Lawrence F. London, Jr. - Venaura Farm - Chapel Hill, NC, USA
mailto:london@sunSITE.unc.edu  http://sunSITE.unc.edu/InterGarden
mailto:llondon@nuteknet.com  http:nuteknet.com/london  Venaura Farm


Andy Clark, SAN Coordinator
USDA/ARS/National Agricultural Library

Presentation for the Fourth Annual Conference on Datafication
May 15-17, 1996
Huntington, West Virginia


The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) is a cooperative effort of university, government, farm, business and non-profit organizations dedicated to the exchange of scientific and practical information on sustainable agricultural systems. It was developed by a committee from diverse organizations to facilitate the exchange of information with a variety of printed and electronic communications tools. The committee's vision is that of a decentralized system that encourages the sharing of sustainable agriculture-related information among a diversity of information providers and users. SAN is funded by the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

SAN provides information in support of profitable and environmentally sound farming practices. Information is produced in a variety of formats, including print, gopher, World Wide Web, and 'electronic books', or diskette versions which use the Folio Views software to provide easily-searchable access to SAN publications. SAN has maintained these formats in order to meet the different means of access and needs of its clientele. SAN publications are designed to answer the questions, "Who?, What?, How?, and When & Where?" For example, "Who can answer my specific questions about sustainable agriculture practices?" The answer is found in the Sustainable Agriculture Directory of Expertise, a listing of over 900 people and organizations, easily searchable by state and type of expertise, and available in print or on diskette. Other products are equally useful in answering key questions. For example, a Calendar of Sustainable Agriculture Events is published bi-monthly; it is available in print, and is also posted to sanet-mg, an almanac discussion group on the Internet. Sanet-mg is a long-running and highly effective discussion group established by SAN for the electronic sharing of ideas and information about sustainable agriculture.

SAN aims to reach a broad range of audiences with its products and services. Researchers trying to determine the most appropriate cover crops for specific regions and certain crops might consult Managing Cover Crops Profitably. Extensionists seeking to answer farmers' questions about the pros and cons of rotational grazing may identify pertinent research projects in the Folio database of projects funded by the SARE grant program. Teachers trying to impart the concept of farming in partnership with nature might refer to the Showcase of Educational Materials, a compilation of free or low-cost publications, videos and other materials that focus on the practical aspects of farming sustainably. The publications and services of the Sustainable Agriculture Network are invaluable to these and many other users.

Dr. Andy Clark, Coordinator
Sustainable Agriculture Network
Room 304, National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Ave.
Beltsville, MD 20705-2351
(301) 504-6425; FAX: (301) 504-6409

Table of Contents

USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program
SAN Mission and Objectives
Structure of SAN
History of SAN
Sanet-mg, SAN's Internet Discussion Group
SAN Publications
FOLIO 'electronic books'
SAN on the WWW
The Future of SAN

What is SARE?

The USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is a federal competitive grants program with regional leadership and decision-making structures. The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) is the information dissemination arm of SARE. Authorized by the 1985 Farm Bill, SARE was first funded in 1988. The FY96 appropriation totals $11.5 million. SARE's mission is to increase knowledge about--and help farmers and ranchers adopt--more sustainable practices that are profitable, environmentally sound and beneficial to local communities and society in general.

In each of four regions in the U.S., Administrative Councils are made up of producers, extension agents, researchers, and representatives from industry, nongovernmental organizations and state and federal agencies. These councils decide funding priority areas for the region, and make recommendations to USDA on which projects to fund. Two of the four Administrative Councils are chaired by farmers.

The diversity of membership on the Administrative Councils, as well on as the Technical Committees, which review grant proposals and make recommendations to the Administrative Councils, is considered one of the great strengths of the SARE program. Similar membership diversity is also found on the SAN Committee.

For more information about SARE, request the "SARE Project Highlights" from Andy Clark (san@nal.usda.gov) or Valerie Berton, SARE Communications Specialist (vberton@wam.umd.edu). The Highlights is an eight-page color brochure about the SARE program and some of the projects currently being funded. Please include surface mail address in your request.

More Information about the SARE Grant Program
SARE has funded hundreds of projects to explore sustainable agricultural practices. Four types of grants currently fund SARE projects.

SARE Regional Contacts:
Each of the four SARE regions maintains its own grant schedules and program priorities. A regional coordinator and a communications specialist are available for information about the program. Contact information for regional communications specialists can be found here.

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SAN provides national leadership in facilitating information exchanges in support of sustainable agriculture research and education.


SAN serves a diverse audience. We are the national outreach partner of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. As such, we work primarily with:

SAN's information and services are also available to other audiences such as policy makers, the food and fiber industry, agricultural input providers, commodity groups, agricultural journalists, teachers, environmentalists and the general public.


SAN has two major functions in furthering the goals of the SARE program:

(1) Provide Service in Information Systems:

(2) Foster Innovation in Information Systems:

Structure of SAN

SAN encompasses the more than 750 national and international subscribers to sanet-mg and is closely associated with the SARE programs in each region, including the members of the administrative councils and technical committees. SAN extends its reach even further by networking with the many, diverse, (mainly) grass-roots organizations throughout the United States that are working to promote alternative, ecological, environmentally-sound, sustainable agricultural systems. In fact, SAN looks to these organizations not only to help identify information gaps, but also to help to disseminate SAN information to our primary audience, the producer.

SAN Management Committee

As an outgrowth of the original planning committee--or Subject Matter Committee-- for SAN, the SAN Management Committee, helps to set priorities,determine information gaps, develop information products and initiate projects of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (see also History of SAN).

The SAN Committee currently consists of 18 members, of which about one-third are at-large members, while the rest participate by virtue of their association with the SARE program. For example, the communications specialist in each region is a member, and each of the four regions also names one representative from the regional Administrative Council to serve on the SAN Committee. Rob Myers, Director of Sustainable Agriculture Programs at USDA, Harry Wells, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Jane Gates, Coordinator of the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center at the National Agricultural Library, serve on the committee. Membership currently includes representatives of ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas, Fayetteville, AR), CIAS (Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, Madison, WI), Montana Agricultural Sustainability Network (Butte, MT), and AFT (American Farmland Trust, Northampton, MA).

The SAN Committee includes one farmer, two agricultural consultants, two representatives from Cooperative Exension Service (others have extension duties), and a rural sociologist. Members of the SAN Committee serve as volunteers, with the exception of the full-time SAN Coordinator (Andy Clark) and the five communications specialists, who have an implied commitment to the SAN Committee as part of their jobs with the SARE program. The committee meets in person once (occasionally twice) a year, and communicates via e-mail and conference calls where necessary to complete projects. Self-employed committee members are paid an honorarium to attend meetings, and travel expenses for all committee members are paid out of the annual budget approved by the SARE Operations Committee.

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History of SAN

(see Auburn and MacLean, 1993)

SAN was established in 1991 to fulfill the mandate of Congress that results of SARE research and other information pertinent to sustainable agriculture be conveyed to agricultural producers, educators, extensionists and researchers in easily accessible forms and styles. In 1988, J. Patrick Madden, (then Director of the SARE program, now president of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association, pmadden@igc.apc.org) convened a group of representatives from government, university, agribusiness, non-profit and for-profit organizations to establish cooperative relationships and to consider information dissemination technologies for sustainable agriculture. After several additional planning meetings, and with the support of the regional SARE programs, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) was formed. Members of the committee who helped to develop the concept of SAN constituted the original 'steering committee'. SAN was conceived as, and continues to function as, a consortium of universities, government, business and non-profit organizations dedicated to information exchange.

Internet Mail Group, sanet-mg

Sanet-mg, an e-mail discussion group, was initiated in September of 1991. By the summer of 1992, approximately 200 individuals had subscribed to sanet. Currently, more than 750 individuals are subscribed. Readership has exceeded 700 for more than a year. Anyone subscribed to sanet-mg receives every message sent by any other subscriber to the list. Sanet-mg is not moderated, which means that there is no screening of messages sent to the list. 'Traffic' on the list averaged about 7 postings per day (weekends included) for the period of 53 days from 24 February to 17 April, 1996.

All messages to sanet-mg are cross-posted to bit1.sanet on the EcoNet, and are also 'mirrored' to the UseNet group alt.sustainable.agriculture, increasing readership considerably. Sanet-mg has served as a true network of information about sustainable agriculture. Messages include newsletters, job postings, information resources (books, people, World Wide Web and gopher sites), opinions, and requests for information. Furthermore, discussions of the philosophy and practices of sustainable agriculture are common.

In addition to messages pointing to information, a typical posting to sanet-mg is a question about a specific concept or practice, posed by a farmer, a graduate student, an extension agent, a researcher--a subscriber. Responses can be to the individual or to the group. Many times, the original questioner will compile the answers, such as a reading list or bibliography, and post that back to the whole group. Sometimes a simple question can generate a lively debate on the philosophy of sustainable agriculture. For example, a request by a student about the difference between organic and sustainable agriculture recently generated a two-week philosophical argument!

Sanet-mg was named for the Sustainable Agriculture Network. While many subscribers think that is synonymous with the Sustainable Agriculture Network, it is, in many ways, the heart of the network. Most of the day-to-day exchange of information takes place via sanet-mg. The readership represents the many people and organizations working for a more sustainable agriculture. SAN is much more than an electronic discussion group, however, as described herein.

To subscribe to sanet-mg, send a message to


In the BODY of the message type only:

subscribe sanet-mg

Be sure to leave the subject line blank and type the message exactly, since a computer will process the request.

A Success Story about Sanet-mg

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SAN Publications

Given SAN's mission of providing information about sustainable agriculture to diverse audiences, much of the work and the budget of the SAN Committee is used to produce publications. Some SAN publications, such as brochures or short information pieces, are free. Other print publications are sold at cost. SAN publications range in price from $4.95 to $18.95. Most publications can be searched for free at a gopher site, and on the World Wide Web.

The "Sustainable Agriculture Directory of Expertise -- Third Edition" lists hundreds of people and groups who can be contacted for advice on building soil health, broadening an arsenal of pest-control tools, diversifying cash flow and much more. It is produced by ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas) in cooperation with SAN.

SAN sponsors the "Showcase of Educational Materials," a compilation of publications, videos, and other materials, as a way to identify both exemplary educational materials and knowledge "gaps" to fill. Materials that synthesize information in forms readily usable to farmers are a particular focus of the Showcase. Those interested in contributing materials to the Showcase should contact Andy Clark, SAN Coordinator.

The "SARE Project Highlights" provides a yearly review of the SARE program. An eight-page color brochure, the 'Highlights' features a sampling of some of SARE's most innovative projects. Request the free "Highlights" from Andy Clark (san@nal.usda.gov) or Valerie Berton, SARE Communications Specialist (vberton@wam.umd.edu). Please include surface mail address in your request.

Another free 8-page color brochure, "Profitable Dairy Options", focuses on grazing, marketing and nutrient management for sustainable dairy operations. It covers pasture-user support groups, the benefits of manures and composts, alternative silage crops, and other profitable options for dairy producers. Contact Andy Clark or your regional communications specialist for single copies or small quantities for distribution.

"Managing Cover Crops Profitably" is the first in a series of SAN Handbooks. It was prepared because more and more farmers want reliable, easy-to-scan information on cover crops. "Managing Cover Crops Profitably" is a practical, introductory guide to the use of cover crops in sustainable agricultural systems.

"The Real Dirt: Farmers Tell about Organic and Low-Input Practices in the Northeast." In a practical, farmer-oriented way, this 264-page book offers firsthand knowledge about the many biological, cultural, mechanical and even chemical tools available to farmers. This book was written as part of a project funded by the Northeast SARE region.

To order SAN Publications

FOLIO 'electronic books'

SAN Publications are also available as "electronic books, and cost the same as the print version." These diskettes can be searched more quickly than it takes to scan a paper index, using the FolioViews Software. The program runs on MS-DOS-compatible machines; Macintosh users need SoftWindows or SoftPC software in order to use the FOLIO diskettes.

Go to a complete listing of FolioViews 'electronic books'

SAN on the World Wide Web

The Sustainable Agriculture Network will launch its Home Page on the World Wide Web (WWW, or Web) in May, 1996. SAN's presence on the WWW continues our commitment to use all available technologies for the exchange of information. The SAN Web project is spearheaded by Kevin Gamble, Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University (kgamble@ces.ncsu.edu).

Reach the Sustainable Agriculture Network's Home Page at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/san/

(Be sure you can get back to this paper, however. There is no link from the SAN Home page to this document).

The SAN home page will feature most of SAN's publications, press releases for new publications, information about the four regions of the SARE program as well as information from the national SARE office, grant funding schedules, information from individual SARE projects, and educational materials for sustainable agriculture.

The Future of the Sustainable Agriculture Network

SAN is dependent on an annual appropriation from Congress, so depends on continued funding of the SARE program. SAN is currently evaluating all of its products and services, through several small subcontracts. This evaluation process will help SAN to improve its service to its audiences.

SAN will continue to exploit the latest technology for information transfer. This includes an upcoming 'electronic coffeehouse', which will be a real-time, on-line 'chat' with experts in a particular subject of interest to sustainable agriculture practitioners. SAN plans to use emerging technology on the World Wide Web as it becomes available.

At the same time, we are sensitive to the needs of the low-end user, who may not have access to WWW. For this reason, SAN will continue to produce publications in many formats, including print, diskette, gopher and WWW.

The Sustainable Agriculture Network hopes to improve its effectiveness and efficiency of information transfer, to educate its audiences about emerging technologies, and to promote its products and services in order to serve a wider clientele.

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Auburn, Jill S. and MacLean, Jayne T. 1993. Development of an Information Network for Sustainable Agriculture. Journal of Agricultural & Food Information, Vol. 1(3):25-40.

Back to History of SAN