Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

Based on the summit, a team from Delaware, Maryland, and Ohio applied for, and received, funding to conduct a coordinated community risk management approach to health and health insurance among farm enterprises. Funding was provided by the Northeast Regional Center of Rural Development. Team members, with input from state planning committees, determined that a forum in each state would be the most appropriate means of engaging people.

By the time the forums were held in 2018-2019, mental health of farmers had risen as a public issue led by an increase in suicides among farmers and became a driver for three forums focused on strengthening health and farm vitality. Even as we were monitoring results from these two forums, we were working on reframing stress as an issue to build resilience across the farming population. We were also working on a framework to build the case for expanding Extension’s role from one of technical assistance with stress reduction to one of public engagement in stressors that go beyond the boundary of the farm. And we were working on tools to enable Extension educators from multiple disciplines and other professionals to transcend their own disciplinary and sector boundaries. In 2020, two new drivers, both associated with COVID-19, led the Delaware and Maryland team to consider another forum: 1) Public attention to availability and affordability of food and 2) Extension’s need to work at a distance. The team sought and received funding, through the Extension Foundation, from the USDA’s NIFA New Technologies in Agriculture Education, to address those drivers. We built on, and adapted, the previous on-site forum format. Our goal was to test the feasibility of using distance technology to effectively conduct public forums. We are sharing Our Story in this guide to bring to life the “how - to” information we are providing. We’ve chosen to tell Our Story , believing that other professionals can learn from our experiences and create their own public issues forums.

Delaware and Maryland 2021 Online Forum

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