory design of the event ensures that programming is relevant and useful. Proposals will be evaluated in the early summer with members of the advisory committee working with us (the conference planners) to develop the final conference agenda by late August. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Traditional Workshops

To increase attendees’ knowledge in domains such as farm and food business development, financial planning and management, agricultural financing, market development, succession planning, and other areas of farm viability.


The virtual conference programming will include traditional presenter led workshops that will be focused on increasing attendee's knowledge and expertise about key farm viability topics. Though specific workshop topics are dependent on the proposals that are received by conference participants, examples of the types of topics we expect to be covered here include business analysis with financial information, financing strategies for farm and food businesses, online marketing, cooperative business structures and planning for farm succession. 

Outcomes and impacts:

These workshops will increase participants' knowledge of various topics related to farm viability, thereby  strengthening their ability to provide training and support to the farmers that they work with.

Discussion Groups/Roundtable Sessions

To increase and/or strengthen attendees’ ability to develop and implement farm viability programming and services.

To increase and/or strengthen relationships and networks.


Interactive discussion group/roundtable sessions will be part of the conference programming and will be focused on collectively identifying best practices for delivering farm viability programming and services and sharing innovative models for supporting viable farms. Again the specific topics that will be covered are dependent on the proposals that are received by conference participants. The interactive format of this part of the conference program will serve to reinforce existing relationships and create new connections, ultimately serving to strengthen the national network of viability professionals. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Farm viability professionals will identify having gained skills and strategies that they intend to implement in their day-to-day work and/or having become aware of new models and solutions that they intend to draw on for ideas and inspiration.

They will also report having made new connections and/or deepened existing connections contributing to a stronger national network of viability professionals that will allow for learning and collaboration that will extend beyond the virtual conference event.

Farm Viability Charrettes/Collaborative Case Studies

To increase and/or strengthen attendees’ ability to develop and implement farm viability programming and services.

To increase attendees’ knowledge in domains such as farm and food business development, financial planning and management, agricultural financing, market development, succession planning, and other areas of farm viability.

To increase and/or strengthen relationships and networks.


Farm Viability Charrettes are a spin on the Reading the Farm program that has been incorporated into past NFVC events. At these sessions, participants will be introduced to a farm business and will be presented with a business challenge that the farm (or agriculturally-based business) faces. Using pertinent records and background information about the farm, participants will work collaboratively to come up with a plan that the farm can use to address the challenge they face. Solutions will be focused on empowering farmers to identify a solution for themselves by providing tools, frameworks and suggested resources. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Farm Viability Charrettes/Collaborative Case Studies sessions will achieve all three of the conference's objectives. First and foremost, the experiential nature of these sessions gives participants a chance to put their new and developing skills into practice within the context of a community of co-learners. The multi-disciplinary design of these sessions will broaden participants' knowledge-base. The collaborative nature of these sessions will foster relationship building. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

50 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

300 Others
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.