eOrganic is the organic agriculture CoP and resource area for the national web-based extension community of land-grant university content providers, eXtension. eOrganic was initiated as a CoP in 2007 (the first eXtension CoPs were initiated in 2006) and launched its first content in Jan. 2009. The eOrganic CoP includes farmers, researchers, educators, certifiers, as well as extension personnel and other agricultural professionals. eOrganic considers its primary CoI (public content users, or stakeholders) to be organic farmers and other farmers interested in organic agricultural information, as well as the agricultural professionals (including extension professionals) and technical service providers who work with them.
Demand for science-based information about organic agriculture increased in the United States after the establishment of a federally regulated definition of organic agriculture and subsequent passage of the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990 (Organic Foods Production Act, 1990). Sales of organic products surged after the NOP was fully implemented in 2002, creating an urgent need for the type of reliable, science-based agricultural information that extension is known for (Agunga and Idogan, 2007; Boone et al., 2007; Middendorf, 2007; Thilmany, 2006). Filling this information gap proved to be a challenge for researchers and extension specialists because federal investment in organic farming research was very limited at that time. Driven by the emerging need for science-based information on organic farming systems management, the USDA-NIFA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and Organic Transitions (ORG) competitive grant programs were initiated in 2002. However, long-term systems research projects investigating soil and pest ecology or carbon sequestration take many years to deliver results, and results often take three to five years to appear in peer-refereed journals. As a result, only a limited amount of organic systems management research data has been available from these programs to date. In addition, much of the knowledge about how to manage complex organic agroecosystems resides with experienced organic farmers. It was clear to eOrganic members that science-, practice- and regulation-based organic agriculture information must be aggregated and integrated to most rapidly produce information of the greatest utility to farmers and industry.
eOrganic’s mission has been to fill this information gap by building a diverse national CoP and using web technologies to synthesize existing information, emerging science, and practical knowledge into information resources and training materials for organic farmers and the professionals who support them. eOrganic’s approach to achieving this mission can be organized into six primary areas:
1) Collaborative publication. Supporting collaborative development and publication of peer-reviewed articles, FAQs, and videos;
2) Stakeholder engagement. Facilitating engagement of farmers and agricultural professionals through webinars, broadcasts, short courses, “Ask an Expert,” and other interactive tools;
3) Community development. Convening a national web community of researchers, agricultural professionals, farmers, and certifiers at eOrganic’s collaborative workspace to facilitate networking and colearning;
4) Project management. Facilitating organic research/outreach project management;
5) Evaluation. Evaluating utility and impact of eOrganic;
6) Financial stability. Fundraising to support eOrganic core operations.
The purpose of this article is to summarize eOrganic’s development, successes, and challenges through the course of its first five years as an eXtension CoP.
Agunga, R. & Idogan, C. 2007 Organic farmers’ need for and attitudes towards extension. J. Ext. 45(4). 24 July 2012. <http://www.joe.org/joe/2007december/a6.php>
Andrews, N. & Baker, B. 2009 Can I use this input on my organic farm? 24 July 2012. <http://www.extension.org/pages/18321>
Boone, H.N., Hersman, E.M., Boone, D.A. & Gartin, S.A. 2007 Knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices by extension agents in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. J. Ext. 45(5). 24 July 2012. <http://www.joe.org/joe/2007october/rb2.php>
Eastburn, D. 2009 Managing disease by managing soils. 24 July 2012. <www.extension.org/article/18638>
Formiga, A.K., Stone, A.G. & McQueen, J.P.G. 2012 2011–12 eOrganic webinar evaluation report. 24 July 2012. <http://eOrganic.info/evaluation>
Formiga, A.K., Stone, A.G., McQueen, J.P.G. & Coe, M. 2011 2009–11 eOrganic evaluation report. 24 July 2012. <http://eOrganic.info/evaluation>
Gamroth, M. 2009 Developing a grazing system for your organic farm. 24 July 2012. <http://www.extension.org/pages/18345>
Louws, F. & Rivard, C. 2011 Grafting for disease management in organic tomato production. 24 July 2012. <http://www.extension.org/pages/32969>
Middendorf, G. 2007 Challenges and information needs of organic growers and retailers. J. Ext. 45(4). 24 July 2012. <http://www.joe.org/joe/2007august/a7.php>
Moodle 2012 Statistics. 24 July 2012. <http://moodle.org/stats>
Organic Foods Production Act 1990 Title 21 of P.L. 101-624 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990. 24 July 2012. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/7/chapter-94>
Phillips, E. 2009 Conventional soil testing in organic farming systems. 24 July 2012. <http://www.extension.org/pages/18566>
Stone, A.G. 2006 Living mulch system: Introduction. Weed ‘em and reap Part 2. 24 July 2012. <http://www.extension.org/pages/18414>
Thilmany, D. 2006 The U.S. organic industry: Important trends and emerging issues for the USDA. 24 July 2012. <http://dare.colostate.edu/pubs/AMR/AMR%2006-01.pdf>
U.S. Department of Agriculture 2011 Organic farming systems research symposium. 24 July 2012. <http://www.extension.org/pages/33545>
Wander, M., Treadwell, D.D. & McQueen, J.P.G. 2011 eOrganic Community of Practice member survey 2011. 24 July 2012. <http://eorganic.info/membersurvey2011>
Weston, G., Eveland, J., Jebbia, J. & Stone, A.G. 2009 Incorporating high tunnels into a diversified organic vegetable farm in Oregon: Case study of Gathering Together Farm. 24 July 2012. <http://www.extension.org/pages/18352>