Training extension professionals, high school educators, and local food coordinators on basic and advanced aspects of sustainable vegetable production

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $79,159.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, fertilizers, high tunnels or hoop houses, irrigation, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, organic fertilizers, row covers (for season extension), season extension, shade cloth, strip tillage, varieties and cultivars
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, farmers' markets/farm stands
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biofumigation, chemical control, cultivation, cultural control, economic threshold, integrated pest management, mulches - general, mulching - plastic, row covers (for pests), sanitation, smother crops
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: composting, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: food hubs, local and regional food systems, partnerships, social networks, urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    The primary objective of this proposal is to train and educate extension educators, county horticulturists, FFA teachers, local food professionals, food systems working group members, industry and community leaders, and personnel from NRCS and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship on both basic and advanced concepts and applications of sustainable vegetable production. These individuals are often at the forefront disseminating information to commercial vegetable growers, farmer’s market managers, students, food hub coordinators, market gardeners, public, and policy makers. Building capacity in these individuals in the area of soil management, cover cropping, crop rotation, specialized tools and machinery, cultivar/variety selection, pest identification, and disease diagnostics will significantly enhance services they provide to their clients and stakeholders. A long-term outcome of this project would be creation of a workforce comprising who have advance knowledge and understanding of sustainable vegetable production and are better prepared to address stakeholder/grower issues and challenges. Empowering FFA teachers will strengthen agriculture curriculum in the classroom and lead to high school students who have a better understanding of sustainable agriculture. In order to effectively engage participants, the project will organize training workshops, field days, and educational trips to regional vegetable conferences in the north central region. The project will also create an online e-learning course on sustainable vegetable production to reach out to distance learners and multiply the outreach of this project. These activities will provide increased training and learning opportunities to our target audience and enhance their knowledge and understanding of sustainability in vegetable crop production.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Education materials: Program outputs will include survey results (highlighting challenges and obstacles in vegetable cropping systems), educational materials, and resources developed for workshops and online course. An extension bulletin will highlight concepts of sustainable vegetable production, tools available and effective ways of managing a successful vegetable production enterprise.

    Vegetable production workshops: We plan to organize six statewide vegetable production workshops that will address key production topics such as cultivar selection, planting schedules, spacing and fertility, pest management, cultural practices, harvesting parameters and schedules, and post-harvest handling. We expect 120 participants a year attending our workshops (15 different participants at each workshop).

    e-Learning online course: The online course will reach out to a wider audience in the region. We anticipate several county horticulturists, extension professionals, and high school FFA teachers would enroll for the course. The project will also record presentations made at workshops and upload them on Sustainable Vegetable Production Lab webpage (

    Strategic Partnerships: An important aspect of this project is the development of strategic partnerships between extension and government staff, grower organizations, county extension personnel, FFA teachers, and farmers who serve as educators. Such partnerships are critical to build a strong foundation and to leverage more support and funds in local food production. The project also benefits students enrolled in FFA programs through an enriched curriculum that expands on sustainable vegetable production.

    Case studies: Workshops and on-site activities will be utilized to develop one-two case studies that could be potentially be used in classrooms at Iowa State University and for the online course. These case studies will enhance student understanding of tools and management strategies growers and extension personnel use in the real world.

    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.