On-Farm Internships to Increase Sustainable Urban Farming in Lake County, Indiana

Progress report for ONC22-109

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2022: $39,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/20/2024
Grant Recipient: Purdue Extension
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Rebecca Koetz
Purdue Extension
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Project Information


A grant was previously awarded to Purdue Extension and the City of Gary to facilitate an initiative that involved creating an urban farming course for the people of Gary, IN. The project also allowed course participants to apply their knowledge through on-farm internships, pairing them with a local farmer mentor. Overwhelming participant feedback indicates the most valuable component of this learning experience has been the on-farm internships and mentorships. The purpose of this proposal is to continue to grow sustainable urban agriculture in Lake County, IN by funding on-farm internships and mentorships for new and beginning urban farmers, and part of the grant manager’s salary. The grant manager will manage the interns and mentors, and apply for sustainable local sponsorships to continue providing internships/mentorships, and avoid reliance on grants.


Project Objectives:
  1. Secure sustainable local funding to continue this project indefinitely.
  2. Provide paid on-farm internships to Lake County residents who participate in an urban farming course.
  3. Provide pay incentives to urban farmer mentors to facilitate on-farm learning experiences for urban farming interns.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Anne Massie (Educator)
  • Robin Shannon (Educator)
  • Liz Brewer (Educator)
  • Jefferey Edwards (Educator)
  • Dorreen Carey (Educator)
  • Sam Barnnett (Educator)
  • Carmen McKee (Educator)
  • Carl Weatherspoon , Jr. (Educator)


Materials and methods:

I conducted a pre- and post-program survey with 6 urban farming interns. The survey was distributed electronically via email using Qualitrics survey software. Pre-program I asked interns what they hoped to gain from the program, what their personal production goals were, and what their vision for urban agriculture is for their community. The goal of the pre-program survey was primarily to pair interns with experienced farmer mentors. 

Post-program I asked interns what their perceived most valuable aspects of the internship were, whether they planned to continue any collaborations they formed during the program, and whether they plan to adopt any on-farm practices they learned during the program. The goal of the post-program survey was primarily to measure the impact of the program and make any necessary revisions to the program for next year. 

Survey questions were primarily free-response. 


Research results and discussion:

Based on the pre-program survey: Participants hoped to gain urban farming exposure and experience, knowledge in how to urban farm, apply course knowledge, use knowledge to educate others, build relationships, learn how to use a greenhouse, hoop house, other tools, start an urban farm, learn about the urban farming community, feed their family, have a beneficial mentorship, learn how to scale their efforts, help sustain Gary urban farming efforts.  
Participants grew primarily herbs and vegetables. Some hoped to incorporate fruit. Many participants grew in raised beds. Most grew at a household/homestead level, some wanted to grow for their community. Most grew at a small scale.
Participants’ vision for urban agriculture included urban block farming, community members teaching others where food comes from and how to grow food, teaching about the importance of pollinators, teaching about native and invasive plats, teaching youth and growing food, helping people of Gary make Gary the leader in urban agriculture in Northwest Indiana. Making urban agriculture more accessible. A farming co-op where farmers work together and specialize.

Based on the results of the post-survey:
Participants indicated the following were the most valuable aspects of the program (at least 3 out of 5 survey participants indicated these responses):
One-on-one mentoring/advising (4), ability to learn hands-on (4), connection with farms close to my area (4), connection to markets (4), connection with farms similar to my own (3), connection with farms different from my own (3), connection with farms further from my area (3), supporting new farmers (3).
100% of survey participants indicated they planned to continue relationships formed during the internship. One indicated particular appreciation for connecting urban and rural farmers. One indicated they were planning to pursue forming a farmer co-op. One indicated they would continue volunteering at the farms.
Participants planned to adopt the following as a result of participating in the program: an irrigation rain barrel system, no-till practices, trellising, more efficient use of space, more proactive weed control, better soil health practices, and a more social grow system (e.g. to help enter the wholesale market).

Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Published press articles, newsletters

Participation Summary:

14 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

Press release 1: https://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/lake/new-purdue-extension-program-hopes-to-grow-urban-farming-in-lake-county/article_bdfa2dfb-7995-5676-af6b-87fc7ae02732.html

Press release 2: https://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/lake/gary/purdue-extension-hosting-2nd-year-of-urban-agriculture-course/article_306603f9-5732-504d-9f52-8cc15f42ef79.html


Our internship program paired new urban farmers with experienced urban farm mentors. Interns and mentors were required to meet regularly to discuss the interns' personal production goals and seek advice from mentors. Some mentors helped the interns complete a growing project on the mentor's farm. Interns were additionally required to spend 80 hours of on-farm work across 8 farms in rural and urban Lake County to gain broad on-farm work experiences. 

Learning Outcomes

6 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

3 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

100% of survey participants indicated they planned to continue relationships formed during the internship. We are connecting urban and rural farmers. At least one new farmer is planning to pursue forming a farmer co-op, and one indicated they would continue volunteering at the farms. In this way we are helping to connect new farmers with mentors and other new farmers, building more resilient farmer networks. 

Participants planned to adopt several sustainable farming practices as a result of participating in the program: an irrigation rain barrel system, no-till practices, trellising, more efficient use of space, more proactive weed control, better soil health practices, and a more social grow system. 

Success stories:

Do you plan to continue the collaborations you formed during the program?

"Yes! I plan first to contact the out-of-Gary and thank them for the experience. I’m continuing to sell fresh herbs to Faith Farms for their CSA and actively planning to expand that next year. And I’m still discussing with the Calumet Collaborative about possible funding to discuss co-ops that would involve our Gary growers."

Do you plan to adopt new on-farm practices as a result of participating in the program?

"God yes. More intentional and efficient use of space. More assertive and proactive weed control. Better soil health practices. I also learned a lot more about the myriad was growers work and support each other socially (growing for wholesale as one example)."

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.