Alternative Information Networking to Support Sustainable Agriculture on Small Farms
The overall goal of this program is to provide quick and easy access to the resources extension agents and other information providers need to provide families on small farms with the most effective sustainable agriculture information and education programs.
Specific Objectives for 1998 included:
1) To develop a North Central Sustainable Small Farm Information Network (NC-SSFIN) that gives every extension worker and information provider in the region quick and easy access to the full range of sustainable agriculture resources available for small farm families.
2) To develop prototype information resources that will be used by the network, including an up-to-date and easy-to-use Sustainable Agriculture Resource Guide that lists organizations, educational opportunities, and grants that support non-traditional farm enterprises and sustainable agriculture strategies that are of particular value to small farm families.
A comprehensive professional development experience was carried out in conjunction with the 1998 National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Columbia, Missouri. The Small Farm Trade Show is an annual event sponsored by Small Farm Today magazine, and is held in Columbia, Missouri each November. The conference includes nationally known speakers and experts on various aspects of farming, however, most speakers are just plain small farmers who are making their farming systems work. More than 2,800 people from more than 20 different states attended the 1998 conference.
A special professional development program preceding the opening day of the SFT conference featured Desmond Jolly, Director of the Small Farm Center, University of California-Davis. Participants were then presented with an initial Sustainable Small Farm Information Network (SSFIN) proposal, developed by participants from the four lead states: Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana, and members of the North Central Region Small Farm Task Force. The presentation was followed by a Farmer/User Reaction Panel discussion. The panelists leading the discussion included a representative from Missouri’s Small Farm Family Program, one extension staff person from outside Missouri, and three farmers. All workshop participants were given the opportunity to discuss and comment on the proposal.
PDP workshop participants were then divided into 10 teams of three to five people. The teams were assigned to interview farmers and extension educators attending the conference and complete a survey identifying small farmers’ information needs. Workshop participants gathered additional data about the sustainable small farm information needs of farmers by attending seminars and interviewing trade show exhibitors. Farmers from the Sustaining People through Agriculture Network (SPAN), a Missouri farmers’ group, assisted in completing surveys.
The workshop teams included a mix of Extension, Small Farm Family Educational Assistants, farmers, and non-profit and agency information providers. Each team included representatives from at least three states. A total of 46 people from nine different states attended the program — not including speakers. Participants provided a verbal evaluation of their participation when they gave their final reports. Comments were very positive and included statements like this one from David Swaim of Swaim and Associates in Crawfordville, Indiana: “The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) folks really appreciated the opportunity to be involved. Harry Wells had a great time and really enjoyed the interviewing.” (Harry Wells, Agriculture Coordinator of the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division at EPA stated: “I would do this again in a heartbeat!”) SPAN farmers also enjoyed a very positive experience interviewing other farmers. They completed many more surveys than the 10 surveys originally requested per person, because they enjoyed the interaction so much.
Each team prepared a summary of their interviews to present to the rest of the group on the final day. During the presentations, participants discussed how to use the survey information to develop a prototype SSFIN. Participants from the four lead states worked with staff from Missouri’s Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board (AgEBB) to develop a SSFIN prototype.
For more information:
University of Missouri
200 Mumford Hall
Columbia, MO 65211