This blog post highlights the work of the NSSI project titled “Development of a Comprehensive, Engaging E-Learning Tool for Strawberry Farmers” led by Dr. Emily Hoover of the University of Minnesota
By Echo Martin, University of Minnesota
Where do farmers go to discover new techniques and information? In the past it was to conferences or other farmers, but more commonly today the first place people turn to is the internet. Many great outreach resources are available online, but sometimes navigation can be difficult and some articles are up to date, while others are a decade old. Additionally, the information can be difficult to access in the field if it’s not on a mobile website or isn’t downloadable.
Our team of University of Minnesota researchers, in partnership with Minnesota Grown and a few experienced farmers, decided to remedy this by creating an interactive guide for growing and selling strawberries in cold climates. Not only did we want this guide be an up-to-date resource with all the information easily accessible in one place, but it was vital that it be accessible both online and on the most common handheld devices. We chose to use a new online authorirng program, Inkling Habitat, to create the e-book. This program allowed us to address the major problems listed above as well as include a variety of interactive features that would enhance learning.
For the first half of the project, our interdisciplinary team worked to design and produce an e-book that is easy for users to read and understand, with beautiful pictures and instructional video that reinforces the text.
We wanted to ensure that this guide would be highly useful to farmers once it was released. With the first draft of the e-book finished, we wanted to determine which topics needed more information and if any areas needed to be presented more clearly. To accomplish this, we conducted a focus group in January at the MFVGA conference and another at the MOSES Organic Conference at the beginning of March, making edits to the e-book in between.
Overall, the reviews at the focus group sessions were resoundingly positive. We got feedback from a variety of farmers, some who had been growing strawberries for 20 years and others who were only considering growing strawberries. While there were some changes needed, nearly half of the focus group participants requested to be notified when the e-book was released so that they could read the entire thing.Several participated in multiple focus groups so they could read additional chapters. You can see several of the focus group comments in our YouTube trailer.
The e-book was released to the public in early August. It goes into detail on important topics such as choosing your market, innovative marketing techniques, comprehensive cultivar recommendations, insurance requirements and other essential business info, along with best practices for growing strawberries. Cold Climate Strawberry Farming also introduces a new, season-extending method of growing strawberries for cold climates using low tunnels and day-neutral cultivars.
All content is based on years of research at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Grown, and can be viewed online on the computer or downloaded for offline use to any iOS or Android mobile device. You can download it for free and explore it yourself on Inkling.com.