Increasing farmer participation in local government
‘Increasing Farmer Participation in Local Government’ seeks to address the disconnect between Pennsylvania municipalities and the farmers who live and work in them by encouraging farmers to become directly involved in local government as elected and appointed officials or as active citizens. The two key components of the project are 1) research into the factors that inhibit active participation and 2) the development and delivery of educational programming to encourage more participation. Working with two cooperating farmers, the project will identify cooperating agricultural organizations that will participate in focus group research and subsequently host educational training sessions for the newly developed curriculum.
- Phase 1: Issues and Outreach – design and conduct focus group research with collaborating agricultural organizations and collect data. Completed in 2016.
- Phase 2: Program Development – research analysis and creation of educational content. Completed in 2016.
- Phase 3: Program Delivery – presenting the educational workshop at sessions hosted by the collaborating agricultural organizations. Started in 2016, to be complete in 2017.
- Phase 4: and Evaluation and Wrap-up. To be completed in 2017.
Phase 1: Issues and Outreach In addition to the 4 focus groups conducted in 2015 – PA Farm Bureau, Young Farmers and Ranchers Association, Young Growers Alliance, and PA State Council of Farm Organizations – two focus groups were conducted in early 2016:
- Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) February 2, 2016, 32 participants
- Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association February 17, 2016, 16 participants
Data from the focus groups was collected and aggregated into a table format. Major categories of input include
- Number of focus group members already involved in local government, and in what capacity
- The level of farmer participation in local government; whether and how it has changed over the past twenty years
- Reasons for low levels of participation
- Barriers to participation, grouped into time concerns, conflict concerns, business concerns and other
- Issues in farmer-local government relations and local government ag-related policy
- Suggestions for increasing involvement
Phase 2: Program Development A PowerPoint presentation has been developed titled “What’s In It for Me: Farmers and Local Government”. Based on the data collected in the focus group research, it became apparent that farmers wanted to hear examples of how local government policy impacts agriculture. This was emphasized by the younger participants in the focus groups. When asked for suggestions on how to increase farmer involvement in local government, one young grower responded ‘show me what’s in it for me’ which became both the title and the theme of the presentation.
To demonstrate the impact of local government policy and the importance of having agriculture’s voice at the local government table, I identified and interviewed 6 farmers and local government officials, and included three of them as stories in the PowerPoint presentation. The presentation is structured so that others who wish to use it in the future could easily replace these stories with examples from another state, a specific ag commodity group, or a specific issue.
Phase 3: Program Delivery The first scheduled presentation, to the PA Grange in October 2016, was unsuccessful due to scheduling problems at the Grange conference. (Their membership ran an hour longer than anticipated and I was unable to present my workshop). The following two presentations were well-received:
- PA Farm Bureau, November 15 2016, 26 participants
- Women’s Agricultural Network, December 6, 2016, 12 participants
Cooperating farmer Charles Myers attended the PA Farm Bureau session. Both of these sessions were scheduled against other breakout sessions and attendance was strong in terms of the overall audience at the conferences. An informal measure of audience interest is whether participants leave during the session. No participants left early at either session. (At the Farm Bureau session, which was after lunch, only one audience member fell asleep.)
Phase 1, Issues and Outreach
- Kick off meetings with cooperating farmers
- Development of discussion questions for collaborating organizations
- Meetings with collaborating organizations
Phase 2, Program Development
- Input meetings with cooperating farmers
- Development of draft curriculum and materials
- Revise curriculum and materials
- Review meetings with cooperating farmers
- Create final program curriculum and materials
Not accomplished: Present program as a pilot at Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention, Jan 2016.
Phase 3, Program Delivery
- Schedule program presentations, PA Farm Bureau annual meeting, Women’s Agricultural Network annual meeting, PASA Farming for the Future conference
- Schedule other regional and statewide meetings as identified by collaborating organizations: PA Grange, PA Young Farmers
- Outreach strategy meetings with cooperating farmers
- Program presentations Sept – Oct 2016, four PASA regional meetings – these meetings did not allow time for more than a 10 minute presentation
- January 2017, Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable convention – the time slot offered (Monday evening) was unlikely to attract participants.
- Train-the-trainer sessions for collaborating organizations’ key individuals – no interest expressed to-date form collaborating organizations.
To be accomplished:
- 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
To be accomplished:
- 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
- Analyze short-term evaluations, Review results with cooperating farmers – determined that short-term evaluations were not feasible given conference breakout sessions, and also unlikely to show any significant change in attitude or behavior
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
I am hopeful that one of the impacts of this project is an increased interest among the collaborating agricultural organizations – and others – in promoting discussion of local government involvement. This can be accomplished by including sessions such as the one developed in this project at annual meetings and conferences, providing information and featuring guest blogs and articles in membership publications and on websites, etc. Given the current climate of incivility in politics and elections in general in our country, it remains to be seen whether targeted outreach can convince members of the agriculture community to overcome the barriers to involvement.
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