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

Progress 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

Project Objectives:

The overarching goals of the Growing Growers program are 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 aims to achieve these goals through the following objectives:

  •  Convene 4 Community of Practice meetings centered around problems of practice for women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ growers in southwestern PA.
    • These meetings will be planned by the 6 core members and partner farmers and organizations and attended by 20 farmers/aspiring farmers
  • Develop and implement a 15 week-long Growing Grower apprenticeship program that will place 4 aspiring farmers with host farmers. 
    • The hosts for the Growing Growers apprenticeship are also core members of the community of practice and Partner Farmers for the project.


The community of practice sessions and the apprenticeship program support 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 will:

  • Identify pressing concerns or barriers for farmers/aspiring farmers 
  • Describe elements of effective apprenticeship opportunities for the targeted farmers

Currently, 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 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 focuses on engagement that centers farmers of diverse backgrounds in farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchanges. The Growing Growers Project will help deepen relationships between this group of individuals from historically marginalized backgrounds in agriculture, and help 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 supports this exchange by engaging farmers in a Community of Practice (Wenger, McDermott, and Scott, 2002) workshop about their problems of practice that they identify and prioritize. This approach allows for self-determination and autonomy, and builds upon the knowledge and expertise inherent to the group, while also supporting opportunities for relatedness, competence, and recognition. The Growing Growers Apprenticeship Program will recruit 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 will help aspiring growers build new network connections, enhance farm production skills/knowledge, and build relationships with other apprentices in the program. 

This project addresses the challenges of diverse farmer food producer representation in Pittsburgh and Southwestern PA and specifically focuses 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 propose Growing Growers Project is the next 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
  • Tacumba Turner - Producer
  • Rafael Vencio - Producer


Materials and methods:

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

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: discussing priorities for Community of Practice Events, coordination and feedback for apprentices, and troubleshooting any problems during growing season and during the winter. 

In order to convene these 4 Community of Practice meetings, it will be essential to cultivate a core community of practice that will include the partner farmers in the project and their lived experiences, opportunities, and challenges. Learning from previous models and experiences, the Growing Growers program will invest in the time 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 is to determine the themes, hosts, and locations of each of the 4 Community of Practice Workshops, and maintaining open communication regarding strengths and growth areas for the Growing Grower Apprentices. These core member planning meetings will be evaluated through formal discussions

Evaluation of Activity 1 will happen through the reflective focus group sessions (about 45 minutes) with the core members and partner farmers. These focus group sessions will happen after each Community of Practice workshop (see below) and include open discussions about effectiveness, usefulness, and areas for improvement or specific conflicts or tensions which arised. Importantly, documenting and describing these aspects of effectiveness provides opportunities to identify common values and values in conflict that could help assure ongoing individual and collective well-being within the community of practice. 

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

The four communities of practice workshops  must be inclusive of ideas from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds but also serve the affinities, interests, and values of the growers who are centered in the learning community. To facilitate planning these designs, Murakami will help facilitate a reflection sessions with the core member planning meetings of the community of practice to help elicit 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 will be 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 have been identified, they will categorized into major theme areas (for example, pest management, water/irrigation management, labor management/team engagement, etc.). Within the core community of practice, partner farms will then endorse theme areas that they are invested in pursuing in Community of Practice Workshops and nominate (or self-nominate) leaders to further develop programming for workshops. The stipends for partner farmers and core members of the community of practice will pay for farmer time engaging in planning sessions and supporting the development of workshops. Murakami, in a role of program coordinator, will be responsible for documenting decision-making processes, communication within the group, and helping secure locations for events and other event planning logistics with the support graduate student employee program support coordinators. 

Evaluation of Activity 2 will happen primarily through feedback forms distributed at the conclusion of each community of practice workshop. Specifically, these forms will elicit 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. Additionally, number of participants in attendance and gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation will be documented through feedback forms and/or sign-in sheets. Contact information will be gathered at these events to support recruitment for the Apprenticeship program and share resources. 

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 will lead development of a 15-week long apprenticeship program and create pathways for recruiting aspiring growers/farmers, match the interested grower with an appropriate partner farmer, and otherwise deepen relationships between growers and enhance knowledge and skills in sustainable agricultural production. 

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

Murakami will lead the creation of the application materials, coordinate with partner farmers to interview and place aspiring growers with a partner farm that matches areas of interest and demographic representation. The first two Community of Practice sessions will help serve as networking opportunities for prospective apprentices. Additionally, recruitment and engagement will happen through partner farmer networks/relationships, and the academic programs at Chatham University in Food Studies and Sustainability. 

Educational plans will be developed and will include clear objectives and strategies for formative assessment opportunities for the apprentices in the program.

The apprentices will be placed at one of the host farms and complete regular work shifts in support of farm production goals, and choose a project area of their choice (e.g., yield monitoring for tomato varieties). The apprentices will have the opportunity to participate in other educational events offered by Chatham University, such as an annual intensive training on Tractor and Small Engine operation. Murakami will support formative evaluations through weekly check-ins with apprentices and host farmers focusing on questions like, where is the apprentice showing improvement and growth? And, what are short term priorities for improving skills? Additionally, these check-ins will emphasize strategies for monitoring mental health of apprentices and farmers. In the event that challenges arise, Murakami will work to facilitate dialogue between apprentices and the host farmers and seek support through resources available at Chatham University.

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

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

This project was designed in collaboration with farmers from historically marginalized and oppressed communities and these individuals are centered and prioritized in the creation of the Core Community of Practice and the apprenticeship program. This project would directly impact the farmer partners all of whom are from historically marginalized backgrounds, and the intention is for the apprenticeships to be offered to women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ farmers. This audience in Southwestern PA and Allegheny in particular is the focus for all proposed project activities.

Additionally, partner farmers of the Growing Growers Program will present their 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. The project lead will coordinate with partner farms and Pasa to develop a relevant workshop, session, or social mixer to help spread the word about the project and explain how others might engage with similar projects in their region or for particular affinity groups.  Particularly, this presentation will include specific reports on the process and approach to facilitating Community of Practice groups and Problem of Practice Sessions. 

Chatham University will provide in-kind or matching funds to support Murakami's travel to the conference in the winter of 2024, as well as apprentices in the Growing Growers project and presenting about the key activities and findings.  Project funds are allocated to support travel for at least two core member partner farmers to represent the project. It is anticipated that a conservative estimate of 20 individuals would be in attendance at this presentation, with a strong likelihood of attracting women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ farmers.

Other findings from the facilitation of the apprenticeship program, convening of the Community of Practice group or other activities from the project will be reported to SARE and may be the subject of peer-reviewed research articles in journals such as Agriculture and Human Values, and Food, Culture, and Society.

Learning Outcomes

7 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 is so far making progress towards achieving, Objective 1: Convene 4, community of practice workshops centered around problems of practice for women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ growers in southwestern PA.

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

Thus far, the following priorities have been established representing key areas where the impacted farmers are learning/more: 

Integrated Pest Management for Brassicas - This community of practice session is planned for 2/27 and will be co-hosted by the partner farm organizations in the Homewood Neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This session will be geared towards urban farmers as a way to share strategies for managing a variety of longstanding pests of Brassica crops in our region (deer, groundhogs, cabbage loopers, army worms) and also emerging pests in our region (Harlequin Beetles). Additionally, the core farmers have identified tomatoes as another key crop around which to build programming and training opportunities through a lens of Integrated Pest Management

Capacity building for Grant Writing and Funding: Core partner farmers have identified skill building in grant writing as a key area of strategic growth. This topic will be explored in future community of practice session (date to be determined) and share resources with farmers, explain some funding opportunities that are specifically geared towards farmer owner/operators, and also explore further coordination amongst partner farmers in the BIRM network and beyond to seek funding from regional foundations and federal sources such as USDA. 

Farmworker/Apprenticeship Training: Our core member farmers either represent for-profit enterprises or non-profit organizations and in the pasts there has been some ongoing tension between how these different stakeholders can be in better coordination. 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, this subgroup of farmers is planning to convene the 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 future of event would be to share plans and layout strategies for formal partnership and coordination to better share resources and also develop more robust opportunities for farmworker training and help close key labor gaps for participating farmers. 



Project Outcomes

3 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

At this stage in the project, three subgroups have emerged that are currently meeting to plan the 4 community of practice sessions that will be supported by the funding for this grant. As described above, these three subgroups are: Integrated Pest Management, Grant Writing Capacity Building, and Farmworker Training and Apprenticeship.

So far there have been two core member planning sessions that have been convened and in these meetings there have some of the following short-term benefits:

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.

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.

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.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Thus far in the project, this assessment feels premature. The first official opportunity for assessment will be following the first Community of Practice event on February 27th.

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.