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 to 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 second year of the project, including the following:
2007 Accomplishments/Milestones 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.
Two members of our leadership team attended the 2nd Annual Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture Education Conference in Ithaca, New York. Cultivating Success team members connected with other educational professionals, discussed on-farm education, and continue to stay updated on other models for delivering effective experiential learning opportunities.
The Cultivating Success program is on a national database of sustainable agriculture education programs. The link to the FSAE database (resource directory portal):
2007 Accomplishments/Milestones 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.
Our survey of Washington and Idaho small farms was completed and analyzed in January of 2007. The UI Social Science Research Unit presented a completed report of their findings in February 2007.
A poster on the Cultivating Success Small Farm Education Program was presented at the 2nd National Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture conference in July 2007 in Ithaca, New York. Over 170 people attended the conference. As part of the poster presentation, handouts of our preliminary survey results were distributed to approximately 50 participants.
Survey results have been presented to and discussed with farmers at two events in 2007; the Washington Tilth Conference in November and the Cultivating Success Farmer Mentor Orientation in Moscow, Idaho, in December.
Commentary by participating farmers at presentations about the survey results have been compiled and will be evaluated as part of the input gained throughout the project.
2007 Accomplishments/Milestones Achieved under Objective 3:
Develop the capacity to offer effective on-farm experiential opportunities.
The Cultivating Success website is routinely updated to promote the overall program and new course offerings, and it serves as an online location for the farmer mentor manual, instructor materials, and updated class materials. http://www.cultivatingsuccess.org/. Over 9000 hits on the website have been recorded in 2007. The apprenticeship section has been updated with a new apprenticeship application and new information on how to become a farmer-mentor.
A publication of lessons for on-farm lab activities was developed to go with the Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching course. This course is taught at sites throughout WA and Idaho and will serve to strengthen the on-farm component of the course. The lessons were developed at the UI student organic farm, but are applicable to multiple university or working farm situations.
The WSU Organic Farm Practicum course had fifteen academic and community level volunteers in on-farm learning positions in 2007.
Capacity building and development of additional on-farm learning events are occurring in SE Idaho as a result of this project. Project leaders worked closely with SE Idaho NRCS partners and have resulted in two Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching course offerings with strong farmer cooperation and on-farm learning tours.
A Cultivating Success Orientation and Leader Training was held in Ellensburg in May 2007. Attendance total was 24 (with 7 new potential instructors). The audience was a mix of extension instructors, project partners and interested farmer mentors.
A Cultivating Success Farmer Mentor Training in Moscow in December provided 18 farmers with our survey results, tips for on-farm apprenticeships and the useful discussions on what has worked for on farm education.
2007 Accomplishments/Milestones Achieved under Objective 4:
Provide experiential opportunities in Washington and Idaho farms and evaluate the impact.
A variety of on-farm learning activities were conducted in 2007; effectiveness of these experiential learning options are being evaluated as part of final project results:
1) Intensive week-long on-farm offering of the Sustainable Small Farm course
2) Summer apprenticeship supplemented with weekly educational classes that are open to public for a fee
3) Internship on cattle ranch; weekend on-farm work and learning sessions throughout spring and fall.
4) One day topic focused on-farm workshop (lambing school).
5) On-farm educational work days; instruction in exchange for work hours.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Impacts of our on-farm experiential model have already been identified in the second year of our project, including the following:
2007 Outcomes and Impacts of Objective 1:
The Cultivating Success project team is nationally recognized in its efforts for sustainable small farm education through attendance, poster presentations and informal discussions at numerous national meetings, including the Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture Education conference in 2007. Our team has developed personal connections with other national programs that are working in on-farm sustainable agriculture education programs related to ours. We have a database of other programs and have reviewed and assessed what models are working for both academic and other on-farm learning.
2007 Outcomes and Impacts of Objective 2:
Over 60 producers, extension educators and project partners are more aware of the program, our research and resulting work to improve on-farm experiential learning after participating in one of three presentations about our preliminary survey results conducted in 2007. Participants at these events provided additional input and ideas to contribute to future on-farm educational offerings.
The completed survey results have provided new information and expanded the project team’s knowledge about the needs for on-farm learning as a critical component for educating beginning farmers about whole systems based, sustainable farm and ranch management.
The project team members are using survey results to select and evaluate different formats for on-farm experiential learning that fit the needs of both the beginning farmers and the experienced farmers offering to share their expertise.
2007 Outcomes and Impacts of Objective 3:
Capacity for offering experiential education was increased through the farmer mentor orientation and training. All participants increased their understanding of successful on-farm learning formats, learned new teaching tips and educational techniques, increased their understanding of how to incorporate education into a work based internship and gained new insights about solving/preventing potential conflicts between farmer and apprentice/student.
One UI student successfully completed his on-farm apprenticeship for 6 academic credits; by completing this course and four others he earned a UI Certificate of Completion in Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching.
The farm manager at WSU Organic Farm became a Cultivating Success Farmer Mentor and had another fifteen students who completed the 2007 Organic Farm Practicum for credit or volunteer hours at WSU.
A farmer in NE Washington offered a week long version of the Sustainable Small Farming course became more interested in Cultivating Success and has become a Farmer-Mentor and is serving as a new member of our leadership team.
Boise and Pocatello instructors increased their understanding and capacity for offering the courses through one-on-one training with project team members.
2007 Outcomes and impacts of Objective 4:
Project partners in both Boise and Pocatello have conducted a second offering of the Sustainable Small Acreage farming course in 2007 with another 25 students participating in classroom and field learning experiences.
An experience Idaho producer arranged an on-farm educational mentoring and work exchange with two beginning farmers who met her during a fall 2006 offering of the Sustainable Small Acreage Farming course. One of these beginning farmers went on to raise heritage turkeys and had a successful first year’s harvest.
The project team has identified and is in the process of evaluating 4-6 on-farm experiential learning activities to assess their effectiveness for beginning farmers and the experience farmers who are offering them.