On-Farm Training and Participatory Learning: Biologically-based IPM an sustainable Farming Practices for Amish and Mennonite Vegetable Growers

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $143,991.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Cathy Thomas
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Wade Esbenshade
PA Dept. of Ag

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general silage crops
  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: beans, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, onions, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, brussel sprouts


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, nutrient cycling, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, chemical control, cultural control, disease vectors, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, mulching - plastic, precision herbicide use, prevention, row covers (for pests), sanitation, trap crops, mulching - vegetative, weather monitoring, weed ecology
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    Training and participatory learning on biologically-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM), soil quality, and sustainable vegetable production have been lacking in Pennsylvania, especially among the Amish and conservative Mennonites. This project addresses these issues among fresh market vegetable growers in Lancaster County, PA, and will serve as a training model for other groups. Through weekly, on-farm personal field training sessions with an IPM/sustainable agriculture specialist and educational workshops, growers will learn pest identification, pest life cycles, and techniques of a biologically-based IPM approach. Growers will create a more natural and sustainable pest management system as they learn to effectively use scouting and record keeping; crop rotation; sanitation; cultural, mechanical, and biological controls; and biorational and reduced-risk pesticides. The trainers will gather information from these interactions and make it available through production of a training manual. During on-farm visits and the educational workshops held each year, participants will also learn the fundamentals of dynamic soil quality: soil organic matter; the soil food web and ecosystem services; soil-based pest antagonism and the effects of agricultural practices on these benefits related to soil quality. Growers will learn about soil sampling and the interpretation of soil test results, as they relate to soil quality and plant growth. Grower confidence in sustainable methods will increase as they regularly interact with the specialist, leading to the growers’ independent use of the methods. This on-farm, customized participatory approach will facilitate the immediate adaptation and adoption of biologically-based IPM, soil quality, and sustainable agriculture principles.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Milestone 1: Project team will develop a manual outlining IPM techniques and sustainable practices for vegetable production, which will be refined from experiences during the project.

    Milestone 2: Each winter of the three-year project, a new group of 15 vegetable growers will attend a meeting to learn about the project and express their level of interest and commitment. Of these 15 growers, 12 to 14 will choose to participate that year.

    Milestone 3: Participants will supply past pesticide and farm management records so that project investigators/trainers can determine participant baseline usage of IPM and sustainable practices.

    Milestone 4: Each year, all participants will host a weekly visit by an IPM/sustainable agriculture specialist throughout the growing season (greenhouse transplant production to field harvest), resulting in 10 participants learning and adopting new IPM and sustainable practices.

    Milestone 5: Each year, 12 participants will learn to take soil samples for submission to an analytical lab and learn to read and interpret the test results.

    Milestone 6: Of the 40 participating vegetable farms, 35 will make fertilization decisions based on soil testing, thus reducing nutrient loading and the use of synthetic fertilizers.

    Milestone 7: Each year, 75 vegetable producers will attend an all-day educational workshop to learn about this project, vegetable IPM, sustainable production, and soil quality. In addition, 10 project participants will attend two half-day mini-workshops held during each growing season to address the current situation in the field and to further their IPM/sustainable agriculture knowledge and practice (the goal is behavior change).

    Performance Target: Of the 40 participating vegetable farms, 30 will reduce traditional pesticide usage by 50% through the utilization of learned Integrated Pest Management skills as well as adopt at least two of the following sustainable practices: crop rotation, soil-building (incorporation of cover crops, green manures), reduction of deep tillage, and crop diversification.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.