Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems in the Heartland
A new program has been developed in Iowa and Kansas to train Extension and other professionals to increase their awareness of Latino culture and community.
The “Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems” project was designed to provide Extension educators and other agricultural professionals in Iowa and Kansas with the knowledge and skills to identify and respond to the needs and goals of Latino growers and produces and their families.
Gerad Middendorf is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Kansas State University. Middendorf’s research interests included rural and environmental studies, the sociology of agriculture and food, and international development. Fluent in Spanish, he has worked in Central America in agricultural extension with small-scale hillside farmers, and he conducted dissertation fieldwork in Central America.
In 2006, Middendorf and Iowa State University (ISU) Community Extension Specialist, Jan Flora, submitted a proposal to NCR-SARE’s Professional Development Grant Program and was awarded $75,000 for a project which provided opportunities for educators and technical service providers in Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other agencies in Iowa and Kansas to learn about local food systems, Latino culture, and Latino growers and producers.
“NCR-SARE was inviting proposals for professional development programs targeted to educators within Extension, NRCS, and other governmental agencies,” said Middendorf.
“They were interested in professional development programs and activities that would enhance the sustainability of rural communities and the food and agricultural system.”
Middendorf and Flora, together with Director of the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment, Bill Hargrove, ISU graduate student, Hannah Lewis, and Extension Director of the Kansas PRIDE Program, Dan Kahl, developed a series of professional development activities over the course of the project based on increasing awareness of Latino growers and produces and their families.
“We were aware that Latino farmers are the fastest growing group of minority farmers in the country. Moreover, we knew that there are many recent immigrants in Iowa and Kansas from Mexico and other Latin American countries that have significant agricultural experience in their background.,” said Middendorf. “We had been learning anectdotally that there were Latinos in Kansas who were interested and engaged in agriculture, but they infrequently sought out assistance from Extension, NRCS, Farm Service Agency, and other agricultural professionals and technical service providers.”
A variety of activities were offered through this project. Kick-off events in Iowa and Kansas included workshops about multicultural outreach and how to engage Latino farm families. On-going training and workshops provided participants an opportunity to learn more about the Latino culture, local communities, and local food systems.
Multicultural training sessions and experiential learning provided participants with an increased awareness of the Latino culture and community, particularly in relation to local food systems. Immersion experiences for participants included regional site visits to meet local people from the immigrant, business, and agricultural communities. Accodring to Middendorf, these activities provided participants an opportunity to improve their skills in engaging Latino audiences, identifying local markets and developing strategies for sustained support programs for Latino farm families.
Participants in were also invited to participate in SARE’s New American Farm Conference 2008 in Kansas City, MO as part of the project’s activities. Nine Kansas participants, representing both Extension and NRCS, attended the conference.
“While the long term, systemic changes are not within the timeframe of this project, there are ways in which this effort contributes to sustainable agriculture in the long term,” explained Middendorf. “Increases in agricultural educator awareness and knowledge have, in some cases, led to changes in educator behavior and practices. It is hoped that these changes will develop into sustained institutional engagement in education and technical services in support of Latino farm families, and ultimately successful Latino farmers engaged in local food systems. Ongoing synergistic activities in both states will be necessary to continue moving toward these long term outcomes.”
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) ENC06-089, Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems in the Heartland .
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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. 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.