Building Organic Agriculture Extension Training Capacity in the Southeast
Organic trainings were offered to agriculture professionals in Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina in 2008. State trainings were held independently, tailored to the needs of ag professionals in individual states. Various delivery methods were used to present information critical to successful organic operations including presentations, hands-on activities, case studies, and farm tours. In 2009, selected participants from each state will come together for an advanced organic training in Chapel Hill, NC. As a result of the trainings, participants will have the skills necessary to conduct their own organic presentations, workshops, demonstrations, research or other type of project.
The behavior based objectives of this multi-state training project are listed below.
1. Increase knowledge and awareness, and improve attitudes of project participants towards organic agriculture through the development of organic agriculture curricula to be used as in-depth modules during training sessions and for future use by agriculture educators throughout the SSARE region.
2. Increase confidence level and technical skills of participants, for organic related questions, by developing a website for this specific project with organic educational resources, training tools, presentations, videos and case studies which can be used as a model for future trainings as resource for addressing common organic agriculture issues
3. To enable a select group of participants with skills and additional knowledge and expertise to become trainers and be recognized as experts in organic agriculture in their states.
In Year 1 trainings each state conduct their own state-wide workshops based on organic needs within their state. A review of state trainings is listed below.
Extension Specialist Stan Roark organized several workshops including organic standards, toured organic research plots and a 12 ac organic vegetable farm. The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (Karen Wynne) and Auburn University held their annual Organic Production conference in November where 5-6 CES agents attended, with 90 people total, in attendance. The conference was 1.5 days with 15 sessions and covered a wide range of organic topics. Agents, mentoring farmers, and other educators received SSAWG’s Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South interactive CD, and ASAN’s Alabama Farms Resource Guide. ASAN plans to distribute 70 copies to the extension service, NRCS, and other educators and farmers. ASAN also held an organic certification session and afternoon workshop in conjunction with the Economic Opportunities in Forest Medicinal Plants conference in May. About 100 people were in attendance in the morning session, including about 20 educators and agents; ten producers stayed for the afternoon session. ASAN also assisted in the planning of the Deep South Fruit and Vegetable Growers organic production track, with afternoon session featuring four speakers on organic production. About fifteen agents and educators attended this session.
Elena Garcia led Arkansas trainings where 2-day trainings were held at two locations across the state. Registration was limited to 30 participants which represented Extension agents, high school ag teachers, and farmers market managers. Workshops included presentations by topic experts, farm tours and problem solving case studies. Participants received the SSAWG CD “Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South, with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm”, Cornell Tree Fruit Field Guide, and a notebook with presentation information and resource materials.
Jeanine Davis, along with two extension agents and one consultant, led organic horticulture inservice trainings in North Carolina. She conducted two 3-day trainings, one in the mountains and one in the piedmont, for a total of 44 agents and 1 specialist. The agents were in involved in determining the curricula and organizing the tours in order to make the
training most relevant to their needs. Presentations from the training and additional resources were put on a website, www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/2008organictraining.html, for extension agent access. Take home materials included a notebook with resource materials, OMRI lists, the SARE “Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing
in the South” DVD, and the Cornell Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management. The evaluations confirmed that the agents highly valued visiting operating farms and learning from their peers.
Supplemental training events supported by this project were organized as part of the South Carolina SARE Program coordinated by Geoff Zehnder. The supplemental training involved three training events on topics related to organic vegetable pest management, organic certification, and on low-cost methods for organic vegetable production. These events were attended by a total of 92 Extension agents and farmer educators. In addition, the SC and NC SARE Programs organized two workshops and one farm tour in conjunction with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference on local food systems, organic no-till vegetable production, and organic crop certification. A total of 25 North and South Carolina Extension agents participated in the CFSA workshops and farm tour.
In Year 2, all states will come together in an advanced organic training in Chapel Hill, NC on Sept 8-10, 2009. A select number of participants have been identified from each state and will be surveyed in early summer in order to tailor the workshop to their specific needs. On Sept 9, a biodiesel powered bus will be used to tour the area’s successful organic farms and visit with the growers throughout the day. The home base for the training will be the Rizzo Center, part of the NCSU system, whose green initiatives call for the use of local and organic foods, composting, and recycling. The Center’s sustainability goals mesh nicely with the overarching goals of the project and is a logical venue for the training.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
As a result of the initial organic trainings in 2008, participants have improved knowledge of the rules and regulations for certified organic production as well as a greater comprehension of the practices that are necessary for successful organic production. Participants are capable of answering questions such as:
1) How do I become a certified organic producers? 2) How do I market my crop if I am not certified? 3) What do I need to do to produce crops sustainably and organically? 4) What alternative practices can I use? By touring real, working organic farms and talking with the growers about their production, marketing, and philosophy, much of the skepticism about organics was diminished because it provided a tangible example of successful organic farming operations. Because of knowledge and experiences gained through the training participants are more comfortable talking, answering questions, and giving presentations about organic production.
One Arkansas participant has collaborated with researchers on an organic blueberry project in southern Arkansas and said the knowledge she gained in the training provided critical information for her success in the project. She also started a compost pile and the compost will be used on a demonstration organic garden for a 2009 field day.
In Alabama, an outgrowth of this training was a series of workshops on “Blueberry Production”, “Home Grown Tomatoes”, and “Grow
Your on”, which reached more than 1,000 Alabama producers who otherwise
would not have used Extension as a source of unbiased information.
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
North Carolina State University
Mountain Horticultural Crops Research & Extension
455 Research Drive
Fletcher, NC 28732
Office Phone: 8286843562
Associate Professor, Entomology
142 Agricultural Research Center
P. O. Box 1927
Normal, AL 35762
Office Phone: 2563724249
Extension Specialist and Professor, Soils
259 Funchess Hall
Auburn, AL 36849
Office Phone: 2058445489
Assistant Professor, Entomology
216E Carver Complex Bonner Wing
P. O. Box 1208
Normal, AL 35762
Office Phone: 2563724244
Extension Specialist – Horticulture
University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff
Mail Slot 4966 1200 N. University Dr.
Pine Bluff , AR
Office Phone: 8705758152
114 Long Hall
Clemson, SC 29634
Office Phone: 8646563111