Land Management Training for America's Fastest Growing Farmer Group

November 29, 2010

In recent decades, the United States has seen a new migration—from urban centers to cities’ verdant fringes. Modern-day homesteaders are settling on relatively small plots carved from larger-acreage farms and ranches—a trend borne out by the 2007 Census of Agriculture, which showed that from 1997 to 2007 the amount of land occupied by farms of less than 50 acres grew an impressive 46 percent.

But owning land does not always mean knowing the land—and how to manage it properly. That is where Living on the Land comes in. The SARE-funded curriculum, one of the most comprehensive and adaptable tools of its kind, is being used across the country to train natural resource professionals to, in turn, teach new stewards of the land how to care for their soil, air and water while maximizing the land’s value.

The curriculum has proven highly effective: For example, of the 240 landowners in Oregon’s Willamette River Basin who have taken Living on the Land classes since 2006, 91 percent went on to implement at least one new land management practice, 61 percent at least three practices, and 89 percent shared how-to information with neighbors. Practices included protecting riparian buffers, testing soil to avoid over-applying fertilizer, managing invasive weeds and composting livestock manure.

To date, natural resource educators in 42 states have requested more than 2,000 copies of the curriculum. “Educators are hungry for the materials. They really want to know how to use this stuff successfully,” says University of Nevada water quality specialist Susan Donaldson, who produced the curriculum.

Did You Know?

From 1997 to 2007, the number of U.S. farms less than 50 acres in size increased 16 percent, while the number of farms 50 acres or more fell by 9 percent. In 2007, farms of less than 50 acres accounted for 17 million acres, an increase of 5.4 million acres—or 46 percent—from 1997.

(2007 USDA Census of Agriculture)

Donaldson, who has done small-acreage programming for Nevada extension since 1994, saw a growing need: The “exurban” demographic was on the rise with few resources to guide its stewardship of the land. In 1999, she and natural resources professionals from eight western states used a SARE grant to create Living on the Land and accompanying workshops.

Along with a teacher’s manual, online resources and other materials, Living on the Land now includes 23 lessons on eight topics that relate to goal-setting, soil and water quality, managing pastures and protecting wildlife. A 2006 SARE grant was used to add lessons on wildfire control and entrepreneurship, and to expand outreach.

The entire curriculum is 2,400 pages long, but according to its users, it remains a flexible tool. The teacher’s manual encourages educators to choose locale-specific lessons, insert their own photographs and statistics, and list local resources.

Homeowners conduct a property inventory exercise during a Living on the Land site visit in Bozeman, Mont

Melissa Fery, the Oregon State University Extension Service agent who organizes the Willamette River Basin classes, has gotten her results using only about half the curriculum. “A great thing about it is that you can take bits and pieces that make sense for your area without feeling obligated to complete the whole thing,” she says.

Want more information? See the related SARE grants:

Topics: Business Planning, Crop Production, Education and Training, Farm Business Management, Farm Succession, Natural Resources / Environment, Riparian Buffers, Riverbank Protection, Soil Management, Water Management, Whole Farm Planning
Related Locations: North Central, Northeast, South, West