Community Food Systems and
Sustainable Agriculture Program

Community Food System and Sustainable Agriculture (CFSSA) Evaluation Results: A Summary

By José García and Carol Fulkerson


This is a summary of an extensive evaluation report presented by Odilio Fernandez, a master's student of Rural Sociology at the University of Missouri. The evaluation of the Community Food System and Sustainable Agriculture (CFSSA) program was completed in the spring of 2003. The program accomplished a great deal during its first year and a half according to the evaluator. Results of this survey evaluation of the program are summarized in this report.

The CFSSA program became what it is now in July 2001 through a grant of University of Missouri Outreach & Extension. The goals of the program are to create local and regional information pathways regarding sustainable agriculture and to support people and communities striving for a more sustainable future. Additional goals are:

  • Strengthen farms and communities' economic viability through sustainable practices in agriculture
  • Positively impact or maintain Missouri's natural resources through ecologically sound agriculture practices and consumer choices
  • Make producers and consumers equitable partners and influential players in establishing and strengthening local food systems and economies

Specifically, the CFSSA program has been working in supporting the establishment of farmers' markets, providing marketing training on meat and other products, educating consumers in small and large events, assisting producers in forming cooperatives, establishing Latino community gardens in rural Missouri, informing and assisting producers on organic and sustainable farming, supporting small farmer organizations, and others. The targeted population of the program is producers interested in sustainable issues and consumers concerned about food security, safety and freshness.

DESCRIPTION OF THE EVALUATION SURVEY

This evaluation was conducted among farmers and has two purposes. The first is to assess if producers improved practices on sustainable agriculture. The second is to assess what knowledge and skills were acquired on sustainable agriculture, along with discovering if producers experienced economic and environmental benefits as a result of CFSSA program activities.

Almost 80 producers in the state of Missouri, many of who have participated in and benefited from CFSSA program activities, were mailed or e-mailed a questionnaire. The response rate was 73.3% and 26.7% respectively. The questionnaire was short and easy to complete, using mostly closed questions.

DEMOGRAPHICS

The respondents tended to be older with 63.3% over 47 years old. Both genders were almost equally represented. A majority of the respondents have as principal products animal and animal related products, due perhaps that many responses came from areas where caw-calf and cattle operations have a strong presence.

Many examples of how respondents live principles of sustainable agriculture were revealed through this research project. Almost ¾ of the respondents were involved in conserving and protecting soil and water. Furthermore, 80% of the respondents are involved in managing pests, diseases and weeds with minimal environmental impact. Finally, slightly more than half surveyed are involved in encouraging wildlife habitats.

PROGRAM AWARENESS AND ATTITUDES

The bulk of the survey is data related to respondents' awareness of the CFSSA program and attitudes they held about the program. In general, awareness came from several sources. 43.3% of the respondents that knew about the program first heard about it through an extension specialist, 53.3% have heard about the program from a meeting, conference or exhibit. 66.7% of the respondents have participated in program events. Publications related to CFSSA have been a great source of respondent's awareness, as 46.7% have read an article about the program's activities.

Questions on attitudes about the CFSSA program showed some interesting trends. 73.3% of the respondents, after learning about the program, were very interested in participating in its activities. Whereas about half of the respondents heard about the program from an extension specialist, only 30% were motivated to participate by an extension specialist. One interesting finding was that 43.3% of respondents describe the general attitudes of farmers toward sustainable agriculture living in their area as somewhat negative versus 13.3% who say that there is a positive perception in their area.

Also, 80% of the respondents pointed out that the program activities helped them to get closer to their goals in sustainable agriculture and 60% declared the activities provided them with new ideas. Only 20% thought the activities helped them to develop new markets. In addition, two thirds of the respondents feel that as a result of their participation in the CFSSA program they are taking steps to increase their income through direct marketing/reduction of external costs. Similar percentages relate to increasing their environmental sound practices on their farms and their links to their communities.

A huge majority, 96.7%, thought that more conferences are a way to get more support. All thought exhibits and displays are a way to get more support, as well as field demonstrations. And all thought that meetings with extension specialists and written information on sustainable agriculture are a way to get more support. The information that they most appreciated was that of a technical nature. Grants were very popular with the respondents, as seen by all believing that grants are a way to get more support. Events were just as popular an idea for getting support.

Outcomes from participating in the CFSSA program were measured through questions related to what knowledge and behavior changes respondents took away from program activities. 66.7% agreed that as a result of their participation in the program they are taking steps to increase their income through direct marketing and reduction of external costs. The same percentage stated that participation in the program resulted in their taking steps to increase their environmentally sound practices on their farms. Also, that majority of respondents stated their participation in the program resulted in their strengthening their links to their communities.

CONCLUSIONS

The evaluator stated that at the time of the survey, the CFSSA program did not have the exact number of sustainable agriculture producers who are reached by the program's activities. Suggestions on obtaining more exact numbers of producers included more investigation of those applying for Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award Projects. It would be beneficial to gather numbers of both recipients and applicants. And the question exists, "What is the total number of producers in Missouri interested in sustainable agriculture?" In this case, it's important for the program to determine a potential number of producers to enroll in the program activities in order to know the universe of producers that can be reached by the program.

Even exact number of such producers applying to grants and attending conferences and exhibits would not give the full picture of the exact number of producer beneficiaries of the program. For each participant there are at least 10 other people who may benefit from the knowledge learned from CFSSA programs. Consumers may also benefit from the interactions with CFSSA program participants in addition to the CFSSA activities for consumers.

The CFSSA program is working on identifying the producers' specific problems and it intends to assist them with possible solutions. A series of focus groups meetings was conducted by the CFSSA program last winter and spring and it was an important tool to identify issues and needs as well as strategies to address them. This will allow the CFSSA to determine what kind of support should be provided by the program and quantify the material and financial resources that should be secured.

The evaluator stated that the program's informative and educational materials are resources that are part of what is required for its accomplishment. However, it may take time to develop effective levels of adoption with just such materials and other resources should be considered. Grants were one resource suggested to make the program have more impact, as grants give producers the necessary resources to implement sustainable agriculture practices. Demonstration projects also stimulate producers to implement such practices. The evaluator recommends the program to increase demonstration projects in a sufficient number and with time schedules convenient for the producers. It also is important for the CFSSA to identify strategies, guidelines or criteria to identify and recruit producers. This will also be useful to clarify the expectations and practices of the program. The questionnaire showed that the informative events were not totally efficient in promoting interaction among producers and consumers. So, the program has to increase its efforts to promote the intended producers' interaction and motivate them to implement sustainable farming practices.

The program has only two full time extension professionals doing fieldwork and the program leaders recognize the need of more personnel and resources in order to increase the number of educational and informative events they provide to producers. However, the current funding situation is constraining that intention. CFSSA is facing an uncertain funding situation that varies irregularly from year to year. As such, the need to increase the number of extension specialists in the program has to be carefully assessed.

Comments, questions, or suggestions for the entire site? Please contact Mary Hendrickson at 573-882-7463 or HendricksonM@missouri.edu.

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