Integrated learning courses for sustainable livestock production
The goal of this grant is to increase the viability of livestock operations in the Northeast by providing new tools and information offered in a way that measures improvements in management and overall success of a farm operation. Recognizing that there are different styles of learning, we will develop the most effective delivery mechanism for farmers; using practical hands-on learning and written resources.
In this project, we will create a series of learning courses supporting livestock producers who wish to add or improve certain management skills to their operation. A series of 4 course topics will be offered over a 1 - year period. Each course will last 2 months, meeting every 3 weeks for practical/hands-on learning. Attendees will go back to their farms to apply these new skills, and journal their experiences and observations. Farmer mentors will work with participating farmers to establish goals and farm management plans. Pre and post assessments will be conducted to evaluate the project and identify changes in management based on participation in the course. On-farm technical workshops will take place during the second year of the grant. Three farmer participants from each of the 4 courses will host an on-farm technical workshop demonstrating the practices that they have learned.
These courses will attract a wide audience of producers, including new farmers, who have a desire to improve and develop skills in managing their land, tending to livestock health and nutrition and growing product for market. Technical workshops and farmer mentoring are important components of the project offering multiple mediums for the delivery and application of information.
1. Of the 60 farmer participants in the learning courses, 40 will develop a work plan with a mentor and will adopt 3 new practices realizing an overall improvement in the sustainability of their farm.
2. Of the 40 that develop a plan and adopt new practices, 12 will hold on-farm technical workshops for at least 240 attendees demonstrating the practices they have learned.
Planning and implementation of the grant follows this updated timeline:
1) Planning Teams for each course get together by phone and/or in person 3-4 months prior to the start of the respective course.
2) The four livestock courses take place between March 2004 and March 2005.
3) On-Farm Technical Workshops take place between August 2004 and March 2006.
4) The evaluation and post-assessment by the planning teams will happen within 6 months from the completion date of each course and again after all the on-farm demonstrations have taken place.
5) Evaluations from course participants are done at the end of each class meeting and at the conclusion of the course as a whole. Post assessments will take place March 2006 – October 2006.
Instead of having one planning team to plan all 4 courses, we decided that it would be more effective to have separate planning teams relative to each of the course topics. This allowed us to pull in individuals within their specialty for input in areas where their time would be most productive.
Almost all of the planning of the planning/evaluation teams has happened by phone (conference calls). The Soils course "The Dirt on Soil’ is the only course where the Vermont portion of the planning/evaluation team met in person 3 times to plan the course. Many of these individuals were also participating as teachers and were donating their time (NRCS, UVM Extension, and UVM Faculty).
Since a lot of the planning has happened so efficiently by phone and email, we may have some additional funds left in this budget line item which we hope to be able to apply towards coordinator time.
Up to 3000 brochures were made and distributed for each course. Promotional material including registration information specific to the course topics went out to an extensive list of extension and other resource agencies, livestock and dairy mailing lists, agricultural magazines and local papers.
Other forms of promotion for these courses occurred through a farmer mentor training that took place in October, 2003, NOFA-VT’s NOFA Notes, NOFA-VT’s email calendar, the Vermont Pasture Network E-mail discussion list and monthly calendar mailing, Extension and NRCS e-mail lists, the Agriview , the NODPA Newsletter, and the ODAIRY E-mail discussion list.
Registration numbers for the first three courses that took place in 2004:
Soils Course (‘The Dirt on Soil’): 53 farmers, 8 Agency/Consultant = 61 attendees
Grazing Course (‘Greening the Farm’): 40 farmers, 5 Agency/Consultant = 45 attendees
Health and Nutrition Course (‘Livestock Nutrition and Healthcare’): 38 farmers, 7 Agency/Consultant = 45 attendees
Capacity for all three courses has ranged between 40 and 60 people. Priority has been given to those people registering for all three classes. Additional space was sold for a per-class fee. Not all of the registrants attended all three classes within each course topic, but the majority (85%) of them did.
Course Materials and fees:
Due to the incredible amount of donated time from various organizations plus some additional funds from Risk Management Agency, the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, UVM Extension, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, we have been able to bring in some excellent speakers and provide our participants with some valuable resource materials. Participants that registering for all 3 classes within a course topic received a chosen text book, plus a notebook with selected articles (total value averaged $60).
The NESARE budgeted money plus any additional funding made it possible for each course to cost as little as $75 to $115 per person. Without the SARE funding, the cost for these courses would have cost 3-4 times that amount. Registration fees were determined by calculating the speaker fees & expenses, location & meals expenses, materials, and promotion expenses. The registration fee does not take into account organizational time and expenses.
Since we opened the courses up to a larger audience, farmers were not required to sign up with a mentor. The mentoring portion was presented as an option in the Course Brochure and an additional $100 charge. Setting up the mentor/mentee relationships has been taking up more time and resources than anticipated. To accommodate that additional expense, the number of available mentor hours per farm were reduced from 30 to 25 hours. This money is going directly towards creating the match and tracking the progress.
Number of farmers taking advantage of the mentoring portion of the grant are as follows:
Soils Course: 6 mentor/mentee connections
Grazing Course: 12 mentor/mentee connections
Health and Nutrition Course: 6 mentor/mentee connections
Marketing: people are signing up right now…Course to start January 31st, 2005
Farmers are so busy during the growing season. We found that most mentor/mentee teams spent very little time with each other during the summer-fall months of 2004. For that reason, we have encouraged the teams to work together until the 25 hours are used up but no later than December 2005. Our plans for January 2006 – May of 2006 are to put together final documentation of the mentor portion of the grant. Since none of the courses have used up all the mentor/mentee matches we had funding for, we will continue promoting the mentoring component of the courses to the course graduates this winter.