Para-Professionals: Teaching in a One-on-One Setting
Kentucky State University
The Small Farm Program at Kentucky State University began in 1976. Program objectives are to help participating families increase their farm incomes by introducing new farming techniques, improving their management abilities and improving their marketing skills. The program targets small and part-time, limited resource farmers in counties where paraprofessionals (small farm assistants) are located. Targeted clientele are those farmers who traditionally do not use the Cooperative Extension Service.
I will begin by describing the process I use in educating and recruiting Small Farm Program participants. The small farm assistant is responsible for recruiting participating families and educating them in a one-on-one setting. I have used several sources for recruiting families. Several of my cooperators came to the county extension office with a question -- the agent then referred them to me when he decided they needed systematic, whole farm planning. Many potential participants are referred to me by local farmers, current and graduated farmer participants, other extension agents, USDA agencies including FSA, NRCS, and RECD, and local farm supply dealers. Once identified, I visit the farm and the farm family is recruited and enrolled in the program. During this time, I try to determine the farmer's interests and evaluate the farm's resources. Then, I help the farmer develop realistic short range and long range goals for the farm. Specific production levels are stated for each enterprise (i.e. bushels of corn, tons of hay, or pounds of beef per acre). "DO THE BEST YOU CAN" is not an acceptable goal. Later, I help the farmer work toward attaining the goals which include helping him/her develop a record-keeping system which not only includes income and expenses, but also includes enterprise analysis. Throughout the five-year program, I visit each participant at least once a month. I visit the active and agressive farmers at least twice a month. Each visit is a learning experience for both the participant and me (the small farm assistant). When funds are available, I conduct on-farm demonstrations which have been tremendously successful. I encourage participating farmers to attend training meetings, field days, and to become active in their local commodity organizations.
As I compare the county agent's job, the county agent serves as an advisor, resource person, and supervisor of the small farm assistant. The two major differences between us involve the type of clientele and the amount of contact that we have with the clientele. In most cases, the county agent works with the larger, full-time farmers in the county. He/she works to solve a particular problem or to provide specific subject matter information. Farmers initiate the contacts with the county agents by visiting the office or by telephone calls. The agent visits the farm at the request of the farmer, but does not make regularly scheduled visits and normally does not make follow-up visits. The agent is usually not involved in the entire farming operation. On the other hand, the small farm assistant works with a selected group of small, part-time, or limited resource farmers. He/she helps to develop the entire farming operation, not just problem solving.
The small farm assistant initiates most of the contacts with the farmer and makes regularly scheduled visits to the farm. He/she helps with the managment decisions for farm enterprises, follow-up on farm projects, and provides advice, guidance and encouragement to the participants.
I have noted several limiting resources to small farmers. For some farmers, money to buy equipment, livestock, and to make repairs and improvements is their most limiting resource. I advise these farmers to start small, to develop one or two enterprises at a time, to use custom work, and to develop the farm gradually over a number of years.
For other farmers, particularly those in Metcalfe County, KY, land is the limiting resource. Both limited acreages and the type of land on which to grow profitable crops can be limiting. I help these participants to develop profitable farm enterprises that fit their land resources. For many, the most limiting resource is knowledge -- both formal education and a limited knowledge of improved production practices. This is where small farm assistants are the most beneficial because they have a wealth of information available to them from the Extension agents, research farms, Extension specialists, other farmers, and their own experiences.
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