Growing Growers for Greater Kansas City: Improving Skills for Sustainable Local Food Production and Marketing
The Growing Growers Training program was established in 2003 and completed its first year in 2004. Eleven apprentices completed a full season on seven host farms. A list of core competencies for market gardeners was developed in consultation with growers and a curriculum of workshops, farm tours, one-on-one training, and self-directed learning activities was implemented. Text resources complemented each subject matter area. In addition to the apprentices, over 100 new and experienced growers participated in 13 training events during the course of the year. Apprentices and host farmers indicated major benefits from the program, and plan to continue to participate next year.
Short-term outcomes include measurable numbers of: 1) New producers, either participating in the project’s training program, or establishing farm operations to produce for the Kansas City (KC) markets; 2) Existing producers improving the economic viability of their operations using sustainable agriculture techniques learned under the project. Intermediate outcomes will include measurable numbers of producers satisfying demand for locally grown farm products in the KC metro area. This will be reflected in increasing volumes of products reaching consumers through various marketing channels. Beneficiaries will primarily include growers (who will have more profitable farms), businesses (restaurants and markets) involved in meeting consumer demand for local farm products, and area consumers who will have increased availability of high quality, local farm products.
The training program was initiated in 2003 and completed its first full season in 2004. The core of the program is farmer-directed training in sustainable and organic market gardening, conducted through apprenticeships and complemented by workshops on a series of topics for both new and experienced growers. All project activities, particularly at the outset, were conducted in close consultation with the Advisory Board, made up of representatives of the cooperating institutions, community organizations, and local growers (Annex 1). The project is fortunate to have a dynamic part-time manager who is also a market gardener in the Kansas City metro area, and who has brought a strong vision and energy to project implementation.
At the outset, a project brochure and website were developed (www.growinggrowers.org) and extensive outreach was done using partner mailing lists, a listserv (email@example.com), press releases, visits to farmers markets, surveys and meetings to identify potential host farmers and apprentices in the Kansas City food shed (roughly defined as within a 100 mile radius of Kansas City). Program application procedures and guidelines were developed and posted on the website, and by early 2004, a set of would-be host farmers and apprentices was identified. Annex 2 lists apprentices and the host farms that they trained on in 2004. Of 12 apprentices who started, 11 continued through the growing season, and 8 completed the program requirement of attending 80% of training workshops. During the course of the 2003 and 2004, the Growing Growers Training program organized 12 workshops, farm tours or training events (Annex 3) to address specific needs of new and experienced market gardeners in a wide range of subject matter areas. Total registration at these training events was over 450, with in excess of 100 individual trainees. Evaluations of all training events were routinely obtained from participants, and were consistently very favorable, but with suggestions for improvement. Feedback from program activities in 2004 is being used to shape training activities for the coming year.
A list of core competencies (Annex 5) was developed in consultation with experienced growers and the Advisory Board, and a curriculum of training activities was developed, including hands-on (apprentice work experience), one-on-one (in-depth attention to specific topics by host farmers), workshops (already listed; Annex 3), printed resources (Annex 4) and apprentice-directed study areas. Apprentice confidence and knowledge of each area of competency was assessed (self-assessment) prior to the initiation of the program, and again at wrap-up meeting at the end of the season. Apprentices registered large gains in perceived confidence and competence in all areas by the end of the season (Annex 5).
At the wrap-up meeting, held October 30, 2004, host farmers and apprentices provided feedback on program development and implementation and made suggestions for the coming year. A checklist was used to guide separate discussions among host farmers and apprentices prior to a group discussion. Of the host farmers, all reported a favorable experience with the program, and 6 of 7 intend to continue next year, either with current interns pursuing a second-year apprenticeship, or with new apprentices. In one case, Doolittle Farm made a decision to stop farming at the end of this season, so will not continue with the program. All host farmers felt that they were lucky to have had highly motivated apprentices who contributed to the farm operations in multiple ways through their enthusiastic participation, different perspectives, curiosity, and companionship. Host farmers were largely unable to attend workshops during the course of the growing season and felt that an effort should be made to concentrate formal training activities in the off-season when all would have more time to participate.
Apprentices at the wrap-up session were uniformly enthusiastic about the program, while offering multiple suggestions for improvement, including specific areas where training could be improved (integration of animals into diversified operation, business management, practical equipment operation), enthusiastic interest in farm exchanges (there were none during the season), and concentration of formal training workshops in the off-season. Apprentices repeatedly expressed appreciation for the text resources provided by the program, and a desire to continue to be part of the program, whether through mentoring relationships, second year apprenticeships or continuing to participate in training activities. Six of the 11 apprentices plan to farm on their own next season, with the remainder planning to continue training with their host farmers. Apprentices also expressed a desire for more networking opportunities during and after the growing season. Modifications to the training program for the upcoming year will be made in response to comments from host farmers and apprentices.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Specific project milestones have been fully met and exceeded during the first year of the Growing Growers Training Program. Individual program trainees have already embarked on their own farm enterprises, and most express the intention to do so. Short-term outcomes including the participation of new producers in the Program, and the improvement of skills by existing farmers have already been achieved. However, after just one season, it is too early to claim accomplishment of intermediate and long-term outcomes, specifically increased volumes of local farm products reaching consumers in Kansas City, and a strengthening sustainable local food system. We are optimistic that demand and opportunities for local food production are increasing in Kansas City, and are convinced that the Growing Growers Training Program can and will play a key role in contributing to the achievement of these outcomes.