Supporting Farmer Training Programs in the West

April 14, 2017
Screenshot of Best Practices Slide with one picture of a green crop field, and another picture of people working in crop rows

“When I finally came (to ALBA’s Farmer Education Program), I learned so much! How to eat differently, how to plant without pesticides, how to harvest, move the boxes, move the product in the system.”  -Maria Ana Reyes, 2015 graduate of ALBA’s Farmer Education Course.

Like Maria Ana Reyes, new and beginning farmers often need technical assistance and training, land, and capital investments.  To offer this support during the critical early years of start-up, incubator farm programs have popped up around the country. These incubator farms provide opportunities to beginning farmers, many of whom are immigrants or refugees, by providing access to land for a reduced fee and helping them develop both the skills needed to run a successful farm and a create a business plan. After graduation, these trained farmers have an increased chance of obtaining capital and land and in reaching their farm business goals.

However, three times as many farmer training programs exist than there were just six years ago, with over 100 known programs in the U.S. Over 50% of them serve immigrant and/or refugee populations. These new organizations are also struggling to secure land and funding and to develop a framework for their programs, according to Nathan Harkleroad of one of the older farmer training programs “ALBA.”

With Western SARE funding, the Agriculture Land-Based and Training Program (ALBA) contracted with the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI) to increase agricultural professionals’ ability to initiate, support, and develop farmer training programs through targeted training and collaboration.  Originally aiming to train 50 agricultural professionals, ALBA directly reached more than 200 professionals in an astounding 24 organizations, including 14 based in Western States such as Washington, Hawaii, Oregon, Arizona, Montana, California, and New Mexico. They accomplished this through conferences, direct technical assistance, and webinars.

Javier Zamora completed ALBA’s Farmer Education Course in 2012 and is now the successful owner of the 25-acre JSM Organics. As a past participant and now an ALBA board member, Zamora sees the importance to newer programs learning from the experiences of more established organizations.

“I have met other non-profits who see ALBA as an organization to follow. We have our challenges as well, but the training allows other farmers a chance at success.” 

Incubator projects benefitted from ALBA’s accomplishments through a strengthened network with new relationships that will likely continue. Harkleroad notes that now there is a framework to support future collaboration.

An example of such collaboration, and an unexpected outcome of the project, was ALBA’s connecting with the California Center for Cooperative Development (CCCD). Harkleroad states, “While ALBA was carrying out its work, the CCCD was organizing a “best-practices in farmer education” training for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). ALBA shared its experience in holding a mini-conference, which was important in the CCCD developing the agenda for their summit.” Importantly, ALBA and the CCCD have leveraged resources and experience to support each other’s work.

Beginning farmers will benefit from ALBA’s project through the increased ability of agricultural professionals to initiate, support and develop farmer training programs. ALBA’s Executive Director, Christopher Brown, says that the project “made me feel that we need to do even more of these trainings.”

After graduation, Reyes said “I have a goal...I’m not scared anymore. I will keep growing, with tidy rows and beautiful results.”

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Topics: Education and Training, Farm Business Management, Fruit, Organic Agriculture, Vegetables
Related Locations: North Central, Northeast, South, West