Sustaining Urban Farming: Teaching Apprentices to Think Like Farmers and Researching Urban Farmers’ Income and Quality of Life

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $288,853.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2026
Grant Recipient: ECO City Farms
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    The Problem: Urban farmers don’t grow up on a farm nor have formal agriculture schooling. Most decide to farm later in life and have limited resources. In order to farm, they must acquire knowledge, skills, thought processes and sensibilities not ordinarily cultivated in cities. Many graduates of the 55 NE BFRDP for urban farmers have difficulty transitioning to full-time, income-generating farm work, despite the significant increases in learning they acquire through such programs. This isn’t simply due to lack of land, tools and resources required, but even more significantly, because they do not yet “think like farmers” and haven’t mastered the strategic-planning and decision-making competencies needed to confidently begin farming for income. This is especially true for our majority historically-underserved, under-resourced farmers who have little margin for error or lack safety nets.

    The Solution and Approach: A proposed second training year of paid targeted farmer to farmer learning for our graduates is a sounder investment. To learn to think like a farmer, the next developmental step for ECO’s majority historically underserved BFRDP graduates is 35-week-long paid, apprenticeships. Through on-farm experiential learning, strategic planning and related training, they will acquire critical skills and confidence while being paid to apprentice on 5 acres of ECO’s urban farming educational space. This will result in the increased strategic planning and thinking skills required for successful production farming, as well as an enhanced sense of community with fellow farmers on whom they can rely. By offering this next-level paid apprentice opportunity to BFRDP graduates before they embark upon running their own farming enterprise at our incubator farm or elsewhere, we anticipate greater employability of our apprenticeship graduates, increased rates of urban farm success, and better survival rates for NE urban farms and farmers. Our outcome is 15-18 confident, motivated and well-trained farmers able to produce food for insecure residents of the DC-Metro area.

    Simultaneously, ECO will address NE SARE’s Outcome Statement in a research project, asking: Is this a realistic outcome for an urban farm in the Northeast? What are the realities and constraints of urban farming, particularly as it relates to profitability, high quality of life for farmers, and sustainability?  This is important to those who promote urban farming to correct many of the ills of the current industrial, historically-exclusionary food production and distribution system.  Learning from the experience of established farmers, we ask what policies, supports, and subsidies of urban farming enterprises have proven helpful or are currently lacking? The findings could help focus new and ongoing research priorities, and guide future investments and subsidies in urban agriculture.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    15 historically underserved farmers access a paid apprenticeship on 5 acres for 35 weeks. They will report increased knowledge, skills, and confidence in urban production farming

    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.