Farmer-to-Farmer Mentorship and Innovative On-Farm Research
In recent years, a growing number of farmers have been asking universities for information
about alternative management systems that use less chemically intensive crop and livestock
production methods. Responding to these requests has been difficult, however, because relatively
few university research initiatives deal with alternative management systems. Initially, farmers
with questions were referred to farmers experienced with sustainable practices, however, they
were soon overwhelmed due to growing interest. Therefore, the development of a new method to
disseminate information was necessary.
1) Develop farmer-university workshop program to provide in-depth understanding and transfer
of ecologically sound, economically viable farming practices.
2) Develop a farmer-based research support program and encourage farmer-university
cooperation in developing innovative farming practices.
A series of workshops were organized during the winter months of 1992 and 1993 to provide
informal and supportive forums where farmers experienced in innovative sustainable farming
practices acted as mentors and shared their knowledge with other farmers in the region.
University researchers and extension personnel acted as facilitators and resource persons. In
conjunction with the winter workshops, summer field days were held on representative mentor
farms where farmers could experience, first hand, demonstrations of sustainable farming and
interact in groups and on one-to-one basis. During this same period, several on-farm research
projects were developed to test the economic, production, and ecological performance of various
Twenty on-farm demonstrations and tours brought hundreds of farmers and consumers to farms,
market gardens, farmers markets, and on-farm research trials throughout Ohio. Additionally, the
on-farm research developed during this project helped to strengthen community bonds and will
provide scientifically valid data for farmers. Most importantly, farmers have become more
intimately involved in the development of research projects, which has helped to create strong
partnerships between researchers and farmers.
Both the mentoring and on-farm research components of this project have led to the creation of
the Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO). IFO is a grassroots farmers’ organization dedicated to
research and education activities that preserve and strengthen the well-being of family farms,
rural communities and natural resources. During 1993, IFO members conducted on-farm research
trials comparing fertility and weed control alternatives, and highlighted them at farm tours and
field days, farmers meetings and workshops, and through popular articles and research reports.
These activities have attracted the interest of other Ohio State University researchers, Extension
agents and Soil and Water Conservation specialists, and promise to be a strong catalyst for
greater collaboration between professionals and farmers.