| NRCS District Conservationist Bobbi McDerMott discusses cultivation practices with a cooperator in Yuma, Az. |
Photo by Jeff Vanuga, NRCS Photo Gallery
Kentucky State University (KSU) small farm assistants work in rural communities where small farmers seem most receptive to receiving information from people they know and trust. KSU "paraprofessionals" take advantage of their local connections to spread information about sustainable farming throughout Kentucky, with real results. Typically, they spend five years with each farmer, with whom they work in mentor-student relationships.
Marion Simon, a small farm specialist with KSU extension, runs a popular, SARE-supported monthly training program at KSUs research farm. In her six years of running the Third Thursday field days, a diverse set of participants has toured the university research and demonstration farm. In large part, the workshops educate small farm assistants, a group that reaches far into the hills of Kentucky.
Theyre outstanding, said Simon of the team of paraprofessionals with whom she works. The average farmer increases his income by $10,000 or $12,000 while enrolled in the program.
Small farm assistant Scott Harne knows many of the farmers in Casey County, Ky., where just 6.5 percent of the population has graduated from college and the average income is $11,774. Recently, he helped a tobacco grower diversify into tomatoes and peppers, which she now sells to neighbors and at another farmers roadside stand.
Harne feels he connects well with county residents. People are pretty comfortable with me, he said. Im not afraid to get my hands dirty. (Click here for a complete story about this project.)
In the Great Plains, Lakota market gardeners unaccustomed to working the land now are finding new ways to improve their diets with freshly grown produce. Thanks to a team of Lakota leaders coordinated by Ann Krush of South Dakotas Center for Permaculture as Native Science, the tribe is beginning to grow its own food, imperative in this reservation 50 miles from the nearest grocery store. The work is encouraged by Lakota program assistants supported by funds from a SARE grant who further the Centers goals by working side by side with new gardeners.
As their skills and interest increase, so does their harvest. In 2001, the group started a small farmers market at the reservations only traffic light, selling their excess vegetables in a start at self-sufficiency. Five years ago, you wouldnt have noticed any gardens on the reservation, Krush said. Now theres no question they are very evident. (Click here for a complete story about this project.)
In the productive fields of central California, a new crop of farmers has become financially independent thanks to their involvement in the Rural Development Center, a program run by the nonprofit Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA). The farmers, most of whom immigrated from Mexico to pick vegetables in the Salinas Valley, enrolled in an intensive night and weekend course to learn the ins and outs of vegetable production and marketing.
The bilingual program includes several months of practical experience growing vegetables in the field. By advertising in Spanish-language media, ALBA staffers continue to draw applicants hungry for a better life.
Most agree that the money and stability of being a farm proprietor is welcome compared to the seasonal fluctuations associated with migrant work and the itinerant lifestyle of farm workers, said Patrick Troy, ALBA agronomist and education coordinator. (Click here for a complete story about this project.)
|Socio-Economic Barriers that May Hinder Access to Information:|
|Lack of land (in parts of the West, most ancestral lands are under U.S. government ownership)|
|High levels of poverty. Many cant finance an enterprise, said Marion Simon from Kentucky State University. If I can show them how to save $1,500 or increase production by 50 percent through a soil test, then weve got a believer.|
|Time constraints. Many farmers work off-farm jobs or are pressed to finish existing farm chores. Others have family obligations and may have limited child care options.|
|Inadequate housing or lack of farm equipment, i.e. storage and cooling facilities|
|Low levels of education|
|Language and cultural barriers. Our staff is bilingual, but our student farmers are not only communicating with us, but with folks outside, such as organic certifiers. They dont read English, or in some cases, Spanish, and the record-keeping is a challenge for some of them, said Brett Melone, ALBA executive director.|