Learning About Equity & Inclusion in the Food System Through a Storytelling Curriculum and Training for 4H Agents & Middle School Agriculture Teachers

Progress report for SPDP21-02

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $80,000.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2023
Grant Recipients: University of Kentucky; Black Soil: Our Better Nature
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Nicole Breazeale
University of Kentucky
Michelle Howell
Need More Acres Farm
Heather Hyden
University of Kentucky
Ashley Smith
Black Soil: Our Better Nature
Dr. Stacy Vincent
University of Kentucky
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Project Information


The project brings together the farmer networks and interviewing/storytelling capacities of Black Soil and Need More Acres Farm with the technical expertise of Agricultural Education and Extension faculty at UK. An advisory group of farmers, educators and one student will work alongside key collaborators to oversee the grant and curriculum development process. 

We propose to develop an interactive curriculum and provide professional development to equip middle school agriculture educators and 4-H Agents at KSU and UK to teach about diversity and inclusion in the food system.  Employing a storytelling pedagogy, we will develop five lessons built around digital stories that center black Kentucky farmers. Youth ages 11-14 are the target audience for this curriculum. As they move through the lessons and collaborate on a social action project, they gain knowledge about inequities in the food system, but also learn to appreciate the value of diversity while taking steps to build a more inclusive and sustainable system. The key to successful implementation of the curriculum are three half-day trainings for middle-school agriculture educators.  Using popular education methodologies, these trainings will introduce the material, but also help teachers facilitate difficult conversations in the classroom.  The project also seeks to strengthen relationships between youth, teachers, and farmers around the state through virtual networking. We will utilize survey and interview methodologies to assess knowledge and behavior changes in youth and teachers with multiple feedback loops in the curriculum design process. We will use story-based evaluation techniques to assess the community-wide impacts of the program.

Project Objectives:

The target audience for this training is middle school agriculture educators and 4-H agents, although the curriculum and training may be of interest to secondary school teachers as well.  The framework and approach is adaptable to a wide range of educational settings. 

Project goals and objectives:

  1. To provide agriculture educators in Kentucky who teach black students with curricula that is culturally relevant and inspires them (as well as their non-black peers) to consider careers in sustainable agriculture.
  2. To provide agriculture educators in Kentucky with lessons that help students gain knowledge about inequities in the food system.
  3. To provide agriculture educators in Kentucky with activities and resources that empower youth to build a more inclusive and sustainable food system.
  4. To develop and provide an interactive training for agricultural educators to learn about diversity and equity in the food system and increase their capacity to teach the new curriculum.     
  5. To lift up the stories of black farmers and their families in Kentucky, highlighting: (a) systemic inequities; (2) resiliency strategies; (3) sustainable production practices; and (4) how farmers have built alliances across racial and class divides.
  6. To expand outreach, financial support, market opportunities, and networking support to black farmers who participate in the development and implementation of this educational curricula and accompanying professional development opportunity.
  7. To foster and deepen relationships amongst racially diverse youth, teachers, farmers, and university faculty across the Commonwealth around a shared knowledge base and concern for making our food system more equitable and sustainable.

Given that this proposal intends to (a) develop an online curriculum; (b) provide professional development for educators on how to implement the curriculum, it is useful to differentiate learning outcomes for the two component parts since they involve different target audiences.  Note that learning objectives are likely to change based on ongoing feedback from the advisory group. 

Expected learning outcomes for online, story-based curriculum:

K=Knowledge; A=Attitudes; B=Behavior

Youth will learn to:

  1. (K) Differentiate between “stock” stories of blacks farmers and “concealed” or “resistance” stories.
  2. (K) Notice and describe the diversity of lived experiences (and farming systems) of contemporary black producers in Kentucky.
  3. (K) Summarize the unique history of black farmers, informed by values and history of the African diaspora, and how this history has intertwined with other agricultural traditions to form the common US culture.
  4. (K) Explore and expand self-knowledge and introspection regarding one’s own story and experiences with the agriculture and food system.
  5. (K) Demonstrate a basic familiarity with some of the main concepts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  6. (A) Recognize diversity as a positive value for our food and farming system.
  7. (A) Develop empathy for those whose lived experiences are different.  
  8. (A/B) Increase one’s willingness and ability to see complex social issues from different perspectives and vantage points.
  9. (A/B) Realize the importance of supporting black-owned businesses and start to change one’s purchasing decisions to buy from black farmers.
  10. (A) Place a higher value on farming as an important and desirable occupation.
  11. (B) Inquire into and begin to ask questions that lead to critical conversations about race in the food system.
  12. (B) Discover new skills and capacities for collective decision-making and social action that reduces discrimination in the food system.
  13. (B) Develop relationships with other youth, farmers, and educators from around the Commonwealth who share common commitments.

Expected learning outcomes for middle school educators who will receive our professional development training and support to pilot the curriculum:

Teachers will learn to:

  1. (K) Summarize the unique history of black farmers in Kentucky, informed by values and history of the African diaspora.
  2. (K) Demonstrate a basic familiarity with some of the main concepts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  3. (A/B) Increase their comfort level and ability to foster productive and authentic conversations about social issues (e.g., race) as related to agriculture and food.
  4. (A/B) Realize the importance of supporting black-owned businesses and increase sourcing of local food and flowers from black producers as part of everyday agriculture education work and Extension activities (e.g., buy product at retail cost from local black farmers when youth are practicing for 4-H horticulture judging).
  5. (B) Foster transformative learning for youth by guiding them through the curriculum and engaging them in a social action project of their own design.
  6. (B) Develop relationships with other educators, farmers, and youth from around the Commonwealth who share a common set of commitments.


Educational approach:

We are working with a core team of agricultural educators, farmers, and agricultural-related businesses to develop a digital storytelling curriculum for 4-H Agents and middle school agriculture educators. Digital stories (and accompanying lesson plans and curricula) explore the life of black Kentucky farmers and food systems professionals. The project got off to a slow start given the pandemic and societal reckoning with racism, which exponentially increased the workload of some of our key project partners. Since December 2021, we have been meeting as a project team every two weeks to map out and plan the five episodes, which will be taped this summer. We have secured a videographer who works with Kentucky Educational Television (Brandon Turner also produces “Farmer and the Foodie” on KET). KET is considering airing some of our episodes, depending on how this plays out.   

From our many planning conversations, farm visits, and relationships with a wide variety of black Kentucky agri-food system professionals, we have storyboarded each 20-minute episode.

Episode 1: Producer collaborations. Episode one features Travis Cleaver (who was named 2021 small farmer of the year by Kentucky State University) and his long-standing partnership with Nathan and Michelle Howell of Need More Acres Farm. The episode will be filmed on May 18, 2022 at an all-day “Equity in Agriculture” event for 26 families that will be held in South Central Kentucky. Ashley Smith (of Black Soil) and Michelle Howell will serve as co-hosts for the show and will interview Travis and draw out his story, highlighting how their two farms have grown separately and together over time as they have worked to grow the local food system and expand market share for all producers. Event participants will also be invited to share advice for middle schoolers and their hopes/reflections on the day’s activities, which will be incorporated into the episode.   

Episode 2: Retail and food access issues. Episode two will be filmed across three communities and will feature three individuals, highlighting the work of black agri-food systems professionals in starting food processing businesses, cooperative grocery stories, and nutrition programming/access project (Fresh Rx programs, Double Dollars, etc.)   

Episode 3: Agriculture education and extension. Episode three focuses on a roundtable discussion with four youth-focused agriculture educators from across the state. Our co-hosts will draw out funny and poignant moments of what it means to do this work, incorporating footage from a farm-t0-school event organized by a high school teacher.   

Episode 4: Financing and land access. Episode four explores the stories of small farmers who have struggled to keep their land and the professionals who are working hard to keep them farming.

Episode 5: Landscape tour of farming in Kentucky. The final episode takes the viewers from Eastern to Western Kentucky, bridging the rural/urban divide as we stop by backyard gardeners and visit large farming operations, highlighting the diversity of black producer experiences in the Commonwealth. 

We are aiming to have one episode produced per month, starting in May 2022. Our agriculture educators will develop lesson plans around each rough-cut episode. Final episodes and curricula are scheduled to be completed by December 2022 so they can be piloted in a Central Kentucky school in the Spring of 2023.  All of these episodes and curricula are being created to appeal to youth and novice audiences who are visual and experiential learners.   

As for our formal Advisory Committee, once we convened our project team, we realized it would be better to start the process of generating materials so that our Advisory Committee would have something to react to rather than be responsible for coming up with the vision for the videos and curricula.  We felt confident in this decision given the expertise and breadth of our project team. The Advisory Committee will therefore provide checks to the accuracy and applicability of our educational materials. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives





Outcomes and impacts:


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.