Heartland Sustainable Agriculture Network
Objectives of this project include:
1) The Heartland Network will organize six new and support the ten existing farmer-to-farmer clusters serving more than 200 farm families to help farmers and ranchers work together to learn the skills to plan, develop and transfer sustainable farming systems into their communities.
2) The Heartland Network will organize three learning teams providing research, extension and education to farmers and ranchers on sustainable agriculture practices and holistic management. These learning teams will be partnerships of cluster producers, ranchers, researchers, entrepreneurs and educators. These teams will develop educational workshops, field days and printed materials to aid project outreach.
The Heartland Network provides guidance and resources that allow local leadership to create their own solutions through farmer-to-farmer clusters. These clusters in the past have chosen to explore options such as management intensive grazing, beef pasture finishing, pasture farrowing, cover crops in crop rotations, organic farming, complementary on-farm and on-station research, relationship marketing, fresh produce subscription services and cooperative marketing. In order to explore these options, clusters used their mini-grant resources for libraries in the local extension offices, field trips, training, on-farm demonstrations, market research, consultation and publications.
The formation of producer clusters within the Heartland Network has created a safe environment that encourages change and experimentation. Farmers in the Heartland Network say that through their participation in a cluster, they feel much more able to try new farming practices than they would on their own. Members report that the most beneficial activities of the Network have been farm tours and field trips. These activities provide farmer interaction and the opportunity for participants to observe, make comparisons and judge innovative farming practices for themselves. Farmers who attend training events as a part of a cluster return home with colleagues who have shared their experiences and can continue to reinforce learning and application of information.
The Heartland Network is currently actively working with 16 clusters. In addition, we have provided whole-farm training that focused on goal setting, understanding of ecosystem principles, setting testing guidelines and developing personal whole-farm notebooks with two clusters. Two clusters remain involved with Kansas State University Experiment Station cover crop research. Five clusters continue to explore rotational grazing systems. A state-wide grazing network is presently being organized. Three clusters hosted a regional education event such as a conference, school, or a series of workshops. As one cluster member reflected on the value of his cluster, “I, for one, am appreciative of the seed money to get our cluster started. You never get too old to learn. I wish I would have started down this road many years ago.”