Enhancing Processing and Access to Local Food in Idaho

Progress report for WID21-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $107,250.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2024
Host Institution Award ID: G282-21-W8618
Grant Recipient: University of Idaho Extension
Region: Western
State: Idaho
State Coordinators:
Carmen Willmore
University of Idaho Extension
Grant Loomis
University of Idaho Extension-Blaine County
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Project Information


Idaho's agriculture industry has a wide diversity of scale and types of production. From the small family farm to mega agriculture corporations the scale and productivity of agriculture production in Idaho is constantly changing. The goal of Idaho's SARE PDP program is to meet the needs of Idaho's agricultural industry to encourage sustainability at all levels. We will continue our support of the University of Idaho’s agricultural education programs, including but not limited to Cultivating Success, Beginning Farmer and Rancher, and other programs directed at improving farmer viability. A portion of the three-year funds will support training opportunities for small to medium-size farmers to increase the distribution and sales of local foods through the organization FARE.  Through a partnership with FARE we strive to increase the access of local food to more consumers in Idaho in addition this increases the viability and profitability of small and medium size food producing businesses in Idaho. In addition, four mini-grant awards were funded to increase knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices across Idaho. These mini-grants meet the goals of SARE through demonstrating ways to increase sustainability in rural communities in Idaho. 

Project Objectives:

The main objective of the three-year program is to increase the outreach of sustainable agriculture practices in Idaho.  We will increase knowledge of using local produce from farmers' market vendors, community gardens, and local food banks. We will continue to increase the capacity of University of Idaho Extension Educators to conduct field demonstrations and perform other necessary programs by offering outreach and travel reimbursements.
We will continue our involvement with the University of Idaho’s small farmer education program, Cultivating Success, and with the team that is working on a USDA Beginning Farmer & Rancher grant entitled “Cultivating Success™ Idaho: Advanced Skill Building for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers through Hands-on, In-depth Production Education” project. A portion of grant funds will be used to support the ongoing development and extension of an online farmers market exchange to communities throughout the state. This is a continuation of the local food system development funded by Western SARE in 2018.  Funds will be used to support professional development opportunities for Extension professionals and others working in sustainable agriculture, including support for outreach and travel to conferences for professional development in the area of sustainable agriculture. We will also use the funds to travel to annual SARE PDP meetings.


The Idaho SARE PDP program has focused on the increase of sustainable agriculture practices throughout Idaho. To achieve this funding was provided to increase knowledge, test new practices, and facilitate hands-on learning. Our goals are to increase awareness of farming practices to promote environmental, economic, and social sustainability of Idaho farmers and ranchers. In addition, increases in knowledge and programming efforts in sustainable agriculture, such as resource conservation, integrated or organic pest management, cover crops, building healthy soils, direct marketing, food systems, and more. 


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Katie Baker
  • Audra Cochran (Educator)
  • Amy Mattias
  • Nicholas Purdy


Educational approach:

To help farmers and ranchers make better decisions on sustainable agriculture practices a variety of educational approaches were used. To address the need for more education on local food production and distribution FARE hosted chef led classes teaching local chefs how to break down and use locally grown produce and meat products. Also a new project on virtually reality simulation was initiated to investigate the usage of video games and virtual reality products on the market to learn more about how to use them for sustainable agriculture education. In addition a small demonstration project was initiated to look into the longevity or stored hay. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Furthering Understanding of the nutritional value of hay over time when baled

Initiate a small research project to address the questions concerning hay production. Alfalfa hay bales would be purchased from three local growers. The hay would then be divided among three storage methods: a hay barn, hay being covered by a tarp, and totally exposed to the elements. These three treatments are representative of how most hay producers/livestock owners store hay. This hay would be tested 10 different times over the course of two years including: immediately after being cut, immediately before being baled, and after being baled it would be sampled at one week, two weeks, one month, two months, three months, six months, one year, and 18 months. Samples would be collected at each timepoint and submitted to a forage testing laboratory to undergo NIR analysis. These bales would be kept under the same treatment for the duration of this project.

In addition to this demonstration, a survey would be created and approved to be distributed to hay growers and livestock producers to help in gaining insight into how long these two groups typically store hay, how they store it, and if they have any perceived ideas of how long their hay maintains its quality standard. Plans would be developed to disseminate this survey through the University of Idaho Extension program and other hay grower organizations in Idaho. This data, as well as the research data gathered in the proposed project, could then be provided as a simple fact sheet to the public and could potentially initiate a larger study on this same topic.


Hay samples were collected and submitted for analysis and the results of that were used in presentations to producers in multiple locations. As the demonstration continues more results will be assimilated and shared with producers to aid in their decision making process on how to store hay.  

Outcomes and impacts:

During late November in 2023, multiple Beef schools were held in Southeastern Idaho by the University of Idaho Extension educators in Bingham, Oneida, and Bear Lake counties. Sawyer Fonnesbeck was one of the presenters at these schools and talked about this research project as part of his presentation. Feedback from the attendees was very positive. All involved were very interested in the upcoming results of hay quality over a longer duration. There were some great discussions involving anticipated results and suggestions for expanding this project and including more details. Besides these schools, an article was written about this research by a University of Idaho writer and published in multiple newspapers/magazines/news outlets including East Idaho News, Western Livestock Journal, The Herald Journal, and others. The scope of this research is something that is obviously needed by hay growers and livestock producers alike. Moving forward, the hay will continue to be sampled and analyzed on schedule. A survey of hay producers in Idaho is also being created to further gain information on how hay is currently stored in Idaho and what the mindset of producers is for storing hay and the costs associated with these storage methods. Statistics will be run in late 2025 on all the data gained. All of this will then be compiled into a publication and published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Virtual Reality Investigation

We intend to investigate the usage of video games and virtual reality products on the market to learn more about how they could be used to produce engaging educational experiences. Our main goals are the following:

1) Investigate the popular computer game, Farming Simulator, beyond the fun factor and collect data about the agricultural principles taught in the game such as pest management or agronomy and analyze whether they are accurate reflections of the reality of said subjects.

2) Investigate the usage of Virtual Reality games on the Oculus Meta Quest System and collect information from farmers. After deploying and loading a variety of premade simulations like survival or gardening games, run those games with a variety of farmers or agricultural professionals and then collect feedback from them about what types of games should be developed to teach agricultural professionals. Collaborator Brian Cleveley has years of experience in virtual reality and has met with us to guide us on the steps of discovering what will be most impactful to our targeted groups. He will help review data and surveys we collect from individuals that participate in our upcoming workshops on Pest Friends.


A survey was distributed and participants in the survey expressed a diverse range of preferences regarding beneficial simulations for agricultural and pesticide education. Multiple participants specifically highlighted a keen interest in insect identification simulations, emphasizing the need for immersive experiences such as 360 views for bug identification or pest management related simulations. Safety practices emerged as a crucial area of concern, with multiple participants expressing a desire for simulations focused on safety in agricultural and pesticide-related activities. Additionally, one participant underscored the importance of simulations related to equipment repair, suggesting a practical need for learning experiences in maintaining agricultural machinery. Simulations addressing weed identification were mentioned by a few participants as well, indicating a specific interest in pest management. Overall, participants exhibited a general interest in various simulations and a willingness to explore different educational content. The diversity of preferences highlights the need for tailored content development, incorporating hands-on learning experiences and engaging participants in the design process to ensure simulations closely align with their specific needs and preferences.


Outcomes and impacts:

IACAA Summer Meeting Workshop:

At the Idaho Association of County Ag Agents summer meeting, we successfully engaged 18 educators representing a diverse range of ages, spanning from 25 to 65 years old. In this workshop they had the opportunity to try out a few virtual simulations to understand the potential of this technology. A total of 9 participants provided survey responses with 100% of them expressing a belief that virtual reality could be a valuable learning tool for farmers and agricultural production. Overall, the workshop served as a platform to introduce and advocate for the adoption of virtual reality within the agricultural community, fostering a shared enthusiasm for its educational potential.

Farmer Workshops:

During two pesticide training sessions, we employed a digital survey tool called Crowdpurr to gather responses from farmers and agricultural professionals in attendance. Over 180 attendees were present for these presentations and a subset answered our survey. This innovative method facilitated real-time data collection by allowing participants to provide feedback through digital surveys on their cell phone. The surveys were designed to gauge participants' familiarity with virtual reality (VR) systems and to explore their thoughts on the potential applications of VR in agricultural education. In addition to the surveys, we engaged directly with the farmers, discussing various ways VR could be beneficial in agricultural education.

Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
7 Minigrants
10 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
4 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Tours
5 Travel Scholarships
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days
10 Other educational activities: Other educational activities were part of a mini-grant conference.

Participation Summary:

35 Extension
4 Researchers
2 Nonprofit
2 Agency
250 Farmers/ranchers
28 Others

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

23 New working collaborations
20 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
4 Farmers reached through participant's programs

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

For the face-to-face promotion of Western SARE, the state coordinator reached approximately 100 growers and 50 ag professionals. This was through presentations, attendance at local grower meetings, and phone or online conversations.  Western SARE was also promoted at the various field days and education programs that were a part of the mini-grant and travel grant program. 

100 Farmers received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
50 Ag professionals received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
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.