i-Three Issue Corps: Virtual Local Food Project Field Trips

Drone capturing aerial footage
Figure 1: Drone aerial footage

Are you interested in using innovative video technology for local food systems education? Our project may be of interest to you.

The Challenge

Through evaluation of a recent local food systems graduate course for Extension agents (Content available for viewing here, https://localfood.ces.ncsu.edu/local-foods-grad-course/local-food-training-videos/), we learned that field trips to local food projects were one of the students’ favored methods of instruction. While local foods is still a relatively new field, there are a growing number of successful (and unsuccessful) project examples that local foods professionals can learn from. These lessons learned can be applied to new projects, saving time and other resources and often a lot of headaches.

Students in incubator farm greenhouse
Figure 2: Students of the local food systems graduate course visit Lomax Incubator Farm.

We are in the process of translating the local foods graduate course into an online, non-credit course for a broader audience of local foods professionals. For the self-paced environment of the online course, we were challenged to identify ways to replicate the learning opportunities afforded by face-to-face local food project field trips.


The online course is planned to be a certificate series that consists of five courses. At this stage in the online course development, we are anticipating having one virtual field trip per course. The first course is titled Introducing Local: Where we have been and where we are going. This introductory course provides an overview of the components of the food system, as well as a brief history of the US and global food systems, and an introduction to a systems approach to local foods work. The virtual field trip for this course will be to Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. This field trip will be one component of the course addressing the learning objective:  students gain an introductory understanding of the importance of a systems approach to local foods work.

Capturing B-roll Footage of farmers harvesting
Figure 3: Capturing B-roll Footage

Current Innovations to Respond to the Challenge

Based on the needs of the online learner, our initial concept for each virtual field trip was one video, less than 5 minutes long, with interviews (A-roll) interspersed with video of the site (B-roll). Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? I was personally struggling with how a very short video clip could provide the depth of information akin to what transpires in a face-to-face field trip experience.

Since we began grappling with this issue, at the suggestion of our education video specialist and encouragement from eXtension’s i-Three Corps experts, LuAnn Phillips as well as Joey Peutz with the University of Idaho, we began exploring some innovative video options including 360 video (Example 360 video in Extension education by others – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnX6f70mW48) and drone aerial video. We have expanded our vision for this first virtual field trip to be composed of multiple short videos, beginning with interviews incorporating B-roll footage of the farm (See a sample draft of our first interview video that includes drone footage here, https://youtu.be/8cnb_joJQo0), farmers and markets of the farmers and then moving to a farm tour that incorporates overhead drone footage with hotspots linking to 360 and 2D videos that take the learner to various locations on the site.

Setting up the 360 Camera
Figure 4: Elias Clark capturing 360 video of the site

We are exploring the idea of also including narration on some of the 360 and 2D videos to expand learners’ understanding of what they are seeing on site and how it is related  to the learning objective. Please share any questions or thoughts you have  about the virtual field trips that I can address in future posts. Also, please share in the comments area below your thoughts on where you might apply these technologies to your work or programs.

Simone reviewing virtual field trip design plan on whiteboard
Figure 5: Working together with Simone Keith, Extension Video Specialist, on the Lomax virtual field trip.

What might be in it for you?

The online certificate series is currently a partnership with Cooperative Extension in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Though much of the place-based content is currently focused on North Carolina, plans are in place to incorporate South Carolina and Virginia specific content in future. We have also discussed expanding the course to include specific content from other states in the Southern region.  Please let me know through the comments if that is of interest to you and your state.