Educating Northeast New Farmers about Farm Equipment – Mechanization
Developing an effective farm mechanization strategy is among the most important tasks faced by new farmers. A systematic approach can help avoid costly mistakes. The process must be shaped by choices regarding the new farm business (enterprise type, land [scale and capability], financing and market strategy) and by access to equipment-related skills and/or services within the farm family and in the local community (custom work, equipment repair, and dealerships). The process requires honest assessment of a new farmer’s mechanical skills and aptitudes, and evaluation of personal preferences (draft horses? antique tractors? hand tools?) that may, or may not, contribute to farming success.
There is currently no systematic program to guide new farmers through this process. To meet this service gap, the project is developing, evaluating, and producing assessment tools, decision guides and practical skills training modules to help them develop effective mechanization strategies and prepare them to acquire, operate, and maintain the equipment they need to succeed. Our process is peer-guided, with numerous pilot trials and revisions of each component based on evaluation by participating new farmers who stand to benefit.
Key project components: (1) self-assessment tool with learning action plan; (2) mechanization decision tool; (3) classroom and field-based learning activities (consultations and workshops); (4) train-the-trainer sessions for farming and non-farming instructors.
1) 350 new farmers inquire about the self assessment tool; 280 will complete and develop Action Plan.
2) 224 who develop an action plan will participate in a project learning activity (10 as apprentices; 85 in classroom sessions; 65 in field-based workshops; 65 in shop-based workshops), and 174 will make a decision or demonstrate competency based on project learning opportunities.
3) 10 experienced farmers and four non-farming instructors, in five northeast states, will gain skills in delivering project products; ten will commit to future learning activities.
Phase I: Discovery, Design and Produce.
Milestone 6 has been achieved: four on-farm mentors and four potential non-farming instructors have met twice to learn about competency based vocational training, and are now preparing a “Farm Mentor’s Manual” and associated train-the-trainer tools. These, presented in workshop format, will be pilot-tested in October 2003.
Phase II: Pilot Test and Modify.
A Learning Guide (LG)and shop-based workshop on welding and a LG and field-based workshops on plowing and haying have been developed, pilot tested, and are currently being modified. Further pilot testing of the workshops, including competency assessment, are scheduled for summer 2003.
Three LGs will be available in October 2003. The self assessment tool with action plan and decision tool, for use on-line and in the classroom, have been pilot tested and are now being revised to be made available in print and on a project web site in early September 2003.
Eight hundred new farmers in Massachusetts and New York (milestone 1) and in the Northeast, via the Growing New Farmers Project (milestone 2), will be targeted. Contacts will be documented, with 280 to complete self-assessment tools (milestone 3). Milestones 5 and 7 require LGs and workshop delivery.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Early pilot tests of the self-assessment and decision tool and technical skills workshops have been warmly received. Pilots have critiqued existing non-formal skills training options–mostly single-session workshops–as too short, too big, and too broad. The opportunity for supervised practice ranks high; interest in competency testing is low.
(1) for self-assessment and decision tools: the option for one-on-one consultation is desired but costly)
(2) for technical skills workshops: topics must be tightly focused (e.g., “welding principles and practice,” not “equipment repair”); groups must be small (four preferred; six maximum); and multiple sessions are desirable, if not essential (but costly), if achievement of competency is a goal. Our most successful technical skills workshop format, for welding, includes two two-day sessions with attendance limited to four participants. We are closing in on what really works. Affordability is a concern