- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, technical assistance, workshop
- Sustainable Communities: community development, quality of life, social networks
The COVID-19 pandemic is having an immediate and lasting impact on farms in the Southern Appalachians. Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) works with 800 farmers across Western North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. In a late March 2020 survey, farmers reported facing immediate financial hardships that could result in farm business closures or bankruptcy if disruptions to their market outlets persisted. Many farmers, (especially those who sold primarily to institutions, restaurants, and agritourism) expressed the need for assistance with transitioning their farm business models to produce for new and additional local market outlets in order to diversify and manage risk.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, ASAP has been creative and responsive to help farmers and customers continue to connect in a rapidly shifting market environment. While it is unclear how long the virus will remain a health threat, we know it will leave a lasting impact on our farms and how they market and sell their products. Since March of 2020, ASAP has assisted farmers to help them quickly adapt their business models and diversify to meet market realities. We are currently working with farmers to assess the effectiveness of diversification and adaptation strategies. Farmers are innovative and resilient and through this SARE R&E project we will build on what farmers have learned, what is working and what is not, and identify the strategies and approaches that are emerging to create best practices for farmers based on real-world conditions. Through peer-to-peer learning sessions, targeted workshops at our annual Business of Farming Conference, specific resources and guides, one-on-one support, and training events in the field or virtual webinars, ASAP will deliver assistance and education that is validated through farmer’s lived-experiences and delivered in ways that meet farmer’s needs and situations.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objective 1: Collect and analyze farmer input on challenges and opportunities in adapting their business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and future changes in the market environment. It is critical to have farmer input and feedback as the effectiveness of tools and strategies can vary widely across the mountain region and can be influenced by a wide range of factors ranging from technology to community connections. Innovation rarely comes from those thinking in the theoretical and this project combines the theory and strategy of risk management with the learned experience across a broad network of farmers. This project relies on farmer input to determine strategies that are proven effective.
Objective 2: Conduct farmer-to-farmer learning opportunities. Trust and relationships are essential across training, technical assistance, resource development, and dissemination of information for farmers. With families, land, and livelihoods so deeply interdependent, it is difficult to communicate the complexities that go into owning and/or operating a farm business. Because of this, farmers are more receptive to the experience and perspective of other farmers. There is a lot of respect across the farming community for the amount of risk that goes into shifting production or marketing models, and that is one of the reasons it is crucial to engage and involve farms in both the assessment and development of learning opportunities for other farmers.
Objective 3: Create physical and digital resources to share best practices. There are numerous tools and resources available around every aspect of farming, yet to stay relevant there needs to be continued time and energy put into the creation and adoption of resources to meet changing and emerging needs. The pandemic provides a unique opportunity to identify characteristics and strategies that are proven effective in the face of immediate and dramatic change. Resources developed from this project will not only address the immediate needs of farmers responding to the disruptions of the pandemic but distill the traits that build farm resiliency that will sustain farms going forward.