A few weeks ago I had a great opportunity to meet with one of the farms at McGill (it was a rainy day so there was a slot when they didn’t need to be out in the field). Its really easy to interview and talk to someone who understands farming and their operations inside-out as well as the task I have at hand as a researcher. For example, right off the bat, when he didn’t know now much compost was being applied my survey respondent said “Well if you have a tape measurer feel free to go in back and measure the heaps of compost and the machine we use to spread the wood chips and then I can tell you how many loads we put on a year”. He was also able to tell me what other initiatives at the university I should be contacting (most of which I had sent an initial email to) but more importantly the person I should be talking to. One really can’t underestimate the value of “local” knowledge. Doing the surveys in person is really letting me get more information that just the numbers I need to the P budget, its allowing me to get information to be sure a get surveys to all the right people.
I have found that although respondents don’t always have the quantitative data, they are more than willing to validate your calculations and give you access to the bags, sites, or information you need to make the calculations. With the eco-quartiers’ I surveyed a few weeks ago, I had to go find containers to measure and a little research on the size of fertilizer bags. I took measurements and pictures and was able to email the respondents and ask them if that was correct. In other words, I think it is very important to ask for details that will allow you to get the data you need. If they don’t know the size of a plot then offer to go measure it. If they don’t know the weight of the compost bags then ask if they have one lying around.