Peer learning helps farmers put knowledge into action. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that farmers consider other farmers their best sources of information and guidance. Farmers want to hear firsthand how other farmers make decisions and implement different strategies. They want to ask each other questions and get suggestions as they try new approaches. They want perspectives from those who have faced the same challenges and found viable solutions. They want to know what worked and didn’t and why. Some regions are home to vibrant organic clusters and networks, with informal opportunities to build relationships, share information, and exchange ideas. But many farmers are hundreds of miles from these hotspots. Even in active organic communities, some farmers lack access to these networks due to cultural, language, and other differences. And now, nearly all farmers are cut off from engaging with peers, taking classes and workshops, and attending meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic; these opportunities are expected to be limited well into the future.
Programs based on video meetings and other technological tools could significantly increase access to peer learning for farmers, both during the immediate crisis and on an ongoing basis. Virtual peer learning programs that connect learners off-site are increasingly common in a variety of fields and disciplines, most notably in education, medicine, and entrepreneurship. Unlike traditional distance learning such as online courses and instructional webinars, these programs are explicitly designed to use web technology for the reciprocal sharing of knowledge, ideas, and experience among practitioners. This project will explore how we can adapt and develop effective virtual peer learning models in the organic and sustainable agriculture sector.
Our research will focus on the design and delivery of virtual peer learning programs that support organic farmers to strengthen their economic viability and ecological sustainability. It will aim to increase understanding of how our sector can use virtual peer learning to overcome geographic constraints to help more farmers increase their knowledge and improve their practices.