Training Tour 2002-03-04
AERO and a collaboration of partners hosted fourteen sustainable and organic field tours and organized s statwide organic training conference. Sustainable agriculture and organic principles relating to dryland and livestock production were the focus of the tours and training. Over 300 participants attended the tours and training. A packet of sustainable and organic educational materials and resources and power point presentations and were developed and distributed.
As a result of the educational opportunities this project provided in Montana ag service providers, researchers, and farmers and ranchers have a deeper and broader understanding of sustainable and organic systems. They also have easier access to sustainable and organic materials and resources. More importantly, project leaders have much stronger working relationships. We also understand and appreciate the capacities of our institutions, agencies, field staff and non-profit organizations who participated in the project and what we collectively have to offer Montana farmers and ranchers.
Objective 1. Assess the educational needs of ag service providers in the field of sustainable and organic agriculture.
Objective 2. Work with farmers, ranchers and ag service providers to develop and deliver sustainable and organic educational opportunities that will address the needs identified in the assessment, such as; farm and ranch tours, workshops and trainings.
Objective 3. Evaluate the educational venues and materials developed and shared through this participatory educational project.
For the past 15 years, AERO members throughout Montana have been experimenting and developing sustainable and organic production and marketing systems. This network of farmers and ranchers have been openly sharing their work with other interested producers and ag service providers. Although we have seen a tremendous increase in Montana acreage transitioning to sustainable and organic practices, most ag service providers (by their own admission) lack the background and understanding to assist new farmers and ranchers wishing to incorporate sustainable practices on their farms and ranches.
The few of us with the knowledge to serve the burgeoning number of organic and sustainable queries know we need more help from ag service providers and researchers to better serve those interested in transitioning to organic and sustainable systems. A state-wide network of informed ag service providers is critical for continued adoption of organic and sustainable principles. Our goal for this project is to increase Montana’s county and state agriculture technical providers’ knowledge of sustainable and organic principles and practices through informative, hands-on collegial training settings.
Over the past year AERO worked with a great team of folks representing; state and county NRCS, researchers and extension agents from Montana State University (MSU), Farm Service Agency, Montana Department of Agriculture, The National Center for Appropriate Technology (ATTRA project), The Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, The Independent Organic Inspectors Association and sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers. This team assisted AERO in designing and completing the December organic training (130 attendees), and fourteen organic and sustainable farm and ranch tours (175 attendees). The participants included thirteen Extension agents, one high school ag teacher, 18 farmers and ranchers, and 80 NRCS staff.
Using the assessment data collected in year one of this project, and their own impressions of what was needed, this team helped make the 2003 summer field and ranch tours and the December Organic Training successful by:
1. Identifying and interviewing prospective field tour hosts and presenters for the training.
2. Inviting farmers and ranchers, researchers, extension, FSA and NRCS staff to participate.
3. Attending the events as presenters, technical resource providers and supporters.
4. Editing and writing press releases for each of the events.
5. Encouraging their fellow staff members to attend.
6. Designing the event and developing the process agenda and logistics.
7. Providing, developing and sharing publications, research, presentations and other resources for each educational event.
Evaluation of the Organic Training was completed by using two methods of gathering information. During the training participants were encouraged to evaluate the presentations right after they occurred. Half of the participants completed full evaluations. In addition NRCS staff which represented two thirds of the total participants, were assigned two additional questions to be completed one week after the event.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
AERO hosted fourteen sustaianble and organic farm and ranch tours in 2003.
AERO coordinated the Montana Organic Training conference.
Over 300 participants attended the tours and training event this past year. Attendees included ag service providers, farmers, rancehrs and researchers.
A major accomplishment was bringing together farmers, ranchers, researchers and ag service providers to learn from and with one another. A second huge accomplishment is that organic farmers and ranchers, researchers and ag service providers now have a more knowledgeable understanding of the constraints (education and research) and opportunities (environmental and economic) organic farming and ranching offers for Montana.
The Montana Organic Training process is a model other states can (and are-CA and WA) using to develop their own organic outreach and educational venues for farmers, ranchers, ag service providers and researchers.
As a result of the field tours and organic training conference several research needs were identified by farmers and ranchers and the researchers attending. Having our land grant, NRCS and other institutions recognize and identify particular research needed to support the further development of sustainable and organic systems farming in Montana is a critical step and one that will need continued dialogue and support. Non profits such as AERO can play a key role in bringing together farmers, ranchers, ag service providers and researchers, to begin the dialogue and help to develop research agendas and priorities.
The Montana Organic Training brought together key leaders, institutions and others interested in exploring and improving opportunities and understanding about organic agriculture in Montana.
The Montana Organic Training has a resource packet that contains over 25 resources and publications. These resources specifically relate to sustainable and organic dryland and livestock production.
Fourteen field tours were held throughout the summer months of 2003, with over 300 participants attending including farmers, ranchers, ag service providers and researchers. The Montana Organic Training was held December 3-4, 2003. One hundred thirty participants attended which included farmers and ranchers, NRCS, Extension, researchers and one high school ag teacher. The organic training had an evaluation component and was ranked “very good” overall.
• We need to develop publications specific to organic farming in Montana. To develop these new publications we need to combine efforts with AERO farmers and ranchers, MSU researchers, NRCS and the National Center for Appropriate Technology organization. Publications should focus on one topic per issue, similar to the AERO Sustainable Ag Quarterly format.
• We need to host regional sustainable and organic training and follow-up field days so ag service providers and others get more time to discuss, see and explore how these systems really work.
• Montana needs the team that worked so well together to continue working together on new efforts–especially research that can explore and further develop the opportunities the sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers are using in their farms and ranches.
• Montana needs more economic data related to enterprises that are sustainable and organic based, so Extension and NRCS can see quantitatively that these practices will work on a host of farms and ranches–not just on “special” operations.
• The call-in organic hotline is an excellent idea and needs to be pursued.
There needs to be an “organic team” to help farmers, ranchers, agency staff and Extension so folks can get timely accurate
Montana State Director NRCS
Bozeman, MT 59601
Western Sustaianble Agriculture Working Group
Montana Organic Farmer
Big Sandy, MT
Montana Department of Agriculture
Montana State University Extension Agent