Do you want to share variety trial results, on-farm experiment results or great new equipment with fellow farmers? One great way is to invite fellow farmers or researchers over for a field visit. You might combine it with other topics and speakers for a 4 to 6 hour field day.
Charlie White of Penn State Extension and Molly Hamilton of North Carolina State Extension shared their experience planning and hosting on-farm programs and field days. eOrganic hosted their webinar called “Out in the Sun: How to Plan and Put on an Engaging, Informative and Successful Field Day."
When planning a workshop or field day, start with your learning objective or take-home message. With this clear goal, Molly suggested these planning and marketing basics - the four Ps.
- Program – Match the program to audience needs. Select an appropriate host and speaker(s).
- Price – Make it affordable. If sponsors cover costs, still charge attendees a small fee to raise their perceived value of the program and to covers food and beverages. Preregistration helps plan the right amount of food.
- Promotion – Use post cards, newsletter, press releases, enews, social media, your website, online calendar postings, etc. Charlie said, “Match the media to what the audience reads.” Molly suggested including directions or a map, how to register and price as well as a contact, partner logos and a program agenda. To draw professionals, offer extension training or pesticide continuing education credits.
- Place – Make audience feel comfortable. Choose a program location as close as possible to the target audience. Promote the host organization. Have speakers wear logo clothing or hats and name badges. Use farm or organizational logo and partner logos on all materials and handouts.
Venue & Presenters
Select a safe, comfortable venue. During hot summers, plan for shade. Plan an indoor option in case of rain or cold. Always be sure to have water, coffee or other drinks available.
Find a well-respected farmer, extension professional or ‘expert’ trainer. Adults learn well when sharing experiences with peers. Farmers often have more hands-on experience than researchers do but farmers may be focused on a single way of doing things. Farmers can present a helpful, whole farm perspective.
Extension or research personnel may provide a balanced perspective and offer additional resources for new or potentially controversial topics. They must earn respect from farmers. Extension staff can make excellent facilitators with multiple presenters.
A university research station may have better infrastructure (parking, bathrooms, classroom, etc.) for hosting a large number of people.
Industry reps can be good speakers. They already have local farmer relationships. Their focus may be biased to their products or services. A blend of speakers may offer more balance.
Consider offering snacks, depending on program length. Food also encourages social time which adds to audience comfort. Be sure to have lights if hosting an evening program. If showing slides, be sure your space can be darkened.
Consider logical partnerships with organizations that share interests. NRCS, USDA and conservation districts are logical partners for conservation programs as they already help farmers in these areas. Consider farm bureaus, extension staff, university research stations, organic certifiers, other farm associations and equipment or service providers. Partners may provide funding, speakers, expertise and event publicity to their members and email lists. Always thank partners and sponsors at every opportunity, before, during and after events.
Schedule & Agenda
Charlie often schedules events midweek mornings 10 am to noon or 10 am to 1 pm with lunch. A 1½ to 2 hour event works for most single topics. Recent programs have been run on weekends as many farmers have off-farm jobs during the week. Charlie suggests no programs be scheduled during peak harvest season.
Create an agenda with short presentations/lectures, hands-on learning, experiments, breaks, social time and meals. Share the agenda ahead of time.
Walking between multiple field sites tends to spread groups and use a lot of workshop time. Consider using a bus, trolley or farm wagon to move people.
Be organized and confident. Nametags help raise attendee comfort. Distribute handouts as people arrive. Provide signs to the host site and parking. If needed, arrange for port-a-johns and hand-washing stations. Portable microphones help everyone hear speakers in the field. Molly urged organizers to have a second portable microphone as a backup.
Adult Learning Styles
Many adults learn best by doing and benefit from peer interactions. Be sure to allow social interaction time at breaks and over meals. Learn more tips in “SARE’s Guide for Educators” here.
Send pre-event questionnaire to determine attendees’ skill levels and expectations. Match program to their skill and background levels. See sample questions in “SARE’s Guide for Educators.” Speakers should explain relative to an audience’s background - compare to something familiar.
Schedule small group or hands-on projects throughout the program to breaks up classroom time and increase learning. If large turnouts are expected, plan to break into groups and ensure sufficient leaders are available.
Ask the audience questions or give them problems to solve. If the program will include soil testing, have people bring a soil sample from their farm.
Field trial results often need many months’ lead-time to grow and/or manage crops using various methods.
Molly and Charlie agreed: Always have a backup plan and a sense of humor for when things go wrong.
Take time for introductions, attendee backgrounds and expectations. Then deliver what they want.
People learn and remember more by doing than by just listening. Great learning tools include problem solving, brainstorming, rating and games. Molly recommends field walks such as one where they looked at side-by-side comparisons of various seeding density and weeding frequencies. Charlie had success with a hands-on soil structure analysis. Audiences liked counting and indentifying insects and evaluating pollinator habitat. Charlie said spider plots were successful in a recent ecosystem workshop. Learn more about spider plots here.
Ask participants to share their best or worst experience with the day’s topic. Charlie sometimes has attendees use worksheets for field exercises such as using corn ears and kernel counts to calculate expected yield per acre. He recommends finishing with each group plotting their results on a large chart. Charlie said a surprise result helps people remember the message. Joy and pleasant surprises trigger a dopamine response, which aids memory.
Charlie said he schedules 10 to 15 minutes in every event agendas for evaluations. He hands out 1-page forms with pens at the end of the day rather than including them in arrival packets. He and Molly get over 90% participation.
Evaluations should verify delivery of your take home message. Ask for ratings and lessons learned with open-ended questions. Ask about favorite and least effective event activities. Finally, ask for attendee backgrounds and suggestions for future event topics.
Event Follow up
When possible, include an event summary in the handout packet. Post handouts and event information at your website as soon as possible after an event. Use social media and targeted emails to share event lessons. Include video or audio recordings (if field audio quality is sufficient).