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Preparing a New Generation of Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Farmers

Investigators
Weinzierl, Richard; Gonzalez, Elsie; Kindhart, Jeffrey; Shoemaker, William; Cavanaugh-Grant, Deborah; Pike, J R
Institutions
University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
Start date
2012
End date
2015
Objective
Goals: 1. Increase the number of new farmers producing fruits and vegetables throughout Illinois and enhance the viability, profitability, and sustainability of new and beginning enterprises to meet increasing demand for local produce and contribute to local economies. 2. Assist a specific target audience - seasonal Hispanic farm workers - in beginning viable, profitable, and sustainable small produce farms. 3. Increase the expertise of university Extension educators, high school and community college teachers, and educators in community organizations so they can better aid new farmers.

Objectives. 1. Provide year-long programs of classroom and hands-on / in-field instruction on essential skills and information for 60 or more new farmers per year for three years so that new growers have the information base to be successful. Provide 20 or more of these new farmers (per year) access to land to allow low-risk experience growing vegetables with expert oversight. 2. Provide year-long programs of classroom and hands-on / in-field instruction on essential skills and information for 30 seasonal workers who want to become independent farmers so that they have the knowledge to become successful. Provide 15 of these seasonal workers (per year) access to land to allow low-risk experience growing vegetables with expert oversight. 3. Develop human and informational resources by providing year-long classroom and hands-on / in-field instruction on essential skills and information to Extension educators (15), allied educators (5-10), and vocational agriculture and FFA teachers (90) so that these educators can continue programs for new growers and by developing an online resource library (English and Spanish) of educational materials for new and aspiring fruit and vegetable farmers.

Outputs: 180 new and beginning farmers will receive valuable practical information; 60 beginning farmers will gain farming experience. Additionally, 90 seasonal workers will receive valuable practical information; 45 seasonal workers will gain farming experience. 125 educators will receive valuable practical information, and an up-to-date resource library will be available on-line.

More information
Non-Technical Summary:
Increased demand for locally produced foods is well documented nationally and in Illinois. Despite increasing demand, only 1.1 percent of all crop sales recorded in Illinois for 2007 were fruits and vegetables. The average age of farmers in the U.S. in 2007 was 55.3 years, and for fruit growers the average age is 57.7 years (USDA NASS 2009). These national figures reflect the situation in Illinois as well. Many current growers will not be operating their farms 10 years from now. To meet the demands of consumers, their roles must be filled by new growers. Barriers to success for beginning farmers center around two broad issues: (1) Start-up costs are high, and in many areas there may be an absence of available land to purchase or rent (Ahearn and Newton 2009). (2) New and beginning farmers lack sufficient knowledge about business planning, production details, and marketing; this deficit is the basis for dozens of training programs across the nation (USDA 2011). This BFRDP project cannot directly influence land availability or costs, but it focuses on small-acreage fruit and vegetable enterprises (lower land costs and greater availability of smaller parcels) and it provides training on land acquisition and rental. The need for training beginning fruit and vegetable farmers is especially great because they must make many more farm-specific decisions about crops, varieties, planting dates, season extension, irrigation, food safety, postharvest handling, marketing plans, pricing, etc. than commodity crop farmers. This project will (1) increase the number of new farmers producing fruits and vegetables throughout Illinois and enhance the viability, profitability, and sustainability of new enterprises; (2) assist a specific target audience - seasonal farm workers - to begin viable, profitable, and sustainable small produce farms; and (3) increase the expertise of university Extension educators, high school and community college teachers, and educators in community organizations so that they can continue programs for new farmers after the term of this grant. To meet these goals, we will (1) provide year-long series of classroom and in-field educational programs and offer incubator plots to new and aspiring farmers in southern, central, and northern Illinois; (2) offer similar series of programs and provide incubator plots specifically for a targeted audience - Spanish-speaking field workers; and (3) train educators and develop a library of online resources.

Approach:
Objective 1. We will deliver a series of educational programs to teach 20 new and potential growers per region (south, central, and north; total = 60) per year in each of 3 years. Each annual cycle with start with a full-day workshop each month in each region in December, January, and February and cover key challenges including land acquisition and transfer, business planning, legal issues, insurance, marketing (MarketReady, MarketMaker, CSAs, and social media), farm safety, food safety (including GAP and traceability), and Farm to School. To provide hands-on, in-field education, we will hold 9 monthly field workshops at each of three UI Research and Education Centers in southern, central, and northern Illinois. At all of these centers, fruit plantings (apples, peaches, and small fruits) and high tunnels will be available for educational use. A range of vegetable crops also will be planted. Each monthly workshop will address one or more key topics, including basic equipment (and operator safety), transplant production, high tunnel construction and operation, irrigation, soils and soil testing, cover crops and tillage, variety evaluations, pest and disease scouting, integrated pest management, pesticide application, pruning and thinning, harvest practices, and postharvest handling. We will provide incubator plots (up to 1 acre at current cash-rent prices) at each location so that new growers (at least 20 new growers per year over the three locations combined) can pilot their production plans with oversight and advice offered by University staff.

Objective 2. UI and Illinois Migrant Council (IMC) staff will provide similar classroom and hands-on educational programs to seasonal field workers (at least 10 farm workers per region; total = 30) for each year-long program and offer classroom and in-field workshops similar to those in Objective 1. UI and IMC personnel will translate references and adapt materials to the existing knowledge levels of the participants. To provide experience to seasonal workers (at least 15 per year), we will provide incubation plots at each of the three RECs as in Objective 1.

Objective 3. To train-the-trainers for beginning fruit and vegetable farmers, we will include Extension educators with responsibilities for Local Food Systems and Small Farms and Extension educators in Horticulture (15 or more), educators from the IMC and other nonprofit organizations such as the Stewardship Alliance and the Land Connection (5-10), and vocational agriculture and FFA teachers from high schools and community colleges (100) in the programs offered under Objective 1. We will assemble basic guides (English and Spanish) for the topics outlined under Objectives 1-2 (as print materials and webinars). Program evaluation will include (1) new farmers' evaluations of each workshop; (2) new farmers' evaluations of overall program value; (3) annual survey of success of aspiring farmers to establish new enterprises and changes in operations at recently established farms; (4) educators' evaluations of each workshop and the overall program; and (5) project director's and co-directors' reviews of personnel contributions and program development.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
ILLN-802-648
Accession number
229354
Categories
Natural Toxins
Bacterial Pathogens
Chemical Contaminants
Policy and Planning
Commodities
Produce