An Analysis of African American Farmer Participation in Virginia Cooperative Extension:  An Emphasis on the Small Farm Outreach and Technical Assistance Program

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Virginia Tech

This research study examined African American farmer participation in Virginia Cooperative Extension as a step toward fully understanding the role participation plays in supporting African American farmers as legitimate learners within the Cooperative Extension system.  This study, therefore, focused on exploring participation in African American farmer programs through the single case of Virginia Cooperative Extension's Small Farm Outreach and Technical Assistance Program.  This program, which is housed at Virginia State University, aims to support minority farmers who have limited access to benefits from USDA programs.  Historically, limited resource farmers have been challenged to gain full access to programs offered by Cooperative Extension.

Using a qualitative case study design, individual interviews were conducted with African American farmers, extension specialists, small farm agents, and the program administrators.  Two focus groups were conducted with the Small Farm Program agents and another with African American farmers that participated in the program.  A review of the findings indicated that the Small Farm Outreach and Technical Assistance at Virginia State University provide various educational opportunities to African American farmers. The program provides one-on-one technical assistance, distribution of information, USDA loan application assistance, workshops and conferences, and networking.  Participants stated that agents being "hands on" was a great way to talk and effectively provide assistance to them.  The findings for the study characterized barriers relaying from challenges in the program to communication between program and farmers. Family motivation, technology, and the USDA were other unknown barriers that were revealed in the study.

The data suggest improvements for the program; first, the involvement of more farmers in the program planning of educational opportunities at Virginia State University would increase participation. Second, the current evaluation of strategies should be continued as a method of usage.  However, a pre and post survey should be conducted to analyze and discover farmer's usage in modern to traditional communication systems. Third, providing additional technological advancement training to agents, specialists, and director to be more advance in the new age, and lastly at conferences and/or workshops, construct more engaging informative discussions on adult learning and farm family motivation factors.

Cooperative Extension, Adult Learning, Participation