Building Capacity in Sustainable Agriculture: A Comprehensive Training Program in Organic Farming Systems
1.) Conduct a series of workshops for extension specialists, agents, mentor farmers, consultants, NRCS employees, and other teaching professionals, emphasizing how the major components of organic production systems can be incorporated into a productive management system. A major focus of each workshop will be the integration of the various crop production factors into a working system. Graduate credit through NCSU will be offered to those agents who participate in the entire series.
2.) Set up demonstrations at The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (organic unit), and on farms, to provide hands-on experiential learning opportunities in conjunction with each of the workshops.
3.) Integrate organic producers into the training by including tours of various farms, and including farmers with specific expertise as facilitators and trainers at the workshops. A tour to Rodale Institute has already been proposed for 1998 as an advanced training for ag agents, and will be integrated into this program.
4.) Develop a training manual which will include chapters from each of the workshops. The edited training manual will be made available to other States in the southern region.
5.) Establish a farmer-to-farmer mentorship program to utilize successful organic growers in training other prospective growers. Agents will also be encouraged to actively recruit interested farmers to participate in the mentorship program. The mentor farmers will be available to advise and offer support for the ‘apprentice’ farmers. Mentor farmers will also be invited to attend the workshops to allow them to strengthen their expertise in various areas.
6.) Existing programs providing training on organic production will be incorporated into this program, in part, by providing funds for agents to attend these activities. These include the annual CFSA conference, annual organic vegetable schools in the western part of the state and in the piedmont, and farm tours in central, eastern, and western North Carolina.
Training of agents and other ag educators took place between April, 1998 and November 1998. Six, two-day workshops were conducted, and a wrap-up meeting was held at the annual extension conference in November. Approximately 52 NC agents attended at least one session, in addition to 12 participants from Florida and 6 from Virginia. Approximately 40 agents came to all the sessions, and completed all assignments, and 32 of those enrolled for graduate credit.
Each workshop covered areas critical to organic production, and included organic fertility management, composting, cover cropping, impacts of crop rotation, designing whole farm systems, soil biology/ecology/quality, delivery systems for disseminating information to organic producers, oganic insect, weed, and disease management, tillage systems, organic greenhouse management, integrating animals into organic production systems, and involving farmers in sustainable agriculture.
Each workshop had hands-on field demonstrations as an integral part, and most incorporated field trips and farm tours. Some examples of the field demonstrations are: planting crops at weekly intervals and observing differences in weed populations; planting strips of various winter and summer cover crops and rating them for biomass production; utilizing soil quality kits, etc.
A key component to the workshops were the integrated and interdisciplinary approach to teaching about organic production systems. Even though each workshop had a specific topic as a focus (eg., organic fertility management) , facilitators were expected to integrate other disciplines into the workshop The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference was recently held and the poster session was very successful.
Conference attendance was very high, with more than 500 registered. Many of the agents who participated in the training also attended this conference for the first time. At the conference, we presented a plan to establish a mentorship program which will take primarily take the form of an on-farm research network. Many agents and growers attended the session and signed up to participate. We have a very interested and enthusiastic group ready to work together on this effort. In fact, we have received funds (SARE PDP) and began a program of training agents and farmers in participitory on-farm research. The manual is in its last stages of development. The scope and breadth has been broadened extensively making the size much greater than originally proposed. We are currently requesting additional funds to finalize and print the manual.