Participants Share Learnings, Reflections from ISAP’s Grow More Training

In April, the Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership (ISAP) hosted a training opportunity for conservation professionals to better understand how decision-making and behavior-change science influence conservation practice adoption. This training opportunity was made possible with support from the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC). The Grow More Training included virtual and in-person sessions, with over 40 attendees in total, and featured facilitation and content developed by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

NWF’s agriculture team has spent the last nine years studying farmer decision making, going beyond the traditional motivators, particularly economics, and looking at the specific motivations of middle adopters. NWF developed the Grow More Training to help ag and conservation professionals learn and implement outreach and messaging that more effectively engages the middle adopter group.

NWF trainers Adam Reimer, Kennedy Mayfield-Smith, and Wayne Swanson presented on topics including how to identify motivations of farmers you are trying to reach, the influence of social norms and culture, and the impact of reframing your message to better engage your target audience. Participants had the chance to share and learn about outreach experiences with their peers and develop a strategy for reaching new audiences.

A few participants shared their experience and reflections following the training, highlighting the value of the discussions, networking opportunities, and event planning resources shared during the sessions. Read their full responses below to hear what participants enjoyed, which aspects they felt most valuable, and how they plan to incorporate the training content into their day-to-day work in the field.

Grow More Training participants work in groups to apply the training material to an upcoming event they are planning for their farmer audience.

What did you find most valuable about the Grow More Training?

Having the opportunity to connect with other professionals in the conservation space is always one of the most valuable aspects of this type of training. The small group size and flexible agenda allowed us to really dive into some important topics and share successes and challenges with the group. I always appreciate a training facilitator who is great at facilitating and not just lecturing.

– Julie Hewitt | Executive Director, Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council

I liked the flow of the training in that each module or topic seemed to build on the previous in a logical way. The discussion on Planning and Evaluation was the most valuable to me, especially the associated resources for developing Logic Models – these are extremely versatile, and I love that they can be used when planning a fairly simple outreach event all the way to developing a complex, high level outreach strategy, and even in many non-conservation contexts!

– Adrienne Marino | Water Quality Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy

The most valuable part was the presenters. They had interacted with farmers from many different backgrounds and parts of the country. They were able to give anecdotes and examples on how to work and plan with farmers from different points of view to find the most beneficial solutions for them and the landscape.

– Billy Haubner | IDOA Conservation Planner, McLean County

I especially appreciated the approach of working backwards from the goals you want to accomplish, and having those outcomes inform the event content. Too often I think outreach events are held simply for the sake of having them and as a result, they end up falling flat because not much thought was given to what needs to be accomplished.

– Wyatt Dozier | IDOA Conservation Planner, Will County

Julie Hewitt leads the discussion in her breakout group.

What were some of your key takeaways from the Grow More Training?

By the end of the session, I was able to more clearly understand different techniques for interacting with landowners. I felt more confident in my ability to determine how to listen to the needs of my clients and find conservation solutions that suit their needs.

– Billy Haubner | IDOA Conservation Planner, McLean County

We all have motivations and beliefs that make sense to us as individuals and as part of groups. It is my job when doing outreach to find out what motivates an individual and connect with that person in a way that is meaningful to them, even if it is not the way I would do it!

– Jean McGuire | Field Outreach Specialist, The Wetlands Initiative

I took a lot away from the training but perhaps the most valuable reminders and new thought approaches came from the discussion around managing speakers. I realize I have not done an adequate job of preparing my speakers ahead of sessions and will definitely be making it a priority to do more of that in the future. I look forward to using that knowledge to make my events better for both my attendees and presenters.

– Julie Hewitt | Executive Director, Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council

The application of a structured logic model for outreach makes a lot of sense in some scenarios. My experience has been that adhering to structure for structure’s sake is counterproductive, but having an outreach framework to work from is helpful even if it is deviated from based on real world events and conversations.

Torey Colburn | Conservation Agronomist, American Farmland Trust

Grow More Training participants, facilitators, and organizers following the in-person training designed for practitioners working on edge-of-field practices and water quality concerns.

How do you plan to incorporate what you learned in this training into your work engaging farmers on the value of conservation?

I think the biggest way to incorporate these lessons into my day-to-day work is to engage in such a way that reminds farmers that we’re all on the same team, and we both have the same goals in mind, which is helping them be as successful as possible. Too often, the government can come off as this daunting authority that gets in the way. If we can relate to them and break though that stigma and perception, we can accomplish great things together.

– Wyatt Dozier | IDOA Conservation Planner, Will County

The logic model, SMART Planning, and reframing resources we learned about in the Grow More training are top of mind as a I begin some new projects over the next few months. My work on conservation drainage and edge of field practices involves communications with multiple different audiences, so thinking carefully about interests, motivations, and specific challenges of each feels like an especially relevant first step.

– Adrienne Marino | Water Quality Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy

I am planning to focus on the reframing exercises to help share the message of conservation and the importance of understanding the motivators (or disincentives) for the audience. Learning to frame our discussions beyond the traditional tracks of yield and economics will help to meet our farmers where they are and find opportunities where conservation practices can solve an individual problem or concern versus focusing on the “greater good”.

– Julie Hewitt | Executive Director, Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council

Grow More in the Field

This training opportunity was offered under ISAP’s Network of Practitioners program pillar which creates opportunities for networking and peer-to-peer learning among agriculture and conservation professionals. ISAP’s train-the-trainer model leverages the existing expertise and capacity within Illinois agriculture to advance our shared goals of improving soil health and reducing nutrient loss.

In order to facilitate information sharing beyond the training session and to support action in the field, ISAP is offering up to $2,000 to support Grow More Training participants in their planning of field days, workshops, or similar outreach activities that engage farmers, particularly middle adopters. ISAP is proud to support these programs and activities which will advance conservation agriculture across the state.

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ISAP Coordinator