Grass-roots Empowerment in Kentucky’s Local Conservation Districts: Leadership Training on Sustainable Land and Water Quality Management Practices
This SARE project was conducted to help develop agriculture/conservation leadership at the county/district level, to create a framework of leaders that understand the public significance of the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Act, and the impact of the development of water quality plans for each farm on Kentucky’s sustainability. This project will equip leaders with tools for assisting landowners in preparing and implementing agriculture water quality plans. The goal is to prevent the pollution of the waters of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
This SARE project provides training and guidelines for professional agency representatives, Division of Conservation Supervisors and County Extension Agriculture Advancement Council members from the counties. This cooperative leadership approach is required to accomplish the objective of reaching the estimated 90,000 plus landowners affected by this Act.
Program Planning and Development:
A curriculum development committee prepared the curriculum, identified participants and training sites. Fourteen committee members from seven different state and federal agencies and farm organizations were involved. Six different statewide workshop sites were selected. Resource materials and personnel were selected along with promoting and enrollment of participants. The over-all objective of the workshops was to train grass-root leaders and to prepare them to develop strategies and programs that improve the environmental quality of their agriculture communities by implementing sound environmental practices including efficient stewardship of the natural resources.
More specifically, the committee identified and trained professional resource and technical advisors in each of the six geographic regions of the state to conduct the training of these “grass-root leaders” from Kentucky’s 120 counties. Behavioral objectives included enhancing the knowledge base in agriculture and natural resource issues; learning techniques that help resolve conflicts arising from adverse farmer reactions to the regulated Agriculture Water Quality Act and to establish a state-wide network of resource persons and grass-root leaders to educate the public in implementing the act.
Fifty-six resource persons representing six different agencies – Kentucky Division of Conservation, Kentucky Division of Water, Kentucky Division of Health Services, Kentucky Division of Forestry, USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Cooperative Extension Service participated in a workshop in October 1997 that prepares them to direct grass-roots leader team members at the six regional meetings.
Grass-Root Leaders/Agency Sessions:
In November and December 1998, six, two-day regional grass-root leadership sessions were conducted for farmers two hundred and fifty-nine agricultural grass-roots leaders from 92 Kentucky counties participated in these SARE leadership workshops. They developed leadership skills and gained knowledge in preparing individual agriculture water quality plans in addition to developing techniques and methods for implementing informational and educational events for farmers in their home counties. Thirty members of the planning committee and nine guests also participated.
Two-Day Leadership Conference:
A continuing impact to this SARE grant included a two-day conference held November 9-10, 1998 in Frankfort, Kentucky marked a new phase in continuing “grass-root” leadership training on sustainable land and water quality management practices. SARE speakers from out-of-state and state agriculture leaders were featured. State legislators, Governor’s representatives, and environmental advocates were included on the program. Current legislation, policies, and directives regarding agriculture environmental issues were discussed in detail. Small group discussions and educational exhibits and displays provided opportunities for leaders to share ideas and explore available resources.
Selected County Results/Impacts Resulting from the SARE Training:
Evaluations and feedback from agency representatives and county leaders reveal much change in attitudes toward responsible on-farm environmental practices. Eighty-two counties report that a significant number of agriculture water quality plans have been completed and 13,500 agriculture water quality plans have been voluntarily certified in the local county conservation district offices. Other public information and related educational reference materials have been distributed through the media and local newsletters to the counties.
Grass-roots leaders have planned and promoted county, regional, and statewide field days that have all had an agriculture water quality emphasis. Educational displays, newspaper articles, flyers, radio, and television programs have all been used to promote agriculture water quality issues.
The Agriculture Advancement Council leaders of the Pennyrile Area, which includes ten counties, hosted a best management practice workshop and farm tour. Fifty leaders attended the workshop that included a tour of the research farm and a study of thirty best management practices that relate to the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Plan.
A total of 30,000 Agriculture Water Quality Producer Workbooks in hard copy and 250 copies of the electronic versions on CD-ROM have been distributed to farmers and agriculture organizations across the state. Over 13,000 agriculture water quality plans from 92 of Kentucky’s 120 counties have been voluntarily certified at the local conservation districts and reported to the KY Division of Conservation. Numerous other plans have been prepared and maintained by individual landowners.
Kentucky Natural Resources Leadership Institute:
In addition, as a part of this project, during 1998 and 1999, eleven SARE leadership scholarships were awarded for the Kentucky Natural Resources Leadership Institute to selected “grass-root” workshop and conference participants. Travel expenses were awarded to the participants attending the Natural Resources Leadership Institute training program, which is developed by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. The goal of the Leadership Institute is to develop 25-30 leaders per institute who can help groups move beyond conflict and toward consensus building and problem solving for continuous natural resources issues. These graduates assumed leadership roles in dealing with agriculture water quality issues when they returned to their home counties and communities.