Developing a Beginning Farmer Training Program for Western New York's Minority and Low Resource Farmers

Progress report for ONE20-369

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Providence Farm Collective
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Elizabeth Leipler
Providence Farm Collective
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Project Information

Summary:

Providence Farm Collective (PFC) is teaming up with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and partner farmers to develop a training program specifically designed to meet the expressed needs of PFC’s culturally diverse farmers.  PFC provides farmland, agricultural resources, and educational opportunities to over 100 participating minority and low-resource farmers through an incubator farm program and community organization plot program. Participating farmers are predominantly immigrant and refugee populations with agrarian backgrounds.  Through this project, PFC seeks to develop educational programming to better meet the needs of its diverse farmers.  

PFC and CCE will work with farmers to determine their educational needs and preferences, creating a curriculum based upon these findings.  The proposed training program will include an 8-workshop sustainable agriculture series, a demonstration poultry project, technical assistance, mentorship, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.  After the training program is developed, it will be implemented over the 2021 growing season.  

In addition to training, farmers will receive access to prepared farmland and shared tools and infrastructure.  Expected outcomes of this project include: increased farmer knowledge of sustainable agricultural practices, increased productivity and profitability of participating farms, increased access to farmland, and improved well-being of farmers.

Project Objectives:

 

  1. This project seeks to develop and implement an effective, audience-specific sustainable agriculture training program including CCE/PFC workshops, hands-on training on PFC’s demonstration project, technical assistance, and mentorship.
    • Expected benefits include increased knowledge of animal husbandry, mushroom cultivation, beekeeping, and marketing.
    • Expected benefits include adoption of learned practices resulting in increased productivity and profitability of participating farms.
  2. This project seeks to increase access to prepared farmland for beginning and aspiring farmers by providing a minimum of 6 acres of plowed, amended, and fenced farmland to be divided among participating farmers.*
    • Expected benefits include providing up to 100 socially disadvantaged farmers with the ability to farm for profit. 
  3. This project seeks to improve farmer well-being through farming at PFC.
    • Expected benefits to farmers include increased access to traditional foods; increased sense of community; increased ability to connect with cultural practices; improved mental health; increased household income.

*This land will be worked in conjunction with other educational projects being offered to
farmers.

Introduction:

The growing need to develop a new generation of farmers is well known in the farming community. Consequently, what if we could assist individuals with previous farming experience to help address this problem? In Buffalo, NY, a large population of immigrants and refugees with extensive agrarian backgrounds have been resettled. There is a desire among these new Americans to reconnect with their agricultural roots. Unfortunately, these communities do not have the financial resources or social capital to find land and start a farm on their own.  In most cases, these future farmers also require education on adapting their traditional farming skills to a new climate and market system. Providence Farm Collective (PFC) provides farmland and shared resources for these beginning and aspiring farmers and proposes the creation of a training program designed specifically to meet farmers’ expressed needs.  

 

PFC’s low-resource farmers experience tremendous barriers to land access which make it nearly impossible for these aspiring farmers to start their own farm.  The cost of farmland, combined with equipment, infrastructure, and supply costs, require immense capital that PFC’s farmers do not have access to. In response, PFC offers plots of prepared farmland and shared infrastructure, free of charge, to their farmers to enable low-resource farmers to start their farming operations.  In 2020 and 2021, PFC will offer a minimum of 6-acres of fenced, amended, and plowed farmland to be split among participating farmers.

 

Beyond access to farmland there are barriers to accessing agricultural education for low-income and minority farmers.  As most of PFC’s farmers are immigrants or refugees, they have a wide range of spoken languages, literacy, and educational backgrounds which make it difficult to gain knowledge from existing agricultural-education opportunities.  PFC’s training will bridge this gap to services by developing workshops, technical-assistance, and mentorship opportunities designed specifically for PFC’s farmers. In development of PFC’s proposed project, the farm director spoke with 35 participating farmers representing Somali Bantu, Congolese, Burundian, Chin, Karen, Karenni, and African American communities in February and March of 2020.  In these interviews it was found that:

-Farmers’ primary goals are to pass on cultural traditions, grow traditional crops, build food access within their communities, and earn income

-90% farmed in their home country

-83% indicated an interest in participating in educational activities

-97% preferred hands-on learning in the field to classroom-based education

 

Through the proposed project PFC, CCE, and partner farmers will grow the number of viable farm businesses in our region through increased land access, shared resources, and development of appropriate agricultural training.  We believe this project will result in increased productivity, profitability, knowledge, and well-being of participating farmers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Amy Barkley - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Mahamud Mberwa - Producer

Research

Materials and methods:

The proposed project will provide education and farmland to PFC’s diverse farmers through collaboration with participating farmers and CCE. Through funding support through Northeast SARE’s Partnership Program, PFC seeks to enhance and expand its existing educational programming. A comprehensive training program will be created for PFC’s interested farmers. The training program will consist of an 8-workshop beginners’ agricultural series, experiential learning on PFC’s demonstration project, 1-on-1 technical assistance, and mentorship opportunities. In addition to training opportunities, all farmers will receive a prepared plot of land and shared tools for their farm operation.

Collaborators at CCE are working with the Project Lead to develop an audience-specific workshop series designed to meet farmer’s expressed needs. PFC arranged multiple meetings with incubator farmers and each participating community organization to discuss and determine farmer’s educational needs and goals.  Through these meetings farmers expressed interest primarily in learning about animal husbandry, mushroom cultivation, and beekeeping. Once farmer’s educational needs and goals were collected, PFC and CCE began compiling existing curriculum from appropriate sources such as CCE, PFC, NIFTI, SARE, and others. Workshops are being designed to be accessible to all farmers, despite literacy, language, and former education. To ensure understanding, interpreters representing each language group will be hired for each workshop. Interpreters within PFC’s farming population will be hired whenever possible. Based on farmer input during the design of this project, workshops will be field based and hands-on whenever possible and will cover a wide range of topics.  Workshop topics chosen for this project include: Broiler Brooding and Rearing, Broiler Health and Nutrition, Broiler Marketing and Food Safety, Broiler Processing, Introduction to Mushroom Cultivation, Introduction to Raising Goats (farm tour), Introduction to Raising Pigs (farm tour), and Introduction to Beekeeping.  

Workshops will be limited to 20 students and will be free and open to all of Providence Farm Collective’s 100+ farmers. Transportation services will be available to farmers to and from Buffalo for each workshop. The workshop series will be scheduled and shared with farmers in February of 2021. Additional workshop reminders will be shared regularly until the completion of the workshop series.

PFC will operate a demonstration poultry project for training opportunities and program income generation. Field-based workshops will take place at PFC or at partner farms. All of these workshops will include time for hands-on learning in order to further farmers’ knowledge and comfort of the practices discussed.

PFC asks incubator farmers and community farmers to commit to volunteer hours on the farm, in lieu of program fees. Farmers will be provided an opportunity to satisfy volunteer hours requirements through hands-on experience on PFC’s demonstration projects.  Volunteer hours will be spent working side-by-side with PFC staff to create an apprenticeship-like environment. PFC will raise broiler chickens for demonstration and hands-on training through this project.  Additionally, PFC operates a demonstration vegetable and flower plot.  Through these projects, PFC aims to demonstrate best practices for small-scale poultry, vegetable, and flower production, using appropriate tools and materials that are easily accessed by PFC’s low-resource farmers.

Additional support services to advance farmers’ production knowledge and skills include technical assistance and mentorship services. Technical assistance will be scheduled through bi-weekly field visits by CCE specialists. Field visits will be scheduled and publicized to farmers so that they may plan to be present to receive technical assistance from CCE specialists. PFC staff will also be available daily throughout the season for mentorship and technical assistance. PFC staff includes the farm director and farm mentor. Farmers may also request mentorship support through scheduled meetings.

PFC’s farm programs are limited to 4 to 8 new incubator farmers per year and 4 to 6 participating community organizations per year. PFC performs outreach and recruitment year-round by spreading knowledge and visibility of PFC programming to organizations and individuals in the WNY region. Additional outreach methods include on-farm events, social media, fliers, distribution of pamphlets, and word of mouth (dependent on COVID-19 and social distancing recommendations). PFC’s partner network and farmers actively share PFC’s work and opportunities with prospective farmers.

To evaluate the efficacy and outcomes of this project, multiple techniques will be utilized, including but not limited to: farmer training assessments; year-end incubator farmer interviews; year-end organization interviews; required record keeping for all farmers; and quarterly advisory board meetings. Year-end interviews will be performed individually with incubator farmers and as a group with community organizations. Interviews will serve to provide qualitative feedback on PFC’s trainings and support services. All farmers are asked to keep track of their harvests and sales at PFC, using templates adjusted for each farmer’s language and literacy levels. Sales and harvest data collected during the 2020 and 2021 seasons will be used to determine any change in farmers’ productivity or profitability. Lastly, PFC will facilitate regular incubator farmer meetings and quarterly advisory board meetings to keep up-to-date with farmer’s needs, while providing opportunities for peer-to-peer knowledge and skills sharing. These meetings will serve as a source for qualitative feedback on workshops and support services. Data will be compiled digitally as it is collected. The Project Leader will analyze collected data, with input from CCE, for evaluation and reporting.

Please note that complementary materials and educational workshops funded by USDA’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program (BFRDP) will be offered during the duration of this grant. BFRDP workshops and support services will focus on annual vegetable production and introductory business topics while SARE grant funds will be used to create and implement an additional 8-workshop series covering additional topics requested by farmers. Additional support services will be funded by SARE and will be independent and complementary to any support services provided through BFRDP funding.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

6 Consultations

Participation Summary

50 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

At the start of this project, PFC reached out to farmers through casual conversations and meetings to determine what farmers were most interested in learning about through this workshop series.  Visual handouts were prepared, with images of potential workshop topics, to enable farmers of all languages to provide input on workshop interests.  Project staff and partners then completed annual interviews with all participating organizations and incubator farmers.  In these interviews, seasonal data was collected and farmers provided additional input on workshop interests.  Based on farmer input, workshop topics were determined to be: Broiler Brooding and Rearing, Broiler Health and Nutrition, Broiler Marketing and Food Safety, Broiler Processing, Introduction to Mushroom Cultivation, Introduction to Raising Goats (farm tour), Introduction to Raising Pigs (farm tour), and Introduction to Beekeeping.  

PFC staff and partners have collected relevant curriculums and resources from NIFTI, SARE and CCE.  These existing resources are being utilized to prepare for this project’s workshop series.  In addition, the Project Lead has been attending virtual classes this winter to increase knowledge and understanding of workshop topics.  As the Project Lead also acts as PFC’s Farm Mentor, participation in these classes will improve mentorship opportunities for PFC’s farmers.  

The project team has been meeting regularly for planning purposes.  Workshops are currently being developed and tailored to PFC’s unique audience.  A demonstration poultry project, to begin in May of 2021, is being developed to provide hands-on learning at PFC.  The project team is coordinating educational tours with partner farms to provide additional opportunities for experiential learning.  The majority of workshops have been scheduled and will take place between April and August of 2021.  PFC has begun promoting its workshop series to farmers via email, website, social media, text messaging, and word of mouth. 

New farmer applications were accepted and reviewed throughout January and PFC is excited to welcome four new incubator farmers and one new community organization for the 2021 season.  Altogether, 6 community organizations and 10 incubator farmers will be participating in farming and educational opportunities at PFC in 2021.

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Project results will be disseminated by PFC and CCE. Results of the proposed project will be both quantitative and qualitative, representing the successes, challenges, and best practices for training PFC’s diverse beginning farmers. Results will be published in a final project report and shared with partner farmers and appropriate partner organizations.

At the conclusion of this project, PFC and CCE will work to share project results with appropriate audiences. PFC will hold a presentation open to farmers and partner organizations to present project results and findings. PFC will also digitally share project findings with NIFTI. Collaborators at CCE will disseminate project results though their network and publications available to CCE and Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops staff. These opportunities include but are not limited to: Small Farms Quarterly, CCE Newsletters, and Erie County Ag News.  Results of this project will be presented by CCE staff at their annual Ag In-Service conference for over 200 extension staff.  Additionally, CCE and PFC may apply to present project findings and best practices at the annual Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) Winter Conference. Through publications and presentations, PFC and CCE will share project results with up to 1,000 people locally working in the agricultural sector.

Through this project, PFC and CCE will create resources that may be useful to other organizations serving similar populations. Resources developed will be shared with NIFTI, SARE, and any relevant partner organizations. These resources may include: lesson plans, surveys, educational handouts, worksheets, demonstration plot guide, mentorship guide, and technical assistance guide. Any resources created will credit Northeast SARE as a funding agency.

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.