Reconnecting with Purpose: Renewing Agricultural Providers and Enriching their Service to Farmers

Project Overview

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $166,665.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Cornell Small Farms Program
Region: Northeast
State: New York
State Coordinator:
Violet Stone
Cornell Small Farms Program


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: mentoring, Circle of Trust, Peer Learning Circles

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification: Often professional development programs for agricultural service providers focus on offering opportunities to build specific knowledge and skills that can be utilized to better serve farmer audiences. This type of ‘educatum’ as it was known originally in latin, places the emphasis on ‘molding’ or ‘training’. The service provider is trained and in turn teaches the farmer. This project, however, focuses on often neglected roots of the word 'education' deriving from ‘educare’ and ‘educere’, which mean ‘to nourish, to bring up, to lead forth, to draw out.’ This project recognizes that in this era of mass information sharing, knowledge and resources are often abundantly available, but spaces where agricultural providers can draw out and employ their inner resources - their sources of joy, gifts, strengths, and rich identities - are gravely lacking. With so many professional development programs focused on delivering 'education' to the trainee, it's become normal for providers to lose their own voice and see themselves as a receptacle to receive and recapitulate knowledge. When we use professional development ‘trainees’ as a means to an end, we constrain solutions to the challenges they face to what is ‘outside’ of them. Rarely are we invited to reflect on our passions, inspirations, or failures and struggles. We often fail to show elements of our identities - for example, our race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality - for fear of being marginalized or disliked. While we tend to keep much of our identity and inner wealth hidden from our work, our work is not separate from who we are.

    When an agricultural provider offers their farmer beneficiaries a fragment of their potential, this is also the farmers’ loss. When they lose their voice, they become no more valuable to farmers than an internet search. When they are treated as a means to an end, they infer their purpose is a conduit, and many resign to this.

    Solution and Approach: Each year of this 3-year project, 20 agricultural service providers from NY will reconnect with a sense of purpose and identity by drawing out and nourishing their inner resources in a supportive community of practice. Through 2 in-person retreats and 4 online peer learning circles, these providers will develop and shape a professional learning plan to implement in their service to farmers. Our retreat programs are adapted from the Academy of Leaders and Courage to Teach programs which have been offered by the Center for Courage & Renewal for over two decades. The formats have been successfully tested and refined by our certified Courage & Renewal facilitator Marcia Eames-Sheavly, who has incorporated them into existing extension programs for garden-based learning educators, Cornell faculty and staff programs, and student classes since 2012.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    After participating in a community of practice aimed at reconnecting work with purpose and identity, 60 agriculture service providers will implement a professional learning plan that brings forth the diversity and identity of the educator, invigorates their educational efforts, and demonstrates willingness to take risks. They will engage 1200 farmers within 6 months completion of the program.

    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.