The Growing Growers Training program was established in 2003 in order to train new market farmers in the Kansas City food shed in organic and sustainable production practices, and to improve the production and marketing skills of existing producers. 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. Workshops are attended by apprentices, and are also open to a general audience of growers and would-be growers. In addition to regular season workshops, special conferences and workshops are also conducted by Growing Growers to help improve the production and marketing skills of existing producers.
The program is a collaborative effort of K-State Research and Extension, University of Missouri Extension, the Kansas City Food Circle, and the Kansas Rural Center and is guided by an Advisory Board with producer representation. The part-time Program Manager is also a local market farmer who brings a dynamic and farmer-based perspective to program development and implementation. At program initiation we developed a set of core competencies for market farmers, ranked them by priority, and identified instructional means through which competency would be achieved in each area. Instruction means included hands-on training, one-on-one training with host farmers, workshops, reading, and apprentice-directed activities. A set resource materials (text books and extension bulletins) was identified for trainees, and recommended guidelines and procedures for apprentice and host farm participation in the program were developed. A series of workshops/farm tours for trainees, to run during the production season was developed, and the program’s efforts were publicized through website, listserv, press releases and university extension communication channels.
During 2004, 2005, and 2006, 41 apprentices successfully or substantially completed apprenticeships on 12 area host farms. As of early 2007, 27 of the apprentices were involved in local agriculture, either as farmers, farm workers, or activists. Total attendance at regular workshops and special conferences and workshop organized by the Growing Growers program was over 1200. Two conferences, the “Selling Local in Kansas City Conference” and the “Feeding Kansas City Conference,” held in 2004 and 2006, aimed at strengthening producer knowledge and opportunities for selling in Kansas City, and resulted in many contacts and opportunities for area producers.
SARE support for the Growing Growers Training Program is continuing under a Research and Education project, LNC05-253, entitled Growing Growers for Greater Kansas City: Establishing a Permanent Program to Train Farmers in Sustainable Local Food Production and Marketing, which aims to make the program self-sustaining.
We established the Growing Growers Training Program (Growing Growers), in response to high unmet demand for locally grown produce and a lack of growers working to meet that demand in the Kansas City foodshed. The purpose of the program is to train new, primarily organic growers, in the Kansas City foodshed (roughly defined as locations within a 100 mile radius of Kansas City), and to improve skills of existing growers. Market farming is a profession that requires multiple skills related to production, marketing, and financial management. New farmers need to learn these sets of skills as they enter the field, while established farmers constantly work to improve skills to respond to changing circumstances and new information about sustainable farming practices. The program is based on apprenticeship with area farmers complemented by workshops and conferences open a wider community of growers and would-be growers.
As stated in the project, proposal: “There will be an expected progression of outputs as the project develops, with initial establishment of the project Advisory Committee, and development of an annual plan of training activities with around 20 events including field days, farm tours, classroom trainings and conferences. Training materials related to each training objective will be developed or adapted from available sources. We expect that at least 100 people will participate in program training activities and 15 to 20 individuals will participate consistently with an interest in becoming producers for the Kansas City area by the end of the first year, participating in, and benefiting from the training program. We also expect to have up to six growers participating in a CRAFT-type mentoring/internship program. [CRAFT stands for collaborative regional alliance for farmer training.] Early in the project a website will be developed for dissemination of project news and activities, and a pamphlet will be developed as a means of promoting project awareness.
During the second year of the project, outputs will be similar to the first year, but we also expect to see an evolution of project activities and the initiation of complementary (non-project-funded) activities related to the long-term outcome of achieving a vital local food system for the Kansas City metropolitan. We anticipate that improvements will be made in training curriculum and in the internship program, with similar overall numbers of trainees to the first year.”
Details of program establishment and development have been laid out in each year’s annual report, and are displayed in their current form on the program website: www.growinggrowers.org. Basic program facets were as follows: hire program manager, establish advisory board of stakeholders, set up program procedures and guidelines, develop website and listserv, put together program curriculum, workshops and resource lists, recruit host farmers and apprentices, organize workshops and conferences, evaluate and re-do the next year. To track longer term program effectiveness and impact, we track farming activities of program trainees on an ongoing basis.
The program was successfully established and implemented under this SARE project, which ran for longer than initially anticipated due to a no-cost extension, which led to overlap with activities under a second SARE project (LNC05-253) during 2006. Program progress and details were described in each year’s progress report, and will not be repeated in full here. A summary of participation in the apprenticeship program is as follows:
2004. Thirteen apprentices accepted in the program, 12 completed.
2005. Twenty six apprentices accepted into program, 17 completed
2006. Twenty two apprentices accepted into program, 12 completed
Apprentices each year attended a series of 9 workshops and farm tours held during the growing season, and in 2004 and 2006 had the opportunity to attend major conferences on selling local in Kansas City, organized by the Growing Growers program. Some also attended introductory workshops on market farming organized by Growing Growers at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference. Apprentice self assessments in each of sixty eight specific areas of competency considered essential for market farming success consistently increased from the beginning of the season to the end of season, at least indicating the trainees felt comfortable with these subject matter areas, if not totally competent. Of the apprentices enrolled in the program from 2004 through 2006, in early 2007, we considered that 27 were either farming, working on farms or remained active in some way in local food production.
Aside from apprentices, many more growers and would-be growers participated in program training events. Total enrollment in workshops and conferences over the three year period exceeded 1,200. The actual number of individuals attending training events was lower since many attended more than one event. However, at least 100 producers with varying degrees of experience attended one or more of the Growing Growers regular season workshops over the course of the project. Some of the attendees at Growing Growers training events attended workshops, farm tours and conferences regularly, and have started market farming in the Kansas City food shed using skills gained under the project.
Under the SARE project, the Growing Growers Training Program was established and implemented by partner organizations, each of which feels some ownership of the program and is proud to take credit for the program’s tangible achievements in market farmer training. While not perfect, the foundation established under the project is substantial, and we anticipate that demand for by market farmer for training in organic and sustainable methods will continue to increase for some time given the current high interest in local food systems in Kansas City and elsewhere.
We have not conducted specific economic analysis, and the economic benefits of the project are difficult to quantify at this point. Organic market farming is an economically tenuous activity most places, presenting challenges to even the best growers. All of our host farmers are small farmers, with few deriving their income exclusively from their farming activities (of course this is true of most, even large, farms). New producers and existing producers (both organic and conventional) have gained skills and knowledge from activities of the Growing Growers Training Program. Analyses of long-term returns on investment in agricultural research and education typically show high returns. It is probably safe to assume that economic benefits to market farmers, are currently deriving from SARE investment in the Growing Growers Training program, and that these benefits will continue to accrue well into the future, as producers trained under the program grow their businesses helping to meet the continually expanding demand for locally grown food.
Host farmers have expressed satisfaction with, and support for, the Growing Growers Program, stating that they are pleased to have motivated trainees, and positively challenged by the demands of one-on-one training. A number of the apprentices have gone on to start their own farms or continue to work on farms. Thus it is safe to say that the benefits of the program have accrued to area farmers.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The program has consistently made efforts at local outreach to potential trainees through multiple channels, including tabling at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference held annually in St. Joseph, Missouri, and at Farmers’ Expos held by the Kansas City Food Circle. We have also issued multiple press releases and frequent mailings to a list of over 1000 producers, vocational agriculture teachers, garden centers, and others serving market farmers. Additionally, program activities are regularly announced through K-State and University of Missouri Extension outreach channels. A website (www.growinggrowers.org) and listserv also serve as essential outreach mechanisms for the project.
The efforts of the program through 2004 were described in a peer reviewed publication in (HortTechnology 16:439-443) as part of the proceedings of a workshop on curriculum development for organic horticulture, held on July 21, 2005 at Las Vegas, Nevada (HortTechnology 16:413-417). The Program Manager and the Project Coordinator co-presented at this meeting. Additionally, the programs efforts were shared with research and extension colleagues at the national USDA small farm conference October 2006.
Areas needing additional study
Under the first phase of the project, insufficient attention was paid to making the program self-sustaining through student payment of fees. This is an area of ongoing focus under the follow-up project. There is also considerable ongoing scope for refinement and improvement of the program. A concern since inception has been that the lack of larger-scale full-time farms participating in the program as host farms, perhaps leaving apprentices with limited exposure to potential for mechanization and economic advantages that may come with larger scales of production. Additionally, there may be opportunities for applying the Growing Growers model beyond the current primary focus on vegetable production, since demands for local food extend to fruit, grains, and other farm products, and there is consistent interest in workshops and farm tours that look at aspects of animal production.