'Living on the Land' Stewardship Education Program Expansion

Final Report for SW06-039

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $160,204.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Stephanie Etter
University of Idaho Extension
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Project Information


The Idaho Living on the Land (LOL) program has been highly successful, showing significant increases in participants' knowledge of tools of small acreage management. LOL participants during 2007-2010 own or manage over 4,100 acres in the Treasure Valley of Idaho. Follow-up with the participants has shown documented behavior change, both short- and medium-term. The market garden variety trial yielded results that will be beneficial to market gardeners, and home gardeners as well. The drought tolerant, low-input turf trial showed there are viable options to the typical bluegrass lawn that are aesthetically pleasing and conserve water.

Project Objectives:

1. Increase awareness and availability of LOL educational programs in the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Eastern Oregon by offering the program at three sites.

In 2007 two classes were held. In 2008-2010 three classes were held per year.

2. Market, conduct and evaluate an annual LOL instructor development and training short course to support Idaho LOL sites and other LOL western delivery teams.

Instructor trainings were held in the fall of 2006, 2007 and 2008. New instructors for the Idaho LOL program, Extension Educators from Oregon and Michigan, also attended the trainings.

3. By 2009, instructors at three sites will train and certify one hundred and thirty five (135) small-acreage units from ten or more counties in Idaho and Oregon. Each unit will complete the LOL course, develop a small-acreage plan and implement stewardship practices advanced in the curriculum on their land.

156 small acreage units completed the LOL course since 2007. They came from ten southwestern Idaho counties and one eastern Oregon county.

4. Foster, develop and evaluate twenty-eight (28) or more youth- adult partnerships that address stewardship, life skills, attitudes, awareness and knowledge of the land by the next generation of land owners in the Treasure Valley.

Ten youth-adult partnership units completed the LOL course. 2007-2, 2008-4, 2009-3, 2010-1

5. Research, conduct, implement and evaluate on-farm demonstration and testing of market garden varieties, production practices with goats and pastured poultry, and use of grasses to reduce water use and to manage weeds at eight (8) sites.

Research was conducted on market garden varieties and grasses to reduce water use at eight sites. We were unable to conduct any research on the goat and poultry production practices. We did feature goats and poultry on several tours that were conducted.

6. Conduct implement and evaluate six (6) or more public ‘Living on the Land’ tours using on-farm demonstrations and test sites as the basis for public stewardship education by 2009.

There were six LOL tours conduct from 2006-2009. The market garden variety trial was featured on the 2008 University of Idaho Parma Research & Extension Center Field Day.

7. Create, pilot and submit for publication a new module for the LOL curriculum to address gaps in the existing curriculum on marketing and economics as stewards of small-acreages.

Two lessons on marketing and economics were submitted by the University of Idaho Extension for consideration in the 2008 LOL curriculum revision. Both lessons are included in the 2008 LOL curriculum release.


As the line between urban and rural areas increasingly blurs, new residential developments of one, five, or ten acres are becoming common in many parts of the United States, but especially in the west. Many new small-acreage landowners do not have prior knowledge or experience in land management and desire education and resources to help them care for their properties or to start small farm businesses. In an effort to address the growing interest in land stewardship and sustainable small-acreage farming and ranching, University of Idaho Extension personnel began using the "Living on the Land: Stewardship for Small Acreages" curriculum in 2002. This curriculum was created using SARE funds and released from University of Nevada-Reno in 2001 to address a need that had been identified by extension educators in the west for research-based materials for small-acreage landowners. The lack of resources or curriculum to address this need has been identified by Cobourn (1997) and Polson (2001).

The LOL curriculum had already been shown to work well in Idaho when the grant was written. One of the purposes of this grant was to help increase the awareness and availability of the class by offering it in additional locations. An additional need that had been identified at advisory meetings was for varietal testing for the increasing number of market gardeners. This was also addressed in this grant. With the population and development increasing in the Treasure Valley and water supply remaining steady, alternatives for the typically water-loving turfgrass varieties was also noted.

Polson, J., & Gastier,T. (2001) Small Farm/New Farm: One agent meeting other agents’ needs for research-based information through the www. Journal of Extension (On-Line), 39(4) Article 4TOT1.

Cobourn, J., Donaldson, S. (1997) Reaching a new audience. Journal of Extension (On-Line), 35(1) Article 1FEA3.


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Materials and methods:
LOL Educational Program

The Idaho LOL program is a multi-week program (varied from 15-18 weeks depending on the year) for teaching small-acreage landowners. In 2007 and 2008 we used the "Living on the Land: Stewardship for Small Acreage" curriculum released from University of Nevada-Reno in 2001. Idaho instructors created several lessons to supplement the curriculum in areas that were of interest to Idaho students. In 2009 and 2010 we used the newly revised "Living on the Land: Stewardship for Small Acreage" curriculum released from University of Nevada-Reno in 2008. The class incorporates many different teaching styles to reach the adult audience.

The charge for the class is $275 per unit. We define a unit as two or more people working on the same property, such as husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter. The registration fee covers all the materials, water, soil and forage testing, and tours. Because the class is multiple weeks in length, we partner with many other county Extension Educators, local agriculture businesses, government agencies, county weed control departments and Oregon State University Malheur County Extension to conduct the classes and tours.

Market Garden Variety Trial

Local vegetable production and marketing is one of the possible avenues of stewardship taught to small-acreage landowners. As part of the Living on the Land grant activities, a series of vegetable variety trials were conducted during 2007-2009. This work was completed specifically to provide effective choices of vegetables and vegetable varieties for small farmers and market gardeners participating in LOL. The information generated as a result of this work should also prove valuable to vegetable producers and home gardeners outside the program.

The trials were conducted cooperatively by University of Idaho extension and research personnel and by graduates of the LOL program that were actively involved in producing vegetables. University trials were conducted at the experiment stations at Parma (southwest Idaho) and Aberdeen (southeast Idaho). Participants included Michael Thornton at Parma and Stephen Love and Tom Salaiz at Aberdeen. These two locations gave us both a long- and short-season production area.

Industry participants included Jonathan Demcak, Moriah Farm of Homedale; Mary Rohlfing, Morning Owl Farm of Boise; Steve and Wendy Smith, Spyglass Garden of Meridian; Mike Stanton, Stanton Market Garden of Weiser; and Greg Blastock, B & G Produce of Filer. These locations represented long- and moderate-season production areas.

Vegetable crops chosen for the trials include those with proven value for market garden operations. Particular emphasis was given to evaluation of heirloom and open-pollinated varieties, although modern hybrids were also included in most trials. Specifically, trial results are reported for cucumbers, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, melons, watermelons, spinach, and summer squash. Trials were attempted for sweet corn, winter squash and pumpkins but failed for a number of reasons to produce usable results.

Growers made comments on market quality and productivity. Taste tests were performed on most varieties by University of Idaho employees in Parma and Aberdeen, students at local schools and community groups.

Drought Tolerant, Low Input Turfgrass Trials

Four test sites were seeded in 2007. Prior to seeding all plots were treated with glyphosate to eliminate existing vegetation. Eight different grasses were selected for comparison to Kentucky bluegrass Poa pratensis). The primary criteria for selection was that the maximum seasonal water requirements for each species would not exceed the minimum seasonal water requirement for Kentucky bluegrass (18”). Aesthetics and adaptability to selected sites (using soil tests for baseline data) were also considered for species selection. The following species were selected for the study: (1) ‘Vavilov’ Siberian wheatgrass; (2) ‘Sodar’ streambank wheatgrass; (3) ‘Hycrest’ crested wheatgrass, (4) ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass; (5) ‘Roadcrest’ crested wheatgrass; (6) ‘Covar’ sheep fescue; (7) ‘Rosanna’ western wheatgrass; (8) ‘Manchar’ smooth brome; and (9) ‘Park’ Kentucky bluegrass. All of the seed for the trials was provided by USDA Plant Materials Centers, with the exception of “Park” Kentucky bluegrass and ‘Manchar’ smooth brome. These were purchased from private vendors.

In 2007 one of the sites was eliminated by the partner due to lack of watering, weed growth and pedestrian traffic. By June 2008, two more of the three remaining sites had failed — Clay Peak Landfill and Lower Payette Ditch. Both of these were planned as dryland sites where minimal inputs (primarily water) were planned for establishment. Both sites were reseeded in fall 2007 and with above average fall, winter, and spring precipitation had promise for natural establishment, but were not successful. Another reason for failure along the Lower Payette Ditch was a communication failure that resulted in the test plots getting sprayed with glyphosate herbicide about the time emergence would have been occurring.

The final site on which all final evaluations, assessments and report are based is the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Oregon Trail roadside rest area at Interstate 85 on the eastern edge of Oregon. This site has three different test areas that are easily accessible for viewing by the public. By the end of the study in 2010, two of the three plantings had successful emergence of nine varieties of grass species, although turf conditions varied considerably between areas. The area with the least amount of water had the poorest establishment and was overrun with weeds — primarily kochia.

Evaluations were conducted by UI Living on the Land students, UI Master Gardeners, a USDA-NRCS plant materials specialist and the primary investigator. The primary criteria for evaluation of test plots were aesthetics, percent cover, weed exclusion and drought tolerance.

Research results and discussion:
LOL Educational Program

156 small-acreage units completed the LOL course since 2007. They came from ten southwestern Idaho counties and one eastern Oregon county. LOL also excelled at creating and strengthening valuable partnerships with other universities, organizations, agencies and private industry.

Numbers of participants per year and class locations are shown in Table 1.

Each class has completed an extensive end-of-class post-pre test evaluation. The class evaluation data from 2007-2009 was evaluated and summarized by Rudgers University as part of the grant received. A short summary of that data is shown in Table 2. The full class evaluation report from 2007-2009 is included in Appendix 1. Statistics were not run on the 2010 evaluations. The PI, coordinator and instructors felt very happy that significant knowledge was gained as a result of the class each year it was offered.

During the winter of 2009-2010 I partnered with the Social Science Research Unit at the University of Idaho to conduct a survey of all the alumni to measure medium- and long-term impacts of our LOL program. This was not part of the original grant, but this change in scope was approved by WSARE office. Full results of the alumni survey are shown in Appendix 2. Changes to management practices (Table 3) show that alumni are making behavior changes and putting into practice techniques learned in class. All of these management changes have positive long-term environmental impacts, including water conservation, improved water quality, improved forage and livestock production and reduced spread of weeds.

In the past two years, as the economic situation has worsened, I have noticed an increase in people taking the class who are looking to derive at least some income from their property. This observation was supported with the results of the alumni survey (Table 4) where over half of the participants reported at least some income from farm receipts. Marketing methods used by the alumni ranged from on-farm sales, to farmers markets, cooperatives and community supported agriculture gardens. Ten alumni reported sales directly to local restaurants and schools.

Market Garden Variety Trial

The trials produced a daunting amount of data and information. Careful consideration was given to formats for presenting the data. Rather than present an overwhelming cacophony of numbers, it was decided that the greatest value would be some indication of value to small-acreage growers. So, the resulting tables contain descriptions of the varieties along with general statements of productivity, quality and value for the growers. It is hoped that this form of presentation will prove to be effective for growers and gardeners trying to decide on the potential suitability of a variety for their designed purpose. Results are summarized and shown in Appendix 3.

Drought Tolerant, Low Input Turfgrass Trials

Evaluations were conducted by UI LOL students, UI Master Gardeners, a USDA-NRCS plant materials specialist and the primary investigator. The primary criteria for evaluation of test plots were aesthetics, percent cover, weed exclusion, and drought tolerance. Complete results from the LOL and Master Gardener evaluations are shown in Appendix 4.

Aesthetics: Evaluation of aesthetics took place during summer of 2008 as the plots were nearing peak establishment. ‘Park’ Kentucky bluegrass provided a control in the aesthetics study, as it is closely related to the most common turf in most northwest lawns. Naturally, it scored the highest. However 'Park' is a drought tolerant selection of the species so it can still be considered as an alternative to other varieties. Surprisingly, 'Roadcrest' crested wheatgrass was the second most popular species. Sheep fescue, a fine textured bunch grass with a bluish tint was ranked third. All the crested wheatgrass varieties did better in the aesthetics survey than any of the other wheatgrass varieties. A surprising result was the smooth brome was ranked better than last place. Because coarseness and width of the blade, it was a surprise to the principal investigators that it ranked as high as it did with the evaluators. See Table 5 below for complete aesthetics evaluation results.

Cover and Weed Exclusion: Based upon the evaluations conducted by USDA-Plant Materials Specialist Dan Ogle and principal investigators of this trial in November 2008, all varieties tested had low to moderate weed infestations with the exception of ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass, and ‘Park’ Kentucky bluegrass, which had high infestation. Weed exclusion generally coincided with percent cover. Evaluators though the high amount of weed infestation in the “Ephraim” crested wheatgrass was more of an anomaly associated with the plot preparation and maintenance than the growth of the grass. Evaluation showed that bluegrass was among the poorest for weed exclusion.

Drought Tolerance: It was the original intention that drought tolerance be evaluated on two levels: (a) seedings grown under strictly dryland non-irrigated conditions conditions, and (b) seedlings grown with sufficient water for establishment and then reduced water conditions. For non-dryland conditions, specific amounts of water once seedings were established were monitored. As mentioned before, seedings grown under strictly dryland, non-irrigated conditions never did successfully establish, and two of the remaining three sites were terminated before successful establishment occurred.

The plots that did successfully establish were those sites that received sufficient water for establishment at the Oregon Trail Rest Area. Information from the Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance person, who worked on the project, was that once plots were established, they received approximately 12 hours of sprinkler irrigation per month to approximately 4 inch depths, plus whatever overlap occurred from irrigation on the primary landscape lawn.

Final observations in 2010 indicate that all of the test species survived with some degree of success despite the fact that management of the plots had changed hands and work on the plots had ceased by fall of 2009. There was an apparent decline in the Kentucky bluegrass plots while the other species persisted and even spread. PI’s also noted that some of the lower ranked grasses may have uses in different circumstances. For example, ‘Manchar” smooth brome was a coarse, clumpy species that ranked lower in aesthetics but showed an incredible ability to survive under extreme conditions of drought and poor site conditions and to stay green longer than other species that either died or went dormant. This might be considered a desirable species that is more resistant to fire on steep slopes and areas that are difficult to mow but could be periodically grazed by animals kept for food or recreation.

Research conclusions:
LOL Educational Program

Three to six months after class completion, Extension Educators follow up with as many class participants as possible by conducting site visits to document what changes participants had made as a result of the information they gained in class. In 2008, visits to 15 households found 128 Best Management Practices (BMP) already had been implemented or were in the process of being implemented. In 2009, visits to 21 households found 191 BMP’s already had been implemented or were in the process of being implemented. Both years the most common BMP’s implemented were weed and pest control, wellhead protection, septic care and site appropriate fertilization. Data from the 2007 site visits was not available to the current PI of the grant. 2010 site visits have not been conducted yet.

Drought Tolerant, Low Input Turfgrass Trials

Sixty-five percent of the participants who evaluated the turfgrass plots said they planned to change their watering habits due to the information provided in this research. When asked what they planned to do to conserve water the top responses were to fix sprinkler systems, not water every day, and reduce time on sprinklers.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:
LOL Educational Program

There were six LOL alumni and public tours held since 2006 (2006-1, 2007-2, 2008-1, 2009-2). These tours featured LOL alumni, innovative operations in the immediate valley and places that were of interest to the current class members. Two additional tours were held in 2007 and 2008 as part of the LOL Instructor Training session.

Information from the class evaluation and site visits have been presented at Galaxy III, Urban Extension Conference, National Small Farms Conference, National Association of County Agricultural Agents, and Western Region County Agents Professional Improvement Conference.

The PI has plans for two possible publications as a result of information from the grant. One would include data from the class evaluation and site visits and an additional publication would include data from the alumni survey.

Market Garden Variety Trial

Data from the 2007 tomato trials at the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center was published on the University of Idaho Landscape and Garden website. This report can be found at http://www.extension.uidaho.edu/idahogardens/Seasonal/Tomato%20variety.htm

Plans are underway to use the 2007-2009 data to write a Current Information Series (CIS) publication for producers to use.

The research trials being conducted at the Parma Research and Extension Center in 2008 were featured during their Parma Field Day for industry professionals and public.

Drought Tolerant, Low Input Turfgrass Trials

The trials were featured in a cover study in the Argus Observer, a local newspaper, on May 22, 2008, and as a special feature as part of a “Green Living” series for Channel 6 news in Boise, ID, shortly after this article was published. An informational poster was created and displayed at one of the rest stop kiosks and contained a tri-fold brochure to distribute to interested patrons. Information from the trial was presented and brochures distributed to over 25 individuals at a Master Gardener Conference in June 2008. A press release from University of Idaho and the poster and tri-fold brochure on display at the rest area are included in Appendix 4.

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.