Agroforestry, the management of trees together with crops and animal production, is increasingly recognized as a key to mitigating climate change while providing environmental and socioeconomic benefits. However, a critical barrier to successful agroforestry adoption and implementation by farmers is the lack of intensive training opportunities in agroforestry.
This program provides experiential and technical education for aspiring agroforestry farmers through on-farm training, online agroforestry coursework, and field trips to other agroforestry farms throughout the Midwest. The apprenticeship program aspires to reach socially disadvantaged and limited resource beginner farmers with little experience in agroforestry by addressing the socioeconomic barriers that prevent historically marginalized groups from engaging in educational agriculture programs.
The intended outcomes of this training program include: (1) training the next generation of agroforestry farmers by connecting them to practicing agroforesters through an on-farm apprenticeship, (2) providing community-building opportunities for farmers, apprentices, and those interested in agroforestry, (3) ensuring program accessibility and support to historically marginalized and low income groups through diversity, equity, and inclusion training to mentor farmers and through paid apprentice employment, and (4) making the training days and online coursework developed for the apprenticeship program additionally available to broader farmer and public audiences.
- Connect 10 apprentices with experienced agroforestry farmers (mentors) who will provide season-long, on-farm training throughout the Midwest. Target reach: 10 apprentices
- Increase accessibility and engagement by socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers in the apprenticeship program. Target reach: 5 apprentices.
- Build community and train apprentices in agroforestry practices and techniques by organizing 10 public field days at host farms. Target reach: 200 attendees.
- Create multimedia agroforestry educational materials via online course materials and podcasts. Target reach: 2000 views/listens.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We greatly expanded mentor and apprentice support this season, hosted 5 remote field days, including a hands-on grafting workshop for the apprentices, and are dramatically expanding our online course offerings. Apprentices were able to network during our highly successful 2020 Online Perennial Farm Gathering, which brought together over 400 agroforestry researchers, farmers, and enthusiasts. Full scholarships and reduced ticket prices were available, so cost was not a barrier to participation in the gathering.
Education and outreach associated with this program has already exceeded our expectations. Over 500 people joined us live for the remote field days we hosted this season, and publicly available recordings have garnered over 2200 views. In addition, we were very excited to publicly launch the online coursework in December as well as the online Community of Practice, which took the networking that began through the online Perennial Farm Gathering in December and allows connections and conversations to continue grow into the future.
We safely matched 10 apprentices with agroforestry mentor farmers in the Midwest in the face of a raging pandemic. One of our goals was to diversify the apprentice cohort. Last year year, our cohort included one latinx person, one transgender person, and six women. DEI training for mentors prior to apprentice selection will hopefully result in increased diversity.
The apprentices received valuable lessons on daily, seasonal, and annual aspects of the agroforestry operation from their mentors. In addition to hands-on training with crop management (including, weed management, pruning, and harvesting), apprentices also learned about farm finances and business operations. We have a great group of people in the apprentice cohort, who all participated in monthly cohort calls and a private Facebook group to foster community building within the cohort.
All our field days were converted to remote field days and workshops, 10 of which are public events scheduled this summer and one is a grafting workshop exclusively for the apprentice cohort. Each apprentice received grafting supplies so they will be able to gain hands-on practice under the expertise of Tom Wahl, remotely. While we are disappointed in the loss of in-person field days, we are thrilled to greatly expand the reach and community networking of these events beyond the typical driving-distance.
Apprentices are finishing up the first module of the online course and are about to receive access to the second module. Most of the course material will be made available this fall, after most of the apprentices are no longer working on the farms. In the course, they will continue to learn from professional resources, experienced agroforestry practitioners, and business professionals on topics including land access, core agroforestry practices, design and layout, integrating livestock, marketing, and more. Some of the online course content is recorded and is publicly available on our YouTube channel.
We have learned that DEI training should be done prior to mentors reviewing and hiring applicants.
Overall, we are extremely happy with our participation in the apprenticeship program as well as resulting educational materials. We have reached more people than we anticipated and are on track to expand our apprentices to approximately 15 for the 2021 season–the matching process is currently underway!