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

2012 Annual Report for 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
Pamela Kingfisher
Southern SAWG

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


This project provided practical training and supplemental resources on organic horticultural crop production and high tunnel production for NRCS, Extension and other agricultural professionals in North Carolina and South Carolina. Final sessions in Mississippi are being finalized now. Designed by teams of farmers, Extension personnel, USDA-NRCS personnel and scientists, our trainings were refined through feedback from agricultural professionals and participants. This training has been especially timely for these professionals due to the cost-share program for hoophouse construction recently implemented by NRCS.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The overall goal was to expand the expertise and knowledge skills of participating agents so that they can provide effective technical assistance to new constituents – current, transitioning and aspiring organic farmers, and farmers developing high tunnel production systems.

Organic production topics covered included 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 included 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.


In our first year we consulted with the North Carolina NRCS and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to ensure further training that complemented their previous and ongoing training sessions and solidified relationships between all parties. From this partnering, we developed unique one and two-day training sessions combining classroom and on-farm experiences, which were conducted in two states (North Carolina and South Carolina). Each of the trainings were unique lasting from one and a half days of classroom instruction and a half day of training at a successful, diversified organic farm to one day on-farm sessions. Trainings were delivered by a team consisting of a scientist, a farmer trainer, a former NRCS agent and an on-farm host farmer, all selected for proven ability to deliver effective instruction.

November 7-8, 2011; Ridgeland, Jasper County, South Carolina
Donald Brant, a farmer in Jasper County shared his farm and experiences; one day and a half at the Soil and Water conservation facility and visiting his farm.

November 9 & 10, 2011; Pickens County South Carolina
Chad Bishop, a farmer in Pickens County, shared his farm and experiences in their own classroom facility and outside on his farm.

• Using feedback from previous trainings, worked with institutional and farmer partners to design and develop overall plan for training events in MS, NC and SC; and to prepare instructional materials.

• Worked with institutional and farmer partners to make adjustments if necessary, and plan remaining training events. Made adjustments to instructional materials as needed.

• Promoted each training event through NRCS and Extension Service communication networks. Registered participants and prepared packets of participant take-home materials.

• Evaluated each training event, communicating results to partners, and making adjustments to improve effectiveness for our next sessions.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Participants gained an increased understanding of small-scale horticultural production in general. We received evaluation feedback that the ability of participants to assist producers in increasing economic sustainability was greatly improved (ranging from 27-52% increase in confidence post-training), thus adding to the economic sustainability of rural communities and the development of more sustainable food systems.

Partnerships were strengthened and new contacts were made in North Carolina and South Carolina, with additional dates set for trainings in the summer and fall of 2012.

A library of take-home resources was developed to provide in-depth information for each course participant to take home, including 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 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 participants to take home.

Applicability of federal programs being administered by NRCS was discussed and explored in the groups.

On-farm training expanded upon the classroom material and provided a hands-on experience of the practical aspects of organic and high tunnel production systems.


Matt Flint

Assistant State Conservationist - Technology
USDA/NRCS North Carolina
4407 Bland Rd., Suite 117
Raleigh, NC 27609
Office Phone: 9198732124
Debbie Roos

Agricultural Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center
1896 N. Plank Rd.
Sanford, NC 27330
Office Phone: 9195484855
Karen McSwain

Organics Initiative Coordinator
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
P.O. Box 448
Pittsboro, NC 27312
Office Phone: 8284232463
Website: www.carolinafarmstewards.org
Andrew Williams

5850 AL Highway 36773
Safford, AL 36773
Office Phone: 3346273276
Delmer Stamps

State Resource Conservationist
USDA/NRCS Mississippi
100 W. Capitol Street
Suite 1321 Federal Bldg.
Jackson, MS 39269
Office Phone: 6019654139
Mark Cain

Dripping Springs Garden
1558 CR 548
Huntsville, AR 72740
Office Phone: 8705453658
Daniel Parson

Parson Produce
708 South Broad Street
Clinton, SC 29325
Office Phone: 4044524321
Walter Jackson

Grazing Land Specialist
USDA/NRCS Mississippi
100 W. Capitol Street
Suite 1321 Federal Bldg.
Jackson, MS 39269
Office Phone: 6019654139
Dr. Mark Schonbeck

205 Tanager Lane NW
Floyd, VA 24091
Office Phone: 5407454130
Felicia Bell

RD&S Farm, LLC
134 Mattie Burnett Circle
Brandon, MS 39047
Office Phone: 6049550339
Cathy Jones

Perrywinkle Farm
1061 White Cross Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Office Phone: 9199336189
Dr. Mengmeng Gu

Assistant Professor
Mississippi State University
107 Mimosa Drive
Starkville, MS 39759
Office Phone: 6625464309