Journal of NACAA

Cultivating conservation for Maryland and Delaware’s Historically Underserved farmers

ISSN 2158-9429

Volume 17, Issue 1 - June 2024

Editor: Linda Chalker-Scott


Navigating conservation practices and programs can be confusing and intimidating, especially for farmers who do not yet have a relationship with sponsoring agencies. The USDA identifies four groups of farmers as “Historically Underserved (HU)”—Beginning; Socially Disadvantaged; Veterans; and Limited Resource. Despite earmarked provisions and services, HU farmers’ involvement with agencies and enrollment in conservation programs remains lower than desired. “Cultivating Conservation” is an educational effort to increase knowledge of conservation opportunities particularly among HU farmers. The program strives to improve the environmental and economic performance of working agricultural lands and build capacity of local partners to develop and implement effective projects. University of Maryland Extension partnered with the Agriculture Law Education Initiative, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, NRCS, and Soil Conservation District offices to develop and teach programs. Curriculum discussed conservation practices, programs, and sponsoring agencies, how conservation fits within farm planning, conservation contractual agreements, and included opportunities such as touring conservation service centers and meeting local conservation professionals. Programming reached 99 participants at in-person and virtual workshops and 239 participants at other events. Workshop participants completed pre-class, end-of-class, and follow-up surveys. Participants were 67% female and 33% male; 5% Asian, 19% Black or African American, 67% White, and 9% Two or More Races. Participants’ primary interests included crops (33%), livestock (22%), and value-added products (18%), and 39% of participants hoped to start farming in the near future or were farming <1 year. 98% of workshop participants said the program was good or excellent. Participants reported gaining a significant increase in knowledge following the program in: using USDA Web Soil Survey tool (37% gain), what federal, state and local agencies to contact (28% gain), contractual obligations and expectations (40% gain), and the role of conservation in a farm production plan (27% gain). All respondents of the follow-up survey took some action following the workshop: 88% reviewed literature about various programs available, 81% reviewed Web Soil Survey for their property, 53% contacted their county NRCS office, 69% implemented a conservation practice, 38% visited a USDA service center or participated in tours, and 64% began or created a conservation farm plan. In conclusion, the programs successfully reached and was received positively by HU farmers; however, there is a continued need to reach more farmers with this information. In addition, due to the dynamic nature of conservation programs, curriculum and resources will need to be monitored and modified to ensure up-to-date and accurate information.

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