A Training Series for Cooperative Extension Agents on Organic Farming Systems

in HortTechnology
Authors:
N.G. CreamerDepartment of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695.

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K.R. BaldwinDepartment of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695.

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F.J. LouwsDepartment of Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695.

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More than 50 agents participated in a series of workshops that were offered as in-service training and as a graduate level North Carolina State University (NCSU) course worth four credits. The Organic Unit at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a 100-acre (40-ha) facility dedicated to research and education in organic farming systems, served as a home base for training activities. These training activities consisted of lectures, hands-on demonstrations, group discussions, field trips, and class exercises. Two unique features of the workshops were the interdisciplinary, team teaching approach and the emphasis on integration of information about interactions among production practices. This well-received, successful training program will serve as a model for future extension training. A training manual, slide sets, extension publications, and an organic farming web site are being created to provide agents with the resource materials they need to conduct county-based educational programming in organic production systems and enterprises. The model for extension training presented in this report is an effective means for engaging county agents in continuing education and professional development. Interdisciplinary teaching teams allow for a full, integrated treatment of subject matter and present a whole systems perspective to agents. Regularly scheduled, intensive sessions that accommodate busy calendars and utilize time efficiently provide a strong incentive for regular attendance. Awarding graduate level university credit hours for completion of required course work attracts and retains prospective student and agents. Encouragement of active participation by agents through hands-on field activities, open discussion of issues that impact agricultural and rural life, and field trips to view concepts presented in a real world context ensure that educational goals are fulfilled and that active learning takes place. This model should be used in future extension training programs.

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