Youth voices in agriculture
The Youth Voices in Agriculture Project aims to strengthen the regional food system by increasing the voices of young people, rarely heard in the policy discussions, to inform, educate, network with, and collaborate with food and agricultural professionals. The project has three phases. In the first phase, rural and urban students from New Jersey, the Greater Philadelphia area, and Maryland who have ongoing or are planning new activities that strengthen the food system and promote good nutrition were identified. Assisted by Extension, 4-H and other advisors, the students prepared case studies that documented their experience with the activities and lessons learned, which was compiled into a Case Studies manual. Phase 2 brought together youth and adult participants (students, Extension 4-H specialists, other Extension personnel, and other agriculture professionals) in a “Youth Voices Professional Development Workshop” at the December 2003 Future of Our Food and Farms Summit in Wilmington, Delaware. At this training workshop, students presented the materials from their case studies and distributed the case studies manual, followed by a structured discussion of their experience. Participants then identified and planned potential follow-on activities and collaborative projects. Up to five activities/projects (at least one from each state) will receive up to $1,500 in seed funds for expenses. In Phase 3 the follow-on projects will be implemented, the evaluation conducted, the manual updated, and final report prepared.
The performance targets of this 18-month project are: 1) 75 adult workshop participants will have learned new ways to increase rural and urban youth awareness of the regional food system and participation in it, generate active youth support for farming in the region, boost youth awareness and purchases of local food, and increase consumption of healthy food. 2) 20 youth participants (including middle and high school students) from the Greater Philadelphia area, Maryland, and New Jersey will have learned new ways to increase their awareness of and active participation in the region’s food system. 3) 15 participants will have initiated up to five new youth activities as a result of the training, at least three of which will be collaborative (two or more organizations). At the end of the Project, participating Cooperative Extension and other agriculture professionals will have significantly increased their knowledge and skills in working with youth on activities to strengthen the food system.
Before describing progress toward milestones and performance targets, it is important to note that the first snowstorm of the season took place on the day of the workshop. This unexpected event significantly affected the performance targets and outcomes to date
Phase I: More than 35 students participated in projects in the three participating states. They worked with Project staff and cooperators including Cooperative Extension, 4-H Extension, 4-H Extension specialists and The Food Trust. From their experiences, students selected which activity to develop into a case study/lessons learned manual. (May 2003)
Through conference calls among project staff and a staff meeting with students from each state, the Professional Development Workshop agenda was set. Extensive promotional materials were disseminated widely by project staff through the mail, internet and email throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. (August 2003)
Workshop speakers (students) were selected by the students themselves with guidance from project staff collaborators.
The youth project case studies and lessons learned manual was completed, and the manual published in November.
Phase II: “Youth Voices Professional Development Workshop” at the December 2003 Future of Our Food and Farms Summit. The workshop was conducted on December 5th in Wilmington, Delaware; 23 participants attended, including16 adults and 7 students. As noted earlier, the snowstorm reduced the number of participants and presenters, requiring some adjustments to the program. However, in general the program content of the original project design remained the same, and although some of the students could not attend, as many as possible will be participating in the collaborative projects because most adult collaborators were able to attend the program and participate in the development of the collaborative project proposals. The program included:
Opening: including introductions, review of workshop objectives, and background on the Youth Voices project
Philadelphia students on their summer and school year program activities
New Jersey students presented their 5-A –Day Theatre and Role Play
Student Advisor Presentations:
Ellen Williams, 4-H Agent, Rutgers University Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County on “Five A Day through Theatre and Roleplay” – Youth Promoting Nutrition Education as Five-A-Day Players
Chad Ripberger, 4-H Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County on “Clever Clovers 4-H Club Educates the Community on Agriculture – From Farm to Table.”
Next Steps: Planning for Collaborative Projects.
Following the presentations and discussion, participants broke up into three groups (self-selected) to discuss follow on collaborative mini-projects. Each of these, which included both youth and professionals, identified a goal and project topic. The topics of the three groups were: 1) School and community projects; 2) Curriculum development for working with youth/food system projects; and 3) One day youth conference for the Northeast, organized and delivered by youth, for presentations and information exchange on youth food system project.
Background information on the seed money available through the Youth Voices project was provided by project staff. Students used this information to develop their project proposals (as specified in the grant.) At the end of the workshop, three proposals had been prepared. Subsequently, a total of three participant groups have already submitted proposals to initiate new youth activities as a result of the workshop, all of which are collaborative, thus easily meeting the goal for at least three and up to five collaborative efforts, with one from each participating state. Each of the projects outlined thus far includes multiple states.
Sixteen extension agents and other agriculture professionals attended the workshop. Evaluations indicated that 80% of the professionals who attended felt strongly that the workshop helped to increase awareness of youth about their participation in the regional food system; specifically it increased interest in purchases of local food and active youth support for farming in the region. (December 2003 to August 2004)
Although the number of agricultural professionals attending the workshop was below targeted numbers, the number of youth who attended, and even more who were interested in attending, exceeded numbers projected for youth attendance. A total of 51 youth and 12 adults pre-registered for the workshop. This would seem to indicate that the workshop promotional materials were effective in reaching out to potential participants. Project staff conferred with Northeast SARE administrative staff and it was agreed to try and keep the ratio of professionals to students as intact as possible, and possibly hold another youth voices in agriculture training in 2004 to attract the additional food and agricultural professionals to attend to achieve project goals.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Participants were asked to respond to a brief survey about their experience thus far with the Youth Voices program. In addition, conference participants completed a pre-workshop evaluation, describing their interest in the program and criteria for success. Sixty five percent of conference participants returned surveys, though because of the unusually low turn out (due to the snow storm), the sample is relatively small (n=15).
Pre-workshop evaluations reveal that most in attendance were interested in “hearing young people speak about their experiences,” and “in hearing new ideas about educating youth about food and farming.” Forming collaborations and networking were also appealing factors.
Indeed, nearly all agreed the Youth Voices program met expectations (80%). Specifically, three quarters of respondents believed the training workshops increased awareness of ways that youth can become involved in buying and selling local food. The same proportion agreed that the program helped to promote consumption of local, healthy food. All respondents (100%) found that the forum served as an opportunity for dialogue and networking and a clear majority of participants believed the sessions generated active support for local farming, particularly among youth. As a result of participation, attendees learned that “youth enjoy working in this area,” and “harbor many wonderful ideas.” They realized that there are “some great success stories in PA and NJ” and that “there is a real need for regional youth networking.”
In addition, those youth who prepared the case studies had the opportunity to reflect on and write about their experiences with school market, nutrition education and other programs. Preparation of these reports provided the opportunity for youth to see themselves in the context of a larger food system, from production to consumption. Further, their descriptions of challenges and solutions are explicit and unvarnished. Dissemination of these case studies offers to other organizations interested in implementing similar programs both information and inspiration.
There were several unanticipated outcomes. First, the workshop provided clear evidence that many youth want to play a larger role in food and nutrition projects, for example in the design and delivery of workshops. Further, they clearly hunger for opportunities to know more and to work with other youth to explore ways of collaborating. Second, the participation of agriculture professionals, as noted above, was lower than anticipated. Much of this stems, we believe, from budget cuts that have both reduced Extension staff – thus increasing the workload of remaining staff – and travel budgets. The problem is likely to become more acute, if Extension budgets continue to decline.
We are conducting a budgetary analysis to determine if any funds were saved due to less travel of the students due to the snowstorm. Once analyzed, project management will confer with Northeast SARE leadership to determine if additional meetings or conference calls should be scheduled.
4-H Extension Educator
Maryland Cooperative Extension
Office Phone: 4103132708
4-H Agent Monmouth County Cooperative Extension
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Office Phone: 7324317263
Executive Assistant to the Secretary for Interagen
University of Maryland
50 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Anapolis, MD 21401
Office Phone: 4108415782
Hershey Brothers Farm
2019 Locust Grove Road
Manheim, PA 17545
Office Phone: 7174682681
Director Small Farm Institute
University of Maryland
7320 Ritchie Hwy, Suite 210
Glen Burnie, MD 21061
Office Phone: 4102226759