Linking limited-resource immigrant farmers to EQIP programs

Project Overview

ONE13-195
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,565.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Daniel Ungier
Cultivating Community

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs

Practices

  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, irrigation
  • Education and Training: technical assistance
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management, physical control, mulching - plastic, prevention, row covers (for pests)
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change

    Proposal abstract:

    Refugees farmers in the Northeast are both a growing demographic within the agricultural community and a historically under-served population. Although refugee farmers often have significant farming experience, many lack the skills to build success agricultural businesses in America. In addition to limited financial resources, many refugee farmers are preliterate and/or have limited English proficiency. Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP) provides technical assistance to refugee farmers to assist them in growing their agricultural businesses. As NASAP farmers’ businesses grow in size and complexity, so too do their needs to incorporate more intensive farm practices.

    Our work with NASAP farmers on implementing Environment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts connects refugee farmers with resources to build their agricultural businesses. It also expands sustainable land management practices among this growing group of farmers. Through this initiative, Cultivating Community will work with 25 refugee farmers to deliver technical assistance geared specifically to their needs and share our model with peer agencies in the Northeast. Regionally, Cultivating Community is taking the lead in integrating refugee farmers with NRCS conservation projects such as EQIP. Technical assistance models, record keeping tools and success stories that we can share with other technical assistance providers will expand the reach of sustainable conservation practices among this growing group of new farmers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The focus of this project is not on developing new sustainable farming practices, as such, but rather on working with an under-served, socially disadvantaged demographic to develop technical assistance tools that increase the successful implementation of sustainable farming practices. The overall project goal is for these new tools to result in participating farmers demonstrating an improvement in the successful and appropriate implementation of EQIP practices.

    In order to assess the effectiveness of new training and record keeping tools for limited resource, refugee farmers, we intend to measure two related indicators: 1) farmers’ demonstrated knowledge of each of these practices as indicated by year-to-year changes in practices in the field, as well as individual surveys measuring knowledge of new information and practices; and 2) farmer evaluation of the effectiveness of training and technical assistance tools utilized under the program.

    Observing and measuring changes to practices in the field as well as evaluating what information has been retained by farmers (indicator #1 above) will allow us to see whether farmers have adopted new EQIP-related practices; however, with this indicator alone, we would be left to simply infer that positive or negative outcomes were the result of the training and technical assistance tools provided. Gathering the farmers’ perspective on the effectiveness of the training tools (indicator #2) will allow us to more conclusively determine whether the practices trialed by staff specifically contributed to the changes in practices in the field and the changes in knowledge assessed. This added information will be critical to generating findings that will be relevant enough and conclusive enough to be disseminated and shared with other refugee farm training programs in the Northeast.

    To assess changes in knowledge, we will conduct staff assessments and participant self-assessments examining the extent to which farmers understand critical concepts related to each of the practices before and after the growing season. We will also assess how well participants have been able to understand their contract and work with the NRCS to gain a better understanding of other resources that are available to them to improve farming practices. Immigrant farmers participating in the program are mostly preliterate, so face-to-face feedback is often the most effective evaluation tool. Staff will orally conduct surveys that measure the change in knowledge and skills related to the EQIP practices that are the focus of the training. A separate oral survey will allow farmers to evaluate the effectiveness of the training received.

    Evaluating changes in actions involves specific assessment of farmers’ practices in the field. Our assessment of changes in action will combine staff assessments made during field visits with participant self-assessments about successes and challenges they found with each of the five practices.

    For mulching, the evaluation will include an assessment of 1) the proper application of straw mulch (depth of application, etc), 2) proper prioritization of the most important crops for application, 3) demonstrated understanding of reduced water need of mulched crops and 4) a demonstrated understanding of reduced weed pressure on mulched crops.

    For cover cropping, the assessment will include 1) demonstrated understanding of different cover crop types (legumes, grasses, etc), 2) selection of proper cover crop based on needs (i.e., time: summer vs winter; function: weed suppressant, fertility management, erosion control), 3) proper application (seed density, etc), 4) proper ongoing management (mowing, incorporating into the soil, etc), 5) use of intercropping or undersowing, and 6) a demonstrated knowledge of how to source seeds affordably.

    For integrated pest management, the assessment will include 1) increased ability to identify pests (including identification of the same pest in different stages of its life cycle), 2) demonstrated understanding of pest/crop relationships, 3) demonstrated understanding of the link between overall farm health (soil fertility, weed pressure) and pest management, and 4) proper application of row cover and other preventative strategies.

    For crop rotations, the assessment will include 1) demonstrated ability to make maps of farm plots, 2) demonstrated understanding of the implications and need for rotations (i.e., crop families’ various nutrient needs, risks from pests and disease,etc), and 3) proper application of the practice.

    Finally, for drip irrigation, the assessment will include 1) the ability to recognize reduced need for water/recognize signs of reduced water stress, 2) proper installation of equipment, 3) proper ongoing use of equipment, including determining best scheduling and amount of irrigation, based on soil types and rainfall, 4) proper prioritization of crops for drip irrigation, and 5) the ability to source materials and maintain them over multiple years.

    Our research method will also assess change in conditions to the households involved in the program. NASAP’s mission is to assist immigrant and refugee farmers to build successful farm businesses that are consistent with their culture, lifestyle aspirations, and individual goals. To assess progress toward this goal, farmers will be asked to complete a self-assessment of their progress in attaining their individual goals, which include increased farm sales, enhanced self-sufficiency, and improved quality of life.

    An important characteristic of this initiative is Cultivating Community’s ongoing and sustained collaboration with other service providers. This gives the project additional capacity to provide training to farmers and creates opportunities for USDA and other peer agencies in the region to extend their services to this historically underserved group of farmers. Integrating refugee farmers into mainstream services helps them become more knowledgeable and profitable farmers.

    Cultivating Community is part of an an active network of organizations that have received funding through the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program, which supports refugee farming projects across the Untied States. Other recent grantees in the northeast include Lutheran Social Services (Worcester, MA), International Rescue Committee (New York, NY), International Institute of Boston (Boston, MA), Association of Africans Living in Vermont (Burlington, VT). Cultivating Community actively participates in peer networking with these and other organizations. In 2012, Cultivating Community was a lead co-organizer of two Northeast Immigrant Farming Projects Learning Network meetings in March and August that brought together service providers from throughout the region for a chance to share experiences, lessons learned, and challenges from the field. CC has contributed to a renewed commitment for professional development and resource exchange among these agencies.

    In addition, beginning in 2012, NASAP became a partner of the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI), managed by the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project in Lowell, MA. NASAP played a key role in developing the workshops and content for a 3-day field school in October 2012 and plans to participate in two more field school events in 2013.

    We will share the results of our research with peers through the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program listserv, participation in an annual meeting of refugee farming project service providers, at the Immigrant and Refugee Farming Conference, through the National Incubator Farm Training Initative (NIFTI), and at other beginning farmer conferences as appropriate. Cultivating Community will also openly share the tools we develop and design for limited literacy audiences on several websites, including a wiki developed and managed by NIFTI and the Start2farm.gov website (managed by the National Agricultural Library).

    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.