Training and Connecting Agricultural Professionals Through an Immersion Field Course and the Cultivating Success Instructor Training Program in Washington
In this project we have proposed to broaden the interdisciplinary understanding of a number of Washington’s agricultural professionals regarding the complexities of current food and agricultural systems activities and challenges. Project activities include an in-person field course, “instructor trainings” for the Cultivating Success program, compiling the results of past training evaluations for both events, and surveying past participants to determine the by-now “medium-term impacts” of these two activities. In Year 1 we offered the field course, planned an instructor training (offered on 9/1/09, the start of Year 2), and began compilation and analysis of past evaluation forms.
– Funding Period: September 1, 2008 thru August 31, 2010 (original; request no-cost extension to 8-31-11)
– Funding amount: $29,599
Our specific project objectives are to:
1)Increase the region’s agricultural professionals’ interdisciplinary and holistic understanding of agricultural and food systems, esp. understanding and acceptance of sustainable agricultural practices.
2)Increase the networked pool of agricultural professionals who can deliver sustainable agriculture, whole-farm planning programs to farmers and ranchers.
3)Determine the extent to which the Cultivating Success Field Course and Instructor Trainings have influenced the participants’ knowledge retention and subsequent program delivery in sustainable agricultural and alternative marketing practices (medium- and long-term impacts of past and proposed activities).
OUTPUT 1: Bring five (5) agricultural professionals into full participation as “students” in the interdisciplinary Field Analysis of Sustainable Food Systems course. Targeted participants include county extension educators, government agency and NGO staff, and on-campus university faculty.
– Related Accomplishments –
Several agricultural professionals participated in the course in March 2009. The course was held in the Wenatchee, WA area and included visits to 6 farms, 4 processing facilities, 6 retail establishments, a WSU research and extension center, a community supported agriculture non-profit organization, a migrant worker housing facility and also met with a migrant worker health care agency. The agricultural participants attending the course included the following:
1 community college agricultural instructor
2 new WSU extension faculty members
1 WSU extension staff member
1 WSU Post Doctoral student
One WSU faculty member was also ‘trained’ in how to set up the course to increase the pool of faculty able to teach into the future. Of the agricultural professionals, only one fully participated in the entire course. The others were able to join us intermittently. Our advertising to agricultural professionals was delayed, which was the primary reason for being below target. Plans for Year 2 are currently underway and we expect to have at least 5 agricultural professionals participate in Year 2. (While not part of this project, and funded separately, we also want to report that 13 graduate students and 6 undergraduate students also participated. Disciplinary backgrounds ranged from plant breeding and horticulture to soils, environmental science, sociology, anthropology and communications. Most of these students intend to go into agriculture-related careers including extension).
Human subjects research approval was obtained (exempt status) from the WSU Institutional Review Board for the 2009 version of the field course evaluation/survey. Paperwork is in progress to request approval for reviewing, summarizing, and reporting results from the participants’ final evaluations from 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008).
OUTPUT 2: A Cultivating SuccessTM (CS) Instructor Training each of the two project years
– Related activities and accomplishments –
A statewide “travel freeze” was initiated early in 2009 for budgetary reasons, which prevented the plans for an in-person training during Spring 2009. Several positive activities did occur, however, including having our first “video conferenced” CS Instructor Training on 9/1/09. Twenty (20) people participated from approximately 8 sites.
Discussion during and informal discussions following the meeting indicated that the video approach was successful. An updated evaluation form was developed to capture the participants’ perspectives on delivery format, along with the standard questions. Gathering the summaries of past CS Instructor Training evaluations was begun. We have observed that past evaluations were not designed to measure true “impacts,” but rather focus on participants’ ‘satisfaction’ with the different components of the training including the training content and facilities. This observation helps underscore the importance of the Year 2 ‘Past participants’ survey (Output 3). IRB paperwork is in progress to review, summarize, and report results from the past evaluations from the instructor trainings.
OUTPUT 3: A published report summarizing the relative effectiveness of the Field Course and Instructor Training in meeting short and medium-term outcomes and making recommendations regarding these approaches for our and other programs. We have conducted annual end-of-course evaluations for all CS courses (including the Field Course, Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching (SSFR) course, and Instructor training) each year, and have used the evaluations to revise and improve subsequent offerings of each course/training. Now, after five years of programming, we have a large collection of evaluation materials, a database of past participants, and a desire to determine whether our program is having on-the-ground (long-term) impacts on farmer/rancher practices, or at least assess medium-term impacts in terms of the types of programming and recommendations made by agricultural professionals who have participated in either the Field Course and/or the Instructor training.
For this portion of the project we propose to 1) review, compile, and summarize the existing end-of-course/training evaluations from the Field Course, Instructor training, and end-of-term SSFR instructor surveys in order to determine short term impacts; 2) conduct a “past participant survey” of agricultural professionals who have participated in the Field Course, Instructor training and/or teaching of the SSFR course in order to determine the extent to which sustainable agriculture and alternative marketing have been incorporated into their programming and recommendations to farmers and ranchers (medium-term impacts); and 3) develop and publish a report on the relative effectiveness of these two professional development approaches in the CS program. In the process, information and anecdotes related to on-the-ground impacts resulting from agricultural professional training (long-term impacts) will also be collected.
– Related activities and accomplishments –
As noted above, we are in the process of gathering and compiling the past evaluations for both the field course and the CS instructor trainings for purposes of summarizing and reporting on successful approaches for training agricultural professionals.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The activities contained in this project are intended to increase the interdisciplinary knowledge and understanding that WA agricultural professionals have so that they can better aid both farmers and consumers on the path to ‘sustainability’. The term “interdisciplinary” is typically used to connote the situation where the individual is *changed* due to work with people from other disciplinary backgrounds. This is indeed what we are striving to do through the Field Course as well as the overall Cultivating Success program. Our hypothesis is that as individuals, all agricultural professionals and their clientele have some disciplinary background/knowledge that at least partially informs their activities. By working with / learning from people from a wide range of disciplines, both groups benefit and begin to reach that broader and increasingly important interdisciplinary understanding. This is what we hope to ‘test’ through examining evaluations and survey responses.
In addition to the WSARE-funded project reported on here, a USDA-CSREES/AFRI project has also been funded that will complement this agricultural-professional-oriented project. The other project (Higher Education Challenge Grant Program) is allowing us to further test and develop assessment tools and approaches that evaluate how well academic sustainable agriculture programming at WSU as well as University of Idaho and Montana State University is doing toward meeting the respective course and program goals of interdisciplinary education in sustainable agriculture.
Washington State University
WSU Small Farms Program