Growing Growers for Greater Kansas City: Improving Skills for Sustainable Local Food Production and Marketing

2005 Annual Report for LNC03-238

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $100,246.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Edward Carey
Kansas State University

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 second year in 2005. During 2005, twenty six apprentices were accepted into the program with 15 successfully completing the full season of workshops and apprenticeship work on 9 host farms. Through self-assessment, apprentices indicated improvement in all core competency areas that the program has identified for market farmers, with knowledge gained through multiple workshops, farm tours, one-on-one training and self-directed learning activities. As in 2004, textbooks and other written resources were provided to apprentices to cover subject matter areas. In addition to the apprentices, over 100 new and experienced growers participated in 9 training events during the course of the growing season and at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference. Apprentices and host farmers continued to indicate benefits from the program. Most apprentices either hoped to continue with a second year apprenticeship or planned to start farming on their own within 1 to 5 years.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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 markets; 2) Existing producers improving the economic viability of their operations using sustainable agriculture techniques learned under the project. Intermediate outcomes 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 second full season in 2005. The core of the program is farmer-directed training in sustainable and organic market farming, conducted through apprenticeships and complemented by workshops on a series of topics for both new and experienced growers. Project activities were conducted in close consultation with the Advisory Board, made up of representatives of the cooperating institutions, community organizations, and local growers (listed in 2004 annual report and updated on website During the reporting period, the project continued to benefit from the services of a dynamic part-time Manager who is also a market farmer in the Kansas City metro area, and brings a strong vision and energy to project implementation.

The project website ( continued to serve as an important tool for dissemination of information on apprenticeships and workshops. The Growing Growers listserv (, with over 350 members served as an important means of disseminating information on Growing Growers workshops and other educational opportunities of interest to market farmers, and also served as a means of communication among growers, facilitating sales of equipment, etc. Regular press releases and mailings by Kansas State University and University of Missouri partners served to advertise workshops to a wide audience of trainees, ensuring good attendance at workshops and establishing name recognition for the program in association with partner organizations.

During the course of the 2005, the Growing Growers Training program organized 9 regular season workshops (plus beginning and end of season meetings for apprentices and host farmers), and a beginning farmer track at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference (see Annex 1 below) 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 350, with in excess of 100 individual trainees. Evaluations of training events were routinely obtained from participants, and were consistently very favorable, but with suggestions for improvement. Feedback from program activities in 2005 was used to continue to refine curriculum and training activities for 2006.

In 2005, 26 apprentices were admitted to the program to work on 14 host farms. Fifteen of the apprentices completed program requirements, meeting time commitments to host farms, and attending over 80% of training workshops (9 apprentices), over 70% of the workshops (6 apprentices). Of Apprentices who did not complete the program, most dropped out upon realizing that they could not meet their commitments; in most cases they found the task of farming to be a little more overwhelming than they had anticipated. It is noteworthy that the total numbers of apprentices admitted to the program was well above that admitted in 2004 (26 versus 11), but that we ended the season with somewhat similar numbers, many more having dropped out in 2005. We attributed this lack of follow through to inadequate interviewing of apprentice applicants by host farmers, and also perhaps to minimal use of selection criteria by the program in screening applicants. To reduce drop out rates, we decided to implement a program application fee in 2006, and to strongly encourage host farmers to do a more thorough job of screening potential apprentices, as recommended under host farm procedures developed early in 2004 and posted on the Growing Growers program website.

As in 2004, 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, although in 2005 only a few end of season self assessments were completed. Apprentices again reported large gains in confidence and competence in all areas by the end of the season (see 2004 report, Annex 5 for previous year’s assessments, and for list of core competencies.)

An end of season wrap-up meeting, was attended by 11 apprentices and 6 host farmers. At this wrap-up meeting, apprentice and host farmer feedback on the program were elicited through open discussion and written surveys. Participants were asked what aspects of the program were most valuable, which workshops were the best, which were the worst, how the program affected apprentices ideas about farming, what their plans for the future were, what they perceived to be their needs for continuing education, and whether they would have been willing to pay tuition and fees for the program. Apprentices universally indicated a high degree of satisfaction with the program, while providing critical feedback. Most indicated that they were either already farming, hoped to continue as second year apprentices, or hoped to start their own farms within 1 to 5 years.

Host farmers were asked for their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the program, and asked for their opinions about charging apprentices to cover program costs. Host farmers were concerned about lack of commitment of some of the apprentice applicants, but by and large, host farmers were very satisfied with commitment and quality of apprentices who they selected.

In 2005, there was a fairly high drop out rate, with 26 apprentices starting the season and only 15 completing. Reasons for failure to complete were largely related to apprentices being unable to meet their commitments or feeling overwhelmed by the tasks of market farming, and quitting when they found they found that market farming was not for them.

A partial survey of 2004 program graduates during the Growing Season in 2005 revealed that several were farming or otherwise involved in local food production. Denise Canfield, with a farm near Lebanon, MO, struggled with animal damage control, but was keen to continue in 2006. Sara Hail was a partner at Bear Creek Farms, her host farm in Osceola, MO. Jerry Botts was working hard to make his Thorn Hill Farm a success in Tonganoxie, KS. Morgan Deramus was putting her skills to work in her home garden. Hillary Brown had opened a restaurant, “Local Burger,’ relying largely on local farm products.

To share program information with a broader audience of agricultural educators, the Program Coordinator and Manager presented a paper on the Growing Growers program at a workshop on “Curriculum development for organic horticulture” held at the Annual conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science, July 21 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The presentation abstract and citation are provided in Annex 2. An additional, similarly authored, poster presentation on the Growing Growers Training Program was made by the Program Coordinator at the USDA Small Farm Conference in Greensboro, NC on October 16 – 19, 2005.

ANNEX 1. Growing Growers Training Program workshop descriptions and schedule, 2005.

January 8. So you want to be A Market Gardener – Getting Started In A Noble Profession. Day-long program at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference, Ramada Inn, St. Joseph, MO.
– Introduction to Sustainable Local Food Production, Jim Leap, Farm Manager, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, University of Santa Cruz; Kevin and Cheruth Loth, Shadowbrook Farm, Lincoln, NE, attended by 35;
– Figuring out Farm Budgets, Jerry Jost, Kansas Rural Center, attended by 20;
– Scaling up your operation: markets, finances, land, labor, etc. Grower round-table discussion attended by 50).

*March 12. Soil Building for Vegetable and Fruit Crops
Leavenworth Extension Office, 500 Eisenhower Road, Suite 103, Leavenworth, KS 66048
• Soils 101: soil structure, water infiltration, and other basics, Rhonda Janke, K-State Research and Extension, Soil Scientist, Owner, Parideaza Farm, Wamego, KS
• The Soil Food Web: the bacteria, fungi, nematodes and other tiny creatures that make for a healthy soil, Erica Dermitzel, farmer, biologist and science teacher
• Soil Building Practices for the Market Gardener: Cultivation, crop rotations, cover cropping and more, Paul Conway, Conway’s Produce, Leavenworth, KS
• Composting and Compost Tea: Small scale composting and “compost tea” for disease control, Ted Carey, Vegetable Specialist, K-State Research and Extension.
• Farm Tour: Conway’s Produce, an organic farm producing vegetables with a well-developed cover cropping and soil building system, 25476 183rd Street, Leavenworth, KS 66048
Registration included local food lunch. (Attended by 25).

March 22, 12:30 – 5:30. Apprentice and Host Farm Orientation. Attended by 3 host farms and 12 apprentices

*April 4, 4:00-7:00. Plant Production for the Vegetable Grower, Immanuel Lutheran Church, 3232 Metropolitan, KC, KS 66106
• Basic Plant Production for vegetable growers, direct seeding, transplants, and the basic biology of seed starting and plant growth, Lewis Jett, Vegetable Specialist, University of Missouri.
• Farm Tour: KC Community Farm (formerly Full Circle Farm), a certified organic farm with 2-plus acres in vegetable, fruit, and herb production, 4223 Gibbs Road, KC, KS 66106 (Attended by 36).

*May 2, 1:00-5:00, Equipment Safety for Vegetable Growers. K-State Research Center, 35125 W. 135th Street, Olathe, KS 66061
Consider safety issues and demonstrate safe use of multiple implements and tools commonly used in vegetable production. These include tractor-mounted 3-point hitch and pto-driven implements for diverse operations, skid-steer equipment, small motorized equipment and hand tools. Also discuss scale of equipment choices to ensure both safe and efficient production.
• 1:00 – 3:00 Equipment safety. Mitch Ricketts, Health and Safety Coordinator, K-State
• 3:00 – 5:00 Field demonstrations. Terry Schaplowsky, Farm Manager, K-State, Olathe
(Attended by 14).

*June 6, 4:00-7:00, Post-Harvest Handling Practices for Maximum Quality Nature’s Choice Farm, 6120 S. 169 Hwy., St. Joseph, MO 64507; Buchanan County Extension Office, 4125 Mitchell, St Joseph, MO 64507
Proper harvest and postharvest handling practices are critical for providing customers with the best looking and tasting fresh produce. The workshop will start at the farm of Fred and Helen Messner, producers and marketers of high quality, organically-produced vegetables to Kansas City restaurants and markets, and hear about their harvest and postharvest practices. This will be followed by a lecture on optimum postharvest practices for diverse vegetables and fruits at the Buchanan County Extension Office.
• 4:00 – 5:15 Farm Tour. Fred and Helen Messner.
• 5:45 – 7:00 Harvesting and Post-Harvest Practices for Nutrition and Quality, Chuck Marr, K-State (Attended by 34)

*July 11, 4:00-7:00, Taste Your Vegetables!, JJ Produce, 8531 East 81st Terrace, Raytown, MO 64138; KC Community Gardens, 6917 Kensington, KC, MO 64132
With the huge range of crop varieties available, one of the greatest advantages that local growers have is the ability to produce a wide range of fresh, delicious and interesting produce which consumers love. Growers, focused on production issues, sometimes fail to fully appreciate and promote the dining pleasures that their produce can provide. Cody Hogan, Executive Chef of Lidia’s restaurant, will help us to focus on taste. We’ll start at John Kaiahua’s urban farm in Raytown, touring his cornucopia, and then proceed to the Kansas City Community Garden where we’ll sample, taste and discuss ways of communicating the excitement of taste with customers.
• 4:00 – 5:00 Farm Tour. John Kaiahua, urban farmer, JJ Produce.
• 5:30 – 7:00 Tasting Workshop: Cody Hogan, Lidia’s and KC Slow Food. (Attended by 42)

*Aug 1, 6:00-7:30, Tree Fruit Production and Eco-Tourism Fieldstone Farms, 7049 E. 149th Street, Overbrook, KS 66524
Farm tour of Fieldstone Farms, which produces apples, grapes, other tree fruit, and asparagus. Fieldstone has a Bed and Breakfast and a Petting Barn with farm animals. Their products are sold at an on-farm store, through U-Pick, and wholesale; they offer school tours and rent their facilities for weddings and events. (Attended by 29)

*Aug 21, 10-4:00, Pests, Diseases, and Weeds, East Wind Garden (at Drumm Farm), 3210 Lee’s Summit Rd. Independence, MO 64055
The East Wind Garden provided an ideal setting for this day-long workshop, with classroom space near the market garden, which served as a “living laboratory” for discussion of prevention and control of diseases, pests and weeds. Lunch provided.
• Common insect pests in the market garden: Identification, prevention and control. What are our common insect pests, and what are effective principles and practices for their prevention and control? Jim Quinn, Missouri Extension Associate, Columbia, MO.
• Common vegetable diseases: Identification, prevention and control. What are the main diseases, what causes them and how can we prevent and control them using organic and IPM practices? Doug Jardine, K-State Research and Extension Plant Pathologist, Manhattan KS.
• Weed control: Stu Schaefer will talk about organic weed control strategies and how he has used them at his farm. Sandheron Farm has five acres in vegetable and small fruit production, and a small mixed tree fruit orchard. (Attended by 30).

*Sept 26, 6:00- 7:30, Integrating Meat and Dairy into Vegetables, Wood Mood Gardens, 20987 Highway 20, Higginsville, MO 64037
We’ll do a farm tour of Wood Mood Gardens, a small, certified-organic farm that produces vegetables, eggs, beef, chicken, small fruit, hay and corn. Jim Wood will talk about how he manages this diversity and how the different parts of his farm work together. (Attended by 22).

*October 22, 10:00-4:00 Business Development for Small Farms, K-State Horticulture Research Center, 35125 W. 135th Street, Olathe, KS 66061
Overview and introduction to some of the internal structures and issues your farm business will need to address in order to get established and grow. We’ll cover:
– Developing a Strategic Direction for Your Farm Business
– Business structures and growth and tax implications
– Basic Financial Accounting and Management Systems to Enhance Decision-Making
– Insurance Options and Decisions
Vincent Amanor-Boadu, Director of the Innovation Center, Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University. (Attended by 26).

October 29, 2:00 to 4:30. Apprentice and host farmer wrap-up. K-State Horticulture Research and Extension Center, Olathe, KS. Attended by 11 apprentices and 6 host farms.
*Required program for apprentices. Open to a wider audience of growers for a fee.

ANNEX 2. Abstract of presentation made on Growing Growers Program at the Workshop on Curriculum Development for Organic Horticulture, July 25, 2005, Las Vegas, NV. [Abstact citation: HortScience 40:989.]

The Growing Growers Training Program: An apprenticeship program for market gardeners serving Kansas City

Edward Carey, K-State Horticulture Research and Extension Center
Katherine Kelly, Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture
Mary Hendrickson, University of Missouri, Columbia,
Dan Nagengast, Kansas Rural Center
James Quinn, University of Missouri Extension
Craig Volland, Kansas City Food Circle
Lala Kumar, University of Missouri Extension

The Growing Growers Training Program facilitates on-farm apprenticeships complemented by workshops on critical skills to train new growers and improve the skills of existing growers to meet large demand for local and organically grown produce in Kansas City. The program is a collaborative effort of K-State Research and Extension, University of Missouri Extension, the Kansas City Food Circle, and the Kansas Rural Center, and was established in response to requests by area organic growers for a training program to increase numbers of local organic producers. In the fall of 2003, we developed the components of the program, including a curriculum designed to help apprentices gain a set of core competencies through practical and theoretical training activities, including one-on-one training by host farmers, reading, workshops and farm tours. During the 2004 growing season 11 apprentices worked part time or volunteered on 8 host farms, and participated in a series of 11 workshops and farm tours over the course of the year. Based on self-assessment, apprentices felt they gained considerable skill in most of the core competencies. Both apprentices and host farmers expressed high satisfaction with the program. At the start of the 2005 season, demand for the program increased, with 25 apprentices with diverse backgrounds placed on 12 host farms. Workshop participation was not restricted to apprentices, and over 200 trainees paid to attend workshops during 2004, helping to generate funds to cover program costs. It is still early to judge program success, but 9 of 11 of the 2004 apprentices are engaged in full- or part-time market gardening in 2005.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Specific project milestones continued to be fully met and exceeded during second year of the Growing Growers Training Program. Several first year apprentices started or continued their own farm enterprises, and more expressed 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 continued to be achieved. Intermediate and long term outcomes, specifically increased volumes of local farm products reaching consumers in Kansas City, and a strengthening sustainable local food system are still, of course, not fully achieved. However, according to host farmer testimony, having apprentices on their farms has helped to make them better farmers, and a number of the first year apprentices actually were able to farm during 2005, thus contributing to the projects intermediate and long-term goals. The establishment of the “Local Burger,” a restaurant featuring local farm products in Lawrence, KS, by a 2004 program apprentice, was a notable achievement with respect to intermediate and long-term project outcomes during the reporting period. There is little doubt that demand and opportunities for local food production continue to increase 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.


Craig Volland

Kansas City Food Circle
Katherine Kelly

Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture
Mary Hendrickson

University of Missouri, Columbia
Dan Nagengast

Kansas Rural Center
Lewis Jett

University of Missouri, Columbia
James Quinn

University of Missouri, Columbia