• Harvest-RCN

Kick-Off Workshop

The kick-off workshop for the HARVEST RCN was held at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, VA on May 7-8, 2018. The participants included:

  • 15 RCN Members

  • 5 Farmers

Terry and Paige Webb, Webb's Gardens

Anita and Thomas Roberson, Botanical Bites and Provisions, LLC

Alain Pincot, Betteravia Farms

  • 5 Practitioners/Policy Experts

Kirk Ballin, AgrAbility

Eric Bendfeldt, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

Aida Balsano, AgrAbility

Dawn Castillo, NIOSH

  • 6 Graduate Students


The workshop activities included an introduction to HARVEST, a farmer panel, a practitioner/policy panel, a think-pair-share activity, research coordination network hexagon activities, and world cafe - viability, sustainability, and technology adoption.




Insights from the workshop


Current issues that can be addressed by technology:

  • Aging population and reduced capacity for manual work -> wearable robots that are usable and affordable

  • Labor shortage -> robotic picking, transplanting and weeding

  • Competition from large-scale corporate farming -> aiding decision-making through the use of big-data and predictive analytics; efficient utilization of natural resources; guidance on which crops to grow at what time of the year; climate predictions; pest control

  • Energy-independence and self-reliance -> technology for harnessing renewable energy

System-level issues:

  • Large-scale corporate farms restrict technology use and availability through patenting

  • Need for stronger partnerships between universities and industry for effective development of farming technology

  • Food treated as a product for-profit, contributing to more large-scale corporate farming

  • Food wastage at the consumer level increases demand, contributing to growth of large-scale farming as opposed to small- and medium-scale farming

Sociological issues:

  • Succession planning – farmers find it difficult to get younger generations involved

  • Separation between the consumer and the producer

  • Need for culturally sensitive design – farmers may reject technology that takes away the management aspect of farming; design technology with the appropriate level of automation


Research questions and potential next steps


  • Define success metrics for small and medium-scale farms (what does it mean to be a successful farmer?)

  • Acquire/generate datasets on small-farming activities – production, types of crops, demographics, etc.

  • Take an expert systems approach at individual farm levels (workshops with experts and stakeholders)

  • Create a Macro Scale Systems Dynamics Model

  • Investigate technology-adoption factors (how do you get small-farmers to adopt and use technology?)

  • Investigate the potential for cooperative work and shared use of technology to improve productivity on small farms

  • Implement community education programs to spread awareness among consumers about farming issues


Notable Quotes from the Workshop


“Farmers are unique because their profession is their identity”


“We have lost over time, the understanding of why we farm, what is the role of the farmer, and to what end we farm.”


“Agricultural sustainability depends on rural prosperity.. there needs to be community vitality and also individual and family well-being, without which there’s no prosperity, hence no sustainability.”


“Each farm is unique and different.. How can we better listen to farmers and have more conversation, as opposed to jumping into solutions?”





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