- Education and Training: general education and training
The New Ag Network (NAN) was established in 2004 when three universities—Michigan State University, Purdue University and the University of Illinois—joined resources to bring together farmers, researchers and educators to address sustainable and organic agriculture issues. Representatives from each of the three collaborating universities provide the Network’s leadership. The Network provides a website, bi-monthly conference calls, newsletters and articles distributed throughout the communities. Using the NAN to produce fact sheets and training for educators was an effective tool.
In late 2007, Network administrators contracted with outside evaluators to design, implement and report findings from an evaluation of the New Ag Network. Evaluators interviewed Network leadership to discuss overall purpose and objectives for the evaluation. Administrators were interested to understand past, present and future impact of the Network. The Network reaches organic and/or sustainable farmers, University researchers (from each of the above named universities) and Extension educators located throughout all geographic areas of each state (Michigan, Indiana and Illinois). Of special interest was the impact for each of these representative groups of stakeholders throughout the Network, and within each state. The evaluation provided us with detailed information about Extension educators’ needs in organic farming.
- The following items reflect key issues described by farmers who were interviewed:
University Extension representatives seem to lack knowledge about organics/sustainable practices; they seem primarily committed to conventional farming methods.
The Network has the potential to effectively educate Extension educators, but that is not happening now.
A farmer/Extension educator “didn’t think colleagues were very aware of the Network.”
The Network works very well for farmers, but Extension educators are unfamiliar with the Network and don’t seem to want to “bother” with it.
Extension educators are not using the Network to promote sustainable/organic practices to farmers.
Extension educators sometime cooperate with farmers, but seldom “initiate” such efforts.
Extension educators seldom make efforts to contact farmers, but will use farmer’s sites for tours.
- Increase Extension educators’ knowledge of organic farming.
Increase educators’ knowledge of the New Ag Network (NAN).
Develop organic farming educational material that Extension educators can use.
Design an intensive training program for educators on organic farming systems.