Priority 1: Increase the production season and regional diversity of U.S. strawberry production
Development of a comprehensive, engaging e-learning tool for strawberry farmers
- Emily Hoover, University of Minnesota, Department of Horticultural Science
- Ron Branch, Berry Ridge Farm
- Arne Kildegaard, University of Minnesota, Center for Small Towns
- Roger Boleman, University of Minnesota, Instructional and Media Technologies
- Marilyn Johnson, Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
- Brenda Hartkopf, Minnesota Grown Promotion Group Inc.
- Helene Murray, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
- Bill Jacobson, Pine Tree Apple Orchard
- Mary Jo and Luverne Forbord, Prairie Horizons Farm
- Tony Nemmers, Sodexo
- Kathryn Draeger, University of Minnesota, Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
- Jerry Untiedt, Untiedts's Vegetable Farm
- Steve Poppe, University of Minnesota, West Central Research and Outreach Center
The objective of this project was to design, produce and disseminate a comprehensive e-learning tool to teach sustainable methods and technologies for growing, marketing and extending the season for strawberries. Strawberry farming requires multiple skills related to production and marketing. New farmers need to learn these skills, while established farmers constantly work on improvement to respond to changing circumstances and new information about sustainable farming. This e-learning tool was created to (1) educate farmers on the use of low tunnels to extend the strawberry season; (2) increase accessibility of information on June-bearing cultivar production; and (3) introduce innovative marketing techniques and resources to ensure locally grown strawberries reach as many consumers as possible. The results of this project will serve to educate existing and new strawberry farmers in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest about science-based methods to produce and market high-quality strawberries during a longer season with low environmental impact. Armed with this knowledge, farmers will be empowered to make lasting changes on their land and in their businesses, leading to increased strawberry production, higher fruit quality and a diversified local market. The result will be higher profits for farmers and a sustainable strawberry industry in the Upper Midwest region.
Project Outputs and Impacts
The primary output of this project was a comprehensive strawberry e-learning tool, titled Cold Climate Strawberry Farming. It is a complete guide on how to market, grow and sell strawberries in cold climates, comprising 28 videos, 104 images, 9 slideshows, 6 other interactive features and 7 worksheets. Upon its release to the public, the e-learning tool was disseminated to more than 100 Minnesota farmers and to many more farmers across the country. A YouTube trailer was also created to promote the resource. One highlight of the e-learning tool is a social media feature allowing users to see notes others have made about what has or hasn't worked on their farms and to highlight passages and bookmark pages. The project group also created a larger social media community on Facebook and Twitter, where users can ask questions, connect with other farmers and provide feedback. Through targeted focus groups, 70 farmers read a chapter of the e-learning tool and provided feedback before it was released. This was the first time many of these farmers used electronic devices to learn about farming; many reported feeling more comfortable with online marketing after reading about the topic in the e-learning tool. The project group held four presentations on low tunnel production, which reached 300 participants and helped promote the e-learning tool. In addition, two papers will be published in peer-reviewed journals about the process of developing the e-learning tool so that other educators can learn from this project's success.