I have included the Summation of Evaluation Comments and Numerical Ratings
from the Workshops on Linking People, Purpose, and Place: An Ecological
Approach to Agriculture, June and July, 1997. I tried to send it as an
attachment, but the file was too big. The comments may interest people
working in sustainable agriculture education. If you want to see the
tables, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a hard copy.
We sent this evaluation document to the North Central sustainable
agriculture coordinators and 1998 planning teams and speakers. Several
speakers said they used the document to help them prepare their
presentations for Facing a Watershed: Managing Profitable and Sustainable
Landscapes in the 21st Century. Heidi Carter
Summation of Evaluation Comments and Numerical Ratings from the Workshops
on Linking People, Purpose, and Place: An Ecological Approach to
Agriculture, June and July, 1997
Heidi Carter, Charles Francis, and Richard Olson
February 4, 1998
The North Central Sustainable Agriculture Training Program (NCSATP) is part
of the Professional Development Program of the North Central Sustainable
Agriculture Research and Education Program. The goals of the grant are (1)
to develop and implement a comprehensive education program for use
throughout the region* and (2) to prepare a cadre of teachers to conduct
innovative training in their own states.
In 1997 NCSATP co-hosted the Linking People, Purpose, and Place: An
Ecological Approach to Agriculture workshops. They were held in Wooster,
Ohio; Manhattan, Kansas; and Morris, Minnesota, in June and July. The
third year of the regional program was designed to increase the number of
educators interested in sustainable agriculture and trained in innovative
methods of teaching. Beyond the expected audience of Extension, the
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers, and nonprofit
organizations, we welcomed instructors from private colleges, students, and
representatives from industry.
The purpose of the workshops was to demonstrate how an understanding of
ecological principles can help us design farms and ranches that provide
commodities and income while retaining some of the beneficial processes of
natural systems, such as clean air and water and biodiversity. Because
agroecosystems include people, another goal was to explore characteristics
of local communities that promote sustainability.
The workshops were planned around the ecosystem and agriculture of a
particular site. For example, in Ohio we concentrated on the transition
zone from prairie to forest. As an introduction, presenters described the
structure and function of presettlement ecosystems and the agroecosystems
that have taken their place. Indoor sessions on ecological principles and
how they relate to agriculture, such as grazing, were complemented with
farm visits. Farmers and ranchers described how they matched their
production systems with weather patterns, soil, vegetation, and markets.
We also had fun dining with an Amish family in Ohio, hiking in the
tallgrass prairie in Kansas, and canoeing the Pomme de Terre in Minnesota.
In total, 178 people attended: 53% Extension and university, 17% state and
federal agencies, 13% producers, 8% nonprofit organizations, 7% students,
and 2% private sector. The workshops attracted some people who had been
working in agroecology for many years. Many participants stated that they
were already systems oriented and most of the information was familiar,
especially when described in the context of farming decisions.
*Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska,
North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin
Evaluations were handed out once or twice a day with several sessions
listed on each one. Every topic was judged on its usefulness to training
activities, with 1 equaling highly useful and 5 meaning of little use.
Participants were also asked which concepts they would incorporate in
training and if their perception of farming systems had changed. An
overall evaluation was given at the end of the workshop. All forms had a
The major points outlined in this summation were made at all three
workshops. They give insight into what worked and what areas need
improving. We welcome your comments. If you would like more specifics on
workshop design, agendas, presenters, or process, please call Heidi Carter
at 402-472-0917, or e-mail her at email@example.com for resources.
The following quotations are from evaluations given at the Linking People,
Purpose, and Place: An Ecological Approach to Agriculture workshops. The
remarks condense the main responses made by participants. The paragraphs
following the quotes are a combination of participants' comments and
explanations of the process.
"Farming with an ecological approach looks like a better idea than it did
before your workshop."
Workshops emphasized how ecological principles may be applied in managing
farming systems and how farmers can optimize their use of biological
processes and natural resources. Diversity within the landscape and
differences in productivity potential of sites must be considered when
planning enterprises. Agroecology does not separate people from nature;
rather, it helps explain a person's role as manager.
Ecological principles can be a foundation for farm plans. Data should be
presented in nonthreatening ways and in terms that clients can grasp.
Topics, such as crop-animal interaction and perennials versus annuals, are
understandable and applicable. Educators should point out advantages of
using principles in planning and encourage producers to see the big picture
and interrelationships of an action.
"Walking the landscape is essential to teaching the ecological link to
The most helpful method for establishing the connection between ecology and
agriculture was when both the principle and its practical application were
taught. Tours made the relationships between ecology and agriculture
evident. Tours were conducted on farms, research stations, processing
plants, long-term ecological research sites, and wildlife conservation
areas. Participants wanted to hear from more farmers who were doing their
own research or in conjunction with universities.
"Trying to introduce farmers to these concepts will be a real challenge;
the more training I receive the more I will be able to help."
A significant amount of training is needed in basic ecological concepts.
Although these are familiar, it is important to put them into a practical
farming and ranching situation. Farmers, service providers, and agency
personnel have to understand the fundamentals before they can change their
thinking, get a handle on agroecology, and pass the information to their
"Economics of the proposed systems need to be expanded."
An essential part of presenting alternative practices is the economic data.
Specifics are needed on the economics of different systems as well as how
the components, such as crop diversity and rotations, fit into current farm
infrastructure. The finances from different systems should also be compared.
"I'd suggest stressing to presenters that notes for the resource book be
kept parallel to their presentations. Some covered a lot of ground without
printed material or overheads in the notebook. Most of the time it is
difficult to do justice in relating information to others."
Resource notebooks are put together after the agenda has been decided. We
ask speakers for materials; we also ask technical specialists and
educators. The notebooks augment the sessions with background readings,
references, and sources for more information. Much of the literature is
intended for further distribution in state training events. Several
educators have used these materials extensively for their own state
notebooks. The lack of PDP reports from all states was also noted.
"I strongly believe in wider audience involvement in these conferences."
A wider agricultural cross section should attend the workshops. Suggested
groups were students, industry, farmers, traditional corn and soybean
growers, county agents, and NRCS. Interagency collaboration was also
stressed. This year the audience was more diverse than in previous years.
"I've got quite a list of resources and made some key contacts. Just as
importantly, I learned who to ask for more information."
One of the biggest benefits of the workshops continues to be the
opportunity to network with others of similar interests and goals.
Participants gathered ideas for programs, collaborated with new partners,
lined up speakers for future engagements, and tried different teaching
methods. The knowledge of individuals and groups was also cited as a
resource. A few people stated they had a better understanding of other
points of view and that opposing beliefs can extend perspectives on complex
"It was good to visit farms with whole farm concepts in use rather than
only hearing about it. I appreciated the opportunity to ask questions and
can see what people are talking about."
The farm tours were again one of the highlights of the workshops. The
farmers were articulate and enthusiastic about their operations. They
discussed how they use whole farm planning, how the different parts of the
farm interrelate, family goals, and community connections. The farmers
also encouraged participants to ask many questions. The value of tours was
clear in Ohio, where we were unable to see the farm because it had rained
heavily the day before. Several people complained about staying in the
barn and listening to speakers instead of going to the fields. On-farm
credibility is an important dimension of sustainable agriculture education.
While participants rated the farm tours highly, they also commented that
some of the farmers could rely less on stories and tell more about specific
practices and evaluation of economics, environmental impacts, and quality
of life for the family. They also wanted in-depth pretour handouts and
descriptions. Farm tour objectives should be clearly stated and relevant
to the audience. Participants commented if the tours ran over the time
"I got a better look at some broader issues rather than individual farms or
even small groups of farms."
Several participants stated they had a better understanding of the
interrelationships among ecology, agriculture, society, and politics. They
were interested in combining disciplines to approach agricultural
questions. Others wanted more specifics and techniques to advise clients
on how to reduce fertilizer and herbicide rates. They remarked that topics
could have been covered more thoroughly.
"Impressive mix of activities and educational formats really allowed any
individual's learning style to get piqued."
The workshops were well planned and had a good balance of topics, classroom
and farm-based sessions, learning methods, and breaks. The topics were
skillfully integrated with the agroecological theme. The regional team
spent much time carefully designing the workshops and using input from
"Encourage all speakers to use more interactive styles."
The biggest criticism of the workshops was that too much of the learning
was passive, and lectures were used too often. Suggestions for increasing
interaction included hands-on projects done outside, small group
discussions, critical thinking exercises, presentations from farmers and
people with direct expertise, and dialog with the entire audience. When
small groups are used, provide more time for feedback to increase learning
and exchanging ideas for application. Although there is shared planning
and choosing of speakers, the regional team can be more proactive in
encouraging innovative and interactive learning methods.
"The mind will absorb what the seat will endure."
Several individuals remarked that training went too late into the evening.
The actual training sessions ended between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. However, we
offered fellowship activities, such as a barbeque at Malabar Farm in Ohio
or a twilight farm tour in Minnesota. The evening events offered people a
chance to relax, mingle, and discuss other issues besides sustainable
agriculture. Socializing can be an important part of building networks and
keeping a positive attitude toward the workshop. Attendance was optional,
but almost everyone participated.
Tables 1, 2, and 3 show the means and standard deviations of responses to
the questions: How useful is the content to your full range of training
activities? and How appropriate is the topic specifically to your state
sustainable agriculture training program? We wanted to see if topics were
applicable to more than sustainable agriculture education. The means do
not suggest any differences, and several participants said the questions
meant the same thing. More than half the participants filled in
evaluations, with numbers waning towards the end of each workshop. Farm
tours were consistently rated high at all workshops. Application of
ecological principles to production and exploration of social issues as
they relate to sustainable agriculture also rated high. Topics receiving
low marks were generally those with little opportunity for audience
Table 4 addresses the question of whether the participants' perceptions
were changed by the workshops. Overall, the answer was "some." We did not
do a pretest, so we were not aware of how many people had previous
knowledge. However, it appears the participants' perspectives did not
change greatly, which is not surprising given the background of the attendees.
Table 5 indicates that participants will use ecological principles and
consider social implications in their work. The responses shown in Table 6
suggest that the workshops will help people to apply this knowledge.
Responses to the evaluations show an engagement with the material, a
positive reaction to the approach, and an interest in change. We have also
observed the educators add value to the workshop experience. Some have
borrowed liberally from the resource notebooks to build their own training
manuals. Others have successfully staged tours, listening sessions, and
hands-on activities in the field. We recognize both process and intent
that had origins in the regional workshops. People return to the
workshops, and we look forward to new attendees each year. NCSATP is
making an impact, and our continuing challenge is to evaluate the change.
Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems
University of Nebraska
219 Keim Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0949
To Unsubscribe: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email email@example.com with the command