Project Description

There are few published studies on extension education programming specific to the needs of Hispanic/Latino specialty crop producers. However, research with other groups of adult agricultural learners indicates trends that may also apply to this unique group of adult learners. Several studies have shown that active learning techniques are highly effective with adults who participate in agricultural Extension programs (Barbercheck et al., 2009; Dollisso and Martin, 1999; Johnson et al., 2008; Trede and Whitaker, 2000). Andragogy, the study of how adults learn, can provide a guiding framework for developing Extension educational programming specific to adult learner needs and preferences (Strong et al., 2010; Irani et al., 2003; Ota et al., 2006). Fundamental principles of andragogy include active participation, relevance to life and work experiences, engagement through problem solving rather than subject content, and connection to communities of practice and purpose (Knowles et al., 2005).

The goals of this project were to 1) assess Extension education methods for Hispanic/Latino stakeholders who aspire to be next generation specialty crop growers and specialized horticultural managers and 2) evaluate learning style preferences of adult Hispanic/Latino horticulturists relative to Extension and outreach programming. Andragogy principles provided the theoretical framework for this project that was led by a bicultural team of Penn State Extension educators and specialists.

During 2014 to 2016, team members conducted and evaluated various formats of Extension programming in Spanish, including interactive workshops, model demonstration plots, on-farm trainings and tours, fact sheets and field guides, and videos (Figures 1-3). During the second year of the project, we conducted surveys and interviews of Hispanic/Latino horticulturists who had participated in a variety of the educational formats offered in Spanish. All educational programs were designed to follow research-based guidelines for building trust/positive relationships and providing culturally responsive outreach to first- and second-generation Hispanic/Latino communities (Farner et al., 2005; Hobbs, 2004; Olsen and Skogrand, 2009: Vega et al., 2016).

Two educators on our team had formal training in andragogy, and they engaged the learners in post-program discussions and evaluations to assess presentation techniques used during the face-to-face field and classroom trainings. The evaluations provided feedback relative to four key adult learning principles:

  1. opportunities for active participation,
  2. depth of engagement,
  3. relevance to life and work,
  4. development of problem-solving skills.

case study activity
Figure 1: Example of a participatory activity used during interactive workshops, study circles, and on-farm trainings. Short case studies facilitated critical thinking skills relative to crop production situations or problems. For example, a case study simulation following a group discussion on protecting pollinators engaged learners in identifying possible reasons for the discovery of dead and disoriented honey bees in front of a hive.

living classrooms, study circles
Figure 2. On-farm, model vegetable demonstration plots served as "living classrooms" where Hispanic/Latino learners practiced sustainable growing methods and compared production and economic performance of various cropping systems. The demonstration plots also served as sites for study circle networks that engaged a broader community of learners in active learning relative to production and market innovations for specialty crop producers.

Scouting Guides

factsheets and videos

Figure 3. The project team developed (A) field scouting guides, (B) fact sheets, and (C) videos to supplement the hands-on, problem-solving learning modules. These were produced in both Spanish and English, and in both hard copy and electronic formats.

Purposive surveys and interviews were conducted to assess

  1. methods of learning preferred by Hispanic/Latino growers,
  2. ways Extension might increase and improve education and engagement with Hispanic/Latino growers,
  3. factors that might limit Hispanic/Latino specialty crop growers from participating in Extension educational activities and/or utilizing Extension resources.

Project Outcomes

Feedback on presentation techniques used during workshops, field demonstrations, study circles, and tours in the first year of the project indicated trends similar to those described for other adult agricultural learners. The most successful formats provided opportunities for active learning of research-based information that was applicable to participant operations. This feedback helped us to develop the following general facilitation outline for future sessions for Hispanic/Latino learners:

  1. begin with a social activity or ice breaker to engage participants in sharing problem-solving goals for the session and to determine how to make topics most relevant to their work and life experiences,
  2. conduct a short, interactive exercise to gauge current knowledge and practices,
  3. explore multiple ways of transforming lecture-style teaching practices into problem-based learning, using collaborative and activity-based approaches,
  4. where possible, involve experienced growers as mentors,
  5. include an opportunity for networking with the other grower learners (e.g., a meal is an essential part of study circles),
  6. conclude with a time for reflection during which participants share what they learned relative to their goals and experiences.

Purposive surveys and interviews conducted during Year 2 of the project identified further ways to adapt extension outreach and education for bi-lingual learners. Sixty-one "next generation" Hispanic/Latino specialty crop growers who had a range of experiences with Extension programming in Spanish completed a questionnaire designed to assess their learning preferences relative to a variety of educational methods and outreach strategies. Nine of the survey participants provided additional details on survey questions during one-on-one interviews in Spanish.

Survey participants rated seven methods of learning on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being "dislike" and 5 being "like very much." Participants responded that they liked a variety of educational methods, with their top choices being on-farm demonstrations and study circles, tours of other growers' farms, self-paced on-line courses and videos, and interactive workshops (Figure 4). Interviewed Hispanic/Latino growers provided additional insights into learning preferences, stating that during on-farm trainings and interactive workshops they have the opportunities to "see things the way they are, not just theory," "share experiences," and "compare field results and generate new ideas." They liked "hands-on" formats more than "principles or lectures." They also indicated why they liked a mix of educational formats. In the words of one grower, "during on-farm presentations you are able to ask; in the fact sheets and production guides there are things that a speaker doesn't have time to address; and during in-depth workshops there's a lot more information." Many of the preferences were similar to those cited in previous studies on educational perceptions for young (Trede et al., 2000) and women (Barbercheck et al., 2009) start-up farmers. For example, 80% of responses by beginning women farmers indicated a preference for on-farm demonstrations, and beginning young farmers preferred experiential, problem-solving learning activities. Several studies with beginning farmers have indicated a need for a variety of educational formats. For example, young farmers who participated in a survey conducted by Dollisso et al. (1999) indicated they preferred to learn by a variety of methods compared to either self study or group instruction.

Median ratings of methods of learning

Figure 4. Median ratings of methods of learning, based on experiences and preferences (n=61).

Survey participants rated nine stakeholder engagement options on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being "poor" and 5 being "highly effective." The top-rated recommendations for increasing and improving education and engagement with Hispanic/Latino growers were to increase the use of social media in Spanish, followed by holding some educational programs specifically for Latino farmers to increase networking opportunities and holding educational events at the farms of Latino growers. These three options were followed closely by creating opportunities for Latino growers to network with Extension personnel and ag service providers, inviting Latino growers to participate in educational programs as round table participants and/or mentors, and providing more opportunities for classroom education in Spanish in cooperation with local community colleges or literacy programs. Growers who were interviewed offered additional suggestions, including "offering credits or help with certifications," "improving communication on topics of interest to workshop participants," and "motivating growers to attend programs by helping them to see possible career benefits." Similar to studies conducted in rural Washington (Mullinex et al., 2006), Hispanic/Latino fruit and vegetable growers valued opportunities for career advancement and were most likely to seek out community-based programs.

Survey participants had the opportunity to check multiple limitations regarding Extension program participation. Hispanic/Latino growers indicated that timing of the program (e.g., avoiding busy seasons such as planting or harvest) was the greatest limitation (46% of total responses). Other major deterrents included cost, location, and length of program. Session or resource not in Spanish received slightly fewer responses, a total of 25%. By comparison, negative past experiences, not being aware of sessions, and topics not relevant received 10% to 15% of total responses. Many of the growers who were interviewed replied that nothing would limit them from participating in Extension programs or utilizing Extension resources. One grower explained more about the importance of program timing, suggesting that it was important to not schedule programs during the busiest times of the growing season. Another grower explained that it is easier to learn technical information in Spanish but that growers also like to attend programs in English so that they can improve their language proficiency. These findings were similar to those reported by Hobbs (2004) in an article on Extension outreach programs for Hispanic/Latino first- and second-generation Hispanic/Latino audiences. Irregular work schedules indicated that program timing was highly important, and Latino adults, even those fluent in English, appreciated the respect shown for their culture with Spanish or bilingual communication.

Building trusting extension relationships with minority stakeholders takes time and commitment. As a result the survey sample size was suboptimal for making fixed conclusions on learning style and educational method preferences. Hispanic/Latino communities are diverse, and it is important that extension educators gauge participant learning preferences on an ongoing basis and be ready to adapt as needed. As reported in other studies on outreach to Hispanic/Latino audiences (Olsen et al., 2009; Vega et al., 2016), consistent presence and programming will be important to the long-term, measureable success of this initiative.

Implications for University Extension and Outreach

In regions of the country where Hispanic/Latino growers have been involved in specialty crop production for more than two generations, many are now farm owners and industry leaders, as indicated in the most recent Census of Agriculture (USDA NASS, 2014). University Extension educators and specialists have an opportunity to provide significant support for this promising next generation of specialty crop producers through relevant, interactive outreach and educational programming. Based on the preliminary needs assessments described in this paper, future Extension efforts will include: 1) learner engagement by use of social media in Spanish, holding some educational programs specifically for Hispanic/Latino producers, and holding educational programs at the farms of Hispanic/Latino growers and 2) a variety of bi-lingual, educational formats including on-farm demonstrations and study circles, tours of other growers' farms, self-paced on-line courses and videos, and hands-on workshops. As with any community of growers or learners, Hispanic/Latino stakeholders are very diverse, and needs assessments will be on-going.

Literature Cited

Barbercheck, M., K.J. Brasier, N.E. Kiernan, C. Sachs, A. Trauger, J. Findeis, A. Stone, and L.S. Moist 2009. Meeting the extension needs of women farmers: A perspective from Pennsylvania. J. of Extension, 47(3):1-9.

Dollisso, A.D. and R.A. Martin. 1999. Perceptions regarding adult learners motivation to participate in educational programs. J. of Agricultural Education, 40(4):38-46.

Farner, S., M.E. Rhoads, G. Cutz, B. Farner. 2005. Assessing the educational needs and interests of the Hispanic population: The role of Extension 43(4). 29 August 2016.

Hobbs, B. 2004. Latino outreach programs: Why they need to be different. J. of Extension 42(4):74-76.

Irani, T., N. T. Place, and C. Mott. 2003. Integrating adult learning into extension: Identifying importance and possession of adult education competencies among county extension faculty. J. of Southern Agricultural Education Research, 53(1):164-177.

Johnson, S.B., H.S. Carter, and E.K.Kaufman. 2008. Learning styles of farmers and others involved with the Maine potato industry. J. of Extension 46(4). 24 August 2016.

Knowles, M. S., R.A. Swanson, and E.F. Holton, III. 2005. The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.). Elsevier, San Diego, Ca.

Mullinix, K., L. Garcia, A. Lewis-Lorentz, and J. Qazi. 2006. Latino views of agriculture, careers and education: Dispelling the myths. North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture J. 47(4): 61.

Olsen, C.S. and L. Skogrand. 2009. Cultural implications and guidelines for extension and family life programming with Latino/Hispanic audiences. The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues 14(1). 9 August 2016.

Ota, C., C.F. DiCarlo, D.C. Burts, R. Laird, C. Gioe. 2006. Training and the needs of adult learners. J. of Extension, 44(6):1-4.

Strong, R., A. Harder, and H. Carter. 2010. Agricultural extension agents' perceptions of effective teaching strategies for adult learners in the master beef producer program. J. of Extension, 48(3):1-7.

Trede, L.D. and B.S. Whitaker. 2000. Educational needs and perceptions of Iowa beginning farmers toward their education. J. of Agricultural Education, 41(1):39-48.

USDA NASS. 2014. Ag Census Highlights: Hispanic Farmers. 6 April 2016.

USDA NASS. 2016. Ag Census Highlights: U.S. Horticulture in 2014. 6 April 2016.

Vega, L., B. Brody, M. Cummins. 2016. Best practices for outreach and engagement to Latino audiences using community-based programs. J. Human Sciences and Extension 4(2):148-166.


This project was supported by a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop block grant titled "Sustainable Production and Market Innovations for Next Generation Young and Hispanic Specialty Crop Growers" (Project number ME44144963) and a National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture grant titled "Supporting Pennsylvania New Farmers in the Start-up, Re-strategizing and Establishing Years" (Award number 2015-70017-22852).

We acknowledge the valuable contributions of Tianna Dupont, Kerry Richards, Miguel Antonio Saviroff, Maria Gorgo Gourovitch, Winifred McGee, Marley Skinner, Lee Stivers, Alana Anderson, Kristi Kraft, and Tom Jarvinen (Penn State Extension); Jorge Perez-Rico and Suzanne Benchoff (Pennsylvania Department of Education Migrant Program); and Arturo Diaz (Casa de la Cultura) who served as project advisors.

We especially thank the Hispanic/Latino specialty crop growers who suggested that we develop bi-lingual horticulture Extension programming specific to their educational interests and also those producers who participated in surveys and interviews.

This summary was modified from:
Baugher, T, M. Fonseca Estrada, K. Lowery, H. Nunez Contreras. 2017. Learning preferences of next generation Hispanic/Latino specialty crop growers. HortTechnology 27:263-268.