Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and Hoophouses
Since our last report, we focused on the design of our training sessions. Working with our team of farmers, Extension personnel, USDA-NRCS personnel and scientists, our trainings were refined through feedback from agricultural professional participants in South Carolina. The key lesson we learned in South Carolina was that the required time and travel for the NRCS personnel has become a burden in these times of reduced budgets and personnel. The two-day trainings were hard to schedule and to fully commit administrative area resources of time out of the office. As a result, we worked closely with the NRCS leaders in North Carolina and designed three one-day training sessions. We tailored each agenda to the physical site within the state, making each training unique.
The overall goal is 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.
We accomplished these goals by providing experienced farmer/trainers who can answer the full range of questions regarding organic production practices, hoop house management, farm budgets and management practices. Coupled with local on-farm tours led by practicing organic farmers in the Administrative Area, participants were able to interact and absorb concepts and ideas they may have only heard or read about.
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.
Evaluation notes from our inaugural project training in South Carolina influenced the approach to the next set of trainings.
Expectations prior to training:
• Start-up knowledge for organic farm
• To learn more about organic farming and hoop houses.
• Need to know more about hoophouse production
• Need to understand and implement directions to increase growth and production in our new hoophouse.
• Tech assistance to underserved producers
• Learn more about on the ground organic/traditional farming techniques.
• Learn more about organic hoop house production methods.
• Organic BMPs. High tunnel principles.
• To learn the principles of organic farming so that I can write better conservation plans for my organic producers.
• Learn more about organic farming
• To learn how & what to grow in a hoophouse.
How will you use what you learned?
“I will access the resources mentioned at training.”
“Planning my 2012 growing season starting with planting cover crops now with the information I learned. This training will help me to provide technical assistance better to landowners & producers.”
“Learning from organic producers that have 28 years experience. Telling what worked and what didn’t.”
“I will utilize the recommendations for which crops to grow, especially planning for production in hoophouse. My knowledge on construction of hoop houses has strengthened. Cropping systems within the hoop house. Potential salt build up within the hoop house was good to learn.”
“Excellent presentations, especially the “hands on” discussion.”
“NRCS delivering technical assistance to growers and assisting our producers with implementing practices will be improved along with more reinforcement of basic principles.”
“I plan to carry the knowledge and resources I learned in this training to the farmers in my area, especially to help with hoophouse management. I liked Mark Cain’s process for determining the planting senarios for the beds in the hoophouse.”
“In my job as an advisor to an organic market Teach producers — where to go for answers and how to put a plan together”
“The hoop house construction was very good. I plan to extend our growing time & improve record keeping. I can offer to help other farmers in planning & erecting hoop houses and extend their growing season.”
“I plan to employ the soil management techniques and learned a lot in planning for hoophouse production and continue learning how to grow the soil.”
Most beneficial part?
“The real life examples from Dripping Springs Farms and Mark Cain’s experience.”
“the resources given for organic farming -hoop houses – all aspects”
“Organic production, cropping & record keeping. Talking to actual farmers who “implement” the practices. Hearing organic farmer speakers with practical applications and experience.”
“Speakers – their practical experience. The subject matter/topics. All presenters were excellent & understandable. The growers have a lot of insight and Andrew’s stories were an additional treat! Thank you!”
“The free flow of knowledge. Good agronomic info, but great practical info. Mark’s (Arkansas organic farmer) trial and error methods on his farm. I also learned a lot from (Mark the scientist) about weed prevention. Actual presentation of what has worked or not worked. The experiences shared from Mark Cain and Mark Schonbeck are worth gold. To understand their tried practices is valuable.”
“All the hand outs, the CDs & resources available on the web.”
“Ideas for hoop house construction & planting. Crop planning & record keeping. Planting certain plants as a lure for certain pest.”
Evaluation – Recommendations for Improvement?
“Have participants interact briefly at beginning of training.”
“Very good & informative. Maybe elaborate more on nutrient mgmt in general and roof runoff collection in the hoophouse. This would assist the NRCS crowd especially in implementing program practices.”
“Not too much to change except woud have loved more time devoted to pest and weed management at expense of 30 min record keeping section. Could have done that in 10 or 20 min.
“Divide the program to allow more time for questions.”
“This is one of the best training sessions I have attended. Continue this in other regions & advertise more.”
“It was fabulous!”
“Great job! Continue the same format. I would not change anything.”
“All the guest speakers had provided a great deal of information that I need to better assist our clients. Maybe add more presenters who are farmers to share their ideas?”
“Good job, but what about making it longer may be great. A week?”
Utilizing this feedback, our team of staff and consultants developed unique one-day training sessions, which also responded to the specific requests of the NRCS partners in North Carolina. We specifically addressed their requested topics, including:
High Tunnel Installation Lessons Learned; specifically installation tips and tricks that have been learned from farmers that have installed high tunnels themselves. Are there special tools, equipment that is helpful, etc.? Compare different suppliers’ designs and demonstrate installation of a couple high tunnel designs. Report interviews with producers who have already installed a high tunnel so they can explain the “ease of installation”, “company customer support”, or lessons learned from experience. This would be good for NCRS personnel and producers who are thinking about installing a SHTS. The big questions we need help answering are “How much hassle is this thing going to be to install?” and “How much will it cost to buy and install?” As a private organization, can SSAWG compile a supplier list NRCS can share with producers who are going to install a SHTS, to help them comparison shop?
Micro-irrigation in High Tunnels; Design of a micro system for use in high tunnel; Rain water capture systems for use;
USDA Organic Spectrum; this graphic in the USDA Organic Resource Guide 2012 explains what all of the different USDA agencies do related to organic farmers and the NOP; This topic could be combines with about, but it would be great to have someone go through the graphic and all of the roles—this is a great resource as far as knowing outside of our scope or expertise, who can help
OSP v. Conservation Plan v. Organic Transition Plan CAP; there is still too much confusion within NRCS, its partners and farmers about the difference between the three documents
NOP Standards; Review of the standards in a common sense and relatable fashion. How do conservation practices mesh with NOP Standards? Include explanation of the new 5% organic food testing requirement recently adopted by USDA.
Our goal was to train at least 210 professionals in three states through this project. In the first two states, we have reached 113 professionals to date.
The host farms visited in North Carolina were all economically viable enterprises where the farmer is a peer trainer capable of providing in-depth instruction within an interactive learning environment. 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.
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 will be compiled on a CD for participants to take home.
1. July 23, 2012 – we met at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) Small Farm Unit in Goldsboro, NC, where Busha Green hosted the training event.
2. July 25, 2012 – we met at Thatchmore Farm in Leicester, NC where Tom Elmore shared his farm and experience with participants.
3. July 26, 2012 – we hosted a final training session at Dutch Buffalo Farm in Pittsboro, NC, where Farrell Moose will share his farm and experience on the morning of July 26. On Thursday afternoon we visited Harland’s Creek Farm where Judy Lessler shared her farms and experience in Pittsboro, NC
Dr. Mark Schonbeck, an independent consultant in sustainable agriculture from Floyd County, VA has been conducting organic related research and developing organic resources in cooperation with land-grants, nongovernmental agencies and farmers for 22 years.
Mark Cain has been operating a successful diversified organic farm enterprise in Arkansas for over 20 years. Mark produces mixed vegetables, culinary herbs, blueberries, and specialty cut flowers for the popular Fayetteville Farmers Market and CSA distribution.
Andrew Williams is a retired NRCS conservationist from Alabama with 35 years of experience as a soil conservationist, district conservationist, RC&D, and state outreach coordinator.
On July 23 and July 26, Eric Soderholm, Organic Transitions Coordinator at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association sharee information about organic certification.
On July 23 and July 26, Karen McSwain, Organic Initiatives Coordinator at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association shared information about organic certification.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We evaluated each training with pre and post evaluation forms (attached), which revealed an increase in knowledge about organic practices, soil health, high tunnel operations and increased comfort levels in NRCS personnel to assist their clients. We continued making adjustments as we worked in unique sites across the State and as lessons learned to improve effectiveness for our next sessions in Mississippi.
North Carolina NRCS Training Events Participant Comments
1. What are your expectations? (Pre-Evaluation Survey)
• To learn more about High Tunnels & sustainable agriculture
• Learn about high tunnel design, layout, & micro-irrigation
• I would like to become knowledgeable enough to explain to others the principles, benefits, & practices of organic farming & hoophouses.
• That at the end of the training, I can give information to customers about design, construction, repairs, types of crops grown in a hoophouse, growing cycles of crops grown in the hoophouse, acres needed for crop grown in hoophouse after leaving hoophouse.
• Better understanding of High Tunnels. To learn about specific crops in hoophouse and to obtain valuable information regarding micro-irrigation. To become more knowledgeable on Hoophouse production for clients that come in my office.
• To learn more about organic methods of weed & pest control, greenhouse design, and natural fertilizers.
• I would like to see what it takes to run an organic farm.
• Learn about production practices for hoophouses. Marketing or organic crops.
• To learn about organic & hoophouse production: methods, cost. Networking with others in the profession.
• To learn more about the decision-making process of organic & limited resource farmers concerning artificial growing assistances.
• An introduction to unfamiliar material that I can learn in order to help/support NC agriculture.
• To learn about irrigation methods and to discuss pollination within hoophouses.
• Become more aware of organic production needs and facility construction & management.
• To learn more about organic farming and hoophouses to better serve my customers.
• I hope to learn more about high tunnel systems & economics of small organic farms. Also about the organic certification requirements.
• To learn about hoophouse construction, better designs & kits on the market & hoophouse production.
• I hope to learn more about the benefits of the hoophouse installation & construction relative to NRCS cost share programs. Since we now cost share on them I want to know more about construction so that when we certify them for payment, we know we have met sound engineering concepts. Also, it can be explained about conservation benefits to the environment by installing a production enhancement practice on farms.
• To learn more about the needs of organic producers and provide them support & guidance.
• New ideas. Hopefully more awareness among colleagues so I can have conversations with them about these topics.
• Learn more info to share with organic producers and also gain more knowledge of practice.
• To soak up any info I can.
• Learn about organic farming and growing in a high tunnel.
• To learn more about organic farming practices which will help me work with organic producers and help make recommendations for NRCS policy changes/program offerings.
• Learn more about organic farming in relation to SHT. Understand organic farming better.
• I expect to learn some basic principles of organic farming and greenhouse production, while gaining knowledge of some best management practices that come along with it. I also hope it will help with the technical assistance I can offer to various farmers.
• To learn more about timing of planting, organic nutrient & pesticide application, yields, disease issues, ventilation/airflow.
2. How did the event meet/not meet your expectations? (Post-Evaluation Surveys)
• Event was very useful & informative.
• Important conservation practices to consider with high tunnel systems.
• Wanted more design of irrigation systems for hoop houses, flows, water requirements — would like to see process of construction/installation of different designs.
• I have a lot more knowledge about organic farming & seasonal high tunnels. Thanks.
• I was hoping to learn more about no-till & weed management; also perhaps intercropping & innovative pest prevention/deterrence methods.
• Did learn more about organic farming.
• I feel I have learned a lot of things about both organic production & hoop houses. Also more about markets than expected.
• To learn more about high tunnel.
• Gained a better understanding of working with limited resource farmers, organic farmers and new & beginning farmers.
• Very beneficial to see actual farm operations & hear their experiences.
• Learned more about hoophouses & marketable products for smaller farms. ?? Topics a little too long.
• Where & how to install houses. Micro-irrigation.
• Expected to learn more & did.
• Good practical info relative to what we work with within our cooperator. Got good info on structured needs and practical applications.
• Yes: Great walkthrough of small acreage farm/precision ag. Very useful info, small acreage farms are prevalent in my area. NOL maybe a little more technical analysis, tips on using the hoophouses. However, there was an adequate amt of time spend on this, I just would have liked more.
• Irrigation and greenhouse vegetable production. Questions were answered.
• Learned about different greenhouse options, what kind of NRCS practices can be easily incorporated into small organic farms.
• Before this training my knowledge was somewhat limited. After the training I was able to add to and enhance my knowledge.
• I better understand the certification process for organics.
• Very informative.
• I gained knowledge on organic farming and the use of hoophouses. BMP’s and useful strategies were explained to best help the farmer. Ways to communicate these issues with the public were discussed and its importance.
• I know more now than I knew in the beginning.
• I got lots of ideas & my knowledge base increased-thanks!
• Enjoyed learning about various ways of pest/weed control.
• Great job by all presenters!
• Very Good training; well worth the time. I would recommend this training to others.
• I learned about a lot of the practices involved in organic farming.
• Excellent farms & very knowledgeable hosts. Good interaction and info with instructors.
• Heard the details explained thoroughly
• More info on objective and struggles.
• Not sure why NRCS cost shares high tunnels. Hard to explain to the taxpayers.
3. How do you plan to use what you learned?
• Give ideas of possible crops
• Design assistance with micro-irrigation system needed.
• To speak to clients more intelligently.
• The construction of the high tunnel was helpful, especially the initial set up.
• Improved technical knowledge base, so I will be able to better assist my clients.
• I will seek more limited resource farmers.
• Contact organic seed sources, SHTS manufacturers.
• Help producers use greenhouses to extend their growing season; methods of fertilization (organic) that don’t require compost..
• I hope to be able to pass on the knowledge learned today, and even hopefully encourage some to start-up.
• When individuals come into the office / some topics learned here that the individual did not anticipate.
• Will use handout information.
• To forward them to web site.
• Questions to ask producers about their operation.
• To assist with hoophouse installation/production.
• I’m working with EQUIP applicants.
• Landscape fabric and plasticulture
• Varieties; hardiness of varieties; marketing made clearer.
• Technical knowledge in both plant & practice will help me with future organic/LR farms.
• More in tune now with hoophouse planning & orientation for meteorological benefit, drainage, air flow.
• Small acreage farming is prevalent in my area due to limited suitable land and high land prices. Seeing a diverse and productive small farm I will add demonstrated practices to my advice/assistance to small farmers.
• Talking to farmers
• Better understanding of seasonal time need and service availability.
• More knowledge on greenhouse construction & expectations. Use of landscape cloth for weed control, etc.
• Fertility issues, pest mgmt issues, outreach
• Better understanding of their timetables & need for cover crops.
• See more producers who may benefit from high tunnels.
• This training can be used in my assistance with these various farmers. It will help in future topics that arise involving decision making on these matters.
• I will follow-up some of the presenters and give some ideas to my farmers.
• Cover crop is a need for my producers.
• Layout of high tunnels. Layout of food plots. Importance of getting the story-be a better listener.
• Will be important for one-on-one discussions.
4. What was the most beneficial part of the event?
• Hard to say. I liked the multiple people giving advice & experience.
• Field tour of hoop houses
• Discussions of production practices.
• Guiding the producer in determining the size & considerations that they should think about such as increased pests, etc. Start small then come back and increase the size.
• High tunnel construction & management
• I enjoyed the hands-on learning.
• Learning about ways to get the most economic benefit out of building/using a hoophouse
• Hoophouse construction.
• How to manage crops and seeing the crop rotations.
• Handout materials, equipment session.
• The document about what worked or did not work.
• Nutrient/pest info for organic. Info for hoophouse construction.
• All of it.
• Intensive production
• Hoophouse presentation-Excellent!
• The technical aspects of structural complications of hoophouses that will be big part of production for the farmer.
• Vegetable specific growing practices
• Actual farmers discussing their operations.
• I liked seeing the variety of different products & ways of growing on this farm.
• Timing of crop production/market-especially year round. Managing crops & irrigation in hoophouses. Marketing varieties.
• Hands on – seeing these hoophouses and organic plots in actual use and seeing how the work was beneficial when not knowing much on the matter beforehand. The fact that we were able to go to the field and see crops. Also the farmers were excellent. They provided great information. Visual-being able to see the farms & hear the farmers’ experiences.
• The hoophouse, cover information, soil & crops grown and various pest/weed control methods
• Financial & marketing info for producers (background info)
• Farm tours and discussing practices.
5. What recommendations do you have to improve this training?
• Marketing specialist discuss marketing.
• NRCS representative explaining what is allowed to meet NRCS requirements — especially/ specifically regarding engineering practices such as micro irrigation, outlet around the high tunnel. The agronomic practices are straightforward of what is allowed.
• More product handling information.
• Focus on organic methods other than just hoop houses; that seemed like the main topic the majority of the workshop; I would’ve like to hear about other topics.
• Have the majority of the program indoors.
• Seriously, was very impressed with the quality & range of expert advice.
• Limit the experts. 7 too many. 3-4 good.
• Provide some stat sheets about research plot that we can view while person is talking. Hard to remember & focus in very hot conditions.
• Would be interesting to visit site where hoophouse was actually under construction. Need hoophouse production info.
• Focus on a few items have multiple workshops
• More on marketing
• Maybe some more technical/practical considerations to hoophouse usage. Perhaps simply more information on handouts, there was some time spend talking about this topic.
• More on composting would be interesting, especially from animals produced organically.
• N/A It was great!
• Have more written information on the farms were visited with specifics about nutrient management, pest mgmt, etc.
• A good A-Z Manual would be very helpful-tailored for NRCS/District personnel.
In 2014, we will hold the final trainings of this project in Mississippi, once again taking lessons learned from North Carolina and South Carolina to further improve and refine our training sessions with NRCS field personnel.
Assistant State Conservationist - Technology
USDA/NRCS North Carolina
4407 Bland Rd., Suite 117
Raleigh, NC 27609
Office Phone: 9198732124
Agricultural Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center
1896 N. Plank Rd.
Sanford, NC 27330
Office Phone: 9195484855
5850 AL Highway 36773
Safford, AL 36773
Office Phone: 3346273276
State Resource Conservationist
100 W. Capitol Street
Suite 1321 Federal Bldg.
Jackson, MS 39269
Office Phone: 6019654139
Dripping Springs Garden
1558 CR 548
Huntsville, AR 72740
Office Phone: 8705453658
708 South Broad Street
Clinton, SC 29325
Office Phone: 4044524321
Grazing Land Specialist
100 W. Capitol Street
Suite 1321 Federal Bldg.
Jackson, MS 39269
Office Phone: 6019654139
205 Tanager Lane NW
Floyd, VA 24091
Office Phone: 5407454130
RD&S Farm, LLC
134 Mattie Burnett Circle
Brandon, MS 39047
Office Phone: 6049550339
1061 White Cross Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Office Phone: 9199336189
Mississippi State University
107 Mimosa Drive
Starkville, MS 39759
Office Phone: 6625464309