- Animals: poultry
- Animal Production: free-range
- Education and Training: demonstration, mentoring
- Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems
Aspiring Latino farmers who successfully complete the Agripreneur Training Center program will acquire the knowledge, skills, hands-on farming practice, and support needed to successfully launch their own sustainable food/agricultural operation as part of a cooperative system. The program matches participants with established farmer mentors so that field training replicates actual farming conditions. Classroom training includes both business and farm-specific agricultural curriculums. Raising free-range poultry is at the center of the project and training because of its short life cycle and concurrent cash flow, and fit with sustainable farming practices, but other value-added agricultural products are also part of the integrated system.. The training center approach builds on Latino strengths of culture and agricultural experience, and creates a path for families to break the cycle of poverty. Extensive evaluation throughout the training process will help measure progress and allow the training center to refine curriculums and growing protocols. The training center is part of a broader model for transforming the way food is produced and distributed, while improving the quality of lives of rural community members.
Project objectives from proposal:
The Agripreneur Training Center program is an experiential learning system aimed at developing sustainable farming and farm management skills. Training includes both weekly classroom work, and seasonal field-based activities that replicate actual farming conditions. Technical assistance and mentoring relationships are provided for additional support.
Before the first formal training session begins, a group of experienced farmer mentors will be recruited and oriented to field training curriculum by the project coordinator. At least six established regional farmers have already expressed enthusiasm for and an interest in participating. Some have offered to sponsor/host participants at their own farms. Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings program will offer connections to other mentors through their established regional network. Farmer mentors will receive small stipends.
Through our outreach process, eligible participants will have demonstrated a desire to farm, a passion for food production, a commitment to learning through their own experiential process, and an entrepreneurial spirit. This could include previously working on a farm, participating in community gardens, volunteering with the cooperative poultry project or observing/helping with the training program itself. Identifying those six to eight individuals with a passion for farming and the potential for success is the goal for the first year of the project.
It’s important to note that the Agripreneur Training Center is actually one phase of a three-step model to launching successful Latino agripreneurs:
Phase I (Discovery) is our outreach. Using a cultural focus, first we connect with Latino families and leaders through church and cultural gatherings, getting to know them, building relationships and trust. Anglo civic and business leaders also become part of an overall community support infrastructure. The process of building a base of community support that can be mobilized throughout the training and launching process is critical to the model’s success, the success of rural Latino agripreneurs, and for building thriving rural communities.
A second step in outreach is inviting Latinos into experiential learning opportunities such as community gardens, market gardens and helping raise free-range poultry. These experiences have multiple benefits to the individuals and families – additional income, healthy food, and social connections. Because Anglo community members participate in the community gardens, and people literally work side-by-side, community connections and understanding are deepened.
The training center is Phase II (Development). And Phase III (Launch) is about continuing to support new agripreneurs after training and into the launch of their production unit -- through farmer mentoring, and assistance with financing, marketing and sustainability principles and other support.
Once selected, each participant will receive an initial orientation to the program from the project coordinator and an overview of the training, which will include:
• Training and ongoing support infrastructure (farmer mentors, cooperative options)
• Systems (agronomic, environmental, financial)
• Business management
• Role in the rebuilding of a local food system through sustainable practices
• Cooperative development / participation
Each participant will choose their course of study or focus from options that includes livestock (poultry), traditional ethnic foods, hardy and heat-loving vegetables, and small grains. Once they have made a decision and gone through the orientation, they are given a training unit assignment and the amount of land required for their study, up to an acre. Field training will cover standards, protocols and procedures for growing and raising grains, vegetables and livestock. Each track will have specific assigned farmers serving as mentors. Technical assistance and support will be provided through a variety of existing sources, including training program staff. The training center manager will coordinate field training with assistance from the project coordinator and other resources.
Classroom training will take place weekly, coordinated by the project managers with culturally and linguistically competent graduate students/academic institutions, interns and other training resources involved.
Training participants will receive stipends, as a supplement/replacement to their family’s income. Food products raised and grown during training will be shared with participants. Depending on volume, some products may be sold, providing an additional income source.
Participant progress, family/social situation, and knowledge of classroom and fieldwork will be regularly assessed so that additional assistance and support can be provided as needed. This will also allow the training center to make any needed adjustments to the curriculum and the farmer mentor arrangements. Graduate students/academic institutions, interns and others will be involved, under the direction of the project coordinator and with assistance from the training center manager.
Via a new Web site, we plan to share stories, photos, and results about Latino agripreneurs, the families, and the entire community. Through this site, e-newsletters and list serves, the training center will also reach out to sustainable agriculture/ food systems audiences and to the media through a strategic media plan, raising awareness and triggering additional partnerships and support.
We will engage an experienced evaluator to develop and implement a coordinated evaluation plan that quantitatively and qualitatively measures progress and success – related to both methods and outcomes. Increased commitments to research that have emerged from academic institutions and their graduate students may address this resource. In addition to the extensive review and evaluation of classroom curriculum, the plan will include some or all of these measurement methods:
• Interview training center participants at beginning, middle, and end of growing/training season to evaluate knowledge and readiness levels, and assess family/social situation. This will allow the training center to gauge the speed of knowledge and skills acquisition, and sets up a feedback loop to continuously refine and improve the training program, ensuring that experiences replicate real-life farming conditions as closely as possible.
• Meet regularly with farmer mentors to gather feedback on training process and assigned trainees, and address concerns/opportunities.
• Document creation of standards, protocols and procedures for raising and growing the sustainable products that are part of the training center’s curriculum (English and Spanish).
• Test usability/clarity of standards, protocols and procedures with training center participants at key points during the growing season. Conduct a similar review of classroom curriculum.
• Test relevance and clarity of standards, protocols and procedures with product buyers and marketing experts.
• Document training center participants’ launch as small-scale sustainable producers (agripreneurs).
• Use a combination of interviews and assessments to measure success of launched agripreneurs, and identify additional support and training needs.
• Monitor Web site traffic; track media coverage of activities; track contacts and interest from potential collaborators and partners.
• Meet at least quarterly with key collaborators to identify challenges, opportunities and to celebrate successes.
The feasibility of an interview guide or assessment tool for use with some community members will also be considered as way to measure awareness and perceptions of the Agripreneur Training Center program, as well as understanding of the potential benefits of a local/regional food transformed by sustainable practices.