Building Grassroots Infrastructure for Peer-to-Peer Learning and Support for Sustainable Farmers in Alabama

Project Overview

LS20-331
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,992.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Alice Evans
Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network

Information Products

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, quality of life, sustainability measures

    Abstract:

    With Southern SARE’s support, ASAN will coordinate farmers and aspiring farmers in Central Alabama in order to form a CRAFT Network for peer-to-peer, on-farm, and farmer-led training that includes intentional space for community-building and social support.  Meanwhile, we will conduct an intensive, relational farmer inventory of sustainable farms throughout Alabama, to inform the future development of (1) additional regional CRAFT networks and/or (2) other needs-informed programming to support Alabama’s sustainable farmers.

    CENTRAL ALABAMA CRAFT NETWORK:
    CRAFT stands for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training and is a farmer-led training model well-established elsewhere, but relatively unestablished in the Deep South.  In 2019, at the request an initial interest group of farmers, and with the support of a mini-grant from Southern SARE, ASAN organized a pilot run of the Central Alabama CRAFT Network.  This pilot built on ASAN’s already-strong reputation and long history of providing relevant, practical, farmer-led training with attention to relationship- and community-building; the CRAFT model added name recognition as well as the element of formal steering committee and structure, by which the network can be fully farmer-led.

    This model, we believe, is an elegant way to tackle many of our food-system challenges at the same time, all while underscoring farmers’ power and expertise by holding them as the central decision-makers.  We are seeking SSARE’s continued support for this project, in order to build out the pilot into a fully-fledged CRAFT network with a formalized structure and governance.  We also hope to begin exploring whether – using the Central Alabama CRAFT Network as a template – there is a need and desire for additional CRAFT Networks in other regions of Alabama.

    FARMER INVENTORY:
    As we work to grow the Central Alabama CRAFT Network, we plan to also do some deep listening and data-gathering within the sustainable farm community around the state.  We know that many of the needs and conditions are similar among farmers in different regions of the state; we know that important differences exist between regions as well.

    With Southern SARE’s support, we will conduct an inventory of the needs, assets, and goals of 50 sustainable producers (and aspiring producers) in Alabama. We will be listening to gain a more textured understanding of what their goals/visions are, what their operations currently look like, and what stands in between.

    We will interview farmers within the Central Alabama CRAFT Network footprint, and outside of it.  We will conduct this survey in a way that builds power and connectivity within our network and the communities that comprise it – rather than being “just another survey.”  The data we gather will inform both: (1) the ways that a CRAFT network might grow to meet farmers’ needs, and (2) the development of additional complementary programming to meet those needs even more effectively.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1) Establish structure, governance, and other “infrastructure” for a CRAFT Network for farmer-to-farmer training in Central Alabama.  CRAFT, a model first established in New England and replicated throughout the world, does not yet exist in Alabama or, to our knowledge, in any adjacent state; the Central Alabama CRAFT Network will serve as a pilot for possible future CRAFT Networks in other regions of Alabama.

     

    Objective 2) Mobilize this CRAFT Network to hold a series of 8-10 monthly on-farm workshops for farmers and aspiring farmers in Central Alabama.  Workshop topics will be selected by the farmer-led steering committee in winter 2019-2020.  Each event will include a farm tour and a social component (e.g. a potluck meal) as well as a workshop on the advertised topic. 

     

    Objective 3) Conduct a thorough, relationship-centric inventory of the needs, assets, and goals of at least 50 sustainable producers (and aspiring producers) across Alabama.  The survey will be conducted in the form of a 2-3 hour interview, ideally in person, and will gather information on a wide range of topics including: demographics, farm family/ies, production, marketing, business/legal, support structure, and more.  These interviews will be conducted by the project coordinator (based in Birmingham, Central Alabama) along with 3 outreach fellows based in other regions of the state.

     

    Objective 4) Conduct 2-4 farmer focus groups, to brainstorm ways to operationalize the findings of our farmer inventory.  These focus group sessions will be held in diverse farmer communities around the state in winter 2020-21, and will serve as an opportunity for our constituents to reflect on initial inventory findings, and to offer ideas and suggestions for potential programmatic ways to meet the needs expressed in those findings.

    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.