Insights for farmer training programs from system dynamics: A case study from Northern Michigan
Keywords:training, systems modeling, evaluation, rural livelihoods, adoption
Training programs for new farmers are proposed as a solution to rural food insecurity, rural development, and the recruitment and training of younger farmers simultaneously. However, evaluation of these programs and evidence for their individual or collective impact is sparse. In this paper, we use in-depth interviews combined with an exploratory model to evaluate the current and potential effectiveness of a farmer training program in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We use the model to represent the theoretical progression of farmers through three subsequent stages of skill acquisition: training, new farmer (practicing skills on land owned by the program) and experienced (farming on their own). We find that recruitment, access to local markets, rapidity of skill acquisition, and access to start-up costs are all important factors that facilitate trainees’ transition to farming on their own, but of these, start-up costs for independent farming appear to be the most significant barrier. While this model is exploratory and not predictive, these insights can inform the design of effective programs for training farmers. In addition, this study also demonstrates how systems dynamics can be a valuable method to evaluate and maximize the effectiveness of training programs.
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