Linking limited-resource immigrant farmers to EQIP programs

2013 Annual Report for 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

Linking limited-resource immigrant farmers to EQIP programs


The project worked with 24 producers in 2013. Of this group 11 had their own EQIP contracts;9 were in the advanced track of our program and 15 were in our beginner track; 16 were Somali-Bantu, 3 were Central American, 3 were Sudanese, and 2 were Congolese. This group covered a wide range of educational levels and farm experience, though the majority had limitied literacy in English or any other language and had farmed in their countries of origin.  

Working with the NRCS, we developed record-keeping forms to make it easier for farmers to meet the requirements for the EQIP program, as well as reference materials to support implementationof EQIP practices. A major portion of the project delivery focused on winter workshops and field-based training and technical assistance in both the underlying principles and the specific details of effective conservation practice implementation.  Finally, the project includes a robust pre and post farmer-driven self-assessment, which is currently being analyzed. This data forms the core of our evaluation methodology but is further supplemented by staff assessments of participant changes in practices and qualitative evaluation of the effectiveness of curriculum delivery.

Objectives/Performance Targets

This project focuses primarily on delivering audience-appropriate training to limited literacy producers. The methods that we outlined to accomplish this goal, which were undertaken over the past year, have included:

  • farmer-driven self-assessments of their skill and comfort with specific aspects of EQIP conservation practices;
  • winter workshops emphasizing both underlying principles of EQIP practices and specific aspects of implementing these practices;
  • recordkeeping forms and reference materials designed for a limited-literacy audience and to be compliant with NRCS requirements;
  • on-farm workshops and extensive one-on-one technical assistance;
  • staff assessments of field practices to complement farmer assessments.

Final evaluations with participants are currently underway. We are also currently entering the data from the pre and post farmer assessment in order to determine the rate of change in knowledge across the program.


The following is a detailed update on our original timeline:

March 2013:

  •            Develop new recordkeeping tools for each EQIP contract designed to work at the language level of most participating farmers. Share and review these tools with both farmers and NRCS staff for feedback about their accessibility and their appropriateness for meeting EQIP requirements. This activity was completed over the course of the spring. An example recordkeeping sheet for Integrated Pest Management practices, which was developed by staff and reviewed by NRCS, is attached to this report. 
  • Staff conduct oral knowledge assessment of the five EQIP practices with farmers to provide baseline data for fall. We chose to complete our baseline assessment in written form to have better quantitative data for pre/post project review. The format for this assessment is similar to a broader farm skills assessment that program participants complete every year. The assessment asks participants to rank their familiarity and comfort with specific in-depth aspects of EQIP practices on a scale of 0-4, which will allow for easy comparison at the end of the season. The assessment is attached.
  • Indoor workshops providing more in-depth training on the concepts underlying cover cropping, crop rotations, integrated pest management, mulching, and drip irrigation. Specific critical pieces of information (cover crop varieties, pest life cycle stages, crop water needs, etc) will be integrated into these trainings.  As curriculum design progressed, we chose to focus on some topics more in indoor workshops and reserve others for field education. Pest life cycle stages, underlying concepts of how cover crop relates to soil fertility, and water needs for healthy plants were three topics that we focused on indoors; best practices for mulching is an example of a topic we chose to reserve for field-based education. 
  • Development of reference sheets relevant to the five practices that are picture-based and serve as a summary of key information participants will need to retain. As much as possible, we strove to make the reference sheets synonymous with the recordkeeping sheets, having learned that reducing the amount of documentation and papers makes it easier for limited-literacy participants to keep track of and utilize resources. 

April 2013:

  • Continued indoor workshops as above.  See above for summary.
  • Hands-on TA developing crop rotation plan for 2013 growing season. This activity was incorporated into winter workshops with the use of picture-based tools for developing a field plan for the season. A photograph of a farmer with her field plan is also attached.
  • Anticipated land opening date at incubator training farm is April 20th. This general aspect of our overall program was on schedule this year.
  • Hands-on TA with spring cover cropping, if applicable for individual farmers’ crop rotation plan. As it happened, few farmers had a rotation plan that called for spring cover crop. Some farmers had winter rye in areas that they were able to leave standing; other fields actually incorporated new acreage that had previously been in hay, so this was left standing until needed. We expect this to be different in 2014, because some late-season successions did not allow for a fall cover crop, and several producers discussed planting an early spring cover crop in those areas. 

May 2013:

  • Four weekly workshops on with mulching, installing drip irrigation systems, and IPM.

June 2013:

  • Two biweekly hands-on TA sessions focused on IPM and appropriate water management through drip irrigation.

July 2013:

  • Two biweekly hands-on TA sessions focused on mid summer cover crop plantings and appropriate water management through drip irrigation.

These trainings were the core aspect of the project, though we found a need to adapt delivery methods over the course of the season. One of the challenges that staff encountered was the wide array of learning styles and preference for different types of learning settings among program participants. This is no doubt true in any educational setting and in particular on an incubator farm, where many practical factors such as availability and pressing farm needs also drive participants’ engagement with various learning environments. Generally, though not as a rule, we found that participants in their first year of the program were much more receptive to group workshops that focused on a staff-driven topic, such as best practices for an EQIP-related conservation practice. Farmers who had been in the program for several years much more strongly preferred weekly sessions to be more of a Q&A session based on their identified needs. Consequently, we found that individual field technical assistance was a more effective way to teach this group., Finding the right balance of clear program structure and flexibility to serve a diverse, busy adult group of farmers in the field proved essential.

 Staff assessments of in-field practices. This was completed to supplement farmer-generated assessment of changes in knowledge.

 September 2013:

  • Two biweekly hands-on TA sessions focused on fall cover cropping. See above.

November 2013:

  • Post-season knowledge assessments and farmers’ evaluation of the effectiveness of training materials and TA. We have completed the post-season knowledge assessment in the same format as the pre-season assessment and our qualitative evaluation of farmers is currently underway.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Since we are still evaluating the quantitative data, we do not have conclusive information about project impact yet.  Preliminary staff assessments of field practices included a few generalizations:

  • Crop rotation is the strongest EQIP practice implemented by participating growers. This may be in part because it is the most consistent with practices  from participants’ home countries.
  • Proper use of drip irrigation was greatly improved over the project period, and the spring included intensive technical assistance on this topic. Properly assessing water needs is not as widely adopted as proper use of equipment.
  • Identifying a preferred cover crop type is likely the greatest challenge from among the skills that the project measured. Participants can identify to some extent the particular function they seek most from cover crop, but have not yet learned to associate this with specific crops. We hope our reference materials will continue to assist with this goal over the long term.
  • There may be times where inadequate implementation of conservation practices has less to do with a lack of knowledge, and more to do with logistical constraints. For example, mulch applied to thin may be in part due to a lack of a convenient way to transport haybales, leading to decisions to use fewer haybales in the interests of conserving time and resources.

We have identified a number of places where we expect to be able to disseminate project results. We have found that we have learned specific details about what works and doesn’t work as well with given worksheets or reference guides, and are making some revisions. Because we work closely with several networks of farm incubator and immigrant farming programs (including the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative and the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program), we have many opportunities to share materials with individual service providers both regionally and nationally. We also intend to post our resources on NIFTI’s wiki and the website.


Sarah Bostick
Refugee Farmer Specialist
Cultivating Community
PO Box 3792
Portland, ME 04104
Office Phone: 2077614769
Sarah Marshall
Farm Manager
Cultivating Community
PO Box 3792
Portland, ME 04104
Office Phone: 2077614769
Hussein Muktar
Outreach Coordinator
Cultivating Community
PO Box 3792
Portland, ME 04104
Office Phone: 2077614769