Experiential Co-Learning for Professional Development in Sustainable Agriculture

1995 Annual Report for ENC95-007

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1995: $60,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Craig Dobbins
Dept of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University

Experiential Co-Learning for Professional Development in Sustainable Agriculture


The objective of this multi-professional, interdisciplinary project to help researchers, extension educators and other advisors evaluate practices and systems from the viewpoint of the farmer. It will help farmers learn more about the technical approach of researchers and extension specialists.

The highlight of the project this year was a tour of farms in Indiana and Illinois. Two objectives of the tour were: 1) provide researchers, extension specialists and NRCS personnel a better understanding of how individual practices need to work together to form a whole, and 2) provide a first hand look at farms using innovative practices. The tour provided information about the use of intensive rotational grazing in both dairy and beef enterprises. In addition to learning about benefits and challenges, we learned about an apprenticeship program being used by a dairy producer to help others learn about and enter the dairy business. We learned about alternative enterprises to support the farm business. One was the development of vegetable crop production. In addition to the challenges associated with producing a high quality product, participants also learned about establishing a marketing relationship with food retailers. When thinking of alternatives for utilizing resources, the groups was reminded to think broadly. One farm developed a pallet making enterprise; another developed a farm entertainment enterprise. A third combined organic seed with pasture poultry. Farm visits pointed out links between farms. One farm used lumber from trees on another farm to construct a dairy barn. In addition, we observed how local solutions to a water control problem caused problems for other farmers in the watershed.

By being in the field and visiting with the decision-makers, we could better understand and appreciate the context in which decisions were made. It also helped us understand strengths and weaknesses of practices being considered. Both farmers and advisors want to see first-hand the situation that created the results and then judge for themselves. Being on the farm and visiting with the decision-maker allowed us to develop a more complete understanding. Things we saw would trigger questions that would not come up in a classroom. The response of educators/researchers to farm visits was positive. In some cases, what they saw confirmed their research. In other cases, farm observation challenged their earlier thinking, suggesting new alternatives. David Swaim, Project Coordinator, summarized the farm tours as follows: "One of the most impressive experiences was standing in a large weed-free field of double-crop buckwheat in full bloom. In provided a whole new concept of what might be possible where it is too far north for double-crop soybeans. Standing in a newly constructed dairy barn made of lumbar sawn on adjacent woods reinforced the need to understand complementary linkages between enterprises. As the proverb goes, to hear may be to know, but to see is to believe."

North Central Region SARE 1997 Annual Report.