Participatory Approach in the Ospud Project

What makes Ospud Participatory?

It is possible that every Ospud participant has a different answer to this question. Below are described some of the critical participatory components. We will evolve our answer to this question (and share our ideas on this page) as we reflect over the next year on Ospud and our next initiative.

Northwest Farmer to Farmer Exchange (F2FX)

Ospud came into being as a spin-off of this farmer-led winter gathering of experienced, diversified, organic fresh market vegetable farmers (farming in western Oregon, Washington, and northern California). This approximately 50 member group is organized by Suzy Evans of Founhorn Gardens, the oldest certified organic farm in Oregon. Alex Stone, an Ospud staff, helped start this group and attends many of the meetings. F2FX discussions on on-farm research and potato production spurred Ospud proposal development. We asked the full F2FX group if they would be interested in doing a research and collaborative learning project with OSU with the goal of improving potato tuber quality, and they were very enthusiastic. F2FX also stimulated the OSU Weed 'Em and Reap DVDs on tools and systems for organic weed management, and many F2FX farmers participate in the OSU Farming for Beneficials Project, so this farmer-led group has had a strong influence on OSU's organic program.

Baseline Potato Production Survey

Before the first meeting, farmers filled out a potato production survey in which they described all aspects of their production system from seed sourcing to market. The surveys helped the individual farmers think through their potato production system and identify what they considered their most critical issues before the meeting. In addition, all project participants were mailed all completed surveys before the first meeting - this allowed both farmers and researchers to read through the surveys before the meeting to get a better idea of 1) how the different farms grew potatoes, and 2) overall, what issues farmers considered important.

Participatory Budget Process

The budget we submitted to SARE with our proposal was informed by interviews with several of the Ospud farmers, discussions by a larger group of farmers at the Northwest Farmer-to-Farmer Exchange, and by some research into the most critical issues in conventional potato production west of the Cascades. We hired project staff (75% project coordinator, 20% time entomologist, 10% time participatory coordinator). We then 'released' the rest of the project funds to support the objectives that emerged from the participatory meetings. This dramatically changed how we spent non-salary funds. 

Ospud Full-Project Meetings

Five full-project meetings served as the 'hub' for the Ospud participatory process. We held one two-day meeting in December of both 2005 and 2006, followed-up by a one-day meeting in February of both 2006 and 2007, and a final two-day meeting in December 2007.

2005-06 Meeting Details

During the first and second meetings in December 2005, farmers and the project team collaboratively:

  • identified and prioritized the issues reducing potato production profitability
  • identified and discussed any known solutions
  • generated hypotheses to be tested during the first growing season in on-farm trials
  • identified who would participate in on-farm trials

Staff met monthly from December through August to plan, trouble-shoot and discuss project activities, and bi-weekly from August through December to interpret data and plan the December 2006 meeting.

Before each December meeting, draft agendas were drafted by staff for grower review; the agenda for the December meeting was finalized after incorporating grower input. On-farm reports (whole group and farm-specific) were sent to each participant before the meeting. At the meeting, staff presented research reports with considerable interaction from farmers and staff. One farmer presented his potato enterprise budget and the group discussed the production surveys in the context of the enterprise budgets. In the final morning session, farmers and staff prioritized research issues for summer 2007 and evaluated the year’s work and the meeting process. Staff then drafted research and extension activities to address those priorities with farmer input when needed; these proposals were presented to the group at the second winter meeting in February 2007.

2007 Meeting Details

Two farmer meetings were held in 2007: a one-day meeting in February before the growing season and a final two-day meeting in December.

The goals of the February meeting were to evaluate the first year’s field data and to review the budget and make future decisions regarding project direction and field trials. During the meeting, Jeff McMorran, OSU Extension Seed Certification Specialist, gave a presentation on potato seed certification and seed handling in response to interest voiced by project farmers. Additionally, Al Mosley, the OSU Emeritus Potato Specialist who is very popular with this group of farmers, provided a lively question and answer period.

Researchers presented a comprehensive range of options for 2007 field trials in areas farmers had previously identified as important. These areas included variety evaluations, materials for late blight management, nitrogen management, and flea beetle and wireworm management. Budgets for each option were included and considered. From the range of options the farmers were able to pick which trials they would like conducted on their farms in 2007. The following is a list of these decisions:

  • Seven farms chose to test fourteen different varieties of potatoes.
  • Five farmers requested a late blight spray trial to evaluate organically approved materials
  • Seven farms chose to repeat the zero nitrogen trials on their farms.
  • All farmers requested research on flea beetle management.
  • Five farms chose to evalaute hilling and mulching
  • Three farms chose to evaluate nematode applications for biological control of flea beetles.

The group discussed enterprise budgets and case studies. Farmers shared their existing potato enterprise budgets at a previous meeting. The pros and cons of enterprise budget formats were discussed with researchers; the group concluded that OSU staff would help farmers take appropriate data if interested. It was decided that case studies would conducted in future projects, possibly as part of a graduate class at OSU. The project budget was discussed and priorities were set for the remaining funds. The meeting ended with a brief, oral evaluation of the meeting in which growers expressed satisfaction at the format and outcomes of the meeting, and the entire project. Farmers reiterated the value of “the whole production approach” and expressed a strong desire to present the Ospud Project at future conferences.

The December 17-19th meeting was the project’s final farmer meeting. The objectives of the meeting were to present the results of the 2007 field trials, evaluate the value and outcomes of the project, determine a schedule for farmer outreach, and discuss possibilities for further group collaboration and research. The meeting also included a potato variety tasting and an open forum with Jeff McMorran, Al Mosley, and Oscar Gutbrod, all OSU potato specialists, brought back by popular demand to discuss seed certification and quality. Each researcher partnered with a farmer for his/her presentation on field experiments. The researcher presented his or her results, and the farmer presented his or her interpretations of the work and its meaning to his/her farming operation. The farmers created an outreach schedule and some farmers volunteered to present at each event. Farmers will be compensated for their outreach activities. Farmers and project staff will present at 5 conferences (4 local and one national) and two farmer meetings over the next year.

Farmers were given draft copies of three of the Extension documents created from this project: What’s Wrong with my Potato Tubers, Flea Beetle Management for Organic Potatoes, and Estimating Nitrogen Mineralization in Organic Potato Production and comments were solicited.

Project farmers brainstormed and prioritized suggestions for a future group projects similar to Ospud. They identified important elements of Ospud that they would like to see in future collaborations, including a focus on a particular crop as well as participatory and multidisciplinary approaches to solving the problems associated with that crop. Farmers decided that they would like to focus on either Alliums or Brassicas in the next project. Regardless of the crop, they would like to conduct variety trials and tastings, and maintain a strong focus on organic soil management. The farmers agreed to take these ideas back to their farmer-to-farmer exchange meeting this winter. They would discuss and evolve these project ideas with this larger group of organic vegetable farmers, identify which crop family to focus the project on, and recruit additional farmers to bring into the project. OSU staff will then work with this larger group of farmers to develop the next integrated participatory crop-focused project.

On-farm Research

With the exception of the 2007 late blight spray trial, all Ospud research was conducted on participating farms. Originally, the researchers intended that farmers or their employees would collaborate in a hands-on way in the on-farm trial implementation, management, and data collection. The farmers quickly, in the first whole-project meeting, disabused us of this idea. As the result of this, Ospud re-structured its budget to fund project staff to fully manage the on-farm experiments. Nonetheless, most farmers walked on-farm plots with Ospud staff during the season. Ospud farmers did not change their attitudes towards on-farm experimentation; they want experiments conducted on their farms, but they do not have the time to manage them (beyond the time required to plant and maintain the crop) or take data on them. Ospud staff visited farms weekly or monthly, depending on the experiment(s) the farm was involved in and the distance to the farm. As the result, Ospud staff interacted frequently with the farmers.

Ospud Evaluation

In February 2008, a comprehensive and impact-based evaluation was sent to all farmer participants.