I love to attend Farmer Field School (FFS) graduations. It is a happy occasion full of talk, laughter and food. The learning sites were decorated with colorful “buntings”. The farmer-graduates seemed to have gotten a second lease of life. You see them talking, singing and interacting with each other. They are very proud to wear the T-shirt that we gave them proclaiming them FFS graduates. It differentiates them from the mere bystanders and onlookers. Talking with the graduates, we get firsthand their thoughts and feelings regarding the season-long training that they have just attended. They really appreciate going back to school, albeit an informal one. Most of the graduates look forward to their weekly meetings and don’t seem to begrudge the time that they have used for class. In fact, I get the impression that they welcomed the break from their usual farming routine.
In the recent FFS graduation I attended, a farmer’s son played the organ for free- before, during and after graduation. We were treated to a free concert. Many graduates have their families with them who brought a camera. I even saw ipads and cellphones being used as cameras. It was a big event in the community attended by Local and Municipal officials.
Everything reeks of positive energy. After attending such graduations, you feel as if you made a difference in their life. For us extensionists, this is the ultimate prize. Despite the hardships, the overload in work due to a dwindling workforce in the office, the farmer’s smile and thanks is a balm to our weary spirit. It gives us strength and energy to wake up each morning face another batch of trainees.
I just hope that their enthusiasm will last longer than the next cropping. We have been training a lot of farmers, but after a few cropping seasons, they revert back to their old practices in the farm. Only a handful continued to practice what they have learned. And from that handful, a number of them introduce innovations based on what they have learned and experienced. These elite group of farmers are an inspiration which we at ATI document and produce into print and video materials to hopefully encourage other farmers to do the same. It’s usually very frustrating to learn that from a group of 30 graduates, only 2 to 5 continue to practice what they learned after 5 years.
But I have learned to temper expectations. Working with farmers, I’ve learned that we cannot undo completely a practice they do for half their lifetime with just one training. Patience and continuous reeducation must be done for us to sustain whatever gains we had seen during FFS graduations.