Refugee Farm Worker Training Program

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Adrianna Vargo
Local Food Hub

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons, berries (other), berries (brambles)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, peppers, radishes (culinary), tomatoes, turnips


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, irrigation, organic fertilizers, conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: botanical pesticides, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, mulches - living, physical control, mulching - plastic, prevention, row covers (for pests), sanitation, smother crops, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, employment opportunities, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    Local Food Hub proposes the creation of a Refugee Farm Worker Training Program that will equip recent refugees with agriculture and employment skills through an intensive, hands-on training and education curriculum. In addition to addressing the employment needs of our country's newest residents, the program will also lead to the production of more healthy food, the development of valuable educational materials, and the creation of a skilled farm labor workforce – one of the primary hurdles faced by small farms in our region. Partnering with the local branch of the International Rescue Committee, Local Food Hub will develop a six-month, employment-based training course based at our Educational Farm in Scottsville, VA. The program will include all aspects of organic vegetable production and be supplemented with classroom training and field trips to area farms. This comprehensive learning experience will provide participants with valuable exposure to regional agriculture and forge connections between refugees and potential farm employers. Upon completion of the program, Local Food Hub will facilitate job placements for refugees within the 75+ small, family farms that currently partner with our organization. Local Food Hub's Educational Farm is also engaged in the production of educational materials, growing guides, and certified organic plant starts, all of which are made available to partner producers in our network. Through production on the farm, participants in the Refugee Farm Worker Training Program will be instrumental in helping to develop and create these resources that help local farmers increase productivity and profitability on their farms. The fruits and vegetables produced by participants in this program will be funneled into the institutional marketplace, with an emphasis on schools, and food bank donations

    Project objectives from proposal:


    1. Create a specialized labor force trained in sustainable agriculture practices that can contribute to the production of healthy local food in Central Virginia.
    2. Establish connections and mutually beneficial relationships between existing farmers and a new population of refugee farmers in need of employment, stability and integration into the community.
    3. Improve access to healthy, local food for schools and food banks in Central Virginia.

    Approach and Methods
    1. Create a specialized labor force trained in sustainable agriculture practices that can contribute to the production of healthy local food in Central Virginia.

    a. Work with the International Rescue Committee's Charlottesville branch to screen and select 4-6 program participants. Successful candidates will have had some level of agricultural experience in their country of origin and an interest in pursuing agricultural work or entrepreneurship in Central Virginia. Local Food Hub staff will conduct informational sessions at the IRC office and hold working interviews at the Educational Farm. In this first season, we anticipate training 4-6 individuals, with intended expansion in subsequent years after the curriculum has been field-tested.

    b. Develop a six-month course curriculum, to include written and hands-on training materials, for an employment-based training program from April to September. Topics will include: greenhouse production and maintenance, farm safety, specialty crops grown in Virginia, basics of organic production, planting techniques, weed and insect control, irrigation set-up, pruning and trellising, harvesting, post-harvest handling, GAP and on-farm food safety, season extension, general farm maintenance, and employer-employee expectations for success. The purpose of the curriculum will be to provide regionally specific skills and information on crops, tools, and techniques to individuals with existing agricultural experience, thus equipping them with valuable skills needed by local farms.

    c. Provide a diverse and productive training ground, with 15-20 different crops, to offer skill-based instruction in all aspects of basic farm work. Local Food Hub has been granted the use of a 75-acre certified organic vegetable farm in Albemarle County. This resource will serve as a “training ground” in sustainable crop production. As the program will be taking place on an actual working farm, participants will receive real-world experience and their work will be held to high standards given that most of the produce will be distributed into the wholesale marketplace and labeled as “Certified Organic”.

    2. Establish connections and mutually beneficial relationships between existing farmers and a new population of farmers in need of employment, stability and integration into the community.

    a. Coordinate a field-trip component of the farm worker training where participants visit area farms to enhance learning opportunities and develop potential employer – employee connections. Local Food Hub works with over 70 small, family farms through its distribution hub. From this group of farms, we will choose 6 farms for monthly field trips / training sessions. Farms will be chosen based on their diversity of crops, livestock, and sustainable practices. Each three- hour field trip will include a farm tour, demonstrations from the host farmer, and a 1-hour hands-on session to provide both the trainees and the host farmer with a sense of the workflow and productivity potential.

    b. Facilitate work placements on area farms by matching trained workers with farms in need of labor. A successful farm worker training program will allow us to facilitate a flow of skilled labor onto area farms. We maintain regular communication with our partner producers - through on-going purchasing, farm visits, meetings and workshops, a quarterly newsletter, and end-of-year surveys. We are well poised to educate our partner farmers about the program, maintain a list of program graduates as well as farms in need of labor, and proactively make these connections.

    c. Create technical resources, production guides, and other educational materials for use by existing farmers. As a non-profit focused on supporting farmers in the wholesale marketplace, we have found that these educational services are crucial to the success and growth of our Partner Producers. Local Food Hub's Educational Farm serves as a foundation for these support services, which take the form of production guides, tool and technique demonstrations, and access to certified organic starter plants. The creation of these resources would be an additional output of the Refugee Farm Worker Training Program and would be made available to the wider farming community.

    3. Improve access to healthy, local food for schools and food banks in Central Virginia.

    Tailor crop selection and production at the Educational Farm to the wholesale institutional market – specifically schools and food banks. In addition to farm worker training, Local Food Hub also aggregates and distributes local food to more than 50 public and private schools. We will tailor food production at the Educational Farm to meet the wholesale fruit and vegetable needs of our regional schools and food banks, and then distribute this food through our distribution services.
    Outreach Plan - Strategic Partnerships
    Local Food Hub has substantial connections within the local agricultural and non-profit sector, as well as with government agencies, that will serve to disseminate project results. Our intention is for the Farm Worker Training Program (FWTP) to be an ongoing annual program, thus extending the outreach opportunities. Results of the initial year would be presented in a variety of formats.

    1. Program brochure that describes the FWTP, including details on the curriculum, participants, and overall goals and objectives. This would be used to recruit additional participants, educate potential employers, and serve as an introductory model to other organizations interested in implementing a similar program.

    2. Power point presentation to be presented at a Virginia Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Coalition Meeting. These meetings bring together individuals from both the public and private sector and are ideal venues to reach a large and relevant audience.

    3. Presentation at Local Food Hub's 2013 winter meeting of Partner Producers to summarize results of the program and encourage the more than 50 farmers in attendance to consider hiring graduates of the FWTP.

    4. Local Food Hub website and blog, are effective vehicles for educating and engaging a wide range of community members and will be used to document the progress of the FWTP.

    In order to develop and implement the Farm Worker Training Program, Local Food Hub will work closely with several community partners in both the public and private sector.

    1. The International Rescue Committee will help to identify and screen applicants, provide translation services and English classes in basic agricultural vocabulary, and facilitate work placement for program graduates.

    2. The Virginia Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Coalition will facilitate dissemination of project results and serve as a reference for curriculum development.

    3. The VA Employment Commission (Agricultural Placement Office) will have input on the content of the training and facilitate work placement for program graduates.

    4. Local Food Hub will meet with representatives of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank to determine the best crops for donation purposes.

    5. Local Food Hub will meet with representatives of area school systems to determine the best crops to grow for use in school cafeterias and snack programs.

    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.