Soil SMaRTS 2: Virtual farm tours for enhanced and inclusive learning about soil health.

Project Overview

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2024: $44,864.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipients: Tennessee State University; USDA-NRCS; Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jason deKoff
Tennessee State University


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

In 2018, the PI was awarded a Southern SARE PDP grant focused on
soil health called Soil SMaRTS (Specific Management and Resources
Training for Sustainability) for soil health in Tennessee. 
This project successfully implemented an 8 module soil health
curriculum with a train-the-trainer program for Tennessee
Extension agents.  In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic showed the
potential that virtual environments could have for learning and
engagement.  In Tennessee, this new format brought a new
clientele that had not been exposed to Extension
previously.  Utilizing the existing Soil SMaRTS curriculum
and an innovative, virtual platform could help this new
population understand more about sustainable agriculture and soil
health while also engaging traditional audiences.

Virtual teaching tools have been shown to enhance engagement,
interest, and learning outside of traditional teaching methods.
Applying these tools as an alternative delivery method can help
teach new audiences about the importance of sustainable
agriculture practices and can help increase the impact and
awareness of SARE programs.  They can also help reach the
next generation of farmers through the incorporation of new,
innovative uses of technology.  This project seeks to create
virtual farm tours (VFTs) that can provide an immersive virtual
reality experience for existing and potential farmers of all ages
and experience.  They will provide interactive opportunities
to learn from other farmers and experts about sustainable
agriculture practices that can improve soil health.  The
VFTs will include clickable content such as video testimony from
the farmer as well as other video, image, and textual information
designed to interest and teach the user as they move through the
tour.  The VFTs will also include links to quizzes and
surveys to allow users to test their knowledge and provide
reporting and feedback information.  Links to the VFTs will
be provided to all Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension
agents from Tennessee State University and the University of
Tennessee through a shared listserv and to farmers through an
existing contact information database, social media, and relevant
agricultural events.  Agents and farmers will engage with
the VFTs and provide information on changes in knowledge,
potential changes in behavior, and overall feedback. 

The short-term goal of this project is to increase agent and
farmer knowledge of soil health.  The medium-term goals are
to enhance engagement and impacts outside of Tennessee by
marketing these materials through the SARE website and to other
Extension programs and farmers through the Southern Region
Program Leaders Network. Another medium-term goal is to create
changes in farmer behavior related to sustainable practices for
soil health.  Long-term goals include increasing agent and
farmer knowledge of soil health principles and changes in farmer
behavior throughout the Southern SARE region and for these
innovative, virtual tools to be used to enhance other current and
future SARE curricula.  

Project objectives from proposal:

Objective 1:  Identify three farms for the creation of
virtual farm tours (VFTs).  These will be identified through
the TSU network of farmer program participants, Tennessee NRCS,
and the Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts.

Objective 2:  Create the VFTs.  This involves touring
selected farms, interviewing/videoing farm operator(s), capturing
3-D images/video, using software to stitch and incorporate
clickable content from the Soil SMaRTS curriculum.

Objective 3:  Create virtual farm tour fact sheet. 
This will provide steps for others to follow to create VFTs.

Objective 4:  Evaluate the VFTs.  A stakeholder
advisory group of eight farmers will provide initial evaluation
of the VFTs.  Feedback will be used to modify the VFTs where
applicable.  Links to surveys within the VFTs and follow-up
surveys will also be used.

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.