Developing Successful Organic Horticulture Farms: Practical Training for Agricultural Professionals

2009 Annual Report for ES09-099

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $62,915.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Jean Mills
Southern SAWG

Developing Successful Organic Horticulture Farms: Practical Training for Agricultural Professionals

Summary

This proposed project brings together three key elements: an already developed and
well-tested farmer-led organic production training course, a practical science-based body of research and experience, and agriculture professionals seeking information about organic methods. The project, led by Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), will provide practical training and resources on organic horticultural crop production to enhance the capacity of Extension, NRCS, and FSA personnel to provide effective technical assistance to current and aspiring organic farmers.

Key partners include Virginia and Tennessee organic farmers, Virginia Extension, NRCS and FSA personnel, Extension personnel on the Deep South Fruit and Vegetable Growers (DSFVG) Conference planning team, and Tennessee Extension personnel.

Two-day trainings, delivered by both scientists and farmers, will be conducted at three
locations in Virginia. Each of these trainings will consist of one day of classroom instruction, and one day of hands-on training at a successful organic farm. These trainings will build on well-received No-Till trainings for agricultural professionals recently conducted in Virginia.

In addition, a one-day training will be offered at two winter conferences, the DSFVG Conference and the Southern SAWG Conference, to reach audiences over a wider geographic area. Instruction will focus on principles, practices, economic viability and decision-making in organic farm management. Supplemental training materials, including Southern SAWG’s comprehensive organic vegetable CD-ROM featuring materials from land grant universities and farmers around the country, will be provided.

We will train at least 120 professionals. We will use pre- and post-training questionnaires to evaluate this project.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The overall goal of the project is to equip Extension, NRCS, FSA and other agricultural professionals with the tools and resources to provide effective technical support to organic producers whose farming systems include horticultural crops. Specific objectives include:

1. At least 120 agricultural professionals will attend trainings offered through this project.

2. Agricultural professionals will gain improved understanding of the principles and the practices of organic farming systems. Lessons to be taught will include, but not be limited to, principles of diversity and holistic systems, as well as practices to build soil health, control pests, produce healthy crops and conserve resources.

3. Agricultural professionals will take home tools and resources they will readily access to gain further knowledge about organic farming systems. This will include user-friendly electronic and hardcopy materials on organic practices, research and resources that they can easily share with others or refer to when called upon to provide needed technical information to area producers.

4. Agricultural professionals will gain improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to current and aspiring organic horticultural producers seeking to develop economically viable farms. This capacity will be gained by utilizing the information presented in the training and in the take-home materials.

5. Agricultural professionals will have the ability to provide general information on organic certification to those exploring certification as a result of the materials concerning organic certification they receive with these trainings.

6. NRCS, FSA and other USDA personnel will be better able to help organic farmers gain access to federal conservation and farm credit programs because of information and resources about organic farming that they gain through these trainings.

7. Agricultural professionals will be motivated to continue building their capacity to serve organic farmers and to communicate information learned to others in their field.

8. With this project, another goal is to learn the best techniques and strategies for educating agricultural professionals on organic production in order to develop effective trainings for more agricultural professionals in other states in the future.

Accomplishments/Milestones

The inaugural project training conducted September 9th and 10th in partnership with Virginia State University in Gloucester, VA and Dayspring Farm in Cologne, VA represents the principal project activity for this 2009 annual report. The training was a success with agriculture professionals represented from Virginia Cooperative Extension, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and State Department of Agriculture.

The “Gloucester, VA” training exceeded our expectations by nearly doubling the proposed number of training participants. We had only projected 20 participants, yet 36 agriculture professionals participated in this first training.

Virginia planning team representatives expected that participants would need travel assistance to participate in the training, and thus, this was included in our budget. However, most participants did not request travel reimbursements.

High participant turn out and low request for reimbursements suggests that strong interest and travel support were provided by agencies to obtain this training for their professional constituents.

Consequently the project team is revising the project to reallocate unused travel funds toward accommodating the larger number of participants we now expect and making the modifications to the trainings that evaluations indicate would improve the training.

A second training was to be held in concert with the Deep South Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference December 1, 2009. Unfortunately the Deep South Conference planners had to cancel that event, due to a shortage of funds. Our project team immediately began discussing alternative locales, conferences, and options for replacing our training that was to be held in concert with Deep South Conference.

Interest by NRCS provided a strategic opportunity for an alternate training to the Deep South Conference cancellation. The Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Organic Initiative and EQIP High Tunnel Program have been fortunate occurrences to this project, both increasing the demand for organic horticulture training and partnership opportunities. We have begun working with NRCS personnel in Tennessee and Alabama to make this project’s trainings available to them. NRCS personnel are now being targeted to participate in our planned training to be held in concert with Southern SAWG’s annual conference, in Chattanooga, TN in January 2010. Additionally, we have begun planning a new training to be held in Alabama in March, 2010 that will attract NRCS personnel.

In 2010, we will hold the final 4 trainings of this project, building on each to improve subsequent trainings.

Collaborators:

Peggy Hamlett

University of Tennessee
Ron Morse

Virginia State University (retired)
Vanessa Mercer

Crabtree Farm
Alex Hitt

Peregrine Farm
Mark Schonbeck

Independent Consultant
Jeannine Freymann

USDA NRCS, Virginia
Catherine Cash

Virginia Department of Agriculture
Charlie Maloney

Dayspring Farm
Andy Hankins

Virginia State University
Jim Riddle

Virginia Tech University
Tana Comer

Eaton’s Creek Organic Farm
John Braswell

Mississippi State University
Mike Wooden

Virginia Farm Service Agency