Progress report for SNE21-013-VT
Problem and Justiﬁcation: Agricultural service providers (ASPs) who work for UVM Extension and partnering NGO organizations and state and federal agencies currently provide a broad range education and technical assistance that contributes to the environmental, economic and social sustainability goals of the SARE outcome statement. However, agricultural service providers report gaps in their prior training and in the information resources currently available to them that limit their ability to address emerging needs in three interrelated topic areas that have significant implications for sustainability. These topic areas are: information resources and referrals for beginning farmers; assisting established farmers with farm business succession and transfer planning; and incorporating strategies to address social justice in their programming for farmers, farm workers and farm businesses.
Solution and Approach: This project will update and revise outdated beginning farmer resources, create new information products and tools, and engage 24 Vermont agricultural service providers in learning opportunities that build their capacity to deliver effective beginning farmer and farm transfer programming for more diverse farmer audiences. UVM Extension has a large collection of beginning farmer resources. However, many of these materials are now 10+ years old. We will update and revise them to reﬂect current conditions and laws and regulations. We will also create new tools and resources and offer professional development opportunities to help ASPs who specialize in production, marketing and food safety topics provide basic farm transfer information and appropriate referrals to more specialized service providers and consultants. Finally, the project will deliver a variety of diversity, equity and inclusion learning opportunities for agricultural educators and service providers from Extension, NGOs and government agencies to help them provide more inclusive, accessible and effective services to more diverse farmer audiences.
24 agricultural service providers (ASPs) participate in facilitated on-line and in-person education that builds confidence and capacity to deliver effective beginning farmer and farm transfer programming for both their current and historically under-served and marginalized farmer audiences. Small-group engagement with consulting topic experts, peer group discussions, and interactions with farmer-educators will support ASPs as they integrate new understanding and skills into their programming. By the project’s conclusion, 20 ASPs incorporate new information and approaches into group education and individual coaching and technical assistance with work with 300 aspiring and beginning farmers, farm employees and established farm operators.
Statement of Need
Between the 2012 and 2017 Census of Agriculture, the Vermont lost 630 (or 8.5%) of its farms, dropping from 7338 to 6808. Other significant changes documented in the 2017 Census include:
- the number of farms under 10 acres grew by 42% to 874 operations;
- the number of farms where a woman is the principal producer increased by 40% (to 2,311 operations);
- the number of farmers between the ages of 35 and 55 declined; and
- and the number farms with a principal operator over the age 65 increased to nearly a third of all farms.
These numbers suggest that we are in the midst of important shifts in farm demographics, scale and enterprises, and that given the significant percentage of Vermont's farmland will hands over the next 10 years, these shifts will create challenges as well as new possibilities and opportunities for move diverse operations and more diverse population of farm operators.
Over the past several years, Extension ASPs have identified gaps in information resources and in their prior training that affect their ability to address emerging needs in three interrelated topic areas with implications for sustainability:
- information resources and referrals for beginning farmers;
- assisting established farmers with business succession and farm transfer planning; and,
- incorporating strategies to address social justice in their programming for farmers, farm workers and farm businesses.
UVM Extension's New Farmer Project has a large collection of beginning farmer resources. However many of these are now 10+ years old and need to be updated to reflect changes in laws, and regulations as well as changes in focus and services provided by the many agencies and organizations that support beginning farmers. The Northeast is fortunate to have a wealth of farmer-oriented resources on farm transfer and business succession, and there are currently high quality regional trainings (including at least one funded by Northeast SARE) to develop advanced expertise in these topics among specialized service providers. There are few basic resources/trainings that are oriented to ASPs whose expertise is in other areas -- nutrient management, pest control, marketing, food safety, farm labor, water quality, animal health -- but who report receiving questions about farm transfer and succession topics from farmers. There are multiple reasons they are receiving these questions. Among them:
- Simple demographics: as the population of "older" operators is grows transfer and succession issues become more immediate;
- Relationships: ASPs have ongoing relationships with farmers and they are seen as trusted advisors;
- Strategy: Many of these topics intersect with decision making about investments in infrastructure, equipment, breeding stock, etc.
Solution and Approach: This project will update and revise outdated resources, create new information products and tools, and engage 24 Vermont agricultural service providers (ASPs) in learning opportunities that build their capacity to deliver effective beginning farmer and farm transfer programming for both their current and historically under-served and marginalized farmer audiences. We will update and revise these materials to reflect current conditions and laws and regulations. We will create new tools and resources and education to help ASPs who specialize in production, marketing and food safety topics -- and are not interest in in-depth training on farm transfer topics -- to provide basic farm transfer information and appropriate referrals to clients when those topics arise. And we will provide a variety of diversity, equity and inclusion learning opportunities for ASPs from Extension, NGOs and government agencies to help them provide more inclusive, accessible and effective services to more diverse farmers.
Agricultural Service Provider Interest
Professional development on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and farm transfer and succession planning were identified as priority topics in the recent UVM Extension strategic planning process that engaged all Extension employees. Beginning in the spring of 2020, members of the UVM Extension's Sustainable Agriculture Food and Forest Result Area Team have engaged in ad hoc meetings where participants have articulated DEI training needs (12 people) and farm transfer professional development and training needs (another 12 people). Additionally, the statewide Vermont Farm to Plate strategic plan, based on a series of needs assessment activities that included input from service providers at NGOs, and state and federal agencies, identifies service gaps related to farm start-up and transfer, and farmers, and prioritizes building knowledge, skills and capacity to advance the success of historically under-served and marginalized farm audiences.
- - Technical Advisor (Educator and Researcher)
- - Technical Advisor - Producer (Educator and Researcher)
- - Technical Advisor (Educator)
- - Technical Advisor (Educator and Researcher)
- - Technical Advisor
- - Technical Advisor (Educator and Researcher)
- - Technical Advisor (Educator)
- - Technical Advisor
The project coordinator will invite the 24 Extension ASPs who have been participating in ad-hoc meetings related to beginning farmer programming, farm transition planning, and diversity, equity and inclusion topics to participate in an orientation to the project. The orientation will describe the educational plan for the project, and make clear that the professional development sessions will largely occur within existing Extension collaboration frameworks and will be designed to support their existing programming. Participating Extension ASPs will agree to: a) participate in at least 4 (of six) online workshops and two in-person professional development sessions; b) participate in at least three (of six) topic oriented online small- cohort discussion groups; c) complete and share action plans for incorporating learning in their work; and d) to respond annually to follow-up online and telephone evaluation surveys. We anticipate that 16 of these individuals will commit to participating.
A parallel online-only track will be offered for individuals from allied nonprofit organizations and state and federal agencies that are involved with similar programming. Using email outreach, we will invite people from those organizations to attend an online orientation, and anticipate that an additional 6-8 individuals will participate. The same content will be delivered to both cohort groups. Participating nonprofit and government agency employees will agree to: a) participate in six (of eight) online trainings; b) three (of six offered) topic-oriented small-group cohort discussion groups; c) complete and share written action plans for incorporating learning in their work, and d) to respond annually to follow-up online and telephone evaluation surveys.
In years 2 and 3, both cohorts will be invited to attend farm tours that feature farms that highlight farm transition topics and approaches that farmers, particularly from historically underserved audiences, rely on to start and grow and sustain their farm businesses. These small-group farm tours will bring the two cohorts to learn together from farmers, and to explore ways to work together for more effective and innovative programming in the future.
Using a flexible combination of in-person and distance education approaches, the project will provide information and education that will build knowledge, skill and confidence in addressing beginning farmer and farm transfer topics with both current and historically marginalized farmer audiences. Our approach will utilize the adult education strategies outlined by Sandy Bell and Janet McAllister in Sustainable Agriculture through Sustainable Learning: Improved Educational Outcomes with Best Practices for Adult Learning, and Reaching Women in Agriculture, a Guide for Virtual Engagement, which provides tips and tools on delivering effective, engaging online and hybrid education.
Throughout, the project director will work with the advisory group, consultants and participants to conduct the same sequence of needs assessment & planning, delivery and evaluation activities. The planning phase will confirm explicit learning goals, identify learner mental models, select learning activities, develop and assemble resource materials, test materials with advisors, and test and finalize evaluation instruments. Educational delivery will combine introduction of information through short presentations with activities in which participants begin to apply the information to their unique situation and goals. Break-outs will provide spaces for smaller-cohort peer-to-peer discussion and collaborative activities. The program's flexible format will allow participants to focus on the topics that are most relevant to their professional and program needs, while the cohort approach will provide support and accountability.
The project director will work with subject matter experts to update existing beginning farmer resources, and with Ruhf and Freedgood to develop a new set of informational resources and a workshop curriculum related to farm transfer and succession that specifically responds to requests from ASPs whose expertise is in other areas -- agronomy horticulture, pest management, marketing, food safety, etc -- but who find themselves fielding questions in this topic area. These resources will bring together considerations related to the farm business cycle and individual life cycle. They will likely draw on previous work done by Sharon Danes, Land for Good, and American Farmland Trust, and also bring an equity lens to the subject matter. All these resources will be available online at the VT SARE website. Workshops will provide information on how to use them in programming.
The project director will conduct pre-event questionnaires to assess baseline knowledge and skills and follow-up surveys, interviews and action plans to verify participants’ learning and to identify their additional needs for learning and support. Event evaluations will include both feedback about the usefulness of the module, priorities for future learning, and changes in knowledge skill and confidence. Action plans, completed annually by participants, will identify three discrete action steps participants, and the support/resources they need to accomplish those goals. Our final evaluation survey will verify how well participants were able to follow through on their action plans to use what they learned.
Year 1 Update:
During this project year we designed and built a new, searchable resource hub for resource materials for new and beginning farmers, which we see as important prerequisite for engaging ASPs in on the beginning farmer topics. As of this reporting we have updated, revised and added over 40 resource materials to this online library, which we expect to "open" in early 2023. Additional materials and improvements will continue to be made throughout the project duration.
40 ASPs from Extension (24) and allied agricultural nonprofits and state and federal agencies (16) attend online orientation sessions to learn about the learning opportunities the project will offer and the expectations for participating ASPs
Year 1: Prior to offering this online orientation, the project director engaged in discussions with 12 individuals representing project partners, advisors and other colleagues to help shape both content and a delivery format for the professional development program. Their thoughtful feedback raised concerns about the model of having a single cohort over the three years, given the range of topics to be covered and the general sense among potential participants that they and their colleagues have limited time/capacity to engage in professional development activities. While some individuals indicated willingness to make a multi-year professional development commitment, the majority indicated that they were more interested in being able to access shorter-term training and professional development on the topics most relevant to their work. Additionally, these interviews indicated that it was likely there were going to be a number of new hires (both filling vacant positions and new positions) who would likely be interested in and strongly benefit from the professional development this project would be offering but would not have been hired at the time the cohort would be formed.
As a result, the project coordinator modified the program to increase flexibility for participants and allows ASPs for a shorter time period. No significant changes were made to expectations about attending trainings, contributing to small-cohort discussion groups, completing and sharing actions plans and responding to surveys to provide ongoing feedback about impact on their programs and work with farming audiences.
24 ASPs from Extension (16) and agricultural nonprofits and government agencies (8) commit to participating by completing an online registration/commitment form that provides the project coordinator with information about their job responsibilities and learning priorities. Participants commit to attending trainings (online and in-person), contributing to small-cohort discussion groups; completing and sharing annual action plans and responding to evaluation surveys. The project coordinator advisory group and consultant use this information in planning.
At the end of the first year, four cohorts, involving 20 individuals, formed for co-learning/training and/or resource development related to specific topic areas/interests. Topic areas are:
- implicit bias training and its application to agricultural programs and services for women and non-binary and trans audiences (8 ASPs);
- best practices for collecting demographic information and using it in service of diversity, equity, and inclusion (5 ASPs);
- developing resources to support a network of ASPs for beginning farmer services (4 ASPs);
- addressing racism in the food and agriculture system (7 ASPs).
Based on inquiries from other ASPs, the project director expects that the cohort focusing on new farmer resources and networks will likely expand in the second project year, and the cohort focusing on racism in the food an agriculture system will either expand (or a second cohort may form). Finally, the project director will recruit participants for and launch a new cohort focused on farm transfer and succession.
Note - the number of individual ASPs is less than the sum of participants in the cohort groups because some ASPs are participating in more than one cohort.
Following year 1 educational events 24 ASPs complete evaluation surveys to provide feedback on the usefulness of the programs and resources and changes in knowledge, skill and confidence. The project coordinator, consultants and advisory group uses the feedback in planning for the next phase of the project.
Individuals participating in cohorts 1 and 2 provided feedback about the program and the changes they experienced in knowledge, skill and confidence. Feedback showed participants were satisfied with the education, resources and peer learning format and reported increased knowledge, skill and confidence.
Surveys/interviews of participants in the two other active cohorts are planned for the fall/winter of 2023.
22 ASPs share a simple three-part action plan that outlines steps they will take in the next 6-12 months to integrate the knowledge and skills they acquired through year 1 educational offerings into their programming. Participants can also use the Action Planning form to request individual support from the project coordinator and/or consultants who have helped to deliver year 1 workshops and facilitate discussions.
The project coordinator facilitated a training on implicit bias for the eight people in cohort 1 in October 2021. Two weeks later, the cohort had a follow-up discussion session in which they debriefed on important take-aways related to gender and underserved audiences. Those concepts and approaches were integrated into interactive workshops, field demonstrations and other educational programming for women farmers and landowners. Note: Their educational programming is ongoing, and they will share information about their participant numbers and impacts at a later date.
Cohort 2 was comprised entirely of Extension employees who were seeking to learn more about best practices for collecting demographic information from clients in ways that are respectful, and ways to use that information in service of diversity, equity and inclusion. The group met 5 times during the project sharing learning they did individually through readings, interviews with specialists in the field, and participation in online education offered through external organizations with expertise in the subject matter. The group documented their learning in a guidance document that was completed in June 2022, and has now been adopted by UVM Extension as guidance for developing many registration forms and evaluation surveys.
2 ASPs who decide not to continue with the project participate in interviews with a member of the advisory group. The interview informs planning for the next phase of the project.
The interviews were conducted in the fall of 2022 and are being integrated into year 2 planning.
6 Participating ASPs volunteer to help develop or "beta test" a tool for collecting farmer feedback about the impact of ASP practices. The tools is shared with all participants who are encouraged to use it to document impacts in their work with farmers.
Development of the survey tool is in process. This element has been complicated by different cohorts working on different topic areas and along different timelines.
Following year 2 educational events 21 ASPs complete evaluation surveys to provide feedback on the usefulness of the programs and changes in their knowledge, skill and confidence. ASPs also share information collected from farmers using the tool developed earlier in the project. The project coordinator shares the information back with participants, and together with the advisory group and consultants uses the feedback in reporting.
20 ASPs share a simple three-part action plan that outlines steps they will take in the next 6-12 months to integrate the knowledge and skills they acquired through year 2 learning opportunities.
1 ASP who decides not to continue with the project participates in interviews with a member of the advisory group. The interview informs planning for the next phase of the project.
Following year 3 educational events 20 ASPs complete evaluation surveys to provide feedback on the usefulness of the programs and changes in knowledge, skill and confidence. ASPs also share information collected from farmers using the tool developed earlier in the project. The project coordinator shares the information back with participants, and together with the advisory group and consultants uses the feedback in reporting.
20 ASPs share a simple three-part action plan that outlines steps they will take in the next 6 months to integrate the knowledge and skills they acquired through year 1 educational offerings into their programming.
20 ASPs respond to a survey (online or telephone) in which they providing information about their learning and changes to their practices as a result of participation in the project. They share any evaluation survey information have collected from farmers using the tool developed in year 1. The project coordinator assembles all this information in final reporting and feedback to all participants.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Educational activities conducted by the project team:
|Activity||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
|Curricula, factsheets or educational tools||1||1|
|Study circle / focus groups||9||9|
|Webinars, talks and presentations||2||2|
|Other educational activities: new farmer resources and website development||2||2|
Beneficiaries who particpated in the project’s educational activities and events:
|Audience||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total Individuals|
|Service providers (other or unspecified)||1||0||0||0|
We used both post-education surveys and interviews to assess changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness in these two areas:
1. Implicit bias as it relates to gender and mitigating biases when developing and delivering programs for underserved audiences;
2. best practices in collecting demographic information (focus on race, ethnicity, gender and age) and using that information to assess and improve efforts to reach and engage audiences historically underserved by USDA and Extension.
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
Twenty Vermont agricultural service providers (ASPs) incorporate new approaches in their group education and individual consultations with 300 beginning farmers, farm employees and established farmers that: 1) address business and life stage topics in farm transfer, retirement planning and business succession planning (8 ASPs,75 farmers); introduce inclusive and equitable approaches to land transfer in group education (2 ASPs, 75 farmers); connect beginning farmers with appropriate information resources and referrals (10 ASPs, 150 farmers); and makes their programming more inclusive, relevant and effective with audiences who historically have been underserved by Extension, USDA and agricultural organizations.
We anticipate that the group of farmers and aspiring farmers service providers to work with will be quite diverse in terms of enterprise and scale, and that a variety of metrics will be needed to appropriately describe the farmer audiences benefiting from the project.
Due to COVID-19, most agricultural conferences and events were held virtually, which restricted opportunities to showcase SARE publications and grant opportunities. As a result, the project coordinator focused on conducting outreach electronically, through e-newsletters, social media, list-servs announcements, and adding additional information to the Vermont SARE website (blog.uvm.edu/vtsare). Note: The numbers in the table below are aggregate counts of e-newletter opens, typical views of social media posts and individual correspondence with farmers and agricultural service providers.
In partnership with colleagues at UVM Extension and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets who were conducting on farm education and field days, we distributed over 100 copies of the Building Better Soils for Better Crops, Managing Cover Crops Profitably, Building a Sustainable Business and Managing Alternative pollinators to Vermont farmers and ASPs who work with farmers on soil and water quality. Through these channels we were also able to distribute SARE bulletins, including Cover Crop Economics, How to Conduct Research and Your Farm or Ranch, to these same audiences. We also distributed 100 copies of "Reaching Women in Agriculture: A Guide to Virtual Engagement" and "Sustainable Agriculture Through Sustainable Learning" at in-person Extension professional development sessions in May 2022.
The project coordinator also responded to approximately 30 inquiries related to SARE funding opportunities. In many cases it was possible to answer potential applicants questions, although in others it was necessary to connect the individual with Northeast Region Staff.
During the project year, the project director officially began as the liaison to the Northeast SARE Administrative council for the Northeast State Coordinators group and participated in administrative council meetings and in trainings and meetings that were part of Northeast SARE's DEI strategic planning initiative (in addition to State Coordinator meetings). The project coordinator also served on the 2022 research and education grant review team.
Recieved information about SARE grant programs and information resouces:
|Audience||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|