In-Depth Organic Training for Agricultural Professionals

2004 Annual Report for ENE04-086

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $120,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Anusuya Rangarajan
Cornell University
Dr. Vern Grubinger
University of Vermont

In-Depth Organic Training for Agricultural Professionals


Our training will provide an ongoing, in-depth training experience to Northeast agricultural professionals (e.g. extension, consultants, NRCS) to strengthen the human, as well as technical, capacity to better serve organic farmers. As a result, agencies will be better able to support new initiatives, such as the National Organic Program (NOP) or the NRCS Practice Standard for Transition to Organic, and the growing numbers of organic producers. Of the 40 agricultural professionals who seek in-depth training in organic agriculture, 20 will complete the course. Our key measure of success will be that participants become active trainers and advisors on organic systems, creating an expanded cadre of organic service providers throughout institutions in the Northeast. Our target audience is experienced agriculture service professionals with at least 5 to10 years on the job. We will focus on organic vegetable crops. To keep the participants engaged outside these sessions, we will provide on-line and conference call support for technical issues that emerge.

The format is an 8-month intensive training, with three face-to-face meetings (12 days) that combine lectures with on-farm studies, and continuous inquiry and networking via electronic discussion and conference calls. Prior to each meeting, resource materials will be provided and conference calls will be held to review the objectives, format and expectations. Resource materials will broaden the trainee’s understanding of organic agriculture philosophy and principles, and will result in each person having the start of an organic reference library. Institutional personnel and growers will team-teach. The key learning moments will occur as topics are synthesized, analyzed and debated. These discussions will deepen understanding of how current science-based information interfaces or conflicts with practical experience or challenges in production or marketing. All participants will be required to attend each training, to facilitate peer teaching, to enhance camaraderie, and ultimately, to build a cadre of organic service providers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 40 agricultural professionals who apply for additional training in organic agriculture, 20 will complete the course. These individuals will become actively engaged in training and advising on organic systems, and their skills will be widely utilized by both peers and clients.


Accomplishments in 2004:
The project planning team was organized in Summer of 2004. The team identified an executive committee to handle administrative tasks, consisting of: Brian Caldwell (Project Director), Anu Rangaranjan (Cornell Univ.), Vern Grubinger (Univ. VT), Eric Sideman (MOFGA) and Mary Barberchek (Penn State). Other members of the team are: Ruth Hazzard (Univ. of MA), Kim Stoner (CT Ag Expt. Station), Karen Anderson (NOFA-NJ), Marianne Sarrantonio (Univ. of Maine), Sarah Johnson (NOFA-NY), and Margaret McGrath (Cornell Univ.)

The planning team completed the process of designing a detailed training curriculum and identifying learning outcomes by October 2004.

A web site was developed to post training information and application forms. The site will be used throughout the project to communicate with participants.

The training opportunity was publicized widely publicized by November 1 through the SARE-PDP state coordinator network, and statewide Extension, NRCS and other agricultural service provider e-mail lists. .

By December 7 we received 35 applications for the training, plus several ineligble applicants from overseas. A committee of the planning team selected 22 participants that best fit our target audience, and 2 alternates, all from the Northeast, and notified them of their acceptance.

The selected applicants are to commit to taking the entire training, and submit a modest deposit to hold their space, by January 15, 2005.

A general outline of resource materials for the training has been developed, but will not be finalized until accepted participant needs are analyzed further.
Planning and logistical arrangements for speakers, lodging, transportation, site visits and meals for all 3 training sessions are well underway.

The actual implementation of a new project often proceeds in ways that are not exactly what was foreseen when the proposal was written. In our case, the planning team decided to have a near-final program posted on our website to give prospective applicants a good idea of what we were offering, before he application deadline. So, the order of milestones 2, 5, 6, and 7 is slightly different from that in our proposal. Furthermore, some of the planning and revisions to the program will happen while it is in progress.

Milestones from our revised proposal:
1. At least 1000 agricultural service providers throughout the Northeast read about the training about the training and the curriculum through E-mail, web site and newsletter announcements, by September 2004.
2. Specific organic training needs are identified through personal interviews by October 2004.
3. Curriculum team finalizes a set of core competencies needed by trainees, by November 2004.
4. At least 40 agriculture professionals (consultants, extension educators, NRCS and other agency personnel) receive institutional approval and apply to participate, by November 2004.
5. Curriculum team recruits writers and presenters for all modules by November 2004.
6. Newly developed educational materials and existing resource materials are collated by January 2005.
7. Twenty professionals are selected for training and accept, by January 2005.
8. Classroom and field trainings take place from February 2005 to September 2005.
9. All participants pass a test of core competencies, in October 2005.
10. Follow-up interviews of the 20 participants show them all to be engaged in organic research, peer education, farm planning or other activities appropriate to their professional responsibilities by September 2006.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

No SARE outcomes have been accomplished yet. The outcomes will occur during the training sessions in 2005, and in subsequent years as the participants utilize the knowledge and networks they acquired through the training.


Eric Sideman
Technical Director
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assn.
Unity, ME
Office Phone: 2079464402
Karen Anderson
Executive Director
Ruth Hazzard
University of Massachusetts Extension
Amherst, MA
Brian Caldwell
Project Director
Cornell University
Plant Science Building
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072559911
Abby Seaman
Vegetable IPM Specialist
NYS IPM Program
Geneva, NY 14556
Office Phone: 3157872422
Sarah Johnston
Executive Director
591 Lansing Rd.
Fultonville, NY 12072
Office Phone: 5189227937
Kimberly Stoner
Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station
Mary Barbercheck

Pennsylvania State University
State College, PA
Marianne Sarrantonio
University of Maine