North Central SARE From the Field Profile
Training Farmers in Sustainable, Local Food Production, and Marketing
A group in Kansas City is training new, primarily organic, growers in the Kansas City food shed, and seeking to improve the skills of existing growers. The Growing Growers Training Program is a collaborative effort to train new sustainable and organic market farmers to serve the Kansas City food shed, and to develop the skills of current producers.
The Growing Growers Training Program was initially funded by a NCR-SARE Research and Education grant from July 2003 through June 2005, to organize apprenticeships on local organic/ sustainable farms, and to develop activities to improve the skills of existing farmers. In 2005, they received a second NCR-SARE grant to develop their project into an ongoing training program to support regional growers during all stages of their lives as farmers.
New farmer training under the program is based on apprenticeships, complemented by reading and monthly workshops during the growing season. Workshops cover a range of core competency areas essential for market farming success and typically include farm tours and instruction by growers and extension or other specialists.
“Market farming is a profession that requires multiple skills related to production, marketing, and financial management,” explained Edward (Ted) Carey, coordinator of the 2003 and 2005 SARE projects. “Individuals without a background in agriculture may find information of these skill sets difficult to access. Established growers constantly work to improve skills to respond to changing circumstances and new information about sustainable farming practices.”
Grower-directed learning and networking is a central part of the program, as is partnership/linkage with extension specialists and others with technical knowledge of core competencies for successful market farming. Workshops often include a presentation by an extension specialist and a grower and are followed by a farm tour. The apprenticeship program is a way for experienced growers to train prospective growers and provides apprentices with an access point to agricultural knowledge that is often diffi cult for individuals without an agricultural background to find.
During the grant period, from 2006 through 2008, Growing Growers hosted 27 workshops, a multi-session business planning class for new and current growers, and a conference called “Feeding Kansas City”, that brought together 224 growers, restaurateurs, extension professionals, and others. 34 Growing Growers apprentices completed the program during that time, apprenticing on 15 different host farms. As of early 2009, more than four hundred participants on a email listserv share information on all aspects of local food production and marketing.
Outcomes of the program include new market farmers contributing to sustainable food production in the Kansas City food shed and elsewhere, improved skills of existing growers, and a new farmer training effort that continues to respond to demand and opportunities for training new producers to serve the demand for sustainably and locally grown produce in Kansas City. Progress was also made toward making the program self-supporting.
Many individuals who have completed the apprenticeship or business planning program have gone on to start their own farms or other businesses supporting local food production, and former apprentices often refer others to the program. Two apprentice farmers have transitioned into becoming host farmers. Steady participation in both the workshop series and apprenticeship program and a willingness by participants to pay registration or tuition fees, indicate that the program is providing a useful service and is on its way to becoming partially self-sustaining. However, there is a continued need for creativity in funding the position of program coordinator while also keeping program costs affordable to trainees.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) LNC03-238, Growing Growers for Greater Kansas City.
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Project products are developed as part of SARE grants. They are made available with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within project products do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.