Family Systems and Farming Systems
A Case Study of
Farming Systems Research/Extension and
the Southwest Virginia Cooperative Extension Service
John S. Caldwell, Mary Hill Rojas, and Angela M. Neilan
Department of Horticulture
Office of Women in World Development
and Extension Division
Appreciation is expressed to Edith H. Friend and Neel Rich, Southwest
Virginia Extension District; Joe Derting, Lovis Countiss, Katie Thomas, Mike
Hilt, and Bobby Thomas, Washington County Extension Unit; and agents and
technicians in Lee and Smyth counties, for their participation and support
throughout the project.
Appreciation is also expressed to Vicki Karagianis, Michael F. Smith,
Miew Leng Mark-Teo, Ann A. Hertzler, Ruth D. Harris, and Marilyn Hoskins for
assistance with specific portions of the project.
Finally, the project was only possible because of the full participation
and cooperation of the farm families of Southwest Virginia. We express our
sincerest appreciation to them.
This project was supported by a grant from the Office of International
Cooperation and Development (01CD) of the United States Department of
Agriculture. Appreciation is expressed to Donald Ferguson, OICD project
liason officer, for his support throughout the project.
1. Objectives and Justification
From Sep tember, 1981, until June, 1984, Virginia Tech carried out a
Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) project supported by a USDA/01CD
grant entitled "Extension and Family Economics in Farming Systems Programs."
This project sought to advance the state-of-the-arts of FSR/E by focusing on
two key areas:
1. The interrelationship of the farm household and farm firm.
FSR/E is based on the premise that interactions among components in the
natural and human environments of the farming system have a significant effect
on whether or not changes in individual system components result in improvement
in the system as a whole (Gilbert, et al., 1980). For this reason, as a
conceptual framework, FSR/E does not limit its scope of concern to the
biophysical environment. As a working methodology, however, FSR/E has tended
to focus almost exclusively on agricultural productivity. Non-agricultural
family priorities and the impact of agricultural technology on family well-
being have not been the main concern to date of FSR/E as a working methodology
(Hildebrand, 1982; W~helan, 1982). However, FSR/E conceptual models show the
household as one of the major subsystems of the farming system, together with
crop and animal subsystems. (McDowell and Hildebrand, 1980; Zandstra, 1980).
Therefore, the Southwest Virginia FSR/E project, by focusing on the farm
household and farm firm, examined a component of the farming system relatively
2. The application of FSR/E methodology within the structure and program
cycle of the U.S. land grant university and Cooperative Extension
FSR/E has developed outside the United States, frequently through inter-
nationally-funded, app lied research-oriented projects. Greater emphasis has
been placed on the diagnostic and on-farm research stages of the FSR/E
process. Also, research institutions and personnel have tended to be more
involved in FSR/E projects than Extension institutions and personnel.
In the United States, however, the Cooperative Extension system has a
long history of working with farm families. Its organizational structure
rea che s far into rural communities nationwide. Through special programs for
limited resource farms and families, it has also developed techniques with
some similarities to the FSR/E process. If FSR/E is to be applicable in the
United States, it must, therefore, be compatible with the existing Cooperative
The project used a modified form of the 4-stage FSR/E methodology that
has been developed by Hildebrand and others, and is described in Shaner et al.
Southwest Virginia was selected as the target area because of the
predominance of limited resource farms in that area. Within the target area, 3
counties were selected in consultation with Extension personnel as the research
area because of their small farm para-professional agricultural program. These
para-professionals are frequently called small1 farm technicians. Over half
(56%) of the 4,276 farms in the research area has harvested cropland areas of
less than 4 ha (10 ac), placing them within the range of cropland available to
many farms in less highly populated parts of the developing world (U.S.
Department of Commerce Bureau of Census, 1981).
At the inception of the project, a qualitative "sondeo," or "sounding
out," survey of Extension personnel and 47 limited resource farm families was
conducted (Shaner et al., 1982). The objectives of this survey were three-fold:
1. To develop a qualitative model of the predominant farming system
in the target area.
2. To determine the major goals, problems, and constraints of the
small farm families.
3. To help Extension evaluate the agricultural technician program
in terms of the expressed needs of the limited resource farm
The major results of the qualitative survey can be summarized in the
following four points (Caldwell, 1982; Karagianis et al., 1982; Rojas, 1983;
1. The major long-term goal of the majority of the farm families is
to maintain the farming way of life. Overall quality of life
rather than economic benefit appears to be the measure that
families use in evaluating their success as farmers.
2. Improvements in agricultural production are not seen by the
families as their major need. This reflects the predominance of
the non-economic goals of families, as well as the effectiveness
of the para-professional technician program in responding to
immediate agricultural production problems.
3. The existing agricultural technician program deals only tangent-
ially with household needs that relate to the quality of life.
There is little linkage with family resources Extension.
4. The existing agricultural technician program does not target
agricultural technology information delivery to female household
members except sometimes when they are single heads of household.
Nevertheless, the. sondeo suggested that female household members
play a key role in intensive crop production and off-farm income
The next step of the diagnostic stage quantified some of the inter-
actions depicted in the qualitative model (Hart, 1982). The qualitative model
thus serves as a guide both for further quantitative diagnosis and for design
of alternate solutions to problems identified by the initial diagnosis. For
this purpose, 2 types of follow-up case studies were initiated:
1. Time budget record-keeping by 10 of the original 47 families
interviewed covered the period May, 1982, through September,
1982. All members of the household over 10 years old were
included. The purposes of the activity were to learn more about
the contributions of women to farm production, the allocation
of family member time among competing farm and non-farm produc-
tion activities, and the extent of intra-familial and family-
The results of the time budget study suggested that the investi-
gators had over-estimated women's contribution to intensive crop
production and underestimated women's contributions to livestock-
related production activities. The results also showed that when
women take off-farm employment as a means of increasing family
income, men and children do not greatly increase their contri-
butions to household production activities. As a consequence,
time spent in household production activities was sacrificed.
2. Food consumption records were kept by the same sub-sample of 10
farm households that recorded their time allocation. The purpose
of this activity was to investigate possible relationships
between nutritional status and the status of the farm family unit.
The results of the food consumption study indicated that families
with women working off the farm appeared to have the poorest
nurtriture, with deficiencies of vitamins A and C, calcium, and
iron most apparent. Analyzing diets by the type of farm (beef
cattle, dairy, fruit and vegetable, or corn) indicated that
within each farm type some families had adequate diets and some
had inadequate diets. This substantiated the idea that the
availability of food does not guarantee its use. Projects in
developing countries illustrate that technology and improved
incomes do not automatically result in adequate family nurtriture
(Hertzler and Teo, 1983; Fischer, 1978).
Taken as a whole, the results of the diagnostic studies suggested
two directions for future extension efforts. First, intensive fruit and
vegetable production appeared to be an important commercial farm production
alternative to the traditional farm cash crop of tobacco. Extension information
delivery for intensive fruit and vegetable production needed to include both
males and females in their target audience.
Second, a stronger linkage between family resources extension and
agricultural extension could benefit small farms where women have off-farm
employment. Particularly valuable could be assistance in three areas: house-
work simplification to alleviate the work load of the woman employed off-farm;
food preparation and meal planning assistance designed to improve the nutritive
status of families within the constraints of reduced time for meal preparation
available to women with off-farm employment; financial management assistance
to enable families to plan better to meet the needs of farm business and
household production activities.
B. Design and Testing of Alternative Solutions
1. The Institutional Intervention
Based on the results of the sondeo and the two diagnostic
studies, the FSR/E team proposed the training and financial support of a home
management para-professional technician in Washington County, one of the 3
counties of the original research area. This new technician worked in a team
with the 2 existing agricultural technicians to strengthen extension assistance
to the total farm-household unit. This "agri-home economics" technician team
applied the multidisciplinary team approach of farming systems within the
existing Extension structure.
A local farm woman was hired by the Extension Unit for the home
management technician position. A home economist with experience as an Ex-
tension Unit chairman, who had responsibility for both agriculture and home
economics, served as liaison between the University Farming Systems staff and
the Extension field staff.
A training program was then carried out in February and March,
1983. It consisted of 3 steps:
a. The technician team, Extension staff, and campus-based spe-
cialists met for a two-day workshop to share information
from the diagnostic phase. Extension personnel who had worked
on Farm and Home Development Programs spoke of their exper-
ience. A female technician in a new program in North Carolina
seeking to address both home and agriculture needs of
small farms also shared experiences. The Farm and Home
Development program has been pointed out to be an important
domestic antecedent of the FSR/E approach (Johnson, 1982).
b. A second workshop, led by a non-formal adult educator,
encouraged the agri-home economics para-professional team,
campus-based specialists, and the Unit home economics agent
to set goals, identify farm problems in Washington County,
arrive at a consensus of job expectations, and develop
c. Following the initial workshops, Extension Unit staff, the
Farming Systems team, and other campus-based resource persons
gave content training in nutrition, food preservation, home
products, community referral, budgeting, and marketing to
the agri-home economics team.
The home management para-professional contributed to program
design in the recruitment of new families. Of the 17 families she worked with,
less than one-third had been involved with the small farm agricultural
technicians. As a local person,, she knew that limited resource farms were
"those without a silo and with 1 to 8 head of cattle." She used these criteria
to make her initial selection of families.
2. The Farming System Intervention
Given the results of the diagnostic phase, the FSR/E team
determined that an alternative crop to tobacco was needed that would be high
in nutrients and appealing for family consumption, as well as have a favorable
market. In 1982, at the same time as the project was conducting its diagnostic
work, a concurrent USDA survey identified a market window for broccoli
production. Broccoli could also provide the families with high amounts of
Vitamins A' and C. Also, given the climate in Washington County, harvest of a
spring broccoli crop would come after tobacco planting but before tobacco
topping. A fall crop could also be planted in late July before tobacco topping
and harvest. Tomato, pepper, and squash had been the traditional market
vegetables in the area, but because of the risk of early frost, their planting
has to be timed for harvest in August and September. Their harvest thus
overlaps with tobacco and sometimes causes labor bottlenecks.
There were three problems, however, to resolve in introducing
First, to produce the small heads of broccoli demanded by the
market, the horticulture specialist recommended a close _spacing planting
system. Planting at a close spacing by hand works on the experiment station,
but obviously would be impractical for a farm family. Therefore, the
technicians and one of the farmers came up with the idea of removing one shoe
of the tobacco transplanter, to allow the transplanter to go between 2 rows
already planted 21 inches apart and add a third row.
Second, as soon as it is harvested, broccoli needs to be rapidly
cooled to remove field heat. Otherwise, the heads will continue to respire,
expand, and become yellow, and nutrient value will decrease. However, expensive
hydro-cooling would not be feasible for limited resource farms. So the
technicians and another grower came up with the idea of using old milk
coolers. The horticulture specialist supplied a thermometer to moniter the
Third, both producers and potential neighborhood consumers needed
to know how to cook broccoli for meals and preserve excess for later use. The
home management technician and -the Unit home economics agent produced a
newsletter to introduce broccoli into the family diet. Information was dis-
tributed throughout the county in addition to the 17 project families.
Increased home consumption would both improve nutrition and increase the local
market. The home management technician also visited families to help teach
broccoli preservation by freezing and preparation, for examplelin a casserole
with cheese sauce. The home management technician contributed to the process
in other ways. By working as a team in production and market identification, the
home management technician and the agricultural technicians established mul-
tiple channels of information with all the farm family members involved in
planting, harvesting, grading and packing: woman to woman, woman to man, and
man to man. As a result, teamwork in the family was strengthened.
In conclusion, both market and nutritional factors contributed
in the design and testing stages. Market needs guided spacing, transplanter
adaptation, market identification, grading, cooling, and packing, while nutri-
tional needs guided the meal preparation and freezing educational program.
Agriculture program design and testing made increased production possible, and
home economics design and testing created new information
channels, increased local market size, and insured that all the product was
usable and nutritious. Agri-home economics means this type of integration of
agriculture and home economics in design and testing.
C. Evaluation and Extension
1. The Institutional Intervention
At the Extension field level, the home management technician was
housed under the Unit home economics extension agent, which created one set of
expectations by the agent as to the new technician's job content. However, the
new technician was also expected by the Farming Systems project team to work
with the agriculture technicians housed under the Unit agriculture extension
agent. In working with the agriculture technician, she sometimes advised on
broccoli, provided seeds for gardens, and even took soil samples. This dual
position created problems with job expectations and supervision. At the end,
the project concluded that if a similar team were established in a different
Extension Unit, the whole team should be under one chain of command, from
either the agricultural or home economics agent, depending on the local
Some Extension personnel also questioned the value of combining
agriculture and home economics skills in one position. They saw Farming
Systems as a return back from the specialization approach of recent years to
an earlier, more generalist approach of the Farm and Home Development Program
of the 19 50' s. Also, today, Extension emphasizes group work and leadership
development. The benefits of reaching limited resource farm clientele through
a one-on-one approach must be weighed against the cost to the community of
supporting such an intensive approach.
Gender-related role expectations in the local culture also lim-
ited the flow of agri-home economics information. While it was acceptable for
the female home management technician to provide agricultural information to
both men and women, the male agricultural technician had little interest in
providing home economics information to either men or women. The male tech-
nicians also suggested concern for possible cultural misinterpretations of
intent if they worked too closely with wives of farm husbands.
The merging of the agricultural production focus of traditional
FSR/E with the special focus of this project on the household and the farm
woman was also sometimes confusing to Extension field staff. Agricultural
Extension staff are strongly production oriented, while home economics Ex-
tension staff are family and home. oriented. The focus on the woman as an
agricultural producer cut across both traditional domains in a new way.
An alternative approach to the strengthening of agricultural
extension for female agricultural producers is to take an entirely production-
oriented FSR/E approach, working with existing agricultural Extension agents
and technicians, but specify that one of the functions of the social science
Farming Systems team member is to determine the role of the woman as
agricultural producer within and among the farm family clientele of the
project. The senior authors of this report will test this approach in a new
project beginning Fall 1984 in South Central Virginia. This approach has the
advantages of being more easily appreciated by Extension field staff, and of
requiring less change in Extension structure and programming.
The impact of any new agricultural intervention on the workload
of the woman would also be assessed.
Another difficulty with the institutional intervention was re-
lated to the structure and program cycle of the Cooperative Extension system
In most Extension educational programs, program development be-
gins at the local level, and campus-based specialists are brought in as
resource persons at the request of the Unit to assist in designing imple-
mentations of programs for prob lems identified by Extension field staff.
Specialists are usually not involved in problem identification, and their
involvement in field implementation is decreasing. In contrast, in this
project, campus-based specialists were involved in program development from
the beginning, including the sondea, follow-up studies, and initial goal-
setting discussions. Farming Systems involvement of specialists in the dia-
gnostic stage contrasts with the lesser role of specialists in the program
development stage of the Extension cycle. This was sometimes seen as an
unexpected intrusion by the specialists into the traditional domain of locally-
Establishing linkages at the campus level between Extension
specialists and the Farming Systems specialists was another structural dif-
ficulty. This was largely because the FSR/E project was located in Inter-
national Agriculture, with weak links to the domestic Extension program.
2. The Farming Systems Intervention
In evaluating the initial trials, both the economic benefit of
market sale and the nutritional benefit of the addition of broccoli to the
diet were examined. Economic impact was assessed through records kept by one
of the cooperating families. Calculation of the net economic benefit included
the costs borne by the project in the initial trials. It also included
sensitivity analysis, to show what returns would have been if farmers co-
operated to produce their own plants, rather than buying them from outside.
This information was then presented at an area-wide meeting involving Extension
field staff and farm family members from 4 counties.
Analogous to net economic benefit, net nutritional benefit, was
calculated, based on the foods the consumption of which changed, resulting in
nutritional changes. Since most of the families had learned nutrition by color
groups when they were in school, broccoli was being substituted for "green"'
foods in the diet, particularly green beans. The substitution was approximately
1 cup for 1 cup, about every 3 days. Since the food consumption survey had
shown a deficiency in vitamins A, C, and iron, net nutritional benefit was
calculated for these vitamins. The nutrient contents of the old and new foods
were also converted to percentages of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)
for adult women working off the farm, the target population likely to be at
risk in vitamins A, C and iron. The displaced green beens supplied 17, 33, and
4 percent of the RDA for adult women for vitamins A, C, and iron, whereas the
newly-substituted broccoli supplied 97, 311, and 7 percent of the RDA for
adult women (figure 1). Thus, the substitution of broccoli for green beans
would eliminate the risk of vitamin A and C deficiency, although the input for
iron would be minimal for this target population.
Finally, the marketing of the broccoli involved efforts by the
producers, families, technicians, and 'FSR/E team. A supermarket buyer who had
failed to respond to the producers and technicians did respond to the calls by
the FSR/E team. This seems to indicate the importance of empowerment. Special-
ists represent institutions that unconsciously buyers will respond to more
quickly than to individual farmers or even technicians. Empowerment is another
key issue that specialists can address. The buyer then attended an area-wide
meeting to provide answers to marketing questions.
With more market possibilities, growers in 2 counties cooperated
the next spring, in 1984, to hire a local greenhouse to grow plants for them.
Both number of growers and acreage increased. Through discussions with families
and the area-wide meetings, evaluation led into a new educational effort, to
expand the scope of a marketing cooperative in an adjacent county. One-on-one
contact led into area-wide extension. The cooperative had previously handled
only summer bell peppers, tomatoes, and squash. By early 1984, the cooperative
had decided to handle spring broccoli as well, and to change their name to
reflect area-wide participation.
FSR/E has been depicted as a cyclic process (Hildebrand, 1983),
and Extension personnel also speak of the cycle of an extension educational
program. The 2 cycles can be superimposed on each other to show their
relationship (figure 2). By early 1984, after 1 budget year, the Southwest
Virginia project had completed one cycle which then-led into a new cycle of
diagnosis of new needs.
Overall, the number of cooperators in the Washington County project was
small, and the agri-home economics team was pilot tested in only one county
for one year. Efforts to obtain other funding to extend the project in
Washington County, and to establish a second test in another county in the
state, were not successful. Nevertheless, in its short lifetime, the technician
team produced 4 accomplishments:
1. A greater awareness on the part of Extension field staff of the
contribution of women to agricultural production.and of the farm as
a total unit.
2. Introduction of more limited resource farms to the Extension network
through home management information.
3. Introduction of broccoli for market sale and home use.
4. Development of new markets.
The accomplishments of the project as a whole were 4:
1. Development and initial testing of the agri-home economics technician
team Extension model.
2. Establishment of new interdisciplinary links between Extension, home
economics, agriculture, and horticulture.
3. Decreased specialist-farm family clientele alienation.
4. Application of knowledge and experience internationally in such
areas as the Gambia and Brasil and in international workshops and
Although the test of the agri-home economics team by this project was
limited, and there are differences between limited resource farms in Southwest
Virginia and those in the developing world, there is value in using U.S.
limited resource farms to provide real-world tests of methodologies with
potential application in both the U.S. and developing counties. First, as
Hildebrand has documented in North Florida ( Hil1deb rand, 19 83 ), as the dia-
gnostic work of this study showed, and as a recent article demonstrates in
Botswana (Behnke and Kerven, 1983), limited resource farm households in the
U.S. and developing countries rely on diversification of agricultural and
non-agricultural enterprises to reduce risks and achieve their main objective
of maintaining the farm as a home.
Second, because of the complexity of managing diversified enterprises
with limited time, to be effective, Extension programs need to recognize the
multiple roles of family members. The traditional U.S. Extension system has
been based on a separation of agricultural extension for male family members
and home economics extension for female family members. This is not appropriate
in Botswana, for example, where women manage both the Bgricultural and home
production/consumpt ion activities of the farm household. This study suggests
the traditional Extension system may also be less appropriate for U.S. limited
resource small farms.
Personal communication by F.K. Morwesinyama, Agricultural Officer, Women's
Extension, Goverment of Botswana, during the USDA sponsored Virginia Tech
course, "Management and the Role of Women in Development," March 22 April
- 10 -
V. Literature Cited
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and Motivations of Farmers." Culture and Agriculture 19(spring):
pp. 9-16, 1983.
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Use by Small Farm Families in Southwest Virginia: An Approach
for the Inclusion of the Household in Farming Systems Research
and Extension." Southern Rural Sociology, 1:26-52, 1983.
Caldwell1, J.S. "Impact of the Limited Resource Farm Technician Program
in Lee, Washington, and Smyth Counties." Blacksburg, Virginia:
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1982.
Fischer, J.L. "Summary Report on the Conference on Women and Food."
In Proceedings and Papers of the International Conference on
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January 8-11, 1978.
Gilbert, E.H.; Norman, D.W.; and Winch, F.E. "Farming Systems Research:
A Critical Appraisal." East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State
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Hart, R.D. "One Farm System in Honduras: A Case Study in Farm Systems
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Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1982.
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Hildebrand, P.E. "Role, Potential, and Pr oblems of Farming Systems
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"Designing Alternate Solutions: Case Study of the North
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Johnson, G. "Small Farms in a Changing World." In Proceedings of Kansas
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Farms in a Changing World: Prospects for the Eighties, pp.
7-28. Edited by W.L. Sheppart. Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas State
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and State University, 1982.
McDowell, R.E. and Hildebrand, P.E. "Integrated Crop and Animal
Production: Making the Most of Resources Available to Small
Farms in Developing Countries." New York: Working Papers--The
Rojas, M.H. "The Voices of Rural Women in Southwest Virginia." A Paper
presented at the meeting of the Southern Association of Agricultural
Scientists, Rural Sociology Section, Atlanta, Georgia, 1983.
Shaner, W.W.; Philipp, P.F.; and Schmehl, W.R. Farming Systems Research
and Development: Guidelines for Developing Countries. Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, 1982.
Teo, M.L.M. "Ro les of Farm Women: A Comparison of the U.S.A. and
Developing Countires." In Proceedings of a Conference on "Women's
Roles in Rural United States", pp. 11B, 1-9. Edited by M.H.
Rojas. Blacksburg, Virginia: Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University, 1982.
United States Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census. Census
of Agriculture, vol. 1, State and County Data. Part 46, Virginia.
Washington, D.C., 1981.
Whe lan W.P. "Incorporating Nutritional Considerations into Fa rmi ng
Systems Research ." A Paper presented at the Fa rmi ng Systems
in the Field Symposium. Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas State
Zandstra, H.G. "Methods to Identify and Evaluate Improved Cropping
Systems. In Farming Systems in the Tropics, 3rd ed. Edited
by H. Ruthenberg. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
Vitamin A, Vitamin Ct Nteooi eei
\11 ~L E empowerment
low riskNet nutritional benefit
labor com- ac RDA for target
patibility 94- --population
Market Implementation z
identification a I
Grading, cooling 9 e
Freezing ) j
NET NUTRITIONAL BENEFIT AS % OF RDA
3 0 : ** *
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A C IRON