Progress report for SNE20-008-NH
Problem and Justification: NH agriculture service providers are not well networked or connected across organizations, resulting in inefficiencies in meeting the needs of NH Farmers. Other states such as Maine have formed an agriculture service provider network and found that they were able to increase the efficiency of their work. The farmers additionally gained great benefit from knowing there was one place (webpage) they could go to learn about numerous resources available to them. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the value and need of having a NH Farm Network to provide a structure for working together, a repository for information, and a vehicle for relationship building across organizations.
In a resource-limited state, it is essential that organizations collaborate and build off each other’s work, and do not create redundancy in our efforts. Additionally, by working together we are able to access more resources thru grants and agency partnerships to better meet the needs of NH farmers.
A group of 17 agricultural organizations came together in late 2019 and strongly expressed their desire to form a NH Farm Network. They formalized this desire in collaboration with UNH Extension, and voted unanimously to move forward in exploring forming a network.
Solution and Approach: Our proposed solution is to bring NH agriculture service providers together in a participatory Reading the Farm (RTF) exercise. As demonstrated by the SARE Fellows program, participation in the RTF builds comradery, develops relationships and identifies skills of participants. Our aim is to conduct a RTF training for NH agriculture service providers to bring them together and catalyze a functioning and collaborative working group. Long term needs and knowledge gaps will be identified thru the RTF experience and subsequent focus groups and will inform the structure and the work of the group moving forward. The resulting network will yield the following outcomes: 1) experienced agriculture professionals will transfer knowledge to new staff, 2) new staff will showcase their talents and skills to their community, 3) an on-line platform will be developed to house multi-agency and multi-organization resources for farmers (a one stop shop), and 4) network participants will know where and to whom to turn for the numerous questions they receive in their work with farmers. RTF participants will also increase their skills in holistic farm management, a technique for service providers to deliver advice based on the whole farm system and not just within the specific (niche) program they operate under. This baseline community of sharing and knowledge will be critical to establishing a successful Farm Network for New Hampshire.
The 1-year plan for New Hampshire will focus on organizing the “NH Farm Network” for service providers, in the spirit of the Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine. In this foundational year, NH SARE will take a leadership role in aggregating information from NH Service providers to create a resource website for farmers. We will assess professional development needs of our states’ agriculture service providers via the Reading the Farm training and focus groups. We will use program evaluation to monitor success.
As the states farming community ages (65% of farm owners being 55 or older), so does the service providers working to provide support. As retirements occur, we lose the relationships and networks that were developed over individual careers. New staff across many agencies are unfamiliar with the specialties of partner agencies and specialties of individuals within the agencies. No one agency has taken leadership in gathering agency partners in networking, communication, collaboration or skill building. We are effectively siloed in our own organizations. If NH agriculture service providers are not able to effectively communicate across agencies, they will not be able to effectively or efficiently provide services to New Hampshire’s farmers. Tight networks enhance information flow and result in better services for farmers.
The NH Agriculture Financiers (an ad-hoc group that meets quarterly) has expressed interest and support for a stronger network and increased communication methods between agencies through a unanimous vote during a quarterly meeting. The group invited the Beginner Farmer Resource Network of Maine, as well as key individuals from UNH Extension to discuss forming a similar network in New Hampshire.
Farmers have expressed a desire for a single spot to get information germane to their diverse needs, as identified by program participants in the UNH Beginning Farmer training course as well as individually to agriculture service providers across multiple agencies. Many farmers, new and veteran, do not know where to turn for the numerous programs, regulations, rules, and funding opportunities they seek information about. Housing links or direct information topically would assist growers in connecting with the information and resources they seek. It would further help agriculture service providers to meet the needs of more producers with less effort.
Agriculture service providers will benefit by a strengthened networked comprised of partnering agencies and organizations. A tightly networked community of service providers will lead to more rapid responses when challenges or issues arise, greater collaboration on projects, grants, and legislative matters. A catalyst for forging relationships and establishing a community will be the SARE Reading the Farm (RTF) training. The RTF provides the opportunity for service providers to “read” a farm thru the skill set of others, and provide more holistic recommendations. Thru this method we will be able to bring together different skills (i.e. production versus economic) to both learn from one another, but also provide recommendations and guidance for the farm business that takes into account all aspects of the farm (social, environmental, economic). This training will bring service providers together to both learn about one another’s skills, but also to train them in the value of reading a farm as a complete system (social, environmental, economic).
Strengths and weaknesses of New Hampshire’s service provider community was exemplified when COVID19 began impacting New Hampshire. Established service providers thrived, while new staff were not able to respond as quickly due to their limited professional network. Additionally there was limited leadership, structure or unified communication across agencies, resulting in redundancy across organizations. We aim to address these shortcomings by hosting the initial RTF training, plus additional gatherings for NH service providers to strengthen inter-agency professional networks and identify methods for streamlined communication. We will use these gatherings to share information, identify gaps and needs, and share concerns we have collected from the growers we work with. Agricultural services will be unified across organizations instead of disjointed. A beginner farmer representative will be recruited to serve as a farmer liaison to the network.
A project coordinator will work with the network participants to establish a skeletal structure for a web-based platform to house information or links to agencies and data. This portion of the network will provide a framework that can be developed and populated over time.
The NH Farm Network aims to leverage existing strengths of organizations throughout the state, identify existing strengths so as not to duplicate efforts or create redundancy in a resource-limited state. The NH Farm network does this to better assist the needs of both established and beginner farmers in New Hampshire.
Agricultural Service Provider Interest:
Agriculture service providers will initially be engaged thru the NH Agriculture Financiers Group, an established ad-hoc group of 25 individuals representing different agencies (NH Department of Agriculture Markets and Food, Farm Service Agency, Small Business Administration, USDA Rural Development, Farm Credit East, Yankee Farm Credit, UNH Extension, NH Food Alliance, Vital Communities, Land for Good, and others). Approximately half of the Agriculture Financiers group has already expressed interest in participation.
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Using the SARE designed Reading the Farm Training (RTF) for Agriculture Service Providers, the New Hampshire agriculture community came together to form the NH Agriculture Service Provider Network. As demonstrated by the SARE Fellows program, participation in the RTF builds comradery, develops relationships and identifies skills of participants. The RTF is the catalyst for a functioning and collaborative working group. A needs assessment and knowledge gaps were identified thru the RTF experience and subsequent focus groups. In addition to the experiential RTF training, an on-line platform will be developed to house multi-agency and multi-organization resources for farmers (a one stop shop).
The Education Plan Submitted with this State Plan was:
Recruitment will be a joint effort. As mentioned above, there is broad desire and consensus for a NH Farm Network. The NH Ag Financiers group will brainstorm organizations and agencies to include and target for outreach. Specific effort will be made to invite and recruit a diverse and representative group of participants. A press release will be created to invite participants to the network. People will use their connections and relationships to reach others they know. Potential participants will be asked to apply to the program, indicating their interest, how the program will benefit their work and how they will utilize the network. Once an extended list of organizations and agencies is compiled, an initial invitation will be sent by the NH SARE Coordinator to participate in the kick-off Reading the Farm training.
There will be several opportunities to engage in the shaping if the NH Farm Network. The first, and perhaps strongest, will be the Reading the Farm training. This will be capped at 50 participants, with a target of 35 individuals. The focus groups will also be a place for interaction, networking and team building, as well as providing feedback.
Invitations to the focus groups will be made prioritizing those who could not join the RTF program.
An initial launch of the NH Farm Network will be kicked-off during the NH Agriculture Open Forum platform that began in response to the Corona Virus. We will use the forum to gather input from agency and organization members on values, approaches, structure and format they prefer to see in a state Farm Network. This will aid in further communication and collaboration efforts between diverse agricultural service provider groups, and continue to strengthen the network.
Once public health restrictions allow, a SARE Reading the Farm Program (RTF), will be led by the current and former NH SARE Coordinator who have significant experience in RTF training. We will use the SARE curriculum and adjust based on group needs, existing expertise within the group, and needs of the individual farm where the RTF is conducted. Participants will be trained in whole farm analysis and will assess farm strengths and weaknesses thru the three legged sustainability stool: farm profitability, environmental stewardship, and strong farming communities. They will be trained on how these components work together, recognizing that no one individual has expertise in all areas of farm production or management. This will further strengthen the network, realizing we are stronger together when taking a team approach to solving problems. Participants will gain skills in reading the farm as a whole, resulting in higher quality services provided to the farmers they work with.
Prior to RTF the SARE Coordinator will conduct a pre-program evaluation of participants, asking each individual to identify their goals for the training and anticipated outcomes for their personal professional development. These individual goals will be used to later measure progress of each individual. The SARE Coordinator will outline the program goals, so that when they arrive at RTF they are ready to jump in to the program.
The Reading the Farm training will be used to further identify professional development needs within the community, and understand the programs, efforts, and focus of the different agricultural agencies and organizations. A second reading the farm program will be offered if interest is expressed, or if public health restrictions limit group size. Additional input will be provided at regular NH Ag Financiers meetings, and will be used to identify additional outcomes and goals of the community and NH Farm Network. The NH Farm network will measure, job satisfaction and performance (as rated by the individual service provider) as a result of the NH Farm network collaboration. We will also measure changes in an organizations ability to meet the needs of clients and their mission, as reported by individuals in the organization.
A post RTF evaluation will be conducted 2 months after the event, focused on assessing continuing education needs of the NH Farm Network, and how the training has impacted their work, what’s going right/wrong and what needs improvement. Evaluation results will be analyzed by the NH SARE Coordinator. A report of the results will be shared with the NH Agriculture Financiers Group for additional input and guidance.
We will measure learning outcomes using a post-pre questionnaire during RTF training that asks participants to rate their knowledge and skills on the different subjects. This may include: comfort level providing guidance on difficult topics, familiarity with whole farm planning, understanding of programs beyond their own, working relationships outside of their organization, etc. Assessments will be made prior to the educational event and at its conclusion. We will assess from participants: What’s going right, what’s going wrong and what needs improvement. This will allow for a more dynamic and engaged program, and will provide us opportunity to modify parts of the program as needed. A final RTF evaluation will be sent out 2-months after the training.
At the conclusion of the open forum groups, a summary report will be written informing the future direction of the NH Farm Network, highlighting topics of interest, professional development needs of agriculture service providers, and identifying knowledge and programmatic gaps. RTF program participants will be asked to share what impact the RTF training had on them, professionally.
Successful partnerships (grants, educational programs, etc) that arise from these efforts will be collected and reported to SARE.
Program promotion and familiarity with the NH Farm Network will be evaluated using social media metrics and website engagement.
NH SARE coordinator organizes and hosts two agriculture service provider open forums, participants will be inclusive of all commodity groups, organizations and industries to facilitate cross learning and networking opportunities. The discussion will be lightly moderated, with the aim to create an organic conversation and flow of ideas.
Three open forums were held to bring together different service providers and farmers to share about their work. These were designed to be "flash presentations" where an invited guest would be invited to share briefly about their work, followed by a facilitated discussion on how service providers can best serve NH Farmers. Some discussion questions included: "HOW do we (organizations) come together to support all farms without duplicating services but instead intentionally come together with all of our strengths" ; "What resources exist for NH beginner farmers seeking land, and what is the current situation in NH regarding land generational transfer"; and finally "what new policies and federal programs are out there to benefit NH Farmers and the NH Food System". These informational discussions were held on Sept 14 (17 participants), October 19 (10 participants) and November 9 (14 participants).
Notes were taken and posted the the "NH Farmers Open Forum" blog post: https://extension.unh.edu/blog/open-forums-nh-farmers
NH SARE Coordinator in conjunction with the administrative assistant collects summary statements and relevant contact information from NH Agricultural organizations (State, nonprofit, federal, university) for use in the NH Farm Network website landing page, as modeled by the Beginner Farmer Network of Maine site.
To date, the NH SARE coordinator has identified the UNH Extension webpage to serve as the host for the NH Farm Network page. The NH SARE coordinator and administrative assistant are building out the page while the UNH site is under an upgrade, to be completed by April 15, 2021. The new page will be included once the UNH Extension site has completed its update, and will be added to as the program evolves.
The NH SARE Coordinator creates an organizing committee to assist in the Reading the Farm Training.
A core team has been identified based on previous Reading the Farm collaborations and interest of the individuals.
50 Agricultural service providers are invited to apply to participate in the Reading the Farm Training by the NH SARE Coordinator.
Due to COVID restrictions, we aim to hold the trainings and in person events when we are able to do so safely outdoors or following vaccinations.
The NH SARE Coordinator connects with a NH farm business to host the RTF Training for NH agriculture service providers.
The NH SARE Coordinator creates a pre/post program evaluation for RTF Participants with the organizing committee.
16 Agriculture service providers are invited to participate in the 2-day training and networking opportunity. Digital copies of the RTF SARE manual and specifics on farm history, budget information, soil maps, farm plan, goals and vision, and other necessary RTF materials are provided at this time.
35 Agriculture service providers participate in the Reading the Farm (RTF) training at the earliest possible time frame given restrictions poised by the COVID-19 virus. If state or University guidelines mandate, we will break the RTF exercise down to 2 groups of 10, and incorporate online learning into the RTF training. If group size must be limited for public health, we will reduce our overall goal from 35 RTF participants to 16 (2 groups of 8, plus 2 RTF moderators). This is based on current restrictions from University administrators to limit in person events to 10 people including instructors.
NH SARE Coordinator sends a post-RTF evaluation out to program participants.
NH SARE Coordinator works with the UNH Extension Marketing team to launch a marketing campaign of the NH Farm Network, to include Facebook advertising, written stories and advertisement in the NH Farm Bureau Newspaper The Communicator, Morning Ag Clips, and shared with the Northeast SARE office; goal to reach 100 NH Farmers by end of program.
NH SARE coordinator will use open forum summary notes, the 2-month post event evaluation, and 1on1 conversations with agriculture service providers to create a summary report needs assessment of the NH Farm Network moving forward.
The NH SARE Coordinator recruits a beginner farmer representative to serve as a liaison to the NH Farm Network.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
SARE Outreach Plan
Host an Online Grant writing webinar. We will either host our own webinar in conjunction with SARE grants manager at UVM, or promote a webinar scheduled by Northeast SARE on the same topic (Fall 2020).
Northeast SARE Grants program presentation at NH Farm and Forest, Concord, NH (February 2021).
Northeast SARE Grants program presentation at UNH Agriculture Nutrition & Food Systems Departmental Seminar, Durham, NH (May 2021).
Participate in Northeast SARE grant review committees as needed by SARE.
Respond to questions and inquiries from farmers and agriculture professionals about SARE grants. (ongoing 2020-2021)
Share SARE activities (grant opportunities and funded projects) via UNH Extension Newsletters and Facebook pages (Fruit & Veggie News plus Dairy & Livestock News), as well as Weekly Market Bulletin published by the NH Department of Agriculture Markets and Food (Ongoing 2020-2021).
Spring 2021 Outreach Activities
Grant opportunities (graduate & partnership) were shared via the UNH Extension weekly newsletter over a period of 4+ weeks (3,500 recipients)
UNH Extension staff have been trained on the grant programs and are encouraged to share the grant opportunities with producers when doing site visits with clients.
UNH College of Life Science and Agriculture, Agriculture, Nutrition and Food Sciences Department Chair shared the RFP with all Faculty and Graduate Students on March 23, 2021. The NH SARE Coordinator connects with the Department chair annually to encourage faculty and graduate student engagement in SARE programs.
The Grants training offered thru UVM SARE was shared via the UNH Extension Newsletter.
Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:
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