report cover showing group discussion and featuring the title "engaging communities through issues forums"
The guidebook was published by the Extension Foundation and is available at

NERCRD small-grant team publishes new guidebook on engaging communities through “Issues Forums”

Several members of a team funded by NERCRD’s small-grant program in 2017-2018 published a guide recently that builds on their NERCRD-funded project and explores the use of forums as a community engagement tool in Extension work. The comprehensive how-to guide is designed to help Cooperative Extension professionals develop issues forums in both onsite and online settings.

The publication is the culmination of several years of the authors’ work engaging the public in responding to health and health insurance issues impacting the farming population, including the work conducted in their NERCRD-funded project, “Developing a Coordinated Community Risk Management Approach to Health and Health Insurance among Farm Enterprises” (see below for background info). This new publication adds to an impressive list of outcomes and impacts stemming from this project. The team also was recognized for their community forums work with the Priester Award for Community Development, awarded at the National Health Outreach Conference last year.

The guidebook, titled “Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums: A How-To Guide for Onsite and Online Community Engagement,” was written by Maria Pippidis, University of Maryland Extension; Bonnie Braun, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension; Jessie Ketterman, University of Maryland Extension; and Shoshanah Inwood and Nicole Wright, both of The Ohio State University. It was published by the Extension Foundation and is available at

Background about this project

The Developing a Coordinated Community Risk Management Approach to Health and Health Insurance among Farm Enterprises team organized and hosted “Strengthening Health and Farm Vitality” forums in each of their respective states, bringing together representatives from the agriculture, health and mental health, insurance, and financial sectors to engage in discussions about healthcare issues facing rural populations and the farming community. At each forum, participants were encouraged to develop short-term, collaborative efforts to address the issues discussed. 

Additional Outcomes and Impacts

  • A team at the Maryland forum pursued seed funding from the University of Maryland to assess stress felt by Maryland’s farmers. This assessment ultimately led to a $1M Rural Opioid Technical Assistance grant awarded to the University of Maryland.
  • The Ohio State University funded $4,000 in mini-grants to implement strategic doing activities developed during the Ohio forum.
  • A special supplement published by Delmarva Farmer provided health and economic information to farmers and agricultural professionals.
  • Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training was provided to agricultural service organizations around Maryland. Delaware Extension received funding to underwrite three MHFA trainings in 2019 and six in 2020. Agriculture, health care, school and faith-based professionals have been attending these sessions.
  • A radio show, which aired on Baltimore’s public radio station WYPR raised awareness about the stresses of farming.
  • A new University of Maryland Extension website is dedicated to providing resources related to managing farm stress. In Delaware, resources have been added to the “agribusiness” website.
  • A “Linking Farm Vitality and Health” self-assessment tool was developed that can be used with a short video entitled “How Healthy Is Your Farm?” These curriculum pieces were developed as a result of Delaware forum discussions.
  • The Delaware Division of Libraries developed a “LibGuide” website that hosts farm and farm family health and finance related topics.
  • During the 2019 Delaware Ag Week programming and Women in Agriculture Conference, on-site health screenings were provided free of charge by two area hospitals. Over 100 individuals took advantage of this opportunity.
  • A coalition of Delaware stakeholders has piloted a succession-planning curriculum for youth to assist them in learning what succession/transition planning is, who needs to be involved, and the tools necessary to implement a plan.

The Developing a Coordinated Community Risk Management Approach to Health and Health Insurance among Farm Enterprises team was led by University of Maryland Extension’s Virginia Brown, with Maria Pippidis, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, and Shoshanah Inwood, The Ohio State University, serving as Co-PIs.

Learn more about the NERCRD small-grants program here, or about other projects NERCRD has funded here.