The professional development activities outlined in this submission will focus on three key areas of educational need that will enhance the sustainability of the agricultural sector of the Virgin Islands. During the previous (2016-2017) training period progress was made regarding the introduction of the cooperative business model as a tool for economic development and sustainability. This proposal provides an opportunity to build upon this progress and respond to requests for additional training through continued educational programs.
The recent launching of the local Farm to School initiative provides an expanded marketing opportunity for producers through the sales of produce to the school lunch program. This new economic prospect for farmers also potentially exposes the student population to food borne health hazards. The Virgin Islands SARE team proposes a training program to increase knowledge and awareness of good agricultural practices and procedures to promote the safe handling of fruits and vegetables while promoting economic viability for producers and protecting community health.
The third area of the training program will focus on educating trainees on the topic of farm conservation planning to increase knowledge and awareness in holistic farm development to improve natural resource conservation. This activity builds upon previous efforts to promote natural resource conservation through the use of cover crops, terracing, and contour farming.
Collectively, the implementation of the 2017-2018 Professional Development Program events will serve to advance the growth of sustainable in the USVI through training in business development, natural resource conservation, and food safety practices to protect community health.
The objectives for the 2016-2017 MSP proposal included increasing knowledge, awareness, and behavioral change in the following areas:
• Climate Change phenomenon and appropriate mitigation strategies
• The Cooperative Business Model
• The use of cover crops to enhance soil health and improve farm production
• The use of conservation covers and buffers as soil management strategies on hilly terrain
The objectives for the 2017-2018 MSP proposal are to increase knowledge, awareness, and behavioral change in the following areas.
• The Cooperative Business Model
• Food Safety and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
• Farm Conservation Planning
Significant progress was made in achieving all the objectives and deliverables of the 2016-2017 training program. Moreover, training was completed on all the topic areas through locally conducted educational sessions, out of state training events, and presentations by invited trainers.
The objectives outlined in this project were based upon three established areas of educational need identified in the comprehensive plan for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Firstly, optimum production levels and profitability continue to be hampered by the high cost of imported farm inputs and producer dependency on the public sector for routine needs such as land preparation, water delivery, etc. In response to this need training on the Cooperative Business Model concept is recommended to develop organizational capacity skills that will ultimately enable producers to pool their resources to reduce the cost of farm input importation and purchase their own equipment, thereby reducing their production cost and increasing farm profits.
Secondly, agricultural sustainability for the territory also entails expanded and increased market access for farmers. Perhaps the best opportunity for such market expansion is the newly commenced Farm to School Program of the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture which potentially provides a long term outlet for farm products and increased profits for producers. Such access will require increased farm productivity, coordinated production based on market demand, and increased knowledge regarding food safety requirements in some markets. In order to address the food safety concerns, training in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) protocol is suggested.
The final area of overall educational need to achieve a sustainable agricultural sector is continued knowledge concerning the impact of climate change and the application of appropriate strategies at the farm level. A productive and sustainable agricultural system will require producers to adapt mitigation methods through whole Farm Conservation Planning whereby trainees will increase their knowledge of developing site specific comprehensive farm plans to mitigate against climate change impacts (i.e. droughts and floods). This farm level planning will incorporate previously taught concepts, including crop rotation and the use of cover crops, conversation covers, and buffers crops.
Funding received will be used to publicize (through print and electronic media) the SARE Program in general and market the training and research events, fund inter-island and out of state training activities, as well as purchase and duplicate pertinent training materials.
The project objectives remained unchanged throughout the implementation period. All project goals and areas of training were addressed through diverse professional development activities.
During the 2017 – 2018 Model State Program implementation period the train-the-trainer approach was employed through classroom lectures, field demonstrations,and interactive workshops. In addition, as much as possible, an interactive component was incorporated into every training session. As a part of this interactive approach, role playing and problem solving activities were designed to encourage and promote behavioral change among the trainees.
Regarding the approach used for the Cooperative Business Model training, one of the SARE team members completed a three part certification course entitled ‘The Art and Science of Cooperative Development’ which was facilitated by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperative Development. Upon completion of the training, the team member conducted training sessions throughout the territory to disseminate information about the principles, values, set up, and operations of a cooperative business enterprise.
Due to the geographical distribution of our target audience, it was important for our educational approach to involve the delivery of duplicated presentations for all training events– one on the island of St. Croix and one on the island of St. Thomas.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To increase knowledge and awareness of the Cooperative Business Model
To encourage behavioral change regarding the Cooperative Business Model
Regarding the Cooperative Business Model, one of the SARE team members completed a certification course entitled ‘The Art and Science of Cooperative Development’. Upon completion of the training, the team member conducted training sessions throughout the territory to disseminate information about the principles, values, set up, and operations of a cooperative business enterprise.
As a result of additional funding support from Southern SARE, we were able to implement and complete the Cooperatives in Action training project. The goal of this initiative was to increase the knowledge and awareness of the trainees regarding the management and operations of successful, functional agricultural cooperatives. The participants spent two weeks in the state of Georgia where they received intensive hands-on training and exposure to several cooperative businesses. Besides Southern SARE, other project partners included the West Georgia Farmers’ Cooperative, and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.
As a result of these training activities, the participants increased their knowledge and awareness of the art and science of cooperative business development. Specifically, the trainees became knowledgeable of the philosophy, principles, core values, and operations of cooperative enterprises. This learning outcome was evident subsequent to the training sessions. For example, the trainees were able to articulate and reference the six universal principles of the cooperative business model during post training conversations, interviews and other follow up activities.
One of the primary action and impact outcomes of these training events was that outreach staff requested continued education and training in order to better assist their clientele. In addition to outreach staff, mentor farmers and other producers requested technical assistance to further pursue their interest in cooperative business development.
A second major outcome was demonstrated by the trainees who participated in the Cooperatives in Action Project. Following the two weeks of training, one of the trainees started to actively pursue the feasibility of developing a value-added cooperative while the other participants are committed to producing the fresh produce for processing.
To increase knowledge and awareness regarding FSMA, GAP, and Food Safety Issues
To encourage behavioral change regarding FSMA, GAP, and Food Safety Issues
Many agricultural outreach staff and mentor farmers benefited from an in-depth training course and other presentations which were conducted throughout the territory. The project partners included the University of Florida and Iowa State University. The activities were designed to introduce the Food Safety Modernization Act and Good Agricultural Practices to trainees for the first time in the territory. The educational topics focused on appropriate food safety practices regarding human hygiene, agricultural water, and the proper management of soil amendments.
To enhance the training session and encourage audience interaction, clicker devices were used to anonymously solicit answers to questions.This approach resulted in above average participation by the target audiences.
As a result of this training, food safety concerns have become a common topic of discussion between producers and agricultural outreach staff. It has been very obvious that outreach staff and mentor farmers alike were very sensitized to this important issue for the first time. In addition, our outreach staff have been invited to deliver follow up presentations on this important topic.
Another meaningful project outcome is the potentially long term collaboration that has been established with the University of Florida and Iowa State University for training and exchange purposes. As a part of this partnership, the outreach staff of Iowa State University produced and printed customized printed training material in various formats which was well received by the target audiences. Subsequently, mentor farmers requested extra copies of the educational materials for on-going training and sharing of information.
1) To increase knowledge and awareness regarding the Climate Change Phenomenon, farm conservation planning and mitigation strategies 2) To encourage behavioral change regarding the Climate Change Phenomenon, farm conservation planning and mitigation strategies
This informative training activity was conducted via video conference for trainees throughout the territory (i.e. St. Thomas and St. Croix). Outreach staff and mentor farmers were exposed to consecutive presentations during a three hour session. The presenters consisted of a broad inter-disciplinary team from state and federal government agencies, university personnel, private entities, and a non governmental organization. During the presentations case studies from other tropical locations were referenced to increase the effectiveness of the training and the impact on the target audience.
As a result of these training activities the outreach staff and mentor farmers increased their knowledge regarding climate change and the application of appropriate mitigation strategies — especially for conditions of excessive moisture and extreme drought.The participants also benefited from presentations about whole farm planning and strategies to mitigate against other adverse growing conditions while promoting the conservation of natural resources. All presentations delivered were based on the latest research findings regarding climate change. At the conclusion of the training activity the trainees noted that they were better prepared to provide assistance to producers with regard to the referenced topics.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The project outcomes included the establishment of networking relationships with other entities that promote sustainable agricultural practices. These collaborators included the West Georgia Farmers Cooperative, the Agfirst Farmers Cooperative, Collective Harvest, Chipley Farmers Cooperative, the Daily Grocery Cooperative, and the Antigua Beekeepers Cooperative.
One of the unanticipated outcomes of the project was the partnership with the Southern SARE Professional Development Program which provided travel scholarships to trainees from the territory. This collaboration resulted in a group of outreach agricultural staff and mentor farmers receiving practical experience regarding the routine operations of cooperative businesses in the state of Georgia. This opportunity has not only increased knowledge and awareness of cooperatives among the trainees, but has sparked a renewed interest in forging economic sustainability through the cooperative business model. Consequently, three independent groups of like-minded persons – two on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas – meet regularly to network and discuss the possibility of starting agricultural and food related cooperative businesses.
This unanticipated training initiative resulted from a previous unanticipated occurrence — the cancelled Puerto Rico Cooperative Development Tour which was planned for September 2017. Those initial plans were cancelled due to the impacts of two hurricanes in that year.
Face of SARE
As a matter of routine all local outreach activities commenced with a summarized presentation regarding a description of the National and Southern region SARE Program, including the goals, organizational structure, funding opportunities, and contact person(s) for the local SARE team. During the reporting period outreach initiatives included classroom training sessions, national and regional conferences, and on-farm demonstrations. As much as possible, each outreach event was comprised of a hands-on component.
In addition, national, regional, and local SARE program initiatives were discussed on approximately six (6) occasions during radio discussions and interviews on local radio programs, including the University of the Virgin Islands’ WUVI radio station. The local SARE team takes advantage of the Cooperative Extension Service’s (CES) weekly radio program on WUVI to promote up-coming SARE activities and report on completed activities. The Communications Specialist of the Cooperative Extension Service skillfully utilizes social media platforms, especially Facebook, to promote activities of the local SARE program. Finally, an independent page on the CES website was recently established to disseminate information about SARE and promote related activities.