By Bradford Sherman and Brad Bergefurd
Amish and Mennonite farmers overwhelmingly prefer face-to-face communication, as opposed to the modern methods commonly used by Extension personnel, a recent study has revealed.
Because more than 80 percent of Amish and Mennonite farmers have used or benefitted from Ohio State University Extension services, it is important to remember and respect their preferred communication methods, says Specialty Crops Specialist, and one of the authors of the study, Brad Bergefurd.
“As an Extension educator who has worked closely with Amish and Mennonite produce farmers for 20 years, I always remain cognizant of the communication methods I use in my Extension programming,” he said. “The results of this survey research confirmed the principles that I have been adhering to when providing unbiased research-based information to Amish and Mennonite produce farmers”
Data were collected through use of a mail survey questionnaire that was sent to all 345 Amish and Mennonite produce farmers who grew for Ohio produce auctions in 2011. The study achieved an overall 41% response rate with 138 surveys included in the final data analysis.
Bergefurd explained that Extension has increasingly adopted less personal, face-to-face types of teaching and learning methods. Due to budget and time constraints, more communication with clientele is accomplished through email or online instruction.
However, survey results indicated that internet, websites, and webinars were not used by 97.7% of respondents, and 99.2% of the farmers indicated they have never used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter or web-based content like blogs as information sources.
“For Extension professionals or any organization that communicates and provides information to Anabaptist communities, it is important to recognize that these clientele prefer communication methods that may not be commonly used by the majority of their clientele,” added Bergefurd.
Face-to-face communication was reported to be the most-used method of communicating with other farmers within the community by 95.7% of respondents. Office visits and farm visits were used by respondents for sources of information 1-to-3 times per year by 32% and 55.4% of respondents, respectively, while 56.5% indicated they used field days and field demonstrations as sources of information 1-to-3 times per year.
Study results also indicated that Ohio Amish and Mennonite produce auction farmers obtain their farming information from a variety of sources. The top three sources of information used 10 or more times per year are university bulletins, newsletters, and newspaper and magazine articles. University bulletins such as the Ohio Vegetable Production Guide and the Midwest Small Fruit and Grape Spray Guide were used 10 or more times in an average year by 40.3% of respondents. Newsletters such as the Truck Patch News, OSU Vegnet, and the Ohio Fruit ICM newsletter were the second most popular source of information with 36.1% of respondents using this source 10 or more times per year.
Because resources such as Extension-produced newsletters and factsheets are popular with Amish and Mennonite communities, Bergefurd began making hard copies of these publications and distributed them to produce auction managers, who in turn made them available to these clientele.
Another hurdle for communication and contact with Amish and Mennonite produce farmers was the global health crisis that began in 2020. Extension programs nationwide relied heavily upon the use of online communication, as most Extension professionals received work-from-home orders from their universities and were not permitted to travel to individual farms and businesses.
“Alternative Extension programming and communication methods should be considered by Extension professionals to effectively communicate and assist Amish and Mennonite stakeholders when disruptions in traditional face-to-face teaching and programming occur, such as personal interaction restrictions of the 2020 pandemic,” Bergefurd concluded.
To read the full research study report, including full survey results, visit go.osu.edu/amishstudy.