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Going virtual

By Staff | Jul 1, 2020

-Submitted photo Field days, such as the one shown here at a prairie and beneficial insect habitat on an organic crop farm near Sutherland will be held virtually through Practical Farmers of Iowa this year.



Practical Farmers of Iowa’s field day season is well underway -but those events for the 2020 season will be done in a different way -virtually.

According to PFI, they remain committed to connecting farmers with one another to share knowledge and build resilient farms and communities, but this year, with restrictions in place to help protect families and communities.

“We want to build resiliency into our communities and into our farming systems” said Maggie Norton, farmer outreach coordinator for PFI. “This was our moment to practice what we preach. We were confronted with some obstacles and because of the adaptability and flexibility of our staff, we use the tools that we already had on hand to make that pivot and adjust.”

Norton said field days are one of their pillars of programming.

“PFI really tries to facilitate as many meaningful farmer to farmer learning opportunities as possible,” she said.

Starting in the spring and extending throughout the summer and fall, field days, Norton said are great opportunities for people to learn -not only just farmer to farmer, but for anyone that would want to attend are welcome to.

“What is special about our field days is we are trying to cultivate an opportunity for people to learn, but give them a sense of community and treat it as a social opportunity as well,” she said. “A lot of times our field days will have a small meal and there’s plenty of time, purposefully put into the agenda for networking and chatting and visiting.”

And that is a portion of the field days, Norton said, unfortunately that will be missed this year.

“There’s only so much social networking an visiting time that we can incorporate into these online formats,” she said.

With that downfall set aside, Norton said PFI is planning on providing the same informational field days as they have in the past with even some new learning opportunities as well.

How will this be possible?

After a decade worth of holding their online “Farminar” series PFI, Norton said has utilized a number of online platforms giving them the experience required to hold virtual field days this year.

“When the decision was made that we weren’t going to do in-person field days and it was going to have to be an online format of some sort, it felt like we had an advantage because we already had gotten our feet wet using that type of format,” she said.

Formats they are planning on using to introduce the audience to the field day will range from Facebook to Zoom events.

“We ended up using two formats for the field days as a way to diversity the type of engagement,” she said. “On Facebook, we reach new audiences that might not tune in otherwise and it’s convenient for many viewers.”

Engagement using Facebook can only be done through text in the comment box and some attendees aren’t enthusiastic about accessing the content through that social media platform, however.

“To try to make up for that, we’re also holding a handful of Zoom exclusive events,” she said. “These are similar to our winter Farminar series and more familiar to our audience who have tuned in and enjoyed that content in the past. The Zoom events also allow for verbal dialogue between the farmer-speaker and the audience, providing a more personal connection.”

Norton anticipates their farmer-speakers will be available to chat offline after their virtual field day event.

“If there is somebody that wants to follow up, they can reach out to us and we would make that connection,” she said. “Or, I think some of the farmers have already incorporated their contact information to the presentations.”

Field day attendees can expect a little bit of everything when it comes to the presentations.

“There are a whole slew of formats within these online formats,” she said. “Some of them are going to be live, in the field where they are walking alongside a roller-crimper and demonstrating the difference between types; whereas another field day might be pre-recorded material.”

Norton hopes people will enjoy the convenience of on-line field days.

“I think there are a lot of silver linings to forcing us to use this suite of tools because we are going to access a different audience then we have been able to in the past and people that aren’t nearby can join,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about spending an hour to get out to the field and spending another hour or two or three and another hour home.”

The timeframe for each virtual field day, Norton said should be about an hour as well.

Unique to the PFI field days this year, Norton said is the ability to now revisit farms.

“In our typical field day situation, we wouldn’t be going back over and over again to somebody’s farm,” she said. “In this case we are able to do that so you get a progression of how a season might look like.”

The virtual field days will also be held at different times throughout the week.

“A lot of them are on the weekday, in the middle of the day; some of them are in the evenings which works out reallywell for people that are just too busy during the day,” she said. “Then, there are some that are going to be on the weekends.”

One big benefit to holding the field days virtually is they will be recorded for later viewing.

“Any of the events that are taking place on Facebook live as soon as the event concludes, then it is available for re-watching on the Facebook website,” she said. “All of the Zoom events, that are going to be occurring, which is smaller portion, will be recorded and then put up on YouTube. The Facebook live will also be put up on YouTube, and then links will be available on our website to those places. If anyone wants to follow up they can just go to our PFI website and look up the field day and there will be links to the archives video.”

Moving forward, Norton is anticipating PFI will incorporate virtual field days along with in-person field days.

“Given this new tool in our tool belt that maybe we will do some recording of the field days or live streaming from the field day, if they have a connection so people on Facebook can join virtually even while there are people to face to face in the event,” she said. “I think we will have some interesting hybrids of the two moving forward. I think we are going to come out of it on the other end with a new tool to be able to provide content for our community and for our members in a new way from here on out.”

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