Improving Sustainable Agriculture Programs in Vermont through Enhanced Evaluation Capacity and Needs Assessment

Project Overview

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $46,111.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: UVM Extension - New Farmer Project & Women's Agricultural Network
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
State Coordinator:
Beth Holtzman
UVM Extension - New Farmer Project & Women's Agricultural Network


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: needs assessment and evaluation

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem & Justification - Building Evaluation Capacity
    While the majority of Vermont's sustainable agriculture programming is well-received and well-attended by the farming community, a 2017 review of professional development priorities among Extension, NGO and agency personnel identified evaluation as a priority topic. Many indicated that they struggle to develop effective and efficient evaluation processes and tools that both meet funders' reporting requirements and that can help identify approaches and components of programs that are most effective at supporting on-farm changes. UVM Extension has not had an evaluation specialist or staff coordinator since 2005, leaving evaluation planning and curriculum development the responsibility of the faculty and staff delivering the programs.

    Solution and Approach - Building Evaluation Capacity
    This project, a continuation of work started in 2018, will build evaluation capacity among a cadre of Extension educators and non-profit organization and public agency staff. This group of 20 educators and service providers have been learning about and then applying a variety of evaluation concepts and approaches in their work with farmers to identify and amplify components that are effective at supporting tangible changes on the farm. Using both in-person and distance education approaches, the project has provided information about a variety of evaluation approaches, techniques, resources and tools, supporting participants to use and adapt those that make sense for their programs. Participants have requested additional training and support. In this final year, we will continue to offer resources, tools and individual support to help participants integrate these processes in their work, to document the changes in evaluation process and share highlights and lessons learned with the broader community of Vermont educators and technical service providers.

    Problem and Justification - Needs Assessment
    To ensure that Vermont's 2021-2024 project focuses on issues of high relevance to farmers and agricultural service providers, the project coordinator will conduct a needs assessment to identify topics where development of knowledge and skills among ag service providers is needed to address sustainable agriculture issues in Vermont.

    Solution and Approach - Needs Assessment
    The project director will use a variety of needs assessment tools, including document review, surveys and interviews to identify the content and delivery approach for the next three-year project. The needs assessment will collect: a)farmer perspectives on priority topics for farmer-oriented education/technical assistance that could help farmers achieve greater sustainability; b)service provider interest in multiple topic areas c) perceptions about professional development within the agricultural service provider community needed to effectively deliver education/services in these topic areas. The needs assessment will incorporate findings from recent strategic planning and needs assessments conducted by UVM Extension and key nonprofit and public agencies in Vermont.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    1) 14 Extension educators and non-profit personnel will use increased outcome evaluation knowledge and skills to improve programs designed to help 120 beginning farmers launch and grow farm enterprises that meet their business, stewardship and lifestyle goals, and help 120 established producers adopt nutrient management, cover crop and other production practices that support Vermont's new water quality goals.

    2) Additionally, the project director will conduct a stakeholder needs assessment in preparation for the 2021-2024 Vermont professional development project.

    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.