Living on the Land: Teaching Small Acreage Owners to Conserve Their Natural Resources

2001 Annual Report for EW99-003

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1999: $80,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $29,060.00
Region: Western
State: Nevada
Principal Investigator:
Susan Donaldson
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

Living on the Land: Teaching Small Acreage Owners to Conserve Their Natural Resources


This project developed a curriculum and training for NRCS, Conservation District, and Extension personnel in eight western states who work with small acreage owners. The curriculum was based on key natural resource issues (goal setting, soil, water, plants and animals) and was reviewed by 17 professionals with experience in these resource issues. Included are 15 PowerPoint lessons with lesson plans and evaluation tools, and an instructor’s guide. Forty-seven professionals attended the training in October and learned how to use the curriculum to develop a comprehensive small acreage program. Over 600 copies of the curriculum have been distributed to date.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Project objectives are to:
1. Review and develop a module-based core curriculum readily adaptable to specific state issues that is appropriate for teaching owners of small acreages how to attain property goals while protecting their soil, water, plant, animal, and other natural resources.
2. Publish the curriculum and make 100 copies available throughout the Western States.
3. Provide training to Western States Cooperative Extension personnel, Natural Resources Conservation Service professionals, Conservation District volunteers and others to help them use the curriculum materials in community-based efforts to effectively target and reach this under-served audience.


Small acreage landowners have a significant impact on the condition of soil, water, plants, and other natural resources through their cumulative effects. As the population increases, with more and more residents now “living on the land” who were formerly disconnected from the land, there is a huge demand for information and technical assistance to help them “do the right thing” for their wildlife, land, and water resources. Current efforts to address this audience in the western states have largely been fragmented, with varying success. Using the successful “Small Ranch Water Quality Program” from Nevada Cooperative Extension as a model, we have developed training materials and assistance in targeting and reaching this growing audience to help them become good stewards of the land.

Formal face-to-face meetings of the major participants began in Reno on March 30-31, 2000. At this first meeting, we established the following goal: To provide knowledge and skills to small acreage owners to allow them to do something positive on their land. During 2000, we began to refine content and locate resources to help us develop a “generic” curriculum that could be used throughout the western states to educate “lifestylers”: those who live on small acreage properties, but do not depend on the property for major economic support.

During 2001, major participants met in Reno on February 28 – March 2 and May 2 – 4 to continue to develop, review, and revise the curriculum. Melody Hefner continued to serve on a Letter of Appointment to research and edit the curriculum. Beginning in June, the curriculum was sent to 17 professionals from the eight western states involved (Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Montana) for review. Graphics support was provided by Annaliese Miller of Black Dog graphics, and photographs were donated by the major participants or taken from free sites on the web. The content of the revised and finalized curriculum is listed below:

1) Introduction (contains information on how the curriculum was written, and copyright issues)

2) Instructor’s Guide: includes:
Determining the Needs of Small Acreage Owners
Program Evaluation: Answering the Question, “What Outcome Do You Want to Accomplish?”
Funding for Small Acreage Programs
Budgeting For Your Program
Marketing Your Program: “Now you’ve decided there is a need, how do you get them there?”
Delivery Methods: How to deliver your message effectively
Engaging Adult Learners
Appendices with sample needs surveys, sample evaluation forms, sample surveys and questionnaires, a logic model presentation, and funding sources

3) Module #1: Setting The Stage: Inventorying Resources
Lesson 1: What Do You Have, And What Do You Want? Turning Dreams Into Reality
Lesson 2: What Can You Do?

4) Module #2: Your Living Soil
Lesson 1: Getting Down And Dirty With Soil
Lesson 2: Managing Soil To Keep It Productive
Lesson 3: Got Water?

5) Module #3: All Life Depends On Water
Lesson 1: Water Quality: Making The Connection Between You And The Water
Lesson 2: Protecting Household Drinking Water
Lesson 3: My Place On A Stream

6) Module #4: Love Your Grass As Much As Your Animals
Lesson 1: How Grass Grows
Lesson 2: What To Do About Weeds
Lesson 3: Pasture Establishment And Renovation

7) Module #5: Don’t Forget The Animals!
Lesson 1: So You Want To Be An Animal Owner
Lesson 2: Caring For Your Animals
Lesson 3: Managing Animals To Avoid Negative Impacts
Lesson 4: Grazing Management

8) CD-ROM with all files included

Each lesson is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, a lesson plan including rationale, objectives, suggested activities, materials and local resources needed, lists of sources for background information for the instructor, handouts, websites, an evaluation and a post-class mini-test. The materials are flagged at critical locations to help the instructor customize them to local needs, regulations, and conditions.

Our other major effort during 2001 was devoted to planning and implementing a training for professionals from the eight targeted western states employed by NRCS, Cooperative Extension, and Conservation Districts. Cinda Williams served as coordinator of the training, which was held October 2 and 3, 2001, in Reno, Nevada. Fifty participants were selected by the representatives from individual states and were offered up to $300 in travel support. We were unable to fulfill demand, and had a waiting list of individuals wanting to attend. Despite the difficulty in traveling post-September 11, 47 participants attended the training and received hardcopies and CD-ROMs of the curriculum. All major participants served as instructors for the training. The training agenda included:

A special presentation by the Right Reverend Stewart Ship (Dave Martin)
Needs assessment and targeting your audience (Sue Donaldson)
Marketing your program (Cinda Williams)
Engaging adult learners (Wendy Williams)
Program delivery methods (Dave Martin)
Program evaluation (Bob Hammond)
Putting together your small acreage program (Sue Donaldson)
Module presentations and activity demonstrations (Doug Stienbarger, Hud Minshew, Sue Donaldson, Sherm Swanson, Wendy Williams, Holly George)
Field trip (visit to 2 small acreage properties)
Landowner presentation (Steve and Greta Mestre)

During the field trip, participants visited two local small acreage properties that had participated in Sue Donaldson’s Small Ranch program. At the properties, students broke into groups and developed skills in property inventory and communicating with landowners. The Mestres then joined us for lunch and provided tips on successfully working with the small acreage owner.

An initial evaluation of training participants was collected at the end of the training, and an additional evaluation will be conducted in summer/fall 2002 to determine how the curriculum is being used; which sections are most valuable; what information should be added; how many new small acreage programs have begun; etc. One participant wrote: “What a wonderful conference!! Thank you for all of the preparation you went through to make this such a success. I am very excited about reaching out to our small acreage landowners here in Western Oregon.”

Since the training, at which 65 curricula were distributed, 536 additional copies of the CD-ROM have been requested. In addition:

Canyon Co. Extension, Idaho is planning to hold a Living on the Land class in Boise in February

NRCS will set up a demonstration in California

Twenty-five copies have been distributed to Western Extension Directors

CDs will be distributed to every county extension office and conservation district in Nevada, Colorado and Montana

CDs have been distributed to extension agents, SWCDs, and watershed councils in Oregon

The curriculum was discussed at the Livestock Production Systems Workgroup of the California Cattlemen’s Convention

A for-credit course is under development using the curriculum as a base at the College of Southern Idaho

Cooperative Extension professionals at Michigan State University and at University of Wisconsin have requested copies for their small acreage programming

35 copies will be distributed to NRCS offices in California by state outreach coordinator Marsha Gery

After a presentation by Lisa Shanks, training participant, a copy was requested by NRCS in Livermore, CA for use in the San Francisco Bay Savers Program, an in-class 4th grade watershed/clean water awareness presentation for 7000 students in Alameda County

Since the training was completed, we have developed a listserve for the instructors and participants. The list address is We are also working on posting the curriculum on the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension website at Gene Surber of Montana Cooperative Extension is also planning to post it on their web site.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

As water quality standards and regulations become more stringent, it is to everyone’s benefit that small acreage owners learn land management techniques to decrease nonpoint source pollution. The products of this grant were targeted not at producers, but at lifestylers. As such, the benefit to producers results from improved land management at the suburban/rural interface, and secondarily as the materials are used in educating producers as well as small acreage owners.

As a result of curriculum development and training, we anticipate that professionals from all western states attending will be capable of launching small acreage programs tailored to the needs of individual communities in their states. Initial results indicate that the demand for these materials is very high, and the audience is wider than the eight states we targeted, based on requests for materials. We have asked that each training participant share the materials with colleagues and others engaged in small acreage programming. During summer/fall 2002, we will begin to evaluate the success of the curriculum and training as measured by use of materials and number of small acreage programs initiated, etc.

The true measure of success of this program will lie in documenting the increase in knowledge and change in behavior (e.g. adoption of BMPs) by local audiences as a result of programs initiated by program participants making use of the curriculum. We expect that it will take several years to collect meaningful data on behavioral changes.


Rhonda Miller
Assistant Professor
Utah State University
Dept. of Ag Systems Technology and Education
Logan, UT 84322
Office Phone: 4357973772
Wendy Williams
Resource Conservationist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
3710 W. Fallon #B
Bozeman, MT 59718
Office Phone: 4065224012
Holly George
Livestock/Natural Resources Advisor and County Dir
University of California Cooperative Extension
208 Fairgrounds Rd.
Quincey, CA 95971
Office Phone: 5302836262
Hudson Minshew
Water Quality Extension Agent
Oregon State University Extension Service
215 Ringuette St.
Grants Pass, OR 97527
Office Phone: 5414766613
David Martin
Education Specialist
Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation
PO Box 201601
Helena, MT 49620
Office Phone: 4064444253
Cinda Williams
Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator
University of Idaho Cooperative Extension Service
Box 442339
Moscow, ID 83844
Office Phone: 2088857499
Doug Stienbarger
Chair, Clark County; Faculty, Ag and Nat Resources
Washington State University Cooperative Extension
11104 NE 149th St.
Bldg. C, Suite 100
Brush Prairie, WA 98606
Office Phone: 3603976060
Bruce Miller
Associate Professor
Utah State University
Dept. of Ag Systems Technology and Education
Logan, UT 84322
Office Phone: 4357972232
Bob Hamblen
County Director
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
9595 Nelson Rd., Box B
Longmont, CO 80501-6359
Office Phone: 3037764865
Sherman Swanson
Extension Range Specialist
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Mail Stop 186
Reno, NV 89557
Office Phone: 7757844057