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Meeting the Diverse Needs of Limited-Resource Producers

Educator's Guide Bulletin

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Meeting the Need
John Mullins with healthy tomato plants
John Mullins, co-owner of John Boy's Plants and Produce in Stickleyville, Va., specializes in heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers co-marketed by Appalachian Harvest, a co-op formed with help from the nonprofit Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD).
Photo courtesy of ASD.

Many educators have found innovative ways to help limited-resource producers. Their successes are a testament to the possibilities. The examples that follow range, literally, all over the map, but they share at least one commonality – the project leaders developed a set of local strategies to solve local problems. Such strategies may be easier for nonprofit organizations to carry out than extension educators, who may be limited by time and agency directives, but a little bit of creativity can go a long way.

Some of their strategies include:

Identifying the real barriers. The obstacles might range from finding child care to obtaining transportation. Help producers get to your educational events.

Creating effective materials. Provide materials that are designed with appropriate literacy levels in mind. John O’Sullivan of NC A&T recalls that a brochure he created had too fine a print. When he re-printed in a larger format, it was much better received.

Involving constituents in developing programs. Talk to your end users about what they need and how they like to learn.

Establishing trust. “You make commitments and you honor them,” said Craig Mapel, a marketing specialist with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. “Say you’re going to do something and do it.”

Working together. Anthony Flaccavento and his colleagues at Appalachian Sustainable Development work informally and collegially with their farmers. “We’re very hands on, and they know I farm,” said Flaccavento, whose staff helped build a packing shed. “To a lot of these farmers, this was a surprise. We didn’t give advice and leave – we did it together.”

Going one-on-one in training settings. This strategy avoids teacher-centered approaches. “The most significant impact we’ve had is working with farmers one-on-one,” said Dean Purnell of Delaware State University. “That’s been the most effective because we can tailor our programming to each farmer’s needs.”

Demonstrating. Get the producers out on the farm. In California, ALBA’s Small Farmer Education Program combines classroom instruction with field experiences – five months of classroom agronomy, organic farming practices and business administration, followed by seven months of farming half an acre.

Tapping community leaders to run programs. Using paraprofessionals, volunteers and specially trained people to teach members of their own community might win over individuals suspicious of traditional government programs.

Recruitment Techniques:
Door-to-door recruitment.
Delaware State University small farm program specialists literally knock on doors. “Be careful the first time you meet a farmer how you treat him or her,” said Dean Purnell of DSU. “Build a relationship where they trust you enough to know that if you recommend they take a look at something, they value your opinion enough to do so.”
Group recruitment.
Use a group that already serves the clientele (i.e. neighborhood organizations, churches, social groups/clubs).
Key contacts.
Seek key individuals who know many people in the area. Mike Jones, who coordinates a North
Carolina project establishing small-scale hog operations, is called “the pig whisperer” because of his empathy with animals. People trust him, too. “It’s something I’m passionate about,” he said. “We want to create a program that’s beneficial to small farmers.”
Go where they go.
In Ohio’s stretch of Appalachia, county fairs are a great way to meet rural growers. “We’ve got lifetime residents of that township at the fair, talking to people they know,” said Colin Donohue of Rural Action, which is based in Trimble, Ohio.

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