Travel Support Recipient Spotlight: Courtney Owens

Release Date: December 14 2016

Every semester, a handful of UF graduate students are awarded one of only a few research travel awards. These awards, including the Office of Graduate Minority Programs’ Doctoral Research Travel Support, are given to students to conduct doctoral dissertation research away from UF when faced with insufficient funding.

Courtney Owens, an Agricultural Education and Communications Ph.D. student in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, used the award funding to travel Florida in order to complete an important portion of his dissertation, entitled “A Study of African-American Farmers’ Lived Experiences with UF/IFAS Extension.”

African-American farmers play a significant role in United States agriculture, he said, having sold $502 million in crops and $344 million in livestock in 2012 alone, according to the most recent agricultural census. According to 2014 USDA data, there were about 1,500 African-American principal operators in Florida and almost 2,000 farm operators. Those numbers have increased in recent years, but these farmers face unique challenges and need the knowledge UF/IFAS Extension has to offer regarding alternative production practices and new market opportunities, he said. 

These farmers can assist with providing food security for future generations, Courtney said, so identifying ways to increase customer satisfaction by focusing on those factors that contribute to higher satisfaction among African-Americans is important.

“Because of the funding provided by the Graduate School, I was able to visit 17 farmers in the State of Florida and conduct face-to-face, in-depth interviews and hear lived accounts of their experience using UF/IFAS Extension,” he said.

Courtney’s research will provide insights that Extension directors and deans of 1862 land grant universities need to develop Cooperative Extension Services programs that will enhance African-American farmers’ participation and improve levels of satisfaction with Extension programs. He suggested that future research should include this sort of lived-experience interviewing so that UF/IFAS can mold programs to serve a growing minority farmer clientele, and that a future project could focus on understanding the preferred learning methods of older African-American farmers and other minority agricultural workers so that programs could be better tailored to suit future needs.  

To read more about Courtney’s work, visit his IFAS webpage.

Courtney is advised by Dr. Alexa Lamm, Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication and Associate Director of the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education.