Building Social Sustainability on Farms through Online and In-Person Education

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $197,676.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Maine Extension
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Leslie Forstadt
University of Maine Cooperative Extension


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, study circle
  • Farm Business Management: labor/employment, risk management
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, leadership development, quality of life, social capital, social networks, social psychological indicators, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification: Social sustainability requires adaptation and resilience in the face of change and stress. The well-being, quality of life, and social sustainability of US farmers, farm families, and farmworkers is a great concern because of farm labor shortfalls, global markets, climate change, and changes in technology and consumer preferences. Most farm sustainability efforts center on economic or environmental concerns; few sustainability projects focus on social sustainability with educational interventions to enhance relational skills and social supports. Maine farmers attending a recent farmer field tour and Northeast farmers responding to a social sustainability survey expressed a desire for peer learning and opportunities to convene at retreat to discuss issues of social sustainability. Agricultural service providers will also feel more prepared to identify/address issues of social sustainability when farmers validate the need.


    Solution and Approach: Applied research with farmers and agricultural service providers will test the validity of three facets of social sustainability: 1) health and well-being; 2) equity; and 3) community connections. The process will inform educational curriculum development for a series of three farmer retreats and a comparable online learning platform that address self, family and employees, and community connections. All participating farmers will create personal sustainability plans to implement on their farms. Evaluation approaches (i.e. surveys, interviews) will document the outcomes, impacts, and behavior change on farms and in communities. Participating farmers will share insights and information through community outreach to farmers and service providers to address social connectedness. In turn, increased feelings of support and community, which build resilience in times of stress and economic strain, will result. Through outreach, farmers will learn program participant farmers about social sustainability: how to build community connections, support equity, address health and well-being, and improve on-farm work environments for themselves and family members or employees. A toolbox of curricula, educational materials, and facilitation guides about social sustainability will be created, and 20 regional agricultural service providers will access materials and increase confidence adopting education strategies to address social sustainability.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    As a result of participation in retreats and professional development opportunities, at least 33 participants will implement social sustainability strategies and report improvement in social sustainability related to individual action, changes to the farm environment or reductions in employee turnover. At least 90 individuals related to the participants (e.g. family members, employees) will report positive changes in social sustainability on the farm through actions taken to implement social sustainability strategies. 20 service providers will report increased confidence understanding and addressing farm social sustainability as a result of participation in advisory group membership, retreat(s), work with cohort farms, or attending a training. 

    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.