Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals

Progress report for SPDP21-05

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $77,733.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2023
Grant Recipients: Kentucky Horticulture Council; University of Kentucky; Organic Association of Kentucky
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Cindy Finneseth, PhD
Kentucky Horticulture Council
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Project Information


Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals is a partnership between the Kentucky Horticulture Council, the Organic Association of Kentucky, and the University of Kentucky collaborating with other organizations that support Kentucky producers. This project addresses agriculture professionals’ knowledge and resource gaps relative to sustainable production of specialty crops and creates a Community of Practice (CoP). This project will be introduced and available to all Kentucky Extension staff members and other ag professionals who support growers across the Commonwealth, including USDA field staff and other technical service providers. Participants will develop expertise on sustainable practices suitable for specialty crop production and increased awareness of available resources, resulting in amplified impact within the Kentucky technical support network. Through synchronous and asynchronous training as well as an educational resource repository, project participants will be trained and empowered to train growers in selecting and managing cost-effective sustainable production practices. Additionally, participants will build inter-organizational relationships for reciprocal grower referral and access to services. Ag professionals will increase knowledge about sustainable production practices and improve knowledge of grower resources after each training session and report working with growers to implement sustainable production practices. Sustained outcomes of the project include agents being better prepared to serve local growers resulting in pervasive economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits. At the project conclusion, a thriving CoP will exist, allowing agents and technical service providers to continually expand their areas of expertise, improve technical skills, and learn from peers’ experiences.

Project Objectives:

The Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals project trains and empowers Kentucky agriculture professionals to train farmers in selecting and implementing sustainable production practices. This two-year project offers professional development opportunities using synchronous and asynchronous learning activities in addition to developing and curating educational resources in a central repository.

The primary target audience is Extension Agents from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, the 1862 and 1890 land grant universities, respectively, in the state. The secondary target audience is agriculture professionals from federal and state agencies (i.e. USDA NRCS field staff) and non-profit agricultural organizations. The end beneficiaries of the project are Kentucky farmers, the majority of whom operate smaller-scale, highly-diversified operations. 

A diverse, multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts and farmers will collaborate to develop and deliver curriculum, using a “train the trainer” model. Project participants will receive knowledge, hands-on experience, resources, and educational tools they can use at the county and farm level to help producers select, adopt, and optimize sustainable production practices for economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits. A subset of ag professional will participate in a Community of Practice (CoP), amplifying the capacity, knowledge base, and access to relevant resources in Kentucky.

Objective 1: Develop curricula, farm tours, and educational resources including modules, fact sheets, and a decision-making tool to train Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Agents and ag professionals on sustainable agriculture management programs suitable for common Kentucky production systems. Curricula topics and farm tour focus areas will be honed based on initial assessment of project participants' needs and, in combination with farmer and KY’s SARE Coordinator’s input, will include foundational topics such as sustainable management strategies for soil health, disease, pest and weed management, crop specific production practices, information on certification programs, and conservation programs. Project resources and other curated materials will be available on UK Center for Crop Diversification’s website (, which is a well-known resource for ag professionals and growers with high engagement (159,000+ views in 2019 and 91,000+ views Jan-Mar, 2020). Resources housed in this respected and convenient repository will increase awareness of management programs suitable for organic and conventional farms and provide critical knowledge needed to understand and recommend appropriate sustainable agriculture production practices that will improve farming operations. 

Objective 2: Train an estimated 400 Kentucky agriculture professionals (working as Cooperative Extension Service Agents, USDA NRCS field personnel, non-profit agricultural organization staff, and other technical assistance providers) using the developed curricula and resources. Over the two years, participants will engage directly with subject matter experts and farmers and learn through 6 webinars, 4 farm tours, 4 agent trainings, and 8 Community of Practice meetings as well as accessing fact sheets and other web-based resources.  These professional development trainings are designed to increase participants’ knowledge, tool kits, and capacity to support farmers interested in adopting and advancing sustainable production practices. Sessions will be 1 hour or more in length, offer Continuing Education Units (CEUs), and qualify for professional development hours with partner institutions. At the conclusion of each training session, participants will be able to answer questions on sustainable management practices with at least an 80% proficiency. As a result of these trainings, participants will understand positive on-farm impacts of sustainable agriculture practices, report having a more favorable attitude towards the management strategies, report being more confident in recommending and supporting farmers using these practices, and report an increase in making farmer referrals to relevant certification programs and conservation programs.

Objective 3: The project will impact at least 800 farmers as the ag professionals participating in the project actively incorporate sustainable agriculture content into farmer trainings, outreach activities, and on-farm consultations. At least 400 farmers will commit to adopting sustainable practices including some combination of cover cropping, crop rotation, integrated pest management, reduced tillage, reduced nonrenewable resources inputs, increasing biodiversity, and managing the land with whole systems thinking. 

Educational activity and resource availability will be communicated by the project team and the project collaborator network through email, listservs, social media channels, newsletters, at events, and through personal contact. The combined efforts of this project will improve the overall knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices among ag professionals in Kentucky. Expanded abilities to locate technical resources, identify and share appropriate sustainable management strategies, and facilitate referrals to other agencies and organizations will be highly beneficial to farmers and technical advisors. Achieving these objectives will boost agent capacity and promote environmental and economic advances by Kentucky farmers, extending well beyond the life of the project.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Megan Clark (Educator)
  • Paul Dengel - Producer
  • Kristi Durbin - Producer (Educator)
  • Sonya Keith (Educator)
  • Dr. Shawn Lucas (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Rachel Rudolph (Researcher)


Educational approach:

The project uses synchronous and asynchronous delivery of content to ag professionals.

Webinars have been used to deliver topical information on sustainable practices live and in a recorded format.

Community of Practice sessions have been used to facilitate conversations among ag professionals on a pre-selected sustainability topic.

Virtual Farm tours have been used to introduce ag professions to sustainable practices being used on farms.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

NRCS: When and How We Can Help Farmers Address Resource Concerns

Introduce ag professionals to NRCS programs and teach them how to advise growers on program suitability and how to help them participate in programs.


On Tuesday, November 16, 2021 the Kentucky Horticulture Council (KHC), the Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK) and the University of Kentucky Center for Crop Diversification (UK CCD) hosted a Zoom webinar for Kentucky agricultural professionals featuring Sonya Keith, Assistant State Conservationist with the Kentucky state office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The meeting kicked off with a welcome from Cindy Finneseth, Executive Director of KHC, followed by the speaker introduction by Brooke Gentile, Executive Director of OAK.

NRCS: When and How We Can Help Farmers Address Resource Concerns covered a brief history and overview of NRCS, on-farm concerns addressed by NRCS programs (soil health, water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, and easements), technical and financial assistance programs and eligibility requirements. Specific programs highlighted included Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and included specific examples of popular projects in Kentucky. Ms. Keith also covered the details of how growers can get assistance from local service centers. A robust Q&A session with highly engaged participants moderated by Brooke Gentile followed the presentation.

Links were provided to participants during and following the presentation including:

Quick video about what NRCS does:

Detailed video about NRCS:

Web Soil Survey:

County NRCS offices (under Find Your Local Service Center): 

Conservation Practice Standards & Support Documents:

University of Kentucky (UK) and Kentucky State University (KSU) Cooperative Extension Service personnel were invited to participate in the webinar and join the Sustainability Community of Practice. Professional development credit was offered to UK/KSU participants, with 16 Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) agents and Extension Associates (EAs) registering for the training. Other ag professionals supporting Kentucky specialty crop growers were invited to attend to webinar to learn more about NRCS programs and represented the Kentucky Horticulture Council, the Kentucky Center for Ag and Rural Development, Grow Appalachia, and the Organic Association of Kentucky.  In total, 26 ag professionals participated in the training.

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants reported learning new information about practices and indicated an intention to share this information with local growers.

Organic Association of Kentucky Virtual Conference

Provide high quality information to Kentuckians and neighbors active in community food systems to build a local, resilient and healthy food system. The primary focus of OAK Conference programming is on-farm production systems, techniques and practices to advance the sustainable agriculture movement.


OAK hosted a virtual conference January 27-29, attended by more than 250 farmers, researchers, nonprofit professionals, federal and state agency partners, allied service providers and conscious consumers working collectively to build a local, resilient and healthy food system. Eighteen sessions focused on sustainable practices and combined with the place-based connection to our Kentucky farms, soil and communities provided excellent opportunities for ag professionals to grow their knowledge while focused on community, conservation and conscious choice-making. Fifty-three individual ag professionals attended the virtual sessions.

Outcomes and impacts:

Through session surveys, attendees reported immediate gain of knowledge, with intentions of implementing learnings after the conference.

Organic Transition Trainer Workshop

Provide an intensive 5-day training program for ag professionals interested in becoming Organic Transition Trainers.


Fifteen ag professional participated in the training to become Organic Transition Trainers who will assist Kentucky farmers who are interested in transitioning to USDA-certified organic production. Trainers are specialists in organic and sustainable practices and are available for one-on-one consultations, providing a personal level of service and technical assistance on-site, at the farmer’s convenience and can assist with:   

  • Developing farm transition plans

  • Filling out the Organic System Plan
  • Navigating regulations around organic certification

  • Recordkeeping, maps, buffers and other specific requirements 

  • Practical details about organic crop, livestock, grain, and dairy production

  • Fundamental principles of organic agriculture

  • Marketing opportunities

Outcomes and impacts:

Program participants completed an end-of-training assessment to demonstrate knowledge gained and committed to working directly with farmers to improve practices and advance organic certification in Kentucky. A toolkit for creating and hosting an Organic Transition Trainer Workshop has been created to be shared with a national audience. In draft form currently and will be submitted to USDA NOP October 2022.

Farmer Field Days

Bring ag professionals onto working farms to see sustainable practices in action.


Twenty-eight ag professionals participated in a field day on Modern Heritage Farm in Glendale, KY. Modern Heritage Farm is a small-scale vegetable, fruit, and livestock farm located in central Kentucky. The farm mission is to grow organic, nutrient-dense food that improves health. The growers focus on land stewardship and farm on a human-scale using low-tech methods and partner with nature in creating healthy soil biology. Participants were able to observe and ask questions about the producers' on-farm practices include organic, regenerative, and biodynamic land stewardship practices in growing a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, poultry, and eggs. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants reported learning new information about practices and indicated an intention to share this information with local growers.

Educational & Outreach Activities

19 Online trainings
1 Tours
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

156 Extension
7 Researchers
45 Nonprofit
13 Agency
3 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
29 Farmers/ranchers
13 Others

Learning Outcomes

147 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
119 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
13 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

In Y1, we have focused on building an appreciation for sustainable practices and knowledge base within ag professionals. When we can get ag professionals to the trainings, nearly all event attendees report learning about the featured practice. We have been successful in strengthening and expanding the network of ag professionals with an interest in sustainable practices, enabling them to connect and easily find information to learn and share with the farmers with whom they work. These connections will continue after the project ends.

1 Farmers reached through participant's programs

Best practices/strategies for getting busy ag professionals who work directly with farmers to attend trainings - our team has struggled with engaging professionals who are lukewarm or disinterested in sustainable practices. It seems we continue to reach the same people (who tend to already be knowledgable advocates) and our impact would be greater if we could expand that sphere of contacts.  

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.