- Sustainable Communities: community planning, leadership development, public participation, public policy
‘Increasing Farmer Participation in Local Government’ seeks to address the disconnect between Pennsylvania municipalities and the farmers who live and work in them. There have been significant efforts to foster understanding among local elected officials, planning commissioners and others about the needs of agriculture and the impact of land use and other local regulations. But farmers often struggle to remain viable in the face of legislation that, intended or not, has adverse impacts on farming operations. Building on the educational efforts aimed at local officials, this project will encourage farmers to become directly involved in local government as elected and appointed officials or as active citizens. Working with cooperating farmers and collaborating organizations, we’ll identify real and perceived barriers to farmer involvement in local government and develop programming – workshop presentations and outreach materials – to address those concerns. Curriculum will be presented to farmers at conferences and regional meetings of the collaborating organizations and through their outreach mechanisms: blogs, social media, and newsletters. The project runs through the 2017 Pennsylvania municipal primary, and will conclude with an evaluation that assesses the impact of the project in terms of numbers of farmer candidatesand increases in civic participation. Anticipated outcomes: • Increase the number of farmer candidates for local government offices • Increase farmer civic participation • Increase farmer participation in legislative advocacy and activities on behalf of their professional associations • Create better understanding and support for the agriculture community at the local government level through farmer involvement
Project objectives from proposal:
Increasing farmer involvement in local government can help all elected officials understand the effect of policy initiatives on the farming community. Serving in elected office gives farmers a direct voice in policy-making around land use and local legislation such as for buildings, access roads, and commercial operations. Often the critical work in developing community vision and goals starts at the planning commission. Volunteering for appointed office as a planning commissioner or zoning hearing board member gives farmers a voice in recommending policy. A third level of involvement is through citizen participation: attending meetings, providing input on proposed policy, and advocating for farm-friendly regulations. When farmers actively communicate on a regular basis, they have a better chance of influencing decisions that are beneficial to the agricultural community, or at the very least to deter well-intended decisions with negative ramifications.
This project will encourage farmers to increase their participation in local government. We’ll work with our collaborators to identify real and perceived barriers to participation in local government. Second, we’ll modify existing educational materials on citizen engagement to help address those barriers. Finally we’ll reach farmers on their own ‘turf’ through workshops and presentations at statewide and regional meetings and conferences.
The project goal is to enhance the viability of Pennsylvania farmers through the adoption of local policies and regulations that are sensitive to the needs of the agricultural community. The proposed method for achieving this goal is to foster more active participation among farmers in borough and township government, and in particular to place more farmers in appointed and elected offices.
Phase 1: Issues and Outreach
To kick off the project, the project team of project manager and cooperating farmers will develop a set of discussion questions aimed at identifying real and perceived barriers to farmer participation in local government. The project manager will meet with the board of directors or a committee of each of the six collaborating organizations, using the discussion questions for a face-to-face exploration of issues that inhibit farmer involvement as active citizens. We’ll also identify strategies for outreach to each organization’s membership such as conferences, regional meetings, newsletters, email and social media methods and websites. In some cases the organization may designate a member to work with the project, who will ultimately continue to deliver program materials to the organization’s members after the close of the project. While the collaborating organizations represent a broad spectrum of Pennsylvania agriculture, they are only a small portion of the agricultural organizations in Pennsylvania, many of which are commodity-focused. In our meetings with the collaborating organizations we’ll seek suggestions, advice and referrals to other ag organizations that would be interested in and could benefit from the project. Although direct program delivery to additional organizations will likely be beyond the scope of this project, we may be able to reach additional audience, i.e. their membership, through newsletters and social media.
Phase 2: Program Development
The project manager will develop program materials including a PowerPoint presentation, supporting materials, resources and other relevant handouts, and evaluation tools based on Penn State Extension’s “Toss Your Hat in the Ring” curriculum. This curriculum will be modified to specifically target farmers and will include specific content to address real and perceived barriers to farmer participation. All materials will be reviewed by the project team and revised accordingly. The program will be delivered as a pilot at the January 2016 Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention in Hershey Pennsylvania which is sponsored in part by collaborating partner State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania. This pilot session will be evaluated for content and delivery methods in addition to the traditional short-term evaluation of knowledge gained and impact on participants. Final revisions to the program content will be made based on the results of the pilot.
Phase 3: Program Delivery
Once the program has been piloted and vetted and final revisions have been made, it will be delivered through collaborating organizations as a conference breakout session or workshop. All programming will be delivered by the Project Manager. If collaborating organizations have designated someone to be involved in future program delivery, the workshop will serve as a train-the-trainer session as well. In this case, the Project Manager will meet with the designated ‘trainee’ in advance via Adobe Connect or conference call to review and prepare presentation materials. Preliminary plans for program delivery include annual meetings and/or regional meetings of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Women in Agriculture Network, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania and Young Growers Alliance. The cost of program delivery, which is essentially time, travel and workshop materials, will be covered by the NE SARE Sustainable Communities grant. Penn State Extension will provide necessary equipment such as laptop and projector. Depending on the outreach strategies identified in Phase 2, we’ll also develop newsletter articles, blogs and other methods for disseminating information directly to farmers. A short-term evaluation will be conducted at each workshop to measure knowledge gained, the intent of participants to become involved in local government, and the level of involvement they intend to pursue.
Phase 4: Evaluation and Wrap-up
Program delivery is scheduled to occur through early 2017, in anticipation of Pennsylvania municipal elections in May 2017. The project team will meet in the spring of 2017 to evaluate program delivery and discuss plans for the future. This may also involve follow-up discussions with the collaborating organizations on how to continue delivering program content to their members once the project is completed. This project is neither large enough in scope nor long enough in term to assess progress towards the goal of creating local government policies and regulations that improve agricultural viability, which would require both an assessment of current local regulations and a longitudinal study of changes. What we can do is evaluate the impact of the program on individual farmers. Shortly after the primary, we will conduct a long-term evaluation using a web-based tool to determine whether there has been increased participation in local government among farmers. In addition to contacting workshop participants, we’ll also reach out to other members of the collaborating organizations through emails, newsletter, websites and social media.
The long-term evaluation will be constructed to differentiate between respondents who attended one of the programs and those who were reached through other outreach strategies. In order to measure impact, the evaluation will ask whether participants decided to seek elected office and if the program and/or outreach materials affected their decision. A follow-up question will ask whether those participants who became candidates were successful in the May 2017 primary election. Other indicators of increased level of involvement will also be measured, including seeking appointed office, attending local government meetings, speaking with local government officials, speaking with other farmers about local government issues, following local government news more closely, following agricultural organization messaging on local government issues more closely, and serving on agricultural organization committees to address local issues of concern.
The final report for the project will include recommended actions for continuing to promote farmer participation in local government. If the project is successful, some farmers may be interested in stepping up within their organizations to work on the recommended next steps.
Phase 1: Issues and Outreach, July 2015 – December 2015
• Kick off meetings with cooperating farmers
• Development of discussion questions for collaborating organizations
• Meetings with collaborating organizations
Phase 2: Program development, October 2015 – April 2016
• Input meetings with cooperating farmers
• Development of draft curriculum and materials
• Present program as a pilot at Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention, Jan 2016
• Revise curriculum and materials
• Review meetings with cooperating farmers
• Create final program curriculum and materials
Phase 3: Program delivery, April 2016 – February 2017
(Pennsylvania election schedule: Candidate petitions are filed February-March 2017, municipal primary in May 2017)
• Schedule program presentations:
Sept – Oct 2016, four PASA regional meetings
Nov 2016, PA Farm Bureau annual meeting
December 2016, WAgN annual meeting
January 2017, Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable convention
January 2017, PASA Farming for the Future conference
Other regional and statewide meetings as identified by collaborating organizations
• Train-the-trainer sessions for collaborating organizations’ key individuals
• Outreach strategy meetings with cooperating farmers
• Develop and disseminate outreach materials (news articles, blogs etc)
• Develop generic version of program materials suitable for modification and use in other states
Phase 4: Evaluation and Wrap-up
• Analyze short-term evaluations
• Review results with cooperating farmers
• Follow-up meetings with collaborating organizations
• Administer long-term follow-up after May 2017 municipal primary
• Collect and analyze long-term evaluation results
• Disseminate findings to collaborating organizations, collect input for final report
• Prepare final report for submission
• Review meeting with cooperating farmers
• Project close-out
Work products will include a final report suitable for publication in the SARE report database, summarizing projects goals, methodology, evaluation results and lessons learned. All program materials will be available in PowerPoint and Microsoft Word, with notes on how to customize these items for use in other states. The Project Manager will also be available after the grant period for limited consultation with other states on program implementation.
The project will be submitted to the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals as a conference session, thus reaching Extension professionals across the country. We’ll also work with the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development to disseminate the results of the project and promote the availability of training materials.
The most critical method for disseminating project information, if we are successful in creating more farmer involvement in local government, is to ensure that program delivery continues. Within Pennsylvania, this can be accomplished in several ways. First, we will work with our collaborating organizations early in the project to identify key persons who can be trained in program delivery, to continue delivering the program to their membership. Second, early in the project we hope to identify other agricultural organizations within the state who will be interested in the program. Those organizations will also be encouraged to identify key individuals to become trained in program delivery. Third, educators on Penn State Extension’s Community and Economic Development team will be available to deliver programming on a contractual basis or as a stand-alone workshop after the project is concluded. Penn State Extension will also make the materials developed through this project available through its website and publications resources. Because of our history of local government training and our emphasis on citizen engagement, we will no doubt continue to develop and publish work in this area.