Growing Growers: Community of Practice and Apprenticeship for Women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ Farmers

Final report for ONE22-425

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2022: $26,356.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Chatham University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Christopher Murakami
Chatham University
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Project Information


The Growing Growers project provided paid apprenticeships for four aspiring growers from underrepresented backgrounds, fostering their skills and connections in sustainable agriculture and developed four community of practice events attended by farmers and farmworkers. The project played a crucial role in strengthening relationships between historically marginalized and underrepresented growers and non-profit organizations and technical service providers in the sustainable agriculture landscape in Pittsburgh, PA. Four community of practice events engaged participants by focusing on themes that were identified by the seven partnering farms in this project: 1) Farmer wellness, 2) Collaboration for Farmer Apprenticeship and Training Opportunities, 3) Storytelling and Grant Writing, and 4) Integrated Pest Management for Brassicas and Nightshades. These events centered women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ farmers and facilitated knowledge exchange, attitude shifts, and peer connections, while also building bridges between growers and support organizations. The Growing Growers project demonstrated the potential of mentorship-based apprenticeships in cultivating diverse sustainable agriculture leaders and strengthening networks within the sector. With refinements and commitment to equity, this model can contribute to building a more just and resilient food system. Outreach included two presentations at regional conferences. The project reached an estimated 55 growers, farmers, or farmworkers and 24 technical service providers through various activities, enhancing collaboration and support within the sustainable agriculture community.

Project Objectives:

The overarching goals of the Growing Growers program were to: 

  1. Deepen relationships between farmers and aspiring farmers from historically under-served and underrepresented demographic groups in Southwestern PA and Allegheny County 
  2. Increase representation and recognition of farmers holding these historically marginalized social identities. 

The program made progress towards these goals through the following objectives:

  •  Convened 4 Community of Practice meetings centered around problems of practice for women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ growers in southwestern PA.
    • These events focused on 1) Apprenticeship opportunities for Urban Agriculture (27 attendees), 2) Integrated Pest Management for Brassicas and Nightshades (21 attendees), 3) Grant Writing and Narrative Building for Farmers (29 attendees), and 4) Farmer Wellness and Well-being (22 attendees). 
  • Implemented a 15 week-long Growing Growers apprenticeship program that placed 4 aspiring farmers with host farmers. 
    • The hosts for the Growing Growers apprenticeship were also core members of the community of practice and Partner Farmers for the project.

The community of practice sessions and the apprenticeship program supported diverse farmer well-being through greater social relationships and networks while directly supporting opportunities for farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing and professional development. Additionally, this project:

  • Identified pressing concerns or barriers for farmers/aspiring farmers which included 1) access to long-term land tenure, 2) affordable healthcare, 3) consistent labor and training, 4) navigating federal and state funding programs, 5) accessing culturally relevant counseling services, and 6) acknowledging unique needs of both farmworkers and farmers. 
  • Described elements of effective apprenticeship opportunities for the targeted farmers. These elements included 1) acknowledging and addressing issues of gender and race-based discrimination or bias; 2) Assuring adequate feedback and training opportunities, 3) equitable and adequate pay, and 4) assuring diverse demographic representation that matches hosts with apprentices.  

Racial diversity in Pennsylvania agriculture is severely limited. The most recent Census of Agriculture found that only 0.68% of farmer owner/operators are non-white, while people of color comprise 38% of the general population (0.84% of farmers were Hispanic/Latino). In Allegheny County where our program is based, this representation diminishes further with the Census of Agriculture reporting no non-white farmers and 23 Hispanic and Latino farmers among the 660 farms reported in 2017. This lack of racial representation can be attributed to inequitable access to land and other resources, as well as lack of trust or bandwidth for federal and state government initiatives, as many BIPOC farmers may choose not to register as such or simply find the process too burdensome. This underrepresentation across demographic groups signifies a potential barrier to sustainable livelihoods and food security for our region’s BIPOC communities, limiting not only the profitability of BIPOC-owned farms, but of our agricultural sector more broadly.

Carolyn Sachs and colleagues (2016) described a set of themes and priorities for assuring equitable opportunities for women farmers in particular and suggested the importance of new opportunities for networking with women farmers and to continue asserting and affirming the identities of women farmers. Diverse representation is vital to the vibrancy and resiliency of our communities and regional food economy. There is limited data available regarding the number of LGBTQ+ farmers in the region. Dentzman and colleagues (2021) adapted new techniques to try and infer the number of farmers in same-sex partnerships through the Ag Census, but the data collection systems themselves limit visibility of queer farmers.

The 2020 Feed Pittsburgh Report on the status of food insecurity in Pittsburgh (the largest municipality in Allegheny County) found that nearly 20% of the population was experiencing some level of food insecurity. Accordingly, this report set the goals of “strengthen[ing] urban agriculture and regional food systems” and “develop[ing] the food system workforce.”

By necessity, these historically marginalized groups (women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ farmers) have often been most innovative in developing pathways to sustainable livelihoods while producing healthy foods and addressing food insecurity. When there is limited access to the means for food production (at the individual or regional scale), there are likely to be differences in food security that align with demographic categories such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. The program prioritizes strong, mutually beneficial relationships between these historically marginalized groups as a pathway to more sustainable livelihoods and allowing for farmer self-determination on the land.

In order to address this historic underrepresentation, as well as the potential mistrust and unmet needs within a diverse farming community, The Growing Growers program focused on engagement that centers farmers of diverse backgrounds in farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchanges. The Growing Growers Project helped deepen relationships between this group of individuals from historically marginalized backgrounds in agriculture and helped increase the visibility and diversify representation of farmers in the Northeast by hosting BIPOC-, women-, and/or LGBTQ-centered farmer-to-farmer learning communities. Specifically, the program supported this exchange by engaging farmers in a Community of Practice (Wenger, McDermott, and Scott, 2002) workshop about the problems of practice that they identified and prioritized. This approach allowed for self-determination and autonomy and built upon the knowledge and expertise inherent to the group, while also supporting opportunities for relatedness, competence, and recognition. The Growing Growers Apprenticeship Program recruited a cohort of 4 aspiring farmers for placements with the partner farmers in the project for a 15-week, paid apprenticeship. Pairing these aspiring farmers with a mentor and host farmer helped aspiring growers build new network connections, enhance farm production skills/knowledge, and build relationships with other apprentices in the program. 

This project addressed the challenges of diverse farmer food producer representation in Pittsburgh and Southwestern PA and specifically focused on individuals pursuing food sovereignty and self-determination through livelihoods on the land.  Practitioners of food sovereignty believe that everyone should have the right to food. Women and people of color are more likely to have the know-how for pursuing food sovereignty, but may be separated from the financial, social, and institutional resources needed to enact or amplify these principles, practices, and ways of being. This proposed project builds upon investments of over $50,000 by Chatham University through the Bio-Intensive, Regenerative, Market Garden (BIRM) Group. The BIRM Group acknowledges the historic discrepancies and inequities for different farmer groups, and has worked together for 2 years, focused on building deeper connections through shared projects, practical farming discussions, site visits, infrastructure improvement projects, and working towards participatory action research. These practitioners came together to determine how to address this inequitable representation in southwest PA, elevate women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ farmers’ voices, and open more equitable pathways to livelihoods for new growers from historically marginalized demographic groups. The Growing Growers Project is a step to make progress towards enhancing farmer representation in Allegheny County and the Northeast.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Raqueeb Ajamu-Osagboro - Producer
  • Indira Alcantara - Producer
  • Elizabeth Metzler
  • Lisa Freeman - Producer
  • Silvan Goddin - Producer
  • Vikki "Ayanna" Jones - Producer
  • Ash Chan - Producer
  • Rafael Vencio - Producer
  • Tacumba Turner (Educator)


Materials and methods:

The Growing Growers Project used a human-centered design approach to project development and management to achieve the two main project objectives. The project's objectives involved training and community building efforts. The section below describes the major activities and engagement strategies used to carry out the project objectives and make progress towards the long-term goals. The project objective diagram shows how the partner farmers were engaged through the core community of practice and played a centered role in both the development of community of practice workshops (Objective 1) and as a host for the apprenticeship of aspiring growers (Objective 2). Based on the program timeline, the first 2 community of practice sessions served as recruitment and engagement sessions for apprentices, opening the core community to include other like-minded growers. The remaining 2 community of practice sessions occurred towards the end of the apprenticeship program, serving as key cohort experiences for apprentices in the Growing Growers Program. This design allowed for strategic opportunities to expand the core community of practice while centering these farmers and recruiting aspiring farmers/growers for participation.


Objective 1: Convene 4 community of practice workshops centered around problems of practice for women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ growers in southwestern PA.

Activity 1: Core member planning meetings: For each of the four community of practice workshops, the core members met about 4-6 times to discuss and finalize the priorities and agenda for Community of Practice Events and serve as an affinity space to share updates or troubleshoot any problems during the growing season and during the winter.

In order to convene these 4 Community of Practice meetings, it was essential to cultivate a core community of practice that included the partner farmers in the project and their lived experiences, opportunities, and challenges. Learning from previous models and experiences, the Growing Growers program  invested time in diverse partner farmers to determine high-leverage problems of practice that are related to unique experiences of farmers from diverse backgrounds and are relevant to the other practitioners. One key role of the core member planning meetings was to determine the themes, hosts, and locations of each of the 4 Community of Practice Workshops and maintain open communication regarding strengths and growth areas for the Growing Grower Apprentices. The core members of the community of practice were supported with stipends to value their time and expertise. It is important to note that sometimes women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ farmers are expected to volunteer their time in developing program and working with others from non-profit organizations. An intentional aspect of this project designed assured that partnering farmers and growers were paid adequately for this labor through the SARE Partnership funding or the BIRM project budget.  

Evaluation of Activity 1 happened through a final survey of core members of the Growing Growers Program. This survey focused on core members reflecting on the overall effectiveness of the project and areas for ongoing improvement. 

Activity 2: Designing and facilitating 4 Community of Practice Workshops. These workshops centered the identified themes and priorities from the core member planning meetings. These events were hosted at locations convenient to the targeted farmers and growers. 

The four communities of practice workshops were inclusive of ideas from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds but also served the affinities, interests, and values of the growers who are centered in the learning community. To facilitate planning these designs, Murakami helped facilitate planning meetings with the core members who developed themes and topics to be the subject of community of practice events. These planning meetings highlighted a collection of major problems of practice that reflect priorities of the farmers engaged in the work of intensive fruit/vegetable production, marketing/distribution, or resource management.

During these sessions it was important to identify specific strength and opportunity areas based on historical problems of practice which have been overcome through innovation, while also identifying unanswered problems of practice. After these opportunities and challenges were identified, they were categorized into major theme areas (for example, collaboration and coordination for urban agriculture apprenticeship, integrated pest management, grant writing and narrative capacity building, and farmer wellness and well-being). Within the core community of practice, partner farms then endorsed theme areas that they were invested in pursuing through Community of Practice Workshops and nominated (or self-nominated) leaders to further develop programming for workshops. The stipends for partner farmers and core members of the community of practice paid for farmer time engaging in planning sessions and supported the development of workshops. Murakami, in a role of program coordinator, was responsible for convening the planning meetings, facilitating the decision-making process, communication within the partner farmers and organizations, and event planning logistics. 

Evaluation of Activity 2 happened primarily through feedback forms distributed at the conclusion of each community of practice workshop. Specifically, these forms elicited feedback in the following areas: 1) event effectiveness, 2) new practices learned, 3) new connections made, 4) sense of belonging within community of practice farmers/growers, and 5) ideas for improvement. 

Objective 2: Develop a 15 week-long Growing Grower apprenticeship program that will place 4 aspiring farmers with host, partner farmers 

In order to achieve the second Growing Growers project objective, Murakami led the development of a 15-week long apprenticeship program and created pathways for recruiting aspiring growers/farmers, matched the interested grower with an appropriate partner farmer, and otherwise deepened relationships between growers and enhance knowledge and skills in sustainable agricultural production. 

Activity 3: Growing Growers Apprenticeship Program. This included developing an application, placement, and training program for interested aspiring farmers/growers from historically disadvantaged backgrounds in agriculture. 

Murakami led the creation of the application materials, coordinated with partner farmers to interview and place aspiring growers with a partner farm that matches areas of interest and demographic representation. The apprentices were placed at one of the host farms and completed regular work shifts in support of farm production goals and chose a project area of their choice (e.g., yield monitoring for tomato varieties). 

The first two Community of Practice sessions helped serve as networking opportunities for prospective apprentices and help generate a framework for key aspects of this mini-apprenticeship program. For example, the first community of practice session focused on convening farmers and non-profit organizations to develop opportunities for coordination and collaboration to enhance urban agriculture apprenticeship and learning opportunities. Part of the key take away was that focusing on historically marginalized farmers in this program may justify an intentional way to reflect and process experiences related to gender, race, and other aspects of social identities as they may arise during the apprenticeship program. This informed the development of optional Growing Grower cohort debrief meetings for the participating aspiring growers in the mini-apprenticeship program. These meetings were facilitated by Murakami and also supported ongoing formative evaluations with apprentices and host farmers focusing on questions like, where is the apprentice showing improvement and growth? In the event that challenges arise, Murakami worked to facilitate dialogue between apprentices and the host farmers and seek support through resources available at Chatham University.

Evaluation of activity 3 happened through end of program exit interviews with apprentices and the host farmer. These exit interviews elicited feedback on overall effectiveness, strengths and accomplishments, and areas for continuous improvement (for apprentices and for the overall program).

Research results and discussion:

The objectives of this project were primarily focused on education and outreach. The results and impacts of this project are shared in subsequent sections of the report. 

Research conclusions:

The Growing Growers project successfully achieved its primary objectives of developing a mini apprenticeship program and fostering relationships through community of practice events with farmers, aspiring farmers, agriculture educators, and technical service providers. The project focused on creating a supportive network for historically marginalized farmers, including women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ individuals, ensuring that their unique needs were met and providing opportunities for enhanced recognition and representation in the sustainable agriculture sector.

The mini apprenticeship program provided paid opportunities for four aspiring growers from underrepresented backgrounds to gain hands-on experience in agroecological practices under the guidance of experienced mentors at urban agriculture organizations. Interviews revealed that apprentices experienced significant growth in practical knowledge, self-efficacy, and commitment to community-based food systems, while mentors emphasized the program's role in fostering a pipeline of diverse leaders in the field.

Alongside the apprenticeship program, the Growing Growers project organized four impactful community of practice events, engaging 69 participants in total (55 farmers/growers, 24 Agriculture educators or Technical service providers). These sessions focused on critical topics such as farmer wellness, collaboration, storytelling, grant writing, and general support. The events received highly positive feedback from attendees, with the sessions received all excellent or good ratings on anonymous evaluations and attendees.

The success of these community of practice events highlights the Growing Growers project's effectiveness in establishing a support network for marginalized farmers and elevating their voices within the sustainable agriculture community. Participants valued the opportunities for knowledge exchange, attitude shifts, and peer support, as evidenced by testimonials emphasizing the profound impact of the workshops on their personal and professional growth.

By prioritizing the needs and experiences of women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ farmers, the Growing Growers project has taken significant strides in creating a more inclusive, equitable, and resilient sustainable agriculture sector in Pittsburgh, PA. The combination of targeted apprenticeships and community-building efforts has demonstrated the potential of investing in diverse talent and strengthening networks to address systemic barriers and create meaningful change.

For cooperating farms and organizations, embracing the Growing Growers model and actively participating in similar initiatives can yield numerous benefits, including access to a skilled and dedicated labor pool, improved workplace culture, enhanced community connections, and the opportunity to contribute to a more just and sustainable food system. As the project moves forward, the team has identified areas for continuous improvement, such as refining the apprenticeship structure, expanding recruitment efforts, and further tailoring community of practice events to the evolving needs of marginalized farmers. By openly sharing insights, best practices, and tools through outreach activities, the Growing Growers leaders aim to inspire broader adoption of this inclusive and empowering approach within the sustainable agriculture sector.

The Growing Growers project has successfully established itself as a catalyst for positive change, providing an approach for supporting and uplifting historically marginalized farmers through apprenticeships, community-building, and targeted resources. By centering the voices and experiences of women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ growers, the project has made significant progress in creating a more equitable, resilient, and vibrant sustainable agriculture community.

Participation Summary
8 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

7 Consultations
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

55 Farmers participated
24 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

Murakami and Freeman Slides.pptx

Attendees from community of practice workshop on apprenticeships Farmer WellnessFarmer Wellness Session

This project was designed in collaboration with farmers from historically marginalized and oppressed communities, and these individuals were centered and prioritized in the creation of the Core Community of Practice and the apprenticeship program. This project directly impacted the farmer partners all of whom are from historically marginalized backgrounds, and the intention was for the apprenticeships to be offered to women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ farmers. This audience in Southwestern PA and Allegheny in particular was the focus for all proposed project activities. Overall, 69 individuals participated in the 4 community of practice workshops supported by the growing growers program. This includes 55 farmers/growers/farmworkers and 24 agricultural educators or technical service providers. In a final reflection survey, one of the partner farmers remarked, "BIRM facilitated events and workshops are by far the most diverse gathering of farmers from the Pittsburgh area! BIRM has created a lovely space for individuals to feel seen, safe, and heard." 

Additionally, partner farmers of the Growing Growers Program presented the findings at a regional farming conference such as Pasa Sustainable Agriculture’s annual conference, one of the largest gatherings of sustainable farmers and food system advocates in our region. Lisa Freeman and Chris Murakami facilitated a presentation that was attended by 52 individuals. This presentation focused on elevating Lisa's approach to grantwriting and narrative building, which was also a chance to highlight some highlights from our approach to the community of practice workshops in the growing growers grant. This workshop was well attended, received strong reviews on the conference survey, and we have been encouraged to present next year, particularly to meet the demand for BIPOC centered content. One of the anonymous survey responses from the Pasa conference stated: "I loved that it was BIMPOC led. I love that it was actually applicable to urban growers because we are often neglected." Additionally, another attendee noted, "I loved how the two speakers gave some background information on their ancestors. I loved how Miss. Lisa was truthful, vulnerable, honest, open, and extremely helpful. Both speakers taught me a lot. I also enjoyed how the people there later engaged with one another after the session." This feedback, along with overall high ratings, suggested the impact of the presentation, the importance of BIMPOC representation at conferences like Pasa, and ongoing need for programming to demystify the grant writing process and encourage historically marginalized growers to share their stories. Project funds were initially budgeted to support travel and conference registration, but other scholarships and funding was available to support farmer and project PI travel. 

Murakami presented at the annual Dimensions of Political Ecology (Slides available here: Political urban agroecology in Pittsburgh_ Reflections on pedagogical practice) gathering in Lexington KY in February 2024 and described the role of the Growing Growers Project approach and his community engaged scholarship and pedagogy in a graduate level urban agriculture course. Importantly, the presentation described a pedagogical philosophy that centers history, culture, and politics along with the ecological understanding that is necessary for preparing the next generation of urban farmers. 

Future findings related to the overall approach and philosophy of the Growing Growers Project are in preparation and will target peer-reviewed publication in journals like JAFSCD, Food Culture and Society, and Agriculture and Human Values. 

Learning Outcomes

55 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

This project focused on making progress towards two Objectives

  • Objective 1: Convening 4 community of practice workshops centered around problems of practice for women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ growers in southwestern PA.
  • Objective 2: Develop a 15 week-long Growing Grower apprenticeship program that will place 4 aspiring farmers with host, partner farmers 

The following description includes a synthesis of key areas where the Growing Growers program has strengthened network relationships for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ growers in Pittsburgh. 

The first phase of these community of Practice workshops was to establish a core group of growers which includes the 7 farm partners who met regularly throughout the project to determine their key priorities for establishing the topics/themes of the four community of practice workshops.

The following workshops and priorities were established. Together, they represent key areas where the impacted farmers are learning and had an opportunity to organize community workshops to meet their needs by design.  

Workshop 1) Integrated Pest Management for Brassicas - This community of practice session was hosted on 3/17/23 and was co-hosted by the partner farm organizations nearby, Oasis Farm and Fishery (Tacumba Turner) and Shiloh Farms (Grow Pittsburgh). This session was geared towards urban farmers as a way to share strategies for managing a variety of longstanding pests of Brassica and nightshade crops in our region (deer, groundhogs, cabbage loopers, army worms) and also emerging pests in our region (Harlequin Beetles). This session was attended by 22 farmers and growers and technical service providers. There were 16 anonymous event evaluations collected at this event, and all but two rated the event as overall excellent and 100 percent rated it as good or excellent. One of the respondents stated, "It was wonderful to find so many local growers, there are so many urban farms I didn't know about and am looking forward to learning more about. I felt so connected even though we have different setups because we're dealing with similar issues." 

Workshop 2) Capacity building for Grant Writing and Funding: Core partner farmers identified skill building in grant writing as a key area of strategic growth. This topic was explored in a community of practice session on March 31, 2023 and included shared programming with Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, the National Young Farmers Coalition and featured Flip Zang, Chris Murakami, Jazmyn Rudolph, and Lisa Freeman as speakers.  The event explained some funding opportunities that are specifically geared towards farmer owner/operators, and also explored further coordination amongst partner farmers in the BIRM network and beyond to seek funding from regional foundations and federal sources such as USDA and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The workshop was attended by 29 farmers or food systems workers in the region. This workshop presented opportunities for the participating farmers to build deeper relationships and opportunities with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, and The Food Trust. There were 18 evaluations collected at the event and 100% rated the event as excellent or good.  One of the attendees responded that as a result of the workshop: "I feel more empowered and equipped to navigate the grant writing process and tell compelling stories about my urban farming journey"

Workshop 3) Farmworker/Apprenticeship Training: Our core member farmers either represent for-profit enterprises or non-profit organizations and in the past there has been some ongoing tension between how these different stakeholders can be in better coordination. On February 24, 2023, a community of practice session was held at Chatham University's Eden Hall Campus and was attended by 30 farmers and food systems workers in the region. This SARE project has allowed the opportunity for this conversation to occur and allow these different types of farmers to envision the ways in which they can work together in more mutually beneficial ways. Specifically, meeting convened key organizations in our region who have a shared stake in farmer training and apprenticeship programs for diverse vegetable production. Many entities are operating in these spaces but with limited coordination. The goal of this event was to share plans and layout strategies for formal partnership and coordination to better share resources and also develop more robust opportunities for farm worker training and help close key labor gaps for participating farmers. One new partnership with Manchester Bidwell emerged from this workshop, and new curricula will be developed Summer 2024 to support a registered training for urban agriculture workforce development funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 

Workshop 4) Farmer Wellness and Well-being: The core member farmers proposed that the last community of practice session focus on strategies for supporting farmer mental health and wellness. The session was hosted on January 22, 2024, in the Homewood Neighborhood of Pittsburgh and there were 17 farmers who attended this workshop. This session focused on farmers in the region sharing strategies such as crop planning to allow for seasonal breaks, and other mindfulness and well-being activities to help manage stress. This workshop was planned in collaboration with Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, National Young Farmers Coalition, and Megan Gallagher from Farms. As a result of this event, additional funding is now available through the National Young Farmers Coalition to support ongoing programming between Pasa Sustainable Agriculture and the BIRM project in support of farmer wellness.

Objective 2: Develop a 15 week-long Growing Grower apprenticeship program that will place 4 aspiring farmers with host, partner farmers 

Growing Growers funding also supported the placement of four apprentices for a 15-week (10 hour a week) field placement at four different farms within the farmer partner network. These aspiring growers were placed at Eden Hall Farm, Shiloh Farm, Oasis Farm and Fishery, and Hilltop Urban Farms. The apprentices all reported positive experiences and authored ongoing interest in learning about food production and community engagement through food systems work. The apprentices were all women, three held identities as LBTQ+, and two identified as Black. Apprentices and hosts also participated in 4 dialogues and reflection sessions during the 15 week learning experience. These sessions were facilitated by Murakami and utilized an Intergroup Dialogue framework that allowed for opportunities for shared understanding regarding some the stresses and experiences encountered during the apprenticeship program. This included some dialogue around tensions regarding race that sometimes surface in urban agriculture contexts as well as gender and the range of micro-aggressions that women farmers face in the workplace.

The Growing Growers apprenticeship program provided an impactful opportunity for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ aspiring growers to gain hands-on experience and mentorship at urban agriculture organizations over a 15-week period. Interviews with hosts, all of whom were women with half identifying as LGBTQ, and apprentices, all women with half identifying as BIPOC and three of four as LGBTQ+, revealed several key strengths of the program. Apprentices gained valuable skills through hands-on learning experiences, from transplanting and pest management to harvesting and value-added processing. Supportive mentorship from experienced growers provided rich context and deeper understanding of sustainable agriculture practices. The program also facilitated meaningful community engagement opportunities, allowing participants to share their knowledge with local youth and families. These experiences built confidence and inspired ongoing pursuits in agriculture and community-based work. The Growing Growers program demonstrates the transformative potential of hands-on, paid apprenticeships in supporting a new generation of diverse growers and leaders in the food system.

Project Outcomes

4 Grants applied for that built upon this project
6 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project utilized a communities of practice approach to identify areas of interest and need for the partner farmers. As described above, these four subgroups were: 1) Integrated Pest Management, 2) Grant Writing Capacity Building, 3) Farmworker Training and Apprenticeship, and 4) Farmer Wellness and well-being.

There were 5 core member planning sessions that were convened for this project and each of the four events had planning meetings focused on developing the agenda, logistics, recruitment and facilitation for the 4 community of practice sessions. Some of the outcomes of this grant project include priorities and coordinated action associated with the identified priority areas:

1) The realized knowledge gap in this region wherein there is not a formal integrated pest management network that can help growers be aware of regional pest issues as they arise during the growing season. As part of future outcomes of the community of practice sessions on integrated pest management, the partner farms hope to establish strategies for communicating about these issues and may be in a position to further utilize resources to build a communication network like this. As a result of this project, a Discord channel was developed for Urban Farmers to share tips, offer resources, and notify others in their area about challenges with pests. Currently there are 41 members of the Pittsburgh Urban Farming Community Channel. 

2) The Grant Writing and Capacity building subgroup has generated a series of ideas for building a regional calendar that can alert farmers of funding opportunities when they arise so that they can be a good position for competitive proposals. Additionally, there is farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing occurring regarding the types of registrations that farmers may need to have in place in order to be eligible for certain types of loans or federal funds. The development and delivery of this content at the workshop was well-received and has allowed new opportunities for involved farmers with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council and possible collaborations with the Food Trust and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. At the upcoming Pasa Sustainable Agriculture conference, PI Murakami and partner farmer Lisa Freeman will co-lead a workshop sharing about the SARE Partnership Grant and also continue develop affinity spaces for women, BIMPOC, and LGBTQ+ farmers to help enhance support and encouragement to seek funding for farming and food system projects. As a result of the Growing Growers Grant, there are new opportunities to develop an Urban Farming cohort that will launch in the Fall of 2024 for a Market Readiness Class through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Grant that will continue to support the unique needs of women and BIPOC growers as they develop business models and learn to navigate and access federal grant programs. 

3) The apprenticeship and farmer training subgroup has realized that within the partner farms of this grant, they represent some key stakeholders that have previously been acting independently in spaces related to farmer training in our region. Specifically, this subgroup includes Chatham University, Grow Pittsburgh, Hilltop Urban Farm, and Oasis Farm and Fishery. While these relationships are not entirely new, this grant provides a novel context in which to explore new partnerships and coordinated efforts with entities like Pasa, Manchester Bidwell, and Carnegie Mellon University. As a result, these coordinated efforts have the potential to form a more robust network in a better position to deliver meaningful training opportunities for new and aspiring growers with a variety of entry-points. Additionally, these efforts are being led by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ farmers and provide key recognition and leadership opportunities which may serve to engage and recruit more diverse farmers. While these new collaborations were already funded either through internal university allocations or existing grants, the SARE Partnership grant allowed for opportunities to strengthen those relationships. Additionally, focused engagement with developing more robust training and educational offerings served as a key component of a multicultural scholars grant that was submitted to the USDA and is currently under review. 

4) Farmer Wellness and Well-being: There were several categories of support that were identified at this event that include social support, clinical support (i.e., therapy), and technical training (body movement trainings for farmers). This event helped establish a place where growers could be intentional about caring for their bodies. During the event, one of the farmer attendees noted that they were physically tired and tired of accepting the pain in their bodies as normal. Having the support of a community to help learn about new strategies for caring for their body is a key step in positively impacting farmer well-being. Additionally, this workshop helped further identify a key need in farmer conflict mediation and mental health support. Many attendees explained that it is sometimes financially prohibitive to find access to therapists or mental healthcare providers that match their demographics and understand the unique stresses experienced by farmers and farmworkers. This workshop helped further describe that need for farmers and farmworkers and the region. 

As a result of this SARE Partnership Grant, these new partnerships with businesses/organizations have been developed:

1) Veggies N'At catering that provided food for three of the four events

2) Pasa Sustainable Agriculture - Russell Thorsen, Farmer Outreach Specialist. Russell has helped plan and host all four Community of Practice sessions and is an attendee at core planning meetings.

3) National Young Farmers Coalition - Flip Zang and Adrienne Nelson have helped co-plan, co-host two of the four community of practice workshops. Additionally, Murakami helped co-host at NYFC event focusing on Agriculture Commons advocacy in the area.

4) Megan Gallagher - Farms - Megan volunteered to help plan the Brassica and Nightshade IPM Community of Practice workshop and the upcoming farmer wellness workshop

5) Diarra Imani - Diarra led a mindfulness and grounding exercise for the upcoming community of practice session on farmer wellness.

6) Jazmyn Rudolph - What's Growing LLC. Jazmyn co-led the grantwriting and narrative building project and is a collaborator for forthcoming potential contracts with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to support grant writing capacity building for historically underserved farmers

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Overall, the Growing Growers Partnership grant sought to enhance opportunities for networking, collaboration, and learning opportunities for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ Farmers in Southwestern PA. In this regard, the Growing Growers project was successful in relying upon a communities of practice framework and farmer-to-farmer knowledge share approach to deliver three, well-attended workshops and supported 4 aspiring growers from historically underrepresented backgrounds in a 15-week apprenticeship program during the summer of 2023.

Growing Growers Apprenticeship: 

Initially, we had envisioned the apprenticeship as a way to have growers placed with partner host farmers in ways that matched their social identities. Knowing that for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ growers, sometimes farm work can be actively hostile, the hope was matching interested apprentices with growers who shared their social identities would help support affinity and identity building. While this was attempted for the summer program, this did not occur for all of our apprentices. One of the apprentices who identifies as Black, Queer, and cis-gendered woman was initially planned to work with another Black-led urban farm, but ultimately worked in a white-led urban farm organization. While the apprentice and host both reported overall favorable experiences, the reflection interviews after the growing season highlighted some considerable tensions, specific micro-aggressions and opportunities for growth and change. This highlights the importance for aspiring growers who hold historically marginalized identities to be placed in mentorship/work opportunities where their identities are reflected. The unfortunate reality is that may not always be possible. Additionally, there were some examples of women apprentices experiencing and expressing discontent with macho/male culture that detracted from affinity building opportunities for non-male farmers. What is key to reflect upon are the strategies for evaluation and assessment that assure that farmers from historically marginalized backgrounds have the trust to be open and transparent about working through these sorts of conflicts. In this way, this project's use of open dialogue, shared accountability, and a foundation of trust allowed for these sorts of issues to be worked through productively in ways that can minimize harm and open-up future possibilities for learning, growth and development. With this in mind, one of the BIPOC women participants in the Growing Growers program conducted some of the end of program evaluation interviews and help assure that this important feedback was delivered for the program and other similar programs. 

Despite these significant strengths, interviews also revealed areas for improvement and growth. The program's flexibility allowed host sites to create tailored positions, but sometimes led to inconsistency in expectations and experiences. Clearer parameters and benchmarks could ensure participants gain intended farming skills. Hosts noted the importance of balancing flexibility with structure to optimize learning outcomes.

Timing the program during peak summer posed challenges for busy host sites to fully engage in mentorship. One host suggested offering the program in spring or fall, and scheduling meetings on evenings or weekends to improve participation. Interviews also revealed gaps between classroom learning and the physical and emotional demands of farming as a career. Hosts and the program could better prepare apprentices through clear communication of expectations and realities.

A host emphasized the critical need to focus on equity and access beyond gender and race and include economic status. They see potential in expanding the program to more community members and ensuring paid opportunities to gain farming skills. Hosts discussed the value of a more extensive matching process between hosts and apprentices to align interests and needs, suggesting an interview and ranking system similar to other apprenticeship programs. A participant expressed a desire for more interaction with other host sites and apprentices to enhance learning and support. Coordinating visits to other sites could foster a stronger cohort experience.

Looking forward, hosts offered suggestions for strengthening the program:
- Clarify scope of work and priorities for each host site
- Standardize expectations while allowing some flexibility to meet diverse needs
- Explore partnerships to expand participant pool with more emphasis outside of academic institutions
- Advocate for fair apprentice compensation (greater than the $15/hr rate)

With refinements to program structure and an unwavering commitment to equity, the Growing Growers apprenticeship can deepen its impact in the region's food system and in the lives of aspiring growers. By providing transformative hands-on experiences, supportive mentorship, and opportunities for community engagement, the program is cultivating a new generation of diverse leaders in sustainable agriculture. Moving forward, similar projects should continue utilizing approaches that are informed by best practices in supporting inclusion and belonging, particularly for socially disadvantaged farmers/farm workers. Additionally, the apprenticeship program would have benefited from having more funding to compensate apprentices for additional time as a way to gain more experience and support livelihoods/incomes. It was a challenge for apprentices to learn as much as possible with only 10 hours per week during a 15 week season. Logistically, it was difficult to convene both the apprentices and the hosts for the reflection sessions during the growing season. This can be addressed in future models but having some compensation or incentive for host farmers to attend/co-facilitate reflection sessions, though ultimately this seemed like a challenge of finding the time during the peak of the growing season.

Community of Practice Sessions: 

The Community of Practice sessions were designed and effectively carried out emphasizing the value and importance of farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange and also with the accountability for building spaces that specifically center women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ Farmers. The SARE Partnership grant was conceptualized with this in mind, even though it is led by PI Murakami who identifies as a straight, white passing, cis-gender man. The overall goals and intention of cultivating alternative learning and farm community spaces for individuals who hold non-dominant identities was openly discussed as a way to assure accountability where possible. These workshops focused on wellness, apprenticeship, storytelling and grant writing, and collaboration in agriculture.

The "Cultivating Farmer Wellness" workshop addressed the complex challenges farmers face during the demanding growing season. With 9 participants, the satisfaction rate was 89% excellent and 11% good. Attendees appreciated the evidence-based strategies for stress management, self-care, and effective communication techniques. One participant shared, "This workshop provided me with actionable strategies to address unmet needs and effectively manage stress, leading to profound personal growth."

The workshop on "Opportunities for Collaboration in Agriculture Apprenticeships" brought together 15 researchers, educators, and agricultural practitioners. The satisfaction rate was 47% excellent and 47% good. Participants engaged in scholarly discourse exploring collective impact, social capital, and systems thinking in agriculture's evolving landscape. A representative from Bidwell Training Center, an adult workforce development training school in Pittsburgh, shared, "Bidwell Training Center... has been designing a new program focused on indoor and outdoor food production. This work is being funded by a Department of Labor grant, which was awarded to the school last year. Taking part in the Growing Growers session at Chatham's Eden Hall campus was an essential step in building professional relationships with farmers and organizations where our students may be placed for externship, and ultimately work upon graduation."

The "Storytelling and Grant Writing for Urban Farmers" workshop united 18 urban farmers, community leaders, and agricultural enthusiasts. The satisfaction rate was 100% (18 excellent and good ratings). Participants learned to craft compelling narratives and strategic grant proposals. One testimonial highlighted, "I feel more empowered and equipped to navigate the grant writing process and tell compelling stories about my urban farming journey."

The wellness workshop aimed to provide support for farmers during the peak stress of the season. Attendees valued the opportunity to form connections with local farmers and shared similar struggles. One participant mentioned, "I value knowing I will have community during the peak stress of the season. Knowing we all have similar struggles."

Overall, the Growing Growers workshops fostered connectivity, knowledge acquisition, attitude shifts, and skill development among participants. The workshops created a vibrant, collaborative, and empowered community, providing valuable resources, knowledge, and skills for participants to thrive in their varied agricultural endeavors.


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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.