Sustainable Agriculture Curriculum Development Project for Extension Professionals in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast Regions
1. Coordinate, test and document a participatory process for determining educational needs and objectives related to sustainable agriculture in the target area, and develop high quality curricula and educational packages for the identified needs.
2. Produce two educational packages that can inform and be used by Cooperative Extension (CE) advisors and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel to enhance extension and outreach programs related to sustainable agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast region.
3. Evaluate both the product and the curriculum development process and suggest ways to improve and adapt the process to other locations throughout California and the Western Region.
Interest in the concept of soil quality and health is increasing. There are numerous efforts around the country to develop soil quality indices and soil health assessment cards, and there is a renewed interest on the part of farmers and ranchers in such management practices as cover cropping, minimum tillage, mulching, and incorporation of organic matter.
This interest in soil quality was confirmed by the two educational resource development teams (representing the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast regions) that set the direction for this project during its first year. Both teams identified soil quality and management as the top priority issue for their region and assisted in formulating educational goals for the project and identifying materials that should be included. The final product of this project is a package of educational materials titled Soil Quality Topics: A Selection of Resources for Education and Extension. Approximately 250 copies of the package were produced. It includes Internet resources, video and slide set lists, and print publications. Print materials are organized in four areas: Soil Quality Overview, Soil Quality Assessment Methods, Soil Biology, and Cropping Systems Management. Under each of these headings we have assembled articles and information sheets that can be photocopied for handouts, as well as resources for background and reference.
The package was developed primarily for extension professionals as they educate and advise producers about practices that enhance soil quality. Through this guide we aim to: increase access to information, educational materials, and expertise related to soil quality; enhance the number and quality of educational opportunities available to producers on this topic; and raise the level of understanding among farmers and ranchers about the importance of soil quality, and provide information that helps them improve and refine their production systems. One copy of the package has been distributed free of charge to each county extension and NRCS offices in California, and also to all state sustainable ag leaders in the Western Region. Additional copies are available for purchase from the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (Price: $30).
As part of the publication development process, the draft resource package was evaluated and reviewed through a number of venues that provided input from a variety of individuals representing the clientele we were trying to reach with this project. These are each described in the paragraphs below.
Biologically Integrated Orchard Systems (BIOS) Professional Development Program (PDP) workshops. The draft resource package was presented at two BIOS professional development meetings in Spring 1998: one held in Modesto, California, and another in Fresno, California. Participants at these workshops included producers, NRCS field staff, CE advisors and agricultural consultants. Each participant had the opportunity to review materials included in either the Internet Resources or Print Materials sections of the draft package. Evaluation forms were filled out and each session concluded with an interactive evaluation facilitated by one of the project coordinators. A total of seventeen written evaluations were collected. The comments were generally favorable. A variety of helpful suggestions were collected and changes were made to the resource package based on this input.
San Diego Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) Meeting. Additional input from a broader audience was solicited at the SWCS annual meeting in San Diego, California, Summer 1998. A poster on the project was presented and an abstract published in the Society’s Journal, Vol. 52, No. 2. We received minimal feedback at this event.
Final Peer Review. A final peer review of the resource package was conducted during the final design phase of the project. Our goal with this last review was to obtain input on overall look, organization, design and content of the package. A total of 16 individuals including members of the initial educational resource development teams, and additional experts from the NRCS Soil Quality Institute were sent copies of the binder and were requested to fill out an evaluation form. Seven evaluations were returned. Feedback from this review was not extensive or highly detailed, which was not surprising at this stage of the project. We did get some very valuable feedback from the NRCS Soil Quality Institute reviewers, however, and incorporated that into the final version.
Impacts on Agricultural Professionals
The potential impact of this resource guide is reflected in the results of the preview-evaluation sessions at the BIOS PDP meetings in Spring 1998 (described above in the Abstract section). In addition to the written comments and the notes from the interactive review, we also conducted an exit survey that allowed us to gauge people’s impressions of the resource package as they left the session. We asked the group, How useful are these materials to you or your clientele? Participants rated the guided as either very useful, somewhat useful, or not useful. The results of this rapid assessment revealed a very high number of very useful ratings, some somewhat useful marks, and no not useful responses. Taken together, we feel these results indicate a significant impact on county level advisors, field staff, and the producers they serve. Initial comments received since the package has been completed and distributed more widely have been very appreciative and confirm this conclusion.
Future Recommendations and New Hypotheses
The participatory nature of this project required a significant commitment of time and resources on the part of the project coordinators as well as the educational resource team members. At various times, it was tempting to circumvent the team process and make unilateral decisions in order to move the work along more quickly. At those junctures, we reminded ourselves that each person’s involvement and buy-in was critical to the development of a quality publication. In addition, we felt that this approach would foster greater ownership of the product on the part of each team member, and thereby potentially stronger and more effective outreach once the package was completed and distributed.
In our estimation, that conviction has proven true. Through the team process, we can be entirely confident that the subject matter is relevant to our target audience. And, although many team members felt they had limited time to devote to this project, their feedback indicates that the resource guide will be something that they refer to and recommend.
Soil quality is topic of intense interest across the region. With that in mind, we sent a copy of the binder free of charge to each state leader in the Western Region and encouraged them to let others in their state know about it. We have received several calls as a result of that step and are hopeful that it will be of use across a wide range of audiences and locations. In relation to the process we used to develop the guide, we would highly recommend this approach to anyone in extension that is interested in developing new educational materials on topics related to sustainable agriculture.
Educational Informational Materials Produced
Copies of Soil Quality Topics: A Selection of Resources for Education and Extension can be purchased for $30 by contacting the SAREP office, University of California, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616-8716, firstname.lastname@example.org,(530) 752-7556.
This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle