Improving Farmer Engagement in Sustainable Agriculture using Participatory Learning Techniques

Project Overview

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $134,022.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2023
Grant Recipient: The Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
State Coordinator:
Nicole Santangelo Thompson
Pennsylvania State University


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification. Adults, including farmers, learn best when they participate in relevant experiences and utilize practical information in ways that make them feel respected and valued. Farmers also prefer learning about issues concerning agriculture and natural resource conservation from other farmers and participatory learning techniques provide them an opportunity to share experiences as they problem-solve complex agricultural issues with peers. However, many Agricultural Service Providers (ASPs) are unfamiliar with such teaching tactics and unsure how to incorporate them into their typical subject-based Extension programs. Although the majority of ASPs are highly educated and skilled in specific agricultural disciplines, many have minimal training in education methodology, especially as it relates to adult learners. A lack of focus on approaches that engage adult learners are leaving farmers unengaged and unsupported when attending programs that teach information that could help them manage agricultural sustainability.
    Solution and Approach. This professional development program will educate 20 ASPs in Pennsylvania about better strategies for engaging farmers with participatory learning techniques during facilitated on-line and in-person activities and discussions that increase their knowledge and familiarity about adult education strategies. Through this program, 20 ASPs learn about adult education techniques by engaging with prepared materials focused on various concepts. Six online and 3 in-person activities and discussions focused on the material’s subject matter will help them incorporate multiple participatory learning techniques into 20 sustainable agriculture outreach programs (one program per ASP) that they will host for 400 farmers. To minimize the need for extra meeting and travel time, project activities will be incorporated into existing team meeting schedules and program areas, so they are compatible with ASP’s current commitments. The state coordinator, subject experts, and peer groups will help them apply newly learned techniques into their programs. Four-hundred farmers who participate in activities hosted by ASP participants will have opportunities to share their own experiences during meetings that provide them with chances to interact with other farmers, professional advisors, and educational materials. Stronger peer-collaboration during events focused on addressing sustainability issues on farms can collectively benefit all participant’s abilities to improve critical thinking skills, receive social support, and effectively gain knowledge.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Over three years, agricultural service providers will improve their knowledge and abilities to use participatory learning techniques during facilitated on-line (6) and in-person (3) activities and discussions that increase their familiarity with adult education strategies. Continuous engagement with topic experts, peer groups, and at annual symposiums will further increase ASPs knowledge about participatory education. 20 Agricultural Service Providers incorporate learned strategies into 20 separate meetings for 400 farmers in order to create co-learning opportunities where farmers and agricultural partners can examine and problem-solve complex sustainable agriculture issues together.

    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.