- Education and Training: technical assistance, Community of Practice
Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals is a partnership between the Kentucky Horticulture Council, the Organic Association of Kentucky, and the University of Kentucky collaborating with other organizations that support Kentucky producers. This project addresses agriculture professionals’ knowledge and resource gaps relative to sustainable production of specialty crops and creates a Community of Practice (CoP). This project will be introduced and available to all Kentucky Extension staff members and other ag professionals who support growers across the Commonwealth, including USDA field staff and other technical service providers. Participants will develop expertise on sustainable practices suitable for specialty crop production and increased awareness of available resources, resulting in amplified impact within the Kentucky technical support network. Through synchronous and asynchronous training as well as an educational resource repository, project participants will be trained and empowered to train growers in selecting and managing cost-effective sustainable production practices. Additionally, participants will build inter-organizational relationships for reciprocal grower referral and access to services. Ag professionals will increase knowledge about sustainable production practices and improve knowledge of grower resources after each training session and report working with growers to implement sustainable production practices. Sustained outcomes of the project include agents being better prepared to serve local growers resulting in pervasive economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits. At the project conclusion, a thriving CoP will exist, allowing agents and technical service providers to continually expand their areas of expertise, improve technical skills, and learn from peers’ experiences.
Project objectives from proposal:
The Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals project trains and empowers Kentucky agriculture professionals to train farmers in selecting and implementing sustainable production practices. This two-year project offers professional development opportunities using synchronous and asynchronous learning activities in addition to developing and curating educational resources in a central repository.
The primary target audience is Extension Agents from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, the 1862 and 1890 land grant universities, respectively, in the state. The secondary target audience is agriculture professionals from federal and state agencies (i.e. USDA NRCS field staff) and non-profit agricultural organizations. The end beneficiaries of the project are Kentucky farmers, the majority of whom operate smaller-scale, highly-diversified operations.
A diverse, multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts and farmers will collaborate to develop and deliver curriculum, using a “train the trainer” model. Project participants will receive knowledge, hands-on experience, resources, and educational tools they can use at the county and farm level to help producers select, adopt, and optimize sustainable production practices for economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits. A subset of ag professional will participate in a Community of Practice (CoP), amplifying the capacity, knowledge base, and access to relevant resources in Kentucky.
Objective 1: Develop curricula, farm tours, and educational resources including modules, fact sheets, and a decision-making tool to train Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Agents and ag professionals on sustainable agriculture management programs suitable for common Kentucky production systems. Curricula topics and farm tour focus areas will be honed based on initial assessment of project participants’ needs and, in combination with farmer and KY’s SARE Coordinator’s input, will include foundational topics such as sustainable management strategies for soil health, disease, pest and weed management, crop specific production practices, information on certification programs, and conservation programs. Project resources and other curated materials will be available on UK Center for Crop Diversification’s website (https://www.uky.edu/ccd/), which is a well-known resource for ag professionals and growers with high engagement (159,000+ views in 2019 and 91,000+ views Jan-Mar, 2020). Resources housed in this respected and convenient repository will increase awareness of management programs suitable for organic and conventional farms and provide critical knowledge needed to understand and recommend appropriate sustainable agriculture production practices that will improve farming operations.
Objective 2: Train an estimated 400 Kentucky agriculture professionals (working as Cooperative Extension Service Agents, USDA NRCS field personnel, non-profit agricultural organization staff, and other technical assistance providers) using the developed curricula and resources. Over the two years, participants will engage directly with subject matter experts and farmers and learn through 6 webinars, 4 farm tours, 4 agent trainings, and 8 Community of Practice meetings as well as accessing fact sheets and other web-based resources. These professional development trainings are designed to increase participants’ knowledge, tool kits, and capacity to support farmers interested in adopting and advancing sustainable production practices. Sessions will be 1 hour or more in length, offer Continuing Education Units (CEUs), and qualify for professional development hours with partner institutions. At the conclusion of each training session, participants will be able to answer questions on sustainable management practices with at least an 80% proficiency. As a result of these trainings, participants will understand positive on-farm impacts of sustainable agriculture practices, report having a more favorable attitude towards the management strategies, report being more confident in recommending and supporting farmers using these practices, and report an increase in making farmer referrals to relevant certification programs and conservation programs.
Objective 3: The project will impact at least 800 farmers as the ag professionals participating in the project actively incorporate sustainable agriculture content into farmer trainings, outreach activities, and on-farm consultations. At least 400 farmers will commit to adopting sustainable practices including some combination of cover cropping, crop rotation, integrated pest management, reduced tillage, reduced nonrenewable resources inputs, increasing biodiversity, and managing the land with whole systems thinking.
Educational activity and resource availability will be communicated by the project team and the project collaborator network through email, listservs, social media channels, newsletters, at events, and through personal contact. The combined efforts of this project will improve the overall knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices among ag professionals in Kentucky. Expanded abilities to locate technical resources, identify and share appropriate sustainable management strategies, and facilitate referrals to other agencies and organizations will be highly beneficial to farmers and technical advisors. Achieving these objectives will boost agent capacity and promote environmental and economic advances by Kentucky farmers, extending well beyond the life of the project.