Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and Hoophouses

Project Overview

ES11-109
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $99,980.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Jim Lukens
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Co-Investigators:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: ornamentals

Practices

  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, multiple cropping, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: workshop
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Abstract:

    2013 Annual/FINAL Report Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and Hoop house

    Designed by teams of farmers, Extension personnel, USDA-NRCS personnel and scientists, our trainings were refined through feedback from agricultural professional participants. This project has provided practical training and supplemental resources on organic horticultural crop production and high tunnel production for 252 NRCS, Extension and other agricultural professionals in North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi.

    Project objectives:

    Final Trainings Successful

    Our objectives were MET as follows:

    1. At least 210 agricultural professionals in three states (70 professionals in each state of Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) will participate in trainings offered through this project.

    We successfully reached 252 professionals and farmers through nine training sessions in South Carolina, North Carolina and Mississippi.

    2. Participants will gain improved understanding of the principles and the practices of organic farming systems and high tunnel production. Lessons to be taught will include, but not be limited to, principles of diversity and holistic systems; practices to build soil health, control pests, produce healthy crops and conserve resources; and high tunnel construction and usages.

    Organic production topics covered include principles of organic and holistic farming systems; building soil health and fertility; crop diversity; crop rotation; drip irrigation; weed, pest and disease management; marketing; and maintaining economic viability. High tunnel topics to be covered include advantages & disadvantages, designs, costs, construction, suitable crops, best practices, seasonal usage, and maximizing income. The focus will be on systems used by small-scale horticultural producers. Powerpoint presentations with key points illustrated by farm photos, as well as hands-on demonstrations will complement the presenters’ verbal instruction.

    On-farm instruction illustrates and elaborates on the principles and practices covered in the classroom. Production and marketing practices during various production cycles of the year will also be discussed. Host farms are economically viable enterprises where there is a farmer capable of and willing to provide in-depth instruction and an interactive learning environment. The selection of the farm hosts will be in cooperation with partners in each state.

    3. Participants will take home tools and resources that can be readily accessed to gain further knowledge about organic farming systems and high tunnel production. This will include user-friendly electronic and hardcopy materials on organic practices, high tunnel production, research and resources, and related NRCS programs that they can easily share with others or refer to when called upon to provide needed technical information to area producers.

    Included in the take-home tool kit, was Southern SAWG’s interactive Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South CD-ROM. This comprehensive educational tool incorporates volumes of materials developed by land grant universities and others, complemented with real life examples from a successful organic farm. It also contains one of the most comprehensive farmer-recommended resource lists available on this topic. Relevant videos from Southern SAWG’s Natural Farming in the South video series were also provided. Other materials, such as summaries of new USDA programs for organic and high tunnel producers, the training presentations, and the handouts used to augment the in-class training were compiled on a CD for all participants to take home.

    4. Participants will gain improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to producers seeking to develop economically viable farms using organic and/or high tunnel production systems. This capacity will be gained by utilizing the information presented in the training and in the take-home materials.

    We utilized pre and post training evaluation surveys (attached) to ascertain the positive impact of our training sessions. Every participant shared their appreciation for a wealth of resources; the breadth of knowledge represented by our diverse trainers; and the importance of hands-on, visual training carried out on an organic farm.

    5. Participants will be better able to help more farmers gain access to USDA farm programs that are right for them because of information and resources about organic and high tunnel production that they gain through these trainings.

    The addition of on-farm instruction illustrated the principles and practices covered in the classroom and assisted in offering a diverse range of “learning practices” that go beyond classroom or webinar to provide hands-on experiential learning. Production and marketing practices during various production cycles of the year were discussed while standing in the area of activity. The host farms were all economically viable enterprises where the farmer is a peer trainer capable of providing in-depth instruction within an interactive learning environment or a university facility for research and education.

    To further build and strengthen local relationships between practitioners and professionals, the selection of the farm hosts was developed in partnership with the NRCS leadership in each state and we also sought farmers who have utilized NRCS programs, especially the cost share program for high tunnels. We found deeper engagement by the NRCS professionals when we were providing on the ground assistance to one of their clients, while teaching their peer professionals and answering real questions on site.

    6. Southern SAWG and project collaborators will gain improved understanding of best techniques and strategies for educating agricultural professionals on organic and high tunnel production systems in order to carry out effective trainings for more agricultural professionals in the future.

    The focus was on systems used by small-scale horticultural producers. Sharing powerpoint presentations with key points illustrated by farm photos, as well as hands-on demonstrations complemented the presenters’ verbal instruction, along with lively question and answer sessions. Topics covered include principles of organic and holistic farming systems; building soil health and fertility; crop diversity; crop rotation; drip irrigation; weed, pest and disease management; marketing; and maintaining economic viability. High tunnel topics included advantages & disadvantages, designs, costs, construction, suitable crops, best practices, seasonal usage, and maximizing income.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.