Creating a technical support system for Rhode Island small-scale farms

2007 Annual Report for LNE05-225

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $149,990.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
Ernest Morreira
URI Cooperative Extension
Kristen Castrataro
University of Rhode Island

Creating a technical support system for Rhode Island small-scale farms


SARE funding supports a University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension two year project to develop and implement a system of technical support for the currently under-served and diverse group of RI farmers and growers engaged in the production of food, fiber and other non-ornamental agricultural crops and alternative enterprises. Further, we are committed to developing a collaborative, more efficient and cost effective program delivery model which can realistically be maintained beyond the SARE funding period.

Working with our strategic partners, the RI Division of Agriculture and Marketing (Div/Ag), and the RI Center for Agricultural Promotion and Education (RICAPE), we will develop and implement a new model of Extension that includes the development of resource partnerships in a case management approach to delivering a broad range of timely information, training, and on-the-ground consulting services and development opportunities to farmers, as well as creating electronic communications channels for client intake, information transfer and networking.

Objectives/Performance Targets

We seek to foster the adoption of new sustainable agricultural practices and/or farm viability and diversification enterprises and improve decision making and problem solving among Rhode Island farms through information gained from an Extension system of technical support and information access and referral to be developed and tested during this project.

Of the 200 farmers/producers accessing information resources and consulting services, 100 will use the information gained to address immediate production issues and improve farming practices. Of the 50 farms participating in the case management component of our project, we project that 35 will undertake new and substantive sustainable production practices, crop diversification and/or alternative enterprises/marketing or other farm viability improvements.


Developed/strengthened resource partnerships/contacts with local/regional ag-service providers and extension personnel through participation in regional grower meetings/conferences/state committees

• Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
• RI Center for Agriculture Promotion and Education (RICAPE)
• RI Conservation Districts
• RI DEM Division of Agriculture
• RI State Conservation Committee Advisor (SCC)
• RI State Technical Team Advisor (STT)
• Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
• UCONN Extension
• UMASS Extension

Participated in the steering committees for regional grower conferences/workshops

• 2007 New England Vegetable and Fruit Growers’ Conference
• Greenhouse Tomato Conference 2007

Provided technical support to RI farmers by hosting twilight meetings, conducting on-site farm visits, and offering phone/e-mail consultations

• Conducted site visits of over 60 different farms (most farms received multiple visits over the course of each growing season)

• 2007 Vegetable Twilight Meeting at URI (45 attendees)

• Soil Health Workshop at URI (29 attendees)

Coordinated information dissemination through development/maintenance of a sustainable agriculture website and a direct-mailing list


• Paper mailing list distributed to 231 RI farmers

• E-mail distribution list sent to 34 RI farmers

Communicated with farmers via professional organizational meetings, community speaking engagements, and television appearances

• Plant Pro Segment appearance on NBC10

• RI State Grange Guest Speaker

Directed and participated in all aspects of growing/harvesting 4.5 acres of specialty vegetable plots demonstrating perimeter trap cropping

• 46,832 pounds of winter squash donated to RI Community Food Bank (RICFB)

• 29,899 pounds of cabbage/collards donated to RICFB

• GAP certification acquired for trial fields

Conducted and evaluated farmer surveys addressing RI farmers’ interactions with the University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension

• 57 responses collected to date

Contributed to agriculture-related grant proposals

• RI DEM Viability Grant (awarded)

• USDA/CSREES/NRI Managed Ecosystems Grant (notification pending)

• SARE Level 2 PDP Proposal (with UCONN and UMASS) (notification pending)

• Northeast Regional IPM Grant (notification pending)

Established and maintained professional relationships with key agricultural associations and producer groups in RI

• RI Ag Council

• RI Blueberry Growers Association (RIBGA)

• RI Christmas Tree Growers Association (RICTGA)

• RI Farm Bureau (RIFB)

• RI Fruit Growers Association (RIFGA)

Provided learning opportunities for community members and URI students

• supported the RI Future Farmers of America’s annual leadership training conference at URI (2007 & 2008)

• URI 101 Service/Learning students participated in harvesting food for the RICFB

• URI Master Gardeners started and cared for cabbage/collard plants for transplanting to field trial

Evaluated the impact of URI-sponsored agricultural programs through post-event survey evaluations

• 29 surveys from Vegetable Twilight Meeting

• 14 surveys from Soil Heath Workshop

Collaborated with various URI departments, state agencies, and local organizations on extension activities, grant proposals, and educational workshops

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In this our final year of our project we are pleased to report nearly full completion of our performance targets.

Our technical support system is fully operational and is a recognized source of information services/problem solving, resource identification and training programs for Rhode Island farmers and agricultural service providers and groups.

We have developed/strengthened working relationships with state and northeast regional ag-service providers and extension personnel through participation in regional grower meetings/conferences/state committees and proposal development. We have also cultivated relationships with URI academic departments which support our project goals and program capacity.

In the area of communications/information access, a call-in information and referral system has been created and the design/formatting an interactive URI Sustainable Agriculture internet site have completed and launched January 2007. We have developed an extensive mailing list of client and agriculturalists which receive regular communications and bulletins and a newly created newsletter distributed through both regular and electronic mail.

During the course of the project we instituted a clientele contact/data collection system to aggregate farm profiles and support services requested that supports project research into farmer technical support needs and program/information delivery preferences. We have begun the process of analyzing survey data and are conducting farmer interviews and related input on program delivery preferences

We have documented project responses to farmer’s needs with timely, issue-specific problem solving solutions and in-depth whole-farm consultations. In 2007 this included: site visits to over 60 different farms (most farms received multiple visits); Answered nearly 300 e-mails quarries from beginning and/or established farmers in RI; and instituted an average of 24 phone calls a month to farmers.