- Animals: bovine, swine
- Animal Products: dairy
- Animal Production: manure management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational
- Crop Production: continuous cropping, cover crops, application rate management, ridge tillage
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, networking, study circle, workshop
- Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, wildlife
- Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
- Soil Management: composting
For the past two years, the Midwest Alternative Agriculture Education Network (MAAEN) has brought together 6 major sustainable agriculture organizations and institutions in the Upper Midwest for the purpose of expanding and enlivening dull, one-way or non-existent alternative agriculture education programs. The members of MAAEN are: The Kansas Rural Center, the Land Stewardship Project, the Midwest Rodale Research Network, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.
The overall goal of MAAEN has been to develop and provide midwestern farmers with accessible, farmer-centered information and educational programs on alternative agriculture systems. In two years of operation, participating MAAEN organizations have succeed in sponsoring 113 informational workshops, 25 conferences, 122 field days and more than 52 speaking engagements, learning circle sessions and other small group events for more than 3,500 farmers across 8 states in the midwest.
Thanks to MAAEN and other SARE/ACE sponsored programs, genuine and lasting partnerships have been established between grassroots sustainable farmers and researchers and educators from the land grant university/ extension community. In MAAEN’s two year existence, some 44 scientists and 29 Cooperative Extension personnel collaborated with 30 non-profit organizations, 15 other agencies and private businesses and 76 farmers to design and deliver the educational programs and events mentioned above.
A key factor behind this significant increase in cooperation has been the methodology of the “study circle” advanced by participating MAAEN organizations. These focus groups were successful in providing a non-threatening environment where scientists, researchers and extension agents could meet to discuss sustainable agriculture practices and issues with farmer representatives from non-profit sustainable agriculture organizations.
As a result, meaningful working relationships have developed between the Sustainable Farming Association Minnesota and the West Central Experiment Station, between the Kansas Rural Center and scientists and Kansas State University in Manhattan, between the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Carrington Research Center, between the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Northeast Research and Extension Center and between the Midwest Rodale Research Network and the midwest sustainable agriculture community as a whole.
Among the many positive benefits resulting from MAAEN’s work are:
1. Hundreds of midwestern farmers have became more involved in education and research which is crucial to the future development of their farms and their communities. These farmers encouraged other farmers to become involved in education and research.
2. Educators and researchers have developed a better understanding of the value of including farmers in their work.
3. Educators, researchers and farmers have learned the value of study circles where farmers and educators share ideas. Some educators started making use of study circles in their work.
4. The participatory/ partnership process engendered by MAAEN not only improved alternative agriculture education, it also spurred farmers and institutions to explore emerging issues and concepts affecting the future of sustainable agriculture. Alternative marketing, Farmer /consumer relationships and public policy issues were all explored by MAAEN member organizations and their institutional partners.
As a result of this experience, MAAEN member organizations strongly recommend that the study circle and joint planning methodology be further studied and more widely used in training extension educators and in transmitting new information on sustainable agriculture practices.
Objective 1. To increase communication about sustainable agriculture education efforts being carried out within the non-profit sustainable agriculture community in the Upper Midwest.
Objective 2. To increase communication and cooperation between the non-profit sector, land grant universities and government agencies in developing educational programs and materials relating to sustainable agriculture.
Objective 3.To collaborate in the development and delivery of innovative educational programs and materials relating to sustainable agriculture.