Immigrant Urban Farmer’s Project

Progress report for LNE22-440

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $249,999.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2024
Grant Recipient: International Rescue Committee
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Brittany O'Neill
International Rescue Committee
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Project Information


Opportunity and Justification 

Urban farms serve multiple purposes for their surrounding community; they are often a hub of neighborhood vibrancy and, especially in the case of many immigrant communities, a source of healthy and culturally familiar food. The Immigrant Urban Farmer Project located in the South Bronx and Queens, New York, will assist immigrants with agricultural backgrounds to build their farming careers. Immigrants face limited mobility in the sector due to English language level, training costs, prerequisites, business linkages, and unequal access to formal farm technical skills. To get a job with agriculture, farm organizations, or enter a farm business program, farmers need to show proof of skill and experience on a farm. Without a strong network and transferable experience, many aspiring farmers struggle to secure a suitable financial pathway. In this program, aspiring farmers will receive urban farm training that is accessible and allows them to develop and demonstrate their skills. The International Rescue Committee in New York (IRC in NY), a refugee- and immigrant-serving organization, has developed this project in response to almost a decade of experience working with new Americans to successfully build their workforce skills through cultural and linguistically appropriate farm-based training.  


The Immigrant Urban Farmer project will be run by the Economic Empowerment (EE) unit at IRC in NY, including an EE Manager, the Agriculture Coordinator, and three Agriculture Specialists. The project will use a three-pronged model to empower beginning and aspiring immigrant farmers to enter the urban agriculture workforce with confidence, skills for self-advocacy, and connections that can help them grow their careers. First, the project will engage existing and aspiring farmers in hands-on and linguistically skill appropriate training workshops in relevant areas of sustainable urban agriculture and business development provided by IRC in NY and local partners. Second, participants of the farmer training course will take part in “farm stewardships” on 10 local urban agriculture sites, including Morning Glory, la Finca, and IRC in NY’s two farm sites. The project will continue to support the farm stewards through ongoing training and support in management and leadership topics. Finally, the stewardships will connect participants with urban farming employment and enterprise development opportunities, setting them up for further advancement of their own agricultural careers. 

Most farm training programs require farm experience to enroll, require intermediate-advanced English, and offer limited scholarships. By contrast, the Immigrant Urban Farmer project training program will account for participants’ linguistic barriers by providing interpretation services in workshops and throughout the steward practicum, in addition to intentional pairing of stewards and mentees according to common language and interests. The elimination of a US-based farming prerequisite to join this program will enable immigrant and refugee participants to engage in this learning. 

Performance Target:

50 beginning and aspiring immigrant farmers will engage in on-farm training, resulting in at least 37 of them (75%) reporting increased financial savings and improved health (via annual survey tool). Of these, 22 (60%) farmers involved in intensive training and stewardships will pursue income-earning or advanced skill training opportunities related to their local food system.


Pathways to agricultural pursuits for urban communities can be uncertain. Agriculture-oriented resource allocation tends to be directed to rural areas, and professional development initiatives in urban areas often leave out agricultural skills and enterprises. This creates a challenge in accessing a clear pathway into the agriculture industry for aspiring urban farmers. For refugee, immigrant, and migrant populations, this pathway is even less certain. While this population can be particularly well suited for urban agriculture, as many have transferable skills from their home country that can be applied in a U.S. urban agriculture context, they require additional support services that most professional development opportunities do not provide. By providing a pathway for immigrants to participate in the agricultural workforce, the Urban Immigrant Farmers Project will position aspiring farmers to overcome key vocational barriers in earning income via the agricultural sector and support a new network of inspired urban farmers. 


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Involves research:
Participation Summary


Educational approach:

3 program components:   

Agriculture Skills Training (AST): Training will total 60 hours from March-October for 15 participants annually. 

Farm Stewardship (FS): Participants are placed in a farm apprenticeship at a local community garden, working under a farm supervisor selected based on learning goals participants identify throughout trainings.   

Continuing Education  Workshops (CEW): Monthly workshops focused on professional development topics identified by the IRC, CCE, and participants. 


AST: Outreach will be conducted for annual cohorts amongst IRC’s extensive network of community partners, urban farms/gardens, and existing client base. IRC will develop and share outreach materials and host information sessions for prospective participants.  

IRC will intake prospective applicants, gathering information on household, schedule preference, supportive services needed to participate, and goals related to careers as agriculture professionals. Applicants will sign a participant and stipend agreement detailing program expectations, including attendance and stewardship requirements. Applicants will receive stipends if they maintain an attendance rate of 85% at all workshops and complete the required 80 stewardship hours.  

IRC staff will meet with trainees monthly to review and reassess learning goals, program process, and troubleshoot challenges. Following training, participants will be connected with additional career resources, including employment opportunities, small business development resources, and educational opportunities. 

FSStewardship host sites will be identified through IRC’s existing network of urban farm partners, Bronx Greenup participants and Greenthumb partner sites. Stewardship supervisors will receive supervision guidance training and curriculum, and will record hours and steward learning assessments. IRC will connect with host sites every other month to provide support.   

CEW Workshops will take place monthly from May-October. IRC will reach out to agriculture professionals to facilitate workshops. Attendee outreach will be conducted amongst aspiring farmers at participating steward host sites and other urban farms/gardens.  


AST & FS: 15 participants complete 60 training hours annually. Topics include: Introduction to food systems; food justice; Crop planning and rotation; Seed Starting; IPM, crop and pest management; soil health and irrigation; composting; Food Handling and Safety; training of trainers; community program facilitation; careers and specializations in agriculture; Farm Visits. Curriculum will be developed by CCE and IRC, with input from the advisory council. Teaching will be experiential and hands on, a methodology proven to be most effective for English Language Learners. Classes will focus on participants’ ability to apply learned knowledge and skills in an agriculture setting. Interpretation will be provided and materials translated into participant languages where available.   

FS: Participants will apply learnings in a farm setting.  After the 1st month of training, participants will be matched with their steward site and begin working 4 hours weekly totaling 80 hours. Steward host sites will receive course curriculum and core competency assessment.  

CEW: IRC will coordinate monthly workshops focusing on continuing professional development topics as identified by participants. These will be co-facilitated by agriculture industry professionals and open to other aspiring farmers participating in local farming initiatives. In the workshops, participants can share experiences and continue developing skills within their community. 


Participant outcomes will be tracked in IRC’s case management database Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) and in an excel spreadsheet. In ETO, IRC will track participants’ basic information, case note discussions, program services, and career goals during enrollment intake. The spreadsheet will track workshop attendance, participant learning assessments, and steward hours. Steward hours will be recorded on a Google Sheets document accessible to urban farm host sites.  

AST: Training participants will receive a pre-training and post-training assessment, developed by IRC’s F&A Coordinator and CCE, to rank their knowledge of training content. This will be used to measure knowledge and skill gain throughout the course.  

FS: Steward supervisors will adopt the IRC’s farmer skills benchmarking tool, which covers 9 areas of competency to assess participants’ growth in areas deemed most vital to farm management. Supervisors will review these competencies during check-ins at mid-point and end of program to review progress and set continued learning goals.  

CEW: Evaluations will be provided at the end of workshops to elicit participants’ feedback on course development, workshop feedback, and self-evaluation.  

Participants will provide feedback on program structure via evaluation surveys, including: training schedule, teaching methodology, language need, stewardship, and support from program staff. Feedback will occur mid-way through the program to adjust accordingly and at program completion. 

At program completion, IRC staff will meet with participants to identify next steps in pursuing their farming learning goals (created during intake), devise an action plan, and share additional resources. Participants will be contacted 1 month, 3 months and 6 months after program completion to review progress.  




1. Learning: IRC and CCE will meet to develop a full course curriculum, including lesson plans, training activities, knowledge pre- and post-assessments, and steward core competencies by May. Advisory committee will assist in reviewing materials and share feedback on program design by May. Course materials, handouts, and activities will then be shared with IRC trained interpreters to translate into participants' native languages by end of April. The curriculum will be saved in a shared program folder by the IRC EE Manager and Sheryll Durrant, IRC Food and Agriculture Coordinator.  Completed in 2023.

Status: Completed

Accomplishments: Curriculum was developed in partnership with Horticulture NYC, with support from CCE and translated into Spanish to accommodate participant language needs. (Syllabus.HortNYC.EspSyllabus.HortNYC)

2. Engagement: 25 partner organizations, farms, and gardens outreached about the program through email of flyers and presentations at local organization meetings. This will occur in April of year 1 and March of year 2. This will be tracked by Sheryll Durrant (Food and Agriculture Coordinator) via an outreach tracker. Completed by end of April in 2022 and the end of March in 2023. 

Status: In Progress

Accomplishments: Built relationships with over 25 partners in year 1. 20 organizations have been contacted about the program in year 2. These organizations include: Restore NYC, Empowerment, Empower Her Network, Snug Harbor Cultural center, New York Restoration Project, Emmas Torch, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Apiary Studio, Field Form, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Bloom Craft, Big Dream Farm, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx Community College, Urban Horticulture Leaders, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Greenwood Cemetery, Perfect Earth Project, Longwood Gardens, and BIPOC hort. At least 5 more organizations will be contacted in Year 3.  

3. Engagement and Learning: 10 urban farms identified as stewardship host sites. Host sites will attend 2-hour training reviewing the program structure and ask sites to sign participant agreements. Host site commitment will be recorded through agreement and will be recorded by the EE Manager. Host sites committed by May 2023 and May 2024.

Status: In Progress

Accomplishments: IRC identified 10 urban farms as potential stewardship host sites, but only 5 sites engaged participants. The IRC is working to find sites that are more in line with the program and willing to partner with program members.  

4. Engagement: 30 aspiring farmers will attend information sessions and learn about training program objectives and requirements in April 2022 and February 2023. Information session attendance will be tracked in outreach tracker by IRC Food and Agriculture Specialists. Information sessions will be completed by April of 2022 and February of 2023.

Status: In Progress

Accomplishments: In Year 1, 23 applicants expressed interest and received information on the program. In Year 2, this number increased to 81. 

5. Engagement: 15 farmers will complete intake, enrollment, and participant agreement forms in March with IRC staff to formally enroll in program. Participant program enrollment will be recorded by IRC Food and Agriculture Specialist(s) in ETO database. Farmers complete intake / enrollment by April of 2022 and March of 2023.

Status: Completed

Accomplishments: In Year 1, 12 participants were enrolled and in Year 2 of the program, 22 participants were enrolled, for a total of 34 participants to date. These enrollments are being recorded in ETO by the Food and Agriculture Specialist.

6. Learning and Evaluation: 30 new or beginning immigrant farmers participate in 60- hour agriculture training, with at least 85% graduation rate, and learn technical agriculture skills as identified in the education plan. There will be 1 class per week from May-October 2022 and 2023. Training attendance will be recorded by CCE or IRC instructor on attendance tracker and knowledge acquisition will be recorded by IRC staff in pre and post assessment, recorded in spreadsheet. Training completed in November 2022 and October 2023.

Status: In Progress

Accomplishments: 12 participants engaged in monthly 4-hour Saturday sessions from April-November 2022 (35 hours of training). 5 participants successfully completed year 1. 22 participants engaged in monthly 5-hour trainings (65 hours of training in total) and 19 participants successfully completed the program. Year 2 saw an 86% graduation rate, but the overall graduation rate to date is 70.6%. The aim is to increase to 85% by the end of the project period.

7. Learning and Evaluation: 30 new or beginning farmers will participate in farm stewardship, with a schedule of 4 hours/week for a total of 80 hours from June through October/November (20 weeks). Stewards will apply the material learned in class to real-life farm management and core competencies will be assessed by the steward supervisor. Stewardship attendance and competencies will be recorded by steward supervisors via a GoogleSheet and saved in participant file by IRC Food and Agriculture Coordinator. Stewardships will be completed by November 2022 and October 2023. 

Status: In progress

Accomplishments: 5 farmers have thus far been engaged in farm stewardship at a host site, starting in year 2. The IRC is working to identify host sites more aligned with the program and anticipate completing this by the end of the project period. 

8. Evaluation: 30 new or beginning farmers will complete program evaluations midway (August) and at end of program (November) which will focus on program structure and continued support in training, stewardship, and towards meeting their learning goals. Evaluations will be completed via google forms or in-person during mid program check-in by IRC Food and Agriculture Specialists and recorded in excel spreadsheet. Evaluations will be reviewed by IRC and CCE to make any suggested changes to program structure. Evals will be completed at the end of August 2022 and 2023 and November 2022 and 2023.

Status: In Progress

Accomplishments: A formal evaluation system was rolled out in year 2, which incorporated in-person evaluation, a self-assessment survey developed with the New Roots technical advisor, and a final learning assessment to gauge students’ increased knowledge after the program. 18 participants in year 2 completed the program evaluation. The Food and Agriculture coordinator and program instructor are reviewing participant feedback to adapt the program for the next cycle.

9. Learning and Evaluation: 20 aspiring farmers (comprised of the IF course participants and selected farmer members from host sites, or invited by partners) will participate in supplemental agriculture workshops held monthly May-October and learn additional skills related to farm management. Participants will be provided with an evaluation post-training to give feedback on sessions and identify key learnings. The training schedule will be recorded by IRC Food and Agriculture Coordinator, attendance will be recorded in attendance tracker, and evaluations will be provided via google forms (if remote) or on paper and recorded on an excel spreadsheet. Ag workshops will be complete by November 2022 and October 2023.

Status: In Progress

Accomplishments: Year 1 workshops included 3 onsite community workshops, 1 online community workshop and 3 offsite community field trips. No formal post evaluation was conducted for Year 1 workshops other than word-of-mouth feedback on these “pilots”. Year 2 workshops included 4 onsite workshops and 3 offsite field trips. The calendar for Year 3 is in progress.

10. Evaluation: 10 steward farm host sites will complete post-program evaluation in October on program structure, benefits or stewardship model, and ways to improve for future trainings. Evaluations will be completed via google forms and will be recorded/analyzed in excel spreadsheet by the EE Manager, Sheryll Durrant, Food and Agriculture Coordinator, and CCE partners. Evaluations will be completed by November and program partners will meet in November to review. Host site evals will be completed by November 2024.

Status: Not Begun

Accomplishments: Though 5 host sites were engaged, no post-program evaluation was put into place. IRC hopes to enact this in Year 3, once 10 steward farm host sites have been established.

11. Evaluation: Each year, 15 participants from the course cohort will receive continued support from IRC staff on pursuing their career goals related to farming and agriculture. Participants will be contacted upon completing the training to reevaluate their goals, develop an action plan, and connect with additional resources. Participants will meet with IRC staff end of October, end of November, January, and April to review progress towards goals. Meetings will be recorded in IRC’s ETO database. 1:1 support will be complete by end of October 2022 and 2023, November 2022 and 2023, January 2023 and 2024, and April 2023 and 2024. 

Status: In Progress

Accomplishments: During year 2, the IRC Economic Empowerment team provided a job readiness workshop to participants. This is an area of desired growth for the remainder of the program and the Food and Agriculture Coordinator and Economic Empowerment Senior Program Manager are having conversations about how to better incorporate career development services in this program. 

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

10 Consultations
9 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
24 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
6 Tours
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
22 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

34 Farmers participated

Learning Outcomes

24 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
18 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

24 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Additional Project Outcomes

Additional Outcomes:

1. Piloted the training program:  The anticipated training partner (Cornell) was unable to produce the desired training in 2022. The IRC in NY therefore worked with an expert from HortNYC to conduct a "pilot" training course with 12 participants. Out of this experience and reflection, the IRC in NY has been able to pull together a course for 2023, which already has over 44 applicants. The IRC in NY is in the process of selecting cohort members and anticipates re-allocating the subaward budget among the group of trainers (from HortNYC, Cornell, and others) accordingly. 

2. To date, 13 community workshops have been held which served to help better understand the interests and needs of the community, and broaden participants’ knowledge on farming techniques. 

3. The IRC has developed and employed a comprehensive evaluation plan with the support of their internal technical advisor.  

4. A full curriculum has been developed for the 35-hour intensive course program in partnership with Horticulture NYC, supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension.   

Success stories:
  1. Six participants have successfully gained employment in the farming and agriculture sector. Places of employment include New York Restoration Project (NYRP), Bronx is Blooming, New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), East NY Farms, Chefs for Impact, as well as employment with an edible schoolyard, garden company, and florist. Other participants are actively looking for jobs.
  2. One participant moved to Florida where she hopes to grow more herbs for her herbal company.
  3. A former student is working towards a driver’s license, one of the biggest hurdles for native New Yorkers who want to work in the urban farm or garden sector. Being able to drive is instrumental to picking up supplies and transporting them to the farm as well as accessing regional farms upstate.
  4. Another student made a shift from working in housing to garden based education. They are also working towards a compost certification. 
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Relationships with training partners defined the first year of the program. A key challenge of the project arose from lack of clarity with the primary training partner, Cornell Cooperative Extension. Even though IRC had a signed MOU with them, there was not adequate training or evaluation resources in time to start the year 1 cohort activities. Despite this, the IRC in NY's positive relationship with staff from Horticulture NYC led to the successful pilot of a partial course in year 1. The IRC in NY is now working with them as the primary training cohort leader for year 2. 

IRC was able to adapt to the aforementioned challenges with training partners in Year 1 to establish a curriculum and evaluation system, which allowed for a smoother implementation in Year 2. After this past year, the two key areas of growth are in establishing farm stewardship host sites for participant engagement and incorporating more career preparation and job readiness with the Economic Empowerment team at the IRC. Though host sites were identified, only 5 were engaged and the IRC wants to broaden their scope of sites and adapt it to the cohort. A job readiness training was provided, but there is a need for individualized career support.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.