Facilitating Farmer to Farmer Networks: An Experimental Approach

1996 Annual Report for LST96-012

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $80,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $80,997.00
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Marilyn Swisher
University of Florida

Facilitating Farmer to Farmer Networks: An Experimental Approach


The overall objective of the project is to explore alternative approaches that Extension can use to facilitate the development of farmer networks, particularly for small and/or part-time farmers. The specific objectives are to:

(1) Provide Extension agents and other agricultural professionals with the skills, knowledge and
experience needed to serve as successful catalysts for the development of farmer-to-farmer interchange,

(2) Implement different approaches to farmer-to-farmer interchange in North and Central Florida,

(3) Evaluate the effectiveness of the approaches that are used, using participatory process evaluation
strategies and,

(4) Share results with Extension agents, farmers, and other agricultural professionals throughout the
Southern region.

Small Farm Organizations. As a result of the Farmer-to-Farmer project and local Extension focus on small farm sustainable agriculture, several small farm groups have formed around the state. Some are commodity focused and others have a geographical focus. Most of these groups conduct quarterly or monthly educational programs that are planned by the group in conjunction with one or more local Extension faculty members. Some also conduct yearly conferences and most publish a newsletter.

Statewide Organization. One of our original objectives was to develop a statewide umbrella organization of the various small farm groups. This was not realistic. Our leadership layer in the individual groups is too thin to permit the development of a statewide organization. When we saw that a statewide organization would not work, we looked for other ways to bring larger groups together to create more effective farmer and farmer-Extension networks. Mr. Wayne Odegaard came up with the idea of larger regional annual educational events that would be co-organized and sponsored by the various individual groups and the regional county faculty leadership teams. These have proven very successful. We conducted the first of these in 1998 in Brooksville. Farmers, county faculty, non-for-profit organizations, and private businesses all conducted workshops and demonstrations. About 400 farmers attended, and this increased to about 1,200 in 1999. In 2000, we are launching a new regional Small Farm Day in Deland, Florida (east central Florida).

Launching New Local Groups — the Catalyst. In northwest, south and east, central Florida, we are using the regional events to help us launch local small farm organizations. While the regional Small Farm Day in Brooksville grew out of the local small farm organizations, we believe that we can use the events themselves to help small farmers organize.

Strengthened Institutional Collaboration. As a result of this project, collaboration between Florida A&M University and the University of Florida with several not-for-profit organizations was also enhanced. Specifically these include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Florida Organic Growers, Heifer Project International, Florida Farm Bureau and the Hillsborough County Economic Development Council.

Dissemination of Outcomes
The document, “Lessons Learned,” described in the original proposal, will be sent to state sustainable agriculture coordinators throughout the Southern region. In addition, we are in the process of establishing a small farm sustainable agriculture electronic bulleting board and discussion group, primarily oriented toward state and county faculty, collaborating institutions such as Heifer Project International and Florida Organic Growers, and farmers in Florida, but also open to membership by others who wish to share their experiences and information.

Potential Benefits and Impacts
Change in Approach. Perhaps most important, our approach to meeting small farmers’ needs has changed. The county and state faculty involved in Farmer-to-Farmer are much more oriented toward a grass roots approach. They involve farmers more as collaborators and colleagues in the educational process.
Expanded Emphasis on Small Farms in Extension. The Farmer-to-Farmer project, as well as our State Training Plan support from SARE, has resulted in greatly increased emphasis on small farm sustainable agriculture in Extension. For the first time in many years, we have hired some county faculty members whose specific mandate is small farm sustainable agriculture.

Expanded Regional Faculty Groups. One of our objectives with this project was to develop regional “core faculty” groups, groups of three to six county faculty members who would pool their expertise to provide regional leadership for small farm sustainable agriculture programing. We now have three core groups.
Expanded Interest at Research and Education Centers. We are building interest at our regional Research and Education Centers. Most importantly for expansion of our small farm sustainable agriculture program, we now have small groups of state faculty at the North Florida REC (Quincy, northwest Florida) and the Southwest Florida REC (near the Everglades) who are becoming involved in developing small farm sustainable agriculture programs.

Trainee Adoption and Direct Impact
The number of counties where local faculty conduct programs in sustainable agriculture oriented toward small and part-time farmers has increased and the variety and number of programs they conduct has expanded and changed in emphasis. In 1998, for example, county faculty reported the following achievements under Florida’ Small Farm Sustainable Agriculture state Extension program. While not all of these are a direct “spin-off” from the Farmer-to-Farmer project, they do show the extent of interest that now exists in our system.

l County faculty conducted 28 demonstrations and/or field days attended by over 1,000 individuals.
l They conducted 117 educational programs attended by over 5,000 participants.
l They held 18 educational programs attended by nearly 1,000 farmers.
l Nearly 150 newsletters were published, distributed to approximately 3,700 individuals.
l 116 mass media educational efforts reached nearly 1,000,000 Florida citizens.
l Over 50 local educational written materials other than newsletters were produced, going to about
7,500 readers.

They organized (with farmer collaboration) and conducted the first Brooksville Small Farm Day attended by nearly 400 farm families in 1998; the second Small Farm Day in 1999 was attended by 1,200 small farmers.

Furthermore, our visibility and credibility in Extension has increased. The state and county faculty involved in Farmer-to-Farmer won a statewide team Extension programing award in 1999, which attracted considerable attention and interest on the part of both state and county faculty. Our Brooksville Small Farm Day was one of only a few Extension efforts highlighted in the 1999 issue of Impact magazine devoted to Extension, the University of Florida’s publication that informs the public of our achievements. The number of state specialists involved in small farm sustainable agriculture programing has expanded, as hasve the disciplines they represent and their geographic location in the state. For the first time, we are reaching into south Florida and northwest Florida.

Feedback from Farmers and Ranchers
We used a participatory evaluation technique to assess the impact of our project. The approach used, called triangulation, involves asking people with different perspectives (in our case state faculty, county faculty and farmer leaders) the same or very similar questions. The objective is to determine the degree to which the different groups share a common perspective on the value of the joint activities and programs in which they participated. We have summarized the most important items from this approach in the attached document, “Lessons Learned.”

New Hypotheses and Future Recommendations. (1) Focus one of our annual PDP meetings on facilitating farmer organizational development so that people from all over the Southern region can share experiences and interests. (2) See if Southern SARE can find funds for and an institution that would be willing to host a regional small farm sustainable agriculture conference. This could complement the National Small Farm Conference nicely since that conference is not a yearly event. It would permit small scale producers and Extension professionals throughout the region to come together and focus on issues of specific concern to the region (such as alternatives to tobacco farming, etc.). The Small Farm Conference sponsored by “Small Farm Today” each year is a good model. This should be a self-financing event. (3) We desperately need help meeting the needs of new or inexperienced farmers both nationwide and in the region. Perhaps SARE could play a catalyst role in this by forming a committee of state and county faculty, not-for-profits, and farmer organizations around the region to develop some educational materials (one major need), hopefully that individual institutions in the region would support financially. For example, the University of Florida is trying to put together a series of fact sheets on “Matching Your Resources to Enterprise Requirements.” If other states are doing other things we could share our materials and reduce the demand on any one state.


Michie Swisher

Univ. of FL
FL 32611
Cass Gardener

FL A&M Univ.
FL 32301