How does climate adaptation knowledge spread in advisor-farmer networks? Tracking the long-term impacts of the Northeast Climate Adaptation Fellowship

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2021: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Maine
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Rachel Schattman
University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, financial management, risk management
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, partnerships, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    It is widely accepted that farmers learn well from other farmers. Because of this, farmer-focused professional development training often leverages peer-to-peer learning. The short- and medium-term effects of this mode of education, including changes in knowledge and intention to act, have often been documented through program evaluations. However, efforts to document long-term effects, such as behavior change and collaborative innovation, are more sparse. The purpose of this project is to understand how peer-to-peer programming and Communities of Practice (CoP) influence growers and agricultural advisors (AAs) over time. To explore this important topic, I will use the 2020-21 Climate Adaptation Fellowship (CAF) Vegetable and Small Fruit program as a case study. The program cohort is composed of 37 AA and farmer ‘Fellows’ from across the Northeast. I propose to follow them for two years post-program, tracking: (a) how Fellows develop climate adaptation knowledge, confidence, and outreach skills; (b) outcomes of CAF-inspired practices trialed on farms, and (c) the spread of concepts through farmer-advisor networks using Social Network Analysis (SNA). I will conduct farm visits and in-depth interviews, and two surveys (1-yr and 2-yrs post program). This rich and long(er)-term data will enable me to see if peer-to-peer learning leads to sustainable practice adoption and how climate knowledge and innovation generated through CAF ‘ripples-out’ over time. We will report findings back to the CAF Fellows at the midterm and end of the project, share updates online and through presentations and publish a peer-reviewed open access journal article.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Track AA Fellow changes: Track and describe how AA Fellows integrate climate adaptation concepts into their programming over the two years post program completion. Record actions they take both as a direct result of participation in CAF, as well as actions they would have undertaken without CAF. (This will allow me to estimate CAF's additionality, or the proportion of climate-related activities that can be attributed to CAF participation.)
    2. Track Farmer Fellow changes: Measure the progression of Farmer Fellows’ climate adaptation knowledge, confidence and further outreach efforts to peers over the two years post program completion. (Record changes due to CAF and not due to CAF to estimate CAF’s additionality, as in Obj.1.)
    3. Track on-farm changes: Observe and document Farmer Fellows’ adoption and use of CAF-inspired climate adaptation or mitigation practices on their farms, with particular attention to changes in practice use (tweaking), mal-adoption, or abandonment of practices. 
    4. Map outreach and knowledge spread: Map and describe how Fellows’ outreach efforts reached and influenced additional contacts, by following the spread of concepts and practices through farmer-advisor networks. Fellows are required to do 3-5 outreach activities to other farmers as part of the CAF program. These activities can be in the form of writing (e.g. newsletter articles, blog posts), presentations to groups/conferences, or hosting farm visits. These will be documented during CAF and then integrated into network maps as part of this proposal. Fellows may also choose to do further ad-hoc outreach after the official CAF program period. These efforts will also be tracked and added to the network maps over the proposal period.)
    5. Evaluate learning model: Using CAF as a case study, evaluate the effectiveness of peer-to-peer learning models for advisors and growers engaged in sustainable management in the Northeast, with attention to its influence on knowledge spread and practice adoption, as above, and recommendations for future programming.
    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.