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 improve the skills of current producers. The program, based on apprenticeships complemented by workshops to teach core competencies, was established under a SARE grant, NCR03-238 in 2003. Growing Growers continued under this second SARE grant, with an explicit objective of becoming self-sustaining during the funding period from 2006 to 2008. This project trained 34 apprentices on 15 host farms, and conducted 27 workshops and a major conference. In addition to apprentices and host farmers, at least 200 producers and would-be producers benefitted from Growing Growers workshops and conferences during the project period. 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.
The Growing Growers Training Program was established in response to high unmet demand for locally grown produce and a lack of growers working to meet that demand in the Kansas City food shed. The purpose of the program is to train new, primarily organic growers, in the Kansas City food shed (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. 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 difficult 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, “Feeding Kansas City”, that brought together 224 growers, restaurateurs, extension professionals and others. Thirty four Growing Growers apprentices completed the program during that time, apprenticing on 15 different host farms. As of early 2009, more than four hundred participants in our email listserv share information on all aspects of local food production and marketing.
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. 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.
Short-term outcomes include measurable numbers of:
1) Future producers participating in the project’s apprenticeship program;
2) Past apprentices in the early stages of establishing their own farm operations to produce for the Kansas City market;
3) Existing producers improving the viability of their operations using sustainable production and marketing techniques learned under the project.
Intermediate outcomes include measurable numbers of producers satisfying demand for locally grown farm products in the KC metro area. This will be reflected in increasing volumes of products reaching consumers through various marketing channels. Intermediate outcomes will also include a diversified and stable base of funders and income sources for the Training Program.
Beneficiaries will primarily include growers (who will have profitable farms), businesses (restaurants and markets) involved in meeting consumer demand for local farm products, and area consumers who will have increased availability of high quality, local farm products. Specifically we had the following outputs in our proposal.
•First Year Apprentices (annual): 10-15 per year on 7-10 farms.
•Second Year Apprentices (annual): 2-5 per year on 2-5 farms.
•Mentors (beginning in 2006), we will offer mentors to 2-5 past apprentices in the first 3 years of setting up their own operations.
•Farm Transitions (by year five) work with 2-4 retiring farmers.
•Workshops (annual): 10 Beginning Farmer Workshops; 3-6 Advanced.
•Workshops for Asian, Latino, and urban farmers (over grant period): Organize 3-7 workshops and activities specifically geared to supporting and developing these new farmers.
•Farm Tours: 3-5 farm tours per year.
•Listserv and website: The KC Growers Listserv and www.growinggrower.org will continue to expand and develop.
•Documentation (ongoing). For broader dissemination of methods used and lessons learned by the Program.
Nine workshops were offered annually. Farm tours followed the workshops, with workshop locations around the Kansas City metro area. These workshops were intended to introduce new and prospective growers to the basics of market farming, although more experienced growers also attended. A core curriculum was repeated every year, with minor variations. Workshop schedules have been included in annual reports.
Workshops typically included presentations by both extension professionals and growers, and were followed by a farm tour that allowed attendees to see principles in practice. An example is the 2008 Soils workshop, which included a presentation by Rhonda Janke, Sustainable Horticulture Specialist, Kansas State Research and Extension, on Soil Structure and Nutrients, a presentation by Ted Carey, Extension Vegetable Specialist with Kansas State Research and Extension, on the Soil Food Web and Composting, and a presentation by Jim Wood of Wood Mood Gardens, an established organic farmer, on his soil management and cover cropping practices. A farm tour of Wood Mood followed, allowing participants to see fields in rotation, feel soil tilth and view tillage and other equipment. As with other workshops/tours, participants asked a wide variety of questions and discussions continued past the expected end of the tour. Surveys of participants showed that this more informal exchange of information is highly valuable to many, and allows participants with widely different experience levels to interact and gain from the same workshops.
Workshops were advertised via mailings, on the program website, the email listserv, in Kansas and Missouri extension publications and on the websites of program partners such as the Kansas Rural center and Kansas City Food Circle.
The apprenticeship program provides a framework for those interested in learning to farm to gain experience and knowledge. Apprentices are expected to attend workshops, work regularly on their host farm, and participate in at least eight hours of focused, one-on-one training with their host farmers and receive a packet of books and resources. The fees apprentices pay for the program were increased to three hundred dollars in 2008.
Applicants for the program are encouraged to contact and negotiate with potential host farms themselves, with some guidance from the Program Manager. Host farms may offer volunteer or paid opportunities for apprentices, and the rate of pay, schedule and responsibilities are determined by the host farm. This allows host farms to select apprentices that will work best for their operation and establishes apprentices as employees of their host farm. Every host farm/apprentice “match” is approved by the Growing Growers Advisory Board prior to the apprentice being accepted to the program. Because a limited number of positions are available annually, acceptance into the program can be competitive.
Apprentices are required to attend nine workshops over the course of the season – the seven “core” Growing Growers workshops and two additional “elective” workshops. In 2006 and 2007 these “electives” were limited to GG sponsored events or workshops. In 2008, in an effort to connect apprentices to other organizations and resources, apprentices could satisfy the elective requirement through attendance at any two workshops, conferences or classes covering topics relating to local foods, sustainable agriculture or entrepreneurship.
Apprentices and host farmers meet for a minimum of eight hours over the course of the season to cover several topics in more detail than on-the-job training allows. Host farmers agree to discuss the details of their soil management, production planning and some aspect of their business management practices with their apprentices. Additional one-on-one training topics are determined by the host farmer and apprentices, based on the host farm and apprentice interests and expertise. In order to recognize the value of the host farmers’ knowledge, and to encourage host farmers to make time for this training, even during hectic periods, host farmers are paid by the program for these hours. Host farms hosting one apprentice receive six hundred dollars after completion of the training hours, while host farms hosting two or more apprentices received nine hundred dollars. Examples of one-on-one training subjects are presented on the Growing Growers website (http://www.growinggrowers.org/Pages/oneonone_training.htm).
Apprentices also receive a set of books and resources put together with input from local growers. Books are handed out throughout the course of the workshop series, a practice that encourages apprentice attendance.
Business Development Class
In 2007 five new growers participated in a development class. After an initial training session, two continued to meet with extension professionals who helped them to complete a business plan. Participants received a scholarship to the workshops series.
Email listserv and website
The Growerskc email listserv is administered by Growing Growers, and is open to growers and the public. It is a forum for exchange of information relating to local food and sustainable agriculture. It is advertised at workshops, conferences and on the program website. The program website includes information on the workshops and apprenticeship program, as well as links to other organizations and resources.
“Feeding Kansas City” Conference
In 2006 Growing Growers held the second “Feeding Kansas City” Conference, with 72 speakers addressing topics relevant to local food producers and buyers. 224 growers, buyers and others attended workshops covering health and safety regulations, online marketing cooperatives, pricing, grant options, selling to grocery stores, agri-tourism, Community Supported Agriculture programs and more.
Nine workshops were held annually, with an average attendance of 24, which included apprentices. Farm tours followed 26 of 27 workshops. The audience at workshops was a mix of apprentices, prospective growers and more experienced growers.
Evaluations by workshop participants routinely indicated that both the material presented and the farm tours are valued and feedback has been mostly positive. Negative comments have often related to the varying experience levels of the audience, with some requesting more basic information and vocabulary and others more technical information. Apprentices in particular sometimes suffered from “information overload” during full day workshops. As mentioned earlier, participants frequently praised the farm tours and tours typically continued past their scheduled end time. The tours proved to be an opportunity for growers to show off their operations, “talk shop” and exchange information, and apprentices and newer growers were welcomed in these conversations.
Workshop attendance declined slightly from 2006 to 2008, likely because the core workshops are repeated and growers and apprentices usually attend them only once. In 2006 the average attendance was 28, while that dropped to 20 in 2008. This can be partially explained by the difference in the number of accepted apprentices in those years. A 2008 fruit production workshop geared towards more experienced growers that included a presentation by an out-of-area expert had exceptionally high attendance (37), suggesting that more advanced elective workshops are desired by area growers. In 2009 two new elective workshops will be offered based on this: one about establishing and managing a Community Supported Agriculture program and another covering the organic certification process.
In the 2006, 2007 and 2008 apprenticeship seasons, participation of first year apprentices was as follows:
2006 – 22 accepted, 12 completed, on 10 host farms
2007 – 14 accepted, 9 completed, on 8 host farms
2008 – 15 accepted, 13 completed, on 8 host farms
Second year apprenticeship participation has been low, with one participant in 2006 and 2007 and two in 2008. Informal mentoring of former apprentices by their host farmers is more common than a formal second year apprenticeship.
Women have comprised 67% of apprentices accepted to the program.
A high point of the apprenticeship program has been the transition of two former apprentices into host farmers. Erica Wright apprenticed at JJ Farms in 2005 and now manages the Troostwood Youth Garden, an urban farm run with help from neighborhood youth, including Jessica Baker, who apprenticed with her in ’08 and Justin Burrell, who apprenticed at JJ Farms in ‘05. Stephanie Thomas, who apprenticed at the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture in ’05, started her own farm, Spring Creek, the same year. Stephanie has since become a reliable and supportive host farmer, and demonstrates an unanticipated benefit to host farmers of the apprenticeship program: hiring apprentices allows them to transition into being an employer, a key step in scaling up production. During her first year as a host farmer Stephanie worked with a volunteer apprentice; during her second year she hired a paid apprentice and worked with several volunteers; in her third year (2009), she will be hiring two paid apprentices in addition to volunteers.
Another former apprentice in the program, Hilary Brown (’04), founded Local Burger, a restaurant that specializes in serving locally produced foods. Located in Lawrence, KS, the restaurant has received national press coverage and is a major buyer of local food in the Kansas City and Lawrence area. Hilary and other Local Burger employees have become regular presenters at the core workshop “Taste and Nutrition”, where they have spoken on both nutritional marketing and tips on the process of selling local food to restaurants.
Business Development Class
Both growers who completed a business plan over the course of the class reported that they gained a better idea of their resources, options and needs. Both continue to farm; one, Brooke Salvaggio, is currently expanding her production. She reports that the guidance and structure that extension professionals provided helped her flesh out her business plan and consider options and challenges she had not previously considered. Brooke also attended the 2007 workshop series and farm tours and served on a new farmer speaking panel at one of the workshops.
Website and Listserv
As of March of 2009, listserv membership was 400+, with multiple emails going out weekly. Email postings have, among other things, helped facilitate food, equipment and land sales, advertised classes, asked/answered questions about specific crops and debated aspects of the farm bill. As interest in local food grows, membership continues to increase.
One of the program’s initial goals, that of aiding ownership transitions of farms to new farmers, has met with limited success. One host farmer hosted his own son as an apprentice on his farm as a structured way of moving towards shared farm ownership and reported that the structure of the program was useful. However, the son later decided to pursue a non-farming career.
Prospective growers who are unable to participate in the full apprenticeship program often attend part of the workshop series, and several attendees have used the knowledge gained to start or improve their own farms.
Of the 34 apprentices who completed the program in the ’06, ’07 and ‘08 seasons, the program has been able to maintain contact with 26. 11 of those continue to contribute to local food availability in the Kansas City food shed by farming, working on a farm or in a business associated with local food, or activism. 5 more are farming or involved in food production outside of the area.
Five former apprentices from the ’06 – ’08 seasons have gone on to start their own farms marketing to the Kansas City food shed. Several other apprentices from these years report they still plan to try farming in the future. Apprentices from earlier seasons (’04 and ’05) also continue to be active in local food production, 11 as farmers or farm workers.
Of the 75 apprentices who have completed the program since its inception in 2004, 40 remain in contact with the program. Of those, 21 have farmed in some capacity; either by beginning their own farm businesses or working for others.
The program has also benefitted host farmers. As mentioned previously, it has been a way for small host farms to step slowly into being an employer, a key step in scaling up production. While in past seasons, only two or three host farms hosted more than one apprentice, in the upcoming season (2009), five host farms will be working with two or more apprentices. Three of the five specifically stated that they were hiring more apprentices because they wanted to increase their production.
Selecting and working with apprentices has also proved to be a learning process for host farmers. In 2009 there were many more applicants than there were apprenticeship openings and the apprentice selection process was more competitive. One host farmer described the difference between previous seasons’ hiring practices and the current seasons as follows:
“In the past I tended to take who ever applied, since I wasn’t sure if there would be anyone else. We had some issues with hiring at my off-farm job and I realized I needed to be more careful. This season … I interviewed almost ten people, asked for references and checked them, and then had to choose.”
We have done no formal economic analysis, but given the large number of trainees who have participated in the Growing Growers program as apprentices, as workshop participants, as host farmers, or as members of the broader community of growers served by the Growing Growers listserv, it is reasonable to assume a return on investment comparable to other agricultural research and extension efforts. This return on investment is typically very high.
In 2004 the program began with 7 host farms. In 2009, 20 host farms are available. Several host farmers have increased the numbers of apprentices they work with, and former apprentices who have started their own farms have returned to the program as host farmers. As already mentioned, the Growing Growers model has been drawn upon by others interested in new farmer training. Of course, trainees have adopted innumerable techniques learned during the programs’ numerous workshops and during apprenticeships.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The primary outreach under the project is to be found on the project website: www.growinggrowers.org, where details of workshops conducted can be found, as can information about most other aspects of the program. Presentations about the Growing Growers program made at meetings represent another form of outreach. In January 2008, Katherine Kelly and Ted Carey presented the keynote address and conducted a workshop on Growing Growers at the annual Placer Grown Conference in Placer County, California, where a new farmer training program was being established. The program coordinator frequently provides consultation to others interested in starting farmer training efforts, who are interested in drawing upon the Growing Growers model.
Areas needing additional study
Our vision for the future of Growing Growers is to continue to expand the scope and reach of the program in response to needs and opportunities for new farmer training in our region. This includes adding additional areas of focus to the program, drawing on new areas of technical expertise and producer experience as we do so. For example, fruit production and animal husbandry are two areas that have received relatively little attention to date, and for which there is likely to be demand. There is also considerable interest in and a need for exposing trainees to production models that cover a range of scales and uses of equipment. We perceive that there are opportunities for involving as host farmers, conventional producers who conscious of, and responding to the demand for more sustainably grown local produce.
We are also interested in exploring ways of expanding the geographical focus of the training program so that similar efforts can be conducted elsewhere in Kansas and Missouri, drawing on the core program methodologies and experiences already gained in Kansas City. In any location, there will be a need to establish local ownership of the program, in order to ensure effectiveness of training efforts, responsiveness to local needs, and local support for the program.