Evaluating Interaction of Urban Farmers and Extension Educators in Metropolitian Kansas City

Project Overview

GNC12-163
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Rhonda Janke
Kansas State University

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: general education and training
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture

    Abstract:

    With the increasing popularity of urban farming, more people are seeking resources to start their own farming/growing production in urban environments. Traditionally, county Extension educators are a key resource for beginning farmers and growers. However, urban Extension offices are often overlooked as resources in the urban farming planning process. The objectives of this study are 1) identify information urban farmers currently have, information they need, and their preferred delivery methods 2) look at the resources and information that are offered by local Extension educators in the KC metro area and 3) analyze how these two groups are communicating and what could improve to meet farmers? needs. This project evaluates current interaction between urban farmers and Extension educators in the Kansas City area through a two-pronged approach: a written mail-out questionnaire for urban farmers and growers in the Kansas City metropolitan area and through in-person one-on-one interviews with Extension educators that emphasize topic areas related to urban agriculture in the KC area. One hundred and nineteen farmers/growers were surveyed, and a 54.6% response rate was achieved. The majority of farmers had small, diversified farms and were relatively new to farming. Respondents were primarily older, white men that had higher education. Independently-driven sources (such as self-research, other farmers, and friends/family) were most commonly used sources among farmers. Overall, respondents ranked Extension highly in terms of information quantity, quality and as their “go to” source. Extension educators from Kansas State University, University of Missouri, and Lincoln University were interviewed one-on-one using scripted interview questions to determine topics and medias of information that are currently being offered. Production and processing information is offered the most by educators followed by distribution, equipment, and marketing information. Financial information was the least offered information topic. Extension educators use a wide variety of methods to distribute information. Most Extension educators are aware of benefits and barriers relating to urban agriculture in the KC metro area. Extension educators are addressing urban agriculture in varying degrees and the level of involvement differs among the three Extension institution.

    Introduction:

    Information Needs of Urban Farmers: 

    Many previous surveys with urban farmers and gardeners have been conducted by other researchers. Most of them address the role of community gardens, demographics of gardeners, and the social and economic benefits of participating in urban agriculture. However, direct measures of urban farmers’ information needs are very limited. The Vancouver Urban Farming Society is currently collecting data looking at best practices for urban farmers, while New York University, Pennsylvania State University and the National Center for Appropriate Technology are currently conducting a study examining urban and peri-urban farmers’ information and production needs.

     

    Since there is a lack of research literature regarding information needs for urban farmers, the closest estimate would be to look at small-scale farmers and non-traditional farmers such as organic producers. Although there are no publications looking at the average profile of urban farmers selling for profit, it is widely estimated that many of them do not produce on large amounts of land and are more inclined to use organic or other alternative and innovative practices.

     

    The abundance of knowledge available to farmers, both from public and private sources, has grown dramatically in the last few decades, while becoming increasingly helpful and valuable to these farmers. Applicable information is especially needed by small-scale farmers, which most urban farmers are considered. The 2007 U.S. Agriculture Census found that small farms (those that had annual gross sale less than $250,000) represent about 91% of total U.S. farms. About 71% of total U.S. farms have annual gross sale of less than $25,000 (U.S. Ag Census, 2007). It follows then that Extension services should start to cover more innovative farm practices aimed towards these small-scale farmers.

     

    Areas that farmers often request more information in are marketing, farm economics, business management, risk management, and more in depth practice instruction.  A recent study in Kansas found that organic farmers preferred more research and information regarding inputs through production, processing, manufacturing, distribution, retail and consumer patterns, and growing information that is specific to local/regional climates, soils, and pest cycles.

     

                With the increasing popularity in urban farming, more people are seeking out resources to start their own fruit and/or vegetable production in urban environments. Traditionally, in rural environments, county Extension educators have been a key resource when starting individual food production businesses. However, urban Extension offices are often overlooked as resources in the urban farming planning process. There are resources that urban Extension offices offer that are still applicable to urban farmers, but often they are underutilized. This could be due to a wide range of information about urban farming readily available online or the production/ business systems that urban farmers must partake in are unfamiliar to Extension educators.

     

                When urban agriculture is on the upswing, it is crucial to connect potential and current urban farmers to all available resources and networks within their area. This increases chances of farmer success. By evaluating the urban farmers' needs and wants as well as the resources that are available from Extension offices, awareness can be raised about current resources and local relationships can be formed. Through these relationships and collaborations, farmers' profitability will increase, community connections will be made, and the community as a whole will benefit from the increased exposure and knowledge of the urban food system and the benefits it provides.

     

    Project objectives:

    The objectives of this study are 1) identify information urban farmers currently have, information they need, and their preferred delivery methods 2) look at the resources and information that are offered by local Extension educators in the KC metro area and 3) analyze how these two groups are communicating and what could improve to meet farmers? needs.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.