Using farmer-rancher input to develop and implement experiential educational opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers
The goal of the project is to develop experiential educational programs that will foster the economic sustainability of small acreage farmers and ranchers, enhance their quality of life and improve stewardship practices of natural resources. This project is a new research focus of a larger collaborative effort between University of Idaho, Washington State University and Rural Roots that will focus on the on-farm experiential aspects of the overall program called Cultivating Success. This project will review and assess existing experiential education models; assess the needs of our regional beginning farmers and evaluate the appropriateness of existing models to their needs; and, conduct and evaluate four experiential farmer/rancher educational programs in Idaho and Washington.
The project is composed of four main objectives:
• Objective 1: Identify and evaluate existing models for delivering experiential learning that have potential for contributing to a whole farm or ranch systems approach to small acreage farming and ranching.
• Objective 2: Assess the relevance of existing experiential learning models to determine how well they will meet the needs of beginning farmers wanting to learn practical, whole system-based sustainable farm and ranch management.
• Objective 3: Develop the capacity of experienced sustainable farmers and ranchers, extension educators and researchers to offer effective and meaningful experiential educational opportunities on working farms, university farms and research stations.
• Objective 4: Provide experiential education opportunities in small acreage farming and ranching in Washington and Idaho and evaluate their impact on resource management and farm profitability.
Several accomplishments and milestones have been identified from the first year of the project, including the following:
Accomplishments Achieved under Objective 1: Identify and evaluate existing models for delivering experiential learning that have potential for contributing to a whole farm or ranch systems approach to small acreage farming and ranching.
• Online research of over 50 organizations and institutions was conducted to determine existing models for delivering experiential learning in programs focused on education of sustainable agriculture systems
• Four members of our leadership team were sent to attend a conference focused on how to facilitate sustainable agricultural education. At the conference we were able to build connections and network with other colleagues who have experience with on-farm learning programs.
• A survey was conducted that allowed us to collect and compile a notebook of information about other university farm education programs.
• A survey and an in-depth analysis of 10 organizations, including 3 university-based and 7 community-based affiliations, provided additional evaluative information on existing models. The research was done by initial contact through the Internet, and informational brochures and followed up by an email survey.
• We found a common thread among the 10 organizations in that they did not utilize a methodology for evaluating the effectiveness of their on-farm learning programs. Out of the 10 organizations that were surveyed, only 3 were able to evaluate and track the long-term outcomes of their program (2 out of those 3 were university based programs).
Accomplishments Achieved under Objective 2: Assess the relevance of existing experiential learning models to determine how well they will meet the needs of beginning farmers wanting to learn practical, whole system-based sustainable farm and ranch management.
• Models have been identified and analyzed to determine trends that are used in existing programs.
• A total of 12 focus groups have been held, including 6 focus groups that included experienced farmers, and 6 focus groups that included new farmers. This was exactly what was proposed for the project, and has been completed as stated.
• A survey instrument was designed from the results of the focus group sessions to evaluate interest and preferred format /content of on-farm learning activities. A pre-test of the survey was sent to 40 of the total sample to assure question comprehension and design. The survey was revised following the pre-test and the complete survey will be conducted in late October – December 0f 2006.
Accomplishments Achieved under Objective 3: Develop the capacity to offer effective on-farm experiential opportunities.
• New course sites in ID & WA have been identified and integrated into the Cultivating Success sustainable agriculture program.
• Focus groups have provided valuable communication between farmers, community members, students, and the Cultivating Success team to integrate concerns and needs into the evaluation of program development for offering on-farm experiential opportunities.
• University farm capacity increased at both the University of Idaho and Washington State University. Students involved in the University of Idaho student-run organic farm developed their own Community Supported Agriculture program, and the farm is now serving as both a working and teaching farm where students learn how to implement practices of organic farming and gardening. A new Organic Farm Practicum course has been developed at the Washington State University Organic Teaching Farm.
• The Cultivating Success website is routinely updated to promote the overall program and new course offerings, and serves as an online location for the farmer mentor manual, instructor materials, and updated class materials. http://www.cultivatingsuccess.org/. Over 6000 hits have been recorded in 2006.
• The Idaho Small Farms website serves as an online location for promoting courses: http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sustag/smallfarms/.
• A “Farmer Mentor Handbook” has been developed by one of our lead producers to aid the process of training future farmer mentors. The completed handbook is copyrighted and available for free download and access on the Cultivating Success website: http://www.cultivatingsuccess.org/farmer_mentor_handbook.htm
• One Farmer-Mentor training has been offered since completion of the Farmer Mentor handbook.
Accomplishments Achieved under Objective 4: Provide experiential opportunities in Washington and Idaho farms and evaluate the impact.
Five farms are currently certified as Cultivating Success Farmer Mentor sites, including three farms in Idaho and two farms in Washington. These farmers have attended training and developed curriculum-based learning activities for potential apprenticeship opportunities. Apprenticeship opportunities on these farms are detailed on the Cultivating Success website at: http://www.cultivatingsuccess.org/coursecalendar.htm#On-Farm Apprenticeships
With results from the survey currently being conducted, four new farm sites will be identified to offer experiential learning activities specifically designed to meet the needs and interests of new and experienced farmers. These activities will be evaluated to access the effectiveness and will help our program to increase the amount of ‘workable’ on-farm experiences.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Impacts of our on-farm experiential model have already been identified in the first year of our project, including the following:
Outcomes and Impacts of Objective 1:
The project team has developed and strengthened connections with other universities and programs that offer on-farm educational opportunities both through attendance to a Sustainable Agriculture education conference and through direct communication with other organizations across the country. In addition, the Cultivating Success program has been entered into a national database that lists programs that offer on-farm educational experiences, which has allowed the program to reach a larger number of farmers and students who are looking for on-farm experiential education opportunities across the nation.
Outcomes and Impacts of Objective 2:
Conducting the focus groups of both new and experienced farmers, as well academic students has allowed us to reach more than 125 people in the Washington and Idaho area. Answers from the focus group sessions were directly implemented as multiple choice questions in the survey instrument.
In addition to development of a usable survey tool to evaluate on-farm educational experiences, the focus group sessions allowed the Cultivating Success team to connect with a large number of new and existing farmers, adding more than 140 farmers, community members, and students to our network. Several farmers newly connected to our program have become enthusiastic participants in the further success of the program, and are willing to serve as potential mentors, advisors to on-farm educational opportunities, and/or provide future farm tours / farm-walks. An unplanned outcome of our farmer focus group was building the program’s strength with these new farmer contacts.
Outcomes and Impacts of Objective 3:
In 2005, an instructor training was held in Ellensburg, Washington, and 21 new instructors were trained. A total of 25 people attended the training, including farmers, non-profit organization employees, university affiliates, extension educators, and grant agency representatives. This instructor training not only strengthened the knowledge base of current and new instructors, but also served as a method of further enhancing community knowledge of the overall Cultivating Success program.
Completion and online publication of the Farmer Mentor Handbook has provided a valuable resource to farmers interested in learning how to be a successful mentor for future apprenticeships on their farm or ranch. The Farmer Mentor Handbook will serve as a model for current and future programs that would like to develop and implement this type of process for furthering the capacity of experienced farmers to provide efficient on-farm learning experiences to new and future farmers.
A total of 13 students completed the 2006 summer practicum course at the Washington State Organic farm. Seven UI students received credit in 2005/2006 while working and learning through on-farm experiential education, while close to 20 students have helped in various aspects of production and marketing to develop a Community Supported Agriculture program which provided food for 28 families in 2006.
Outcomes and impacts of Objective 4:
Three academic students received credits by completing on-farm apprenticeships in 2005 and 2006. One each was completed at the WSU Organic Farm, the UI student organic farm and at Green Tree Naturals, a working farm in Sandpoint, Idaho.
An apprenticeship application is to be updated and added to the Cultivating Success website by December 2006. This on-line application form will ease the facilitation of linking new and learning farmers with farmer-mentor opportunities, as well as promote the apprenticeship program both regionally and nationally. The online apprenticeship application will allow the Cultivating Success program to serve as an institution that provides the service to link future apprentices seeking on-farm educational opportunities to an appropriate farm site that both fits their needs and the needs of the hosting farmer mentor.