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LEARNING MORE ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION

Ruth Knight

(We break from our standard policy of keeping articles short so that you can review the complete summary of results and conclusion from last year's survey. Some of the finding are quite intriguing, and prove the EFAO to be a unique organization.)

Although slow in coming, I'm happy to report the findings of the membership survey conducted last summer. The directors have found it very helpful for learning more about the membership, and for determining the direction the EFAO should take. We hope that you'll find the information interesting as well. Some conclusions are reported here, along with results. Remember they are general conclusions and they do not describe an individual. Do you agree with the results? Let us know.

The terrific response shown by our members (52%) brings great value and real validity to this survey. (We couldn't have done it without you!) In actual numbers, we received 202 responses to the 387 questionnaires mailed out. This type of participation is what a grassroots organization such as ours needs continually, to keep it relevant and responsive.

LOCATION:

Every county south of Sudbury was represented in the survey response, except Haliburton and Muskoka which don't have any members. (Not generally thought of as agricultural areas, this isn't surprising!) Members in the counties of Grey, Wellington, Huron, Perth and Bruce represent about 43% of the membership. Individually, the response levels from these counties ranged from 40 to 80%. In total, 45% of all responses were from these counties. (In this report this area is referred to as the core area.) Counties to the south of the core area (Essex, Kent and Lambton) all have more than 10 members each. Members here showed a response level of less than 10%. Counties to the east of the core area responded very well. Over half of them had a 100% response level, even though many of these counties have less than five members each. Again, although few in number, all members living in other provinces responded to the survey. On the other hand, virtually none of the 31 members living in urban centres responded.

One conclusion from these results is that the organization's influence is slowly spreading outward from the core area. These member appear to have strong connections and commitment. Given their excellent response, it appears that members living a great distance from the core area have a very strong commitment to maintain contact. Similarly, members living some distance from this core (within the province, yet too distant to travel to many of the organization's activities - i.e. the eastern part of the province) also seem quite committed. The low response level from the southern counties may reflect a sense of `being forgotten', as some of those members indicated. Hopefully, having two new directors from eastern Ontario, and the encouraging local organization networks will help reduce the `isolation' felt by some.

OCCUPATION:

Naturally, the majority of members - a full 80% - are farmers. Of this total, 53% are full-time farmers and 27% are part-time farmers. Of the remaining 20%: retired farmers represent 3%, gardeners 9%, and rural landowners 6%. The remaining 2% of responses fell into the category of educators, farm consultants or unspecified.

AGE:

Answers to this question are very interesting. Of respondents, 29% range from 30 to 40 years of age, while another 33% are in the 40 to 50 year bracket. Together these represent 64% of the total. Except for 3% in the 20 to 30 year range, the remainder of the respondents are over 50 years old.

How does this compare to statistics in your area? It's interesting to note that census figures indicated that in general, Ontario farmers are 50 years or older.

EDUCATION:

The aim of this question was to determine two things: what influences members been exposed to, and what level of information they might expect with EFAO activities and services. The majority of respondents have received a college or university education, 23% and 44% respectively. Of those with a college or university education, it was related to agriculture in only 42% of the cases. The remaining respondents have a high school or primary school level of education, 21% and 11% respectively.

FAMILY BACKGROUND:

Most of the respondents (67%) have a farm background. Another 25% have an urban background, while a small number (7%) have a rural, non-farm background.

Conclusions from the results concerning age, education, family background, and occupation are: the membership is young, and many of them have been exposed to an educational experience or environment which has motivated them to look at farming from a different perspective.

INTEREST IN ECOLOGICAL FARMING AND INTRODUCTION TO E.F.A.O.:

The survey asked how people became interested in ecological farming and how they were introduced to the EFAO. (Respondents were allowed to give more than one response to both of these questions.) As for how members became interested, reading ranked the highest as a single response. It ranked likewise as a multiple response, generally in combination with friend or workshop/conference as the other reasons. Ecological farm tour also ranked fairly high as a multiple response, in combination with family or friend. Respondents who were introduced to the EFAO through friends or by an EFAO members were in the majority. Commitment organizations such as COG, Agriculture Alternatives or the Biodynamic Association also ranked high as a means by which members had been introduced to EFAO.

Conclusions here are that many members have been introduced by reading, or by seeing an sample farm which gave them the conviction to look further into ecological farming. Many times the connection was made through another EFAO member, or a friend who might also be a member. The few times connections were made through family members indicates how often members are swimming against the family traditions. When faced with this kind of challenge, the need for a supportive organization appears to be quite high, both to develop people's interests and to keep them going. Viewing a successful ecological farm appears to be an confidence-builder that was essential for many `converts'. The results from the location question tend to reinforce these conclusions - a core area which has been expanding over the years, with a lighter distribution of members at its outer edges where contact and support aren't in such easy reach.

MOTIVATION TO JOIN E.F.A.O.:

The majority of respondents indicated that they joined the EFAO to learn more about ecological farming. Many stated that they joined to meet other people, or to support the ecological farming movement. Several people indicated that specific members giving introductory courses had been part of the motivation. Other respondents indicated that dissatisfaction with aspects of conventional farming, such as synthetic chemical use or economics, motivated them to join.

A conclusion taken from these results is that the EFAO is meeting its mandate to educate and provide a means of supporting like-minded people. The responses also emphasize that certain individuals, with their motivating enthusiasm, are a valuable resource to the organization.

PAST AND FUTURE INVOLVEMENT IN E.F.A.O.:

The survey asked what involvement members have had in the past and what involvement they wish to have in the organization. As for past involvement, 38% of the respondents gave no response, 45% indicated they were supportive members and the remaining 17% had been directors, or hosted farm tours, or spoken at EFAO workshops and annual meeting. Compared to the 17% having had involvement in specific activities in the past, 45% of the respondents indicated they would like to become more involved. On-farm research was the most popular activity respondents wished to be involved in. A close second choice was to host a farm tour, often in combination with doing on-farm research. Two other popular choices were to write for the newsletter and to review library materials, again often in combination with doing on-farm research. The response also showed that interest in local organization networks or local club was very high - 65%. Some respondents indicated however, that despite their interest, they didn't want to take on an organizing position.

Conclusions from these results are that members are interested in being involved, and that we need to find ways to encourage more participation. The interest in local organization networks indicates that the direction of last year's annual meeting was timely, but there is more work to do.

E.F.A.O. ACTIVITIES:

The survey asked what activities the members had attended, when they last attended them, their level of satisfaction, reasons for not attending activities and what activities would benefit them the most. Farm tours was the activity that most respondents had participated in, followed by the introductory course. Of the frequently offered activities, respondents ranked workshops first, followed by the Guelph Conference and then the annual meeting. (An introductory gardening course was offered once a number of years ago and it received very favourable reports. Several people wanted to see it put on again.) Except for the Guelph conference, respondents showed greater participation in all activities within the last 3 years, as opposed to within the last year, or within the last 5 years. The rating of these activities was generally good to excellent. Participation in the Guelph conference had been constant between the last year and the last 3 years. The rating for this activity was fair to good, with the fair rating given for the most recent time period. The most common reason respondents gave for not attending activities was their workload, followed by distance, and then choice of day. Farm tours, workshops, local groups and the newsletter were the top four requested activities in the above order. Many respondents indicated a need for advanced level courses, and some even suggested topics.

E.F.A.O. SERVICES:

The survey asked members what services they had used and their level of satisfaction. (There are three main services offered, the newsletter, library and advisory service.) The newsletter was the most commonly used service, and had an overall good rating. It was followed by the advisory service which received an excellent rating. The response to library use was very low, but the rating good. Many respondents noted that they did not know of the library service. We hope that an article in past newsletter, and the library listing will help members use this service more. From earlier questions it appears that EFAO members really enjoy reading.

INVOLVEMENT IN OTHER ORGANIZATIONS:

The response to this question was very high at 72%, or 145 respondents. Many respondents indicated involvement in more than one organization, so there were a total of 277 responses. The amount of participation at an executive or committee level was also quite high. Commitment organizations such as COG, the Biodynamic Association and OCIA ranked the highest. These were followed by general farm organizations, community based groups, and health or environmental groups.

The conclusion from the these results is that the members of the EFAO are highly active and motivated people. They offer many potential outlets for diffusing their ecological knowledge to other community members.

FARMING CHARACTERISTICS:

Again 80% of the respondents are farming. The highest percentage of them have been farming 10 to 20, and 20 to 30 years at 37% and 26% respectively. Another 17% have been farming 5 to 10 years. The majority of farms are the 100 to 200 acre size at 42%, followed by 200 to 300 acre size at 19%, and 10% of farm are 50 acres or less. Only 9% of farms are more than 400 acres. The majority (38%) of farms are mixed, 26% are dairy farms and 10% are cash crop farms. In terms of the farming system, the following table is provided for comparison. (Other is a farming system respondents indicated as being ecological but different from organic.)

Farming System Crops

% of 161 tl. respondents

Livestock

% of 142 tl. respondents

Certified Organic 20% 11%
Organic Non-Certified 36% 39%
Transitional 23% 27%
Conventional 19% 20%
Other 2% 3%

This is what I discovered. What is your response to the information? Again, thank you for your participation and we welcome your comments. Please send them to one of the directors, or discuss them at one of the upcoming courses or workshops.

Copyright 1994 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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