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Project Highlight: Extension Agent Advances Farmers’ Innovative Ideas

Heather Darby is all about partnering with farmers to advance their cutting edge ideas—in the end, to the benefit of hundreds of producers across the region. A recipient of 13 SARE-funded projects, the University of Vermont Extension specialist has worked with researchers and farmers to help oilseed producers get more value out of biodiesel, organic dairy farmers grow their own feed and other growers tap new local markets for wheat, hops and dry beans. 

“I would say that every SARE grant I’ve received was generated because of the questions and interests of the farmers in Vermont and other nearby areas,” Darby says. 

Many of those questions have been raised by the region’s emerging community of biodiesel producers, who are pioneering the use of oilseed crops like sunflower and canola in New England. Darby has worked on two SARE grants to learn more about oilseeds—particularly pest and weed management—and to share their knowledge with others. 

With another SARE grant, she is working with oilseed producers and researchers to “close the loop” by producing food-quality oil that can be sold to restaurants and then later returned to farmers for biodiesel production. This two-stage life can increase the oil’s value by up to 50 percent. 

Darby is also helping Vermont’s wheat growers produce grain suitable for local bakers, who have been hesitant to source flour locally because of inconsistent quality. 

For more information on this research, see, and do a coordinator search for “Darby.” 

West Virginia

Project Highlight: Seeking Solutions in the Fight Against Stink Bug 

Farmer Clarissa Mathews struggled, along with many other West Virginia farmers, with the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). This highly invasive pest causes significant crop losses, and all vegetable and fruit crops are vulnerable. To manage the pest, frequent applications of broad-spectrum insecticides, toxic to beneficial organisms, are commonly used. 

Two SARE-funded projects sought out alternative solutions. In one, Mathews investigated a non-chemical approach combining a highly attractive trap crop buffer with commercially available pheromone-baited traps. On a subsequent project, USDA researcher Tracy Lesky partnered with Mathews to manage BMSB in apples using the same tools. 

Mathews found that stink bugs were highly attracted to a sunflower trap crop. However, reduced stink bug densities in cash crops did not mean significantly lower crop damage or higher yields. Thus, she concluded that while effective for organic farmers unable to use synthetic insecticides, the pheromone lure needed to be incorporated within the trap crop, not on the sides. Lesky’s follow-up project is looking at the same approach, except farmers who are not organic will apply the insecticides near the attract and kill sites. Lesky is already finding success with the approach and interest from farmers. 

For more information on these projects, see, and search for project numbers LNE14-334 and FNE12-759

Washington, D.C.

Project Highlight: Bringing Fresh Foods to Low-Income Areas

A city food bank used SARE funding to boost activity at its farmers’ market—and the community’s access to fresh, healthy foods—in a low-income neighborhood where one supermarket chain store serves about 200,000 people. 

Capital Area Food Bank leaders attracted about 1,800 customers to their Anacostia Farmers Market in the 2004 season, a record number for the market, by creating incentives for farmers and consumers to participate. 

To help ensure regular farmer involvement, organizers offered them from $300 to $750 per week, depending on the availability of funds. 

To attract consumers, organizers advertised and held special events connected with the market, including summer celebrations, a chili cook-off, family days, cooking demonstrations and youth learning experiences. One activity involved taking urban youth on a field trip to an organic farm about 10 miles away in Maryland. 

Project leaders expanded the market’s offerings to include specialty items such as Amish cheeses, culinary herbs, homemade jams and mustards, mint tea, honey, pasta sauce and tomato soup. 

Organizers also acquired a food stamp/Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) sales tool for the market, which was intended to allow them to serve the neighborhood’s poorest residents. 

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number LNE01-149.

Rhode Island

Project Highlight: Integrated Strategies for Managing Parasites

Gastrointestinal parasites pose one of the top challenges in raising sheep and goats. A common management strategy is to regularly treat an entire herd with dewormers, without distinguishing sick animals from healthy ones. This represents an unnecessary cost and risks the development of resistance to dewormers. 

To help farmers manage parasites in a cost-effective manner that does not overuse dewormers, University of Rhode Island’s Katherine Petersson is leading widespread research and education efforts on integrated control strategies. These include techniques for managing pastures to reduce the incidence of parasites and tools for monitoring animals to identify which ones actually need treatment. 

With a 2010 SARE grant, Petersson and a team of New England Extension specialists held dozens of workshops and site visits over three years. They reached hundreds of small ruminant producers and veterinarians. According to a survey of the farmers they worked with, 82 percent adopted new parasite control practices within a year. Most reported reducing their dewormer costs by at least 50 percent. 

Petersson’s project, which was expanded with a 2015 SARE grant, included a research component that found vitamin E and cranberry powder can have an antiparasitic effect when added to animals’ diet. 

For more information, see, and do a coordinator search for “Petersson.”


 of broadcasting it, farmers can save up to 70 pounds of nitrogen per acre. They were also able to reduce herbicides in corn with banding and high-residue cultivation. 

For more information, see, and search for project numbers LNE09-291, LNE13- 329 and LNE16-354

New York

Project Highlight: To Improve the Soil, First to Know the Soil

The importance of soil health cannot be overstated. It supports vigorous plant growth by promoting the efficient use of nutrients and water, protecting against erosion and compaction, and aiding in disease and pest management. Soil health drives farm productivity and resilience against weather extremes. But the soil is an incredibly complex environment, and for farmers to improve their ground, they first need to learn about its condition. 

That is why, with SARE funding, a multidisciplinary team from Cornell University created a new kind of soil assessment. Traditional soil tests, which are also important management tools, are typically limited to measuring nutrient levels and pH. They do not reveal anything about the physical structure or microbial life present in the soil, yet such characteristics strongly influence crop yields as well as the efficiency of inputs such as water and fertilizer. In contrast, Cornell’s soil health assessment reports typically include management recommendations to address specifically identified constraints and promote soil-building practices such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, the use of compost or manure, and diversified rotations that include perennial crops. 

The Cornell lab handles about 2,000 samples a year and is expanding in use. 

For more information, see, and search for project numbers LNE03-175, LNE06-235 and ENE09-110

New Jersey

Project Highlight: Programming Supports Northeast Agritourism 

Northeast farmers are relying increasingly on agritourism to expand farm income, create employment for family members and strengthen relationships in the local community. But agritourism also increases a farm’s liability, as farm visitors may be exposed to risks they are not familiar with. Some farmers also lack the experience to market their operation to visitors, make the transition to a retail and hospitality enterprise, and manage the associated risks and liabilities. 

In response to these issues, a multistate team of Cooperative Extension faculty, led by Brian Schilling from Rutgers University, used SARE funding to develop a train-the-trainer curriculum on agritourism. Its aim was to equip farm service providers with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to help Northeast farmers minimize risk and liability associated with farm visits, mitigate financial risk, and improve marketing strategies. 

The project goal was to train 60 Extension educators and other agricultural service professionals, with at least 30 going on to share information with 200 farmers. But in fact, more than 690 educators and 760 farmers came to this project’s workshops, classroom-style training, webinars and small-group farm assessments throughout New Jersey, Vermont, Delaware, and Maine, surpassing the expected level of participation several times over. 

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number ENE11-121

New Hampshire

Project Highlight: Training and Technical Assistance for Refugee Farmers 

Refugee farmers face a number of barriers to professional success, including lack of access to capital; poor or no credit upon arrival to the U.S.; lack of knowledge on how to to buy or lease land; a need to develop a brand and expand markets; and affordability of insurance, annual inputs, organic certification and equipment/infrastructure. 

The Organization for Refugee & Immigrant Success (ORIS) used its SARE grant to build off the successes of participants in its New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP), which assists refugees in New Hampshire in building sustainable farm enterprises that are consistent with their culture and lifestyle aspirations, and that strengthen regional sustainable food systems. Since 2011, 20 refugee farmers have developed farm businesses by accessing individual plots at a seven-acre “incubator farm” site in Dunbarton, N.H. 

The NASAP farmers wanted to take over management of the farm site that they had committed their time and resources into, so ORIS coordinated advanced trainings to prepare them for independent management, including one-on-one support. The training pushed the refugees forward in transitioning from the incubator to independent businesses, and ORIS began looking for a new site for its NASAP incubator program. With ORIS’s help, nine farmers developed an independent cooperative, which is functioning as its own entity and establishing long-term land tenure, and thirteen farmers attended financial literacy training workshops. 

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number ONE14-200


Project Highlight: Expanding Winter Harvest and Sales for New England Vegetable Crops

New England farmers are responding to the public’s steadily increasing desire for year-round access to local food. Growing and selling enough fresh vegetables in the winter months to satisfy the market requires both adapting traditional techniques and technologies, and adopting altogether new ones.

Beginning in 2010, a SARE-funded team from the Universities of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, along with two local food organizations, conducted research trials and collaborated with winter vegetable producers throughout New England on methods for production, storage and marketing to strengthen this aspect of the regional food system. 

The research component focused on winter production and the postharvest handling of root crops, primarily carrots, and explored low-cost ways for farmers to increase winter sales using low tunnels. The results of both the production and storage trials reached over 4,300 people through a vigorous educational program that included 50 events. At the end of the project in 2014, farmer surveys confirmed the benefits of winter sales and production as a way to increase farm income, maintain steady customer contact and keep employees year round. 

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number LNE10-297


Project Highlight: Deep-Rooted Cover Crops Reduce Leaching Risk 

Despite the advantages of planting cover crops to reduce nitrate leaching to local waters and the Chesapeake Bay, adoption is still low in Maryland. Estimates are that even with subsidies, less than half of the state’s corn and soybean farms are cover cropped. One reason could be that most cover crops used in the subsidy program are planted after fall harvest and terminated before spring planting, which does not give them much time to grow roots that can capture excess nitrogen in the soil and provide farmers an economic benefit. 

So, using a SARE grant, University of Maryland researcher Raymond Weil examined strategies for planting cover crops earlier in the season and the effect it had on both nutrient requirements and yields of corn and soybeans. Working with other researchers and farmers in both Maryland and Pennsylvania, he focused on cover crop species not typically used under the subsidy program, including radishes, legumes and mixes. 

The team found that early, deep-rooted cover crops did reduce the risk of nitrate leaching into groundwater and improved corn yields by providing nitrogen in the spring. They have shared project results with more than 2,000 farmers and educators, and the use of a radish cover crop in the state program has increased in recent years. 

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number LNE14-338


Project Highlight: Interpersonal Relationships Farm Viability 

Small-scale and beginning farmers are vital to Maine’s agriculture. According to the Maine Farm Bureau, 61 percent of the state’s producers farm one to 99 acres. Additionally, the number of beginning farmers, those who have been in the business 10 years or fewer, has grown. However, the total number of farms in Maine is decreasing. An increase in farm retention is needed–and is possible by targeting education to small-scale and beginning farmers and the professionals who support them. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is leading a SARE-funded project to meet this need. 

The project sought to expand farm educators’ training materials with information on interpersonal communication and relationships. It initially aimed to train 45 service providers, many of whom participate in the Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine. Instead, 53 people took part. The program included farmer focus groups, working groups, one and a half days of training and a webinar. A toolkit, one-on-one consultation checklist and a decision-making tool were also developed. 

The 53 trained service providers will apply their newly developed skills in one-on-one consultations with 90 farmers, who manage a combined 10,755 acres, with an aim to improve farm retention and farmer lifestyle satisfaction. 

For more information on this research, see, and search for project number ENE16- 142


Project Highlight: Training the Trainers on Cover Crop Practices

Interest in cover crops is high due to their ability to improve soil health, reduce off-farm inputs and protect both the soil and water quality. In 2014, a national conference on soil health and cover crops co-hosted by SARE drew strong engagement from Northeastern farmers, educators and researchers. As a follow up to keep the momentum going and expand the use of cover crops in the Northeast, Extension professionals with a sustainable agriculture focus came together in 2015 to organize an in-depth train-the-trainer workshop. 

The Northeast SARE Regional Cover Crops Training, hosted by Delaware State University, covered the latest research on the benefits and successful management of cover crops in grain, vegetable and animal production. The planning committee included agricultural leaders from 13 states. Ninety-four participants were organized into 11 teams that integrated farmers, USDA-NRCS representatives, Extension professionals, academics and leaders from industry and nonprofits. 

From this two-year project, 12 farmers adopted new cover crop species, planted new fields in cover crops, or used new establishment and termination techniques, with more reporting their intention to do so. Additionally, 71 service providers recommended cover crop practices to other farmers. Videos from the three-day conference are posted on the SARE website. 

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number ENE15-141


Project Highlight: Arming Basil Growers with Disease-Control Solutions

Whenever a new pest enters the scene, farmers must quickly learn how to deal with it if they are to remain profitable. Two SARE-funded projects are helping Connecticut farmers cope with this very situation in the case of a serious outbreak of Downy mildew of basil, a new disease to the eastern United States. 

Typically, organic farmers depend on cultural practices to reduce disease problems, with control products complementing these practices. In the case of Downy mildew, Connecticut farmers could find no solutions due to the lack of published research on the efficacy of available control products. So Extension agent Joan Allen looked at disease-control products on two species of basil in one SARE-funded project, and then in a second project focused on the most promising contenders. Because of her work, basil growers now have access to possible solutions. 

The results from Allen’s first project provided basil farmers information about two products, narrowed down from an original five. Farmers started using the better performers, MilStop and Oxidate. Allen also looked at the effect of nitrogen fertilization rate alone and in combination with the fungicides on the severity of the disease. Close to 500 farmers and gardeners learned of possible new practices through presentations. 

For more information on these projects, see, and search for project numbers ONE11-132 and ONE12-152