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 third year in 2006. Twenty two apprentices were accepted into the program with 12 successfully completing the full season of workshops and apprenticeship work on 9 host farms. Additionally, 4 apprentices undertook second year apprentice projects involving higher level skill development on their host farms. Through self-assessment, apprentices again indicated improvement in all core competency areas identified for market farmers, with knowledge gained through multiple workshops, farm tours, one-on-one training and self-directed learning activities. As in previous years, textbooks and other written resources were provided to apprentices to cover subject matter areas. In addition to the apprentices, 98 new and experienced growers were paid registrants at one or more of the nine monthly workshops held during the course of the growing season. Additionally over 260 growers, marketers, restaurateurs and educators registered for a one-day “Feeding Kansas City Conference” designed to improve marketing skills and opportunities for area growers. Apprentices and host farmers continued to indicate benefits from the program. Host farmers continued interested in having apprentices, and 8 of the 12 first year indicated plans to continue in local ag, either as farmers or farm workers.
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 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 third full season in 2006. 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 www.growinggrowers.org). 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 who brought a strong vision and energy to project implementation.
The project website (www.growinggrowers.org) continued to serve as an important tool for dissemination of information on apprenticeships and workshops. The Growing Growers listserv (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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 2006, the Growing Growers Training program organized 9 regular season workshops (plus beginning and end of season meetings for apprentices), and a special day-long conference, the “Feeding Kansas City Conference,” held at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center in Kansas City, Missouri and attended by over 200 producers, buyers, and educators. Workshops are briefly described at the foot of this section, along with locations, dates and attendance. Total registration at these training events was over 480, 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 2006 was used to continue to refine curriculum and training activities in 2007.
In 2006, 22 apprentices were admitted to the program to work on 9 host farms. Twelve of the apprentices completed program requirements, meeting time commitments to host farms, and attending over 80% of training workshops (5 apprentices), between 70% and 80% of the workshops (3 apprentices), or between 60% and 70% of workshops (4 apprentices). As in 2005, there was a fairly high attrition rate among apprentices, with 10 failing to complete the season for one reason or another. This attrition occurred despite our implementation of a $25 application fee for the program. However, as in previous years, our selection criteria for program admission were probably not as rigorous as they might have been. Additionally, some farmers were probably not as careful in apprentice selection as they might have been in order to ensure a good fit. In 2007, we will ask apprentices to pay for a larger share of program costs by way of registration and book fees, which will at least help with program sustainability, and may help reduce initial registration and subsequent drop out rates.
In addition to the first year apprentices discussed in the previous paragraph, there were 4 second-year apprentices involved in the program in 2006. The second year apprenticeship enabled first year apprentices to continue at their host farms for a second year, while assuming greater management responsibilities in particular areas, subject to approval by the Growing Growers program manager and the Advisory Board. Second year apprentices were asked to provide a report at the end of the year, as a means of tracking their performance under the program.
As in previous years, apprentice confidence and knowledge of each area of competency was assessed (self-assessment) prior to the initiation of the program, and again at a wrap-up meeting at the end of the season. 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 7 apprentices. At this wrap-up meeting, apprentice feedback on the program was elicited through open discussion and written surveys. We asked apprentices about 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.
ANNEX 1. Growing Growers Training Program workshop flyer descriptions and schedule, 2006.
*March 4, 9:00-3:30 Soil Building for Vegetable and Fruit Crops, Leavenworth Extension Office, 500 Eisenhower Road, Suite 103, Leavenworth, KS 66048 (Attendance, 35)
Not sure how to read a soil test? Do you believe that “a healthy soil means healthy plants” but don’t know how to make that happen? This workshop will focus on organic practices for soil building. Bring along your Soil Tests- we’ll look at them as examples!
– The Basics of Soil: Soil structure, water infiltration, how to read soil tests, home tests to better understand your soil, Rhonda Janke, K-State Research & Extension, Soil Scientist, Owner, Parideaza Farm, Wamego, KS
– The Soil Food Web: There is an amazing eco- system under your feet that impacts how available nutrients are to your plants, that helps to determine the movement of air and water through your soil, and that can help, or hinder, your plants’ growth. Ted Carey, Vegetable Specialist, K-State
– Soil Building Practices for the Market Gardener: Paul Conway is one of the most knowledgeable farmers in this region when it comes to soil building. He’ll talk about how he put together his farm’s soil building plan, how he got his organic matter up to 6% (compared to the 1.5% of the neighboring fields) and what are practices that might work for your operation. Paul Conway, Conway’s Produce, Leavenworth, KS
– Composting and Compost Tea: Composting can be a great way to add organic matter, beneficial bacteria and fungi, and nutrients to your soils. Ted Carey will talk about composting systems for the small farm. He’ll also talk about Compost Teas, a foliar spray/soil drench for disease control.
– Conway’s Farm Tour: 25476 183rd Street, Leavenworth, KS 66048
April 3, 2:00 – 3:30. Apprentice Orientation. (Attendance, 9 apprentices)
*Apr 3, 4:00-7:00 Plant Production for the Vegetable Grower, Emerson Park Christian Church, 1501 S 40th St, Kansas City, KS 66106 (Attendance, 41)
– Basic Plant Production will provide an overview of the plant production process for greenhouse, high tunnel, and field production. We’ll look at how to start transplants in the greenhouse, options for direct seeding versus transplanting, and the basic biology of seeding and plant growth (nutrient, water, and temperature). Lewis Jett, Vegetable Specialist, University of Missouri.
– Farm Tour: KC Community Farm, a certified organic farm with 2-plus acres in vegetable, fruit, and herb production. In addition to a general farm tour, farmers Dan Dermitzel & Katherine Kelly will focus on their production planning and seeding/planting schedules. 4223 Gibbs Road, KC, KS 66106
*May 8, 4:00-7:00, Equipment and Farm Safety for Vegetable Growers, K-State Research Center, 35125 W. 135th Street, Olathe, KS 66061 (Attendance, 23)
Vegetable farming is a physically demanding and often hazardous profession. We’ll look at ways to make it safer and easier using our bodies and equipment in ways suited to the task at hand. We’ll begin the workshop by addressing on-farm safety issues: how to work with farm equipment, Kansas weather, and the ergonomics of “stoop labor”. Terry Schaplowsky, the Farm Manager at the K-State Research Center, will then walk us through the wide array of equipment they use for vegetable and flower production. Over the years, they’ve accumulated a selection of equipment to make production faster and more efficient, with some equipment geared towards small scale production and some for larger scale.
*June 5, 4:00-7:30, Harvesting and Post-Harvest Handling for Maximum Quality and Nutrition (Attendance, 26).
4:00 Farm Tour: Nature’s Choice Farm, 6120 S. 169 Hwy., St. Joseph, MO 64507
5:30 Workshop: Buchanan County Extension Office, 4125 Mitchell, St Joseph, MO 64507
– Farm Tour: This will be the third year we’ve gone to Fred & Helen Messner’s farm, Nature’s Choice, and we keep going back because this is such a good farming operation with so much to offer! Their produce is universally recognized for its post-harvest quality, their farm systems are well-thought out and efficient, their production levels are impressive and inspiring.
– Workshop: How you harvest your produce and how you keep it post-harvest can make the difference between vegetables that are nutritious and fresh and vegetables that look tired before you even get them to market. Ted Carey from K-State will talk about when and how to harvest various crops, how to store them, and what are some cooling set-ups that work for smaller scale producers.
*July 10, 4:00-7:00, The Taste & Nutrition of Local Vegetables (Attendance, 23)
4:00 Workshop: Local Burger Restaurant, 714 Vermont, Lawrence, KS 66044
6:15 Farm Tour: Wakarusa Valley Farm, 965 E. 1000 Rd., Lawrence, KS 66047
– Workshop: Nutritionist Lisa Markley and chef (and former Growing Growers apprentice) Hilary Brown will talk about the nutritional values of locally grown vegetables and about how the whole point of growing vegetables is eating! They’ll cover what happens to our taste buds when we eat vegetables, how vegetables can be prepared, and how you can develop your farm and your marketing with this end goal of good eating in mind.
– Farm Tour: We’ll visit Wakarusa Valley Farm, one of the area’s most established and successful organic vegetable operations. Mark Lumpe and Julie Waters have been farming for nearly two decades, selling at farmers markets, through a CSA, and wholesale. Their vegetables are often described as “perfect!” and they’ve developed a loyal following for their top quality produce.
*August 7, 6:00-7:30, Community Supported Agriculture & Starting a New Farm, 18613 Downing Road, Kearney, MO 64060. (Attendance, 32)
Fair Share Farm (www.fairsharefarm.com) was established in 2002 on family land in Kearney, MO by Rebecca Ruggieri and Tom Graff. They sell most of their produce through a Community Supported Agriculture program of 75 members; they also sell at a new market in Kansas City. Tom and Rebecca will present a workshop on CSAs and how their own is structured; they’ll also give us a farm tour.
*Aug 27,10:00-4:00, Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Oh, My!, East Wind Garden (at Drumm Farm), 3210 Lee’s Summit Rd. Independence, MO 64055 (Attendance, 39)
By August, Septoria and early blight are having their way with Midwestern tomatoes, the foxtail is more abundant than the vegetable crops, and harlequin bugs have finished off the kales and collards and are now happily munching their way through the chard. What is a market gardener to do? This daylong series of workshops and a tour of East Wind Garden will give you some perspective on the challenges we face in our region from pests, diseases, and weeds, and inspire you to go back to your farm with some new management techniques, or at least a more educated resolution to do better next year! An organic and natural meal will be served, thanks to Whole Foods Market.
– Organic and sustainable disease management. Megan Kennelly, Kansas State University Horticultural crops Plant Pathologist
– Organic and sustainable insect pest management. James Quinn, University of Missouri Extension
– Organic and sustainable weed management strategies. Timothy Walters, East Wind Garden
*September 25, 4:00-6:00 An Integrated Farm: Wood Mood Gardens, vegetables, fruit, chickens, cows and more! Wood Mood Gardens, 20987 Highway 20, Higginsville, MO 64037 (Attendance: 35)
Jim and Mary Wood have created a certified organic farm that brings together livestock, vegetable, fruits, hay and corn. Their farm is beautiful and productive; Jim and Mary are smart and principled farmers who have a lot to offer both new farmers and those with more experience! They’ll do a farm tour and a talk.
*October 21, 10:00-4:00, Business Management for Small Farms: Telling your Farm’s Story, K-State Research Center, 35125 W. 135th Street, Olathe, KS 66061 (Attendance, 19).
We’ll start the day with some nuts-and-bolts: business structures for small farms and farm budgets and accounting. In the afternoon, we’ll look at your farm’s “story”, what it is about the farm you currently run, or the farm you envision running, that makes it unique and marketable. An organic and natural meal will be served, thanks to Whole Foods Market. Speaker, Vincent Amanor-Boadu, K-State Ag Innovation Center
October 28, 10:00 to 12:00. Apprentice wrap-up. K-State Horticulture Research and Extension Center, Olathe, KS. Attended by 7 apprentices.
December 2, 8:00 to 5:15. Feeding Kansas City Conference. Kauffman Conference Center, Kansas City, MO (Attendance: >200; 260 registered, but some couldn’t make it due to snow). Local lunch and keynote address on building local food systems by Kamyar Enshayan, University of Northern Iowa
Twenty nine workshops held during the course of the day in 5 sets of concurrent sessions. Workshops included panels and lectures by growers, buyers and state regulators, with the list of workshop topics as follows:
– Online sales cooperatives (followed by roundtable)
– Choosing the right farmers market
– Internet-based marketing
– Intro to restaurant sales (followed by meet and greet)
– Intro to grocery sales (followed by meet and greet)
– Far-out farms: moving your product to town
– Financing for growth: loans and microloans
– Financing for growth: creative financing
– Jumping through hoops: regulations on eggs, meat, dairy and vegetables
– Jumping through hoops: regulations on processed goods
– Exotics: from mushrooms to mizuna
– Product display: catching your customer’s eye
– Community Supported Agriculture and subscription food services (followed by roundtable discussion)
– Salesmanship: skills for direct marketing
– Pricing: for what it’s worth
– Selling to caterers
– Sales tax explained
– Intro to ethnic and religious markets
– Farmers market coupons and credit cards
– Selling to institutions
– Marketing: how your story sells your product
– Agritourism: If you build it, will they come?
– Nutrition as marketing
– Geographical identifications: Regional cuisines as marketing.
*Required program for apprentices. Open to a wider audience of growers for a fee.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Specific project milestones continued to be fully met and exceeded during the third year of the Growing Growers Training Program. Several first year apprentices started or continued their own farm enterprises, and more 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 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 apprentices actually were able to farm during 2005 and 2006, thus contributing to the project’s intermediate and long-term goals. The continued success of the “Local Burger,” a restaurant featuring local farm products in Lawrence, KS started 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 we continues to be convinced that the Growing Growers Training Program can and will play a key role in contributing to the achievement of these outcomes.