By Sara Shellenberger
Budding organic farmers can blossom through a Kansas State University program.
Established in response to requests by area organic growers for a training program to increase numbers of local organic producers, 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 the Kansas City metropolitan area.
"Farming is a profession that requires multiple skills related to production, marketing and financial management," said Ted Carey, K-State vegetable specialist. "The Growing Growers Training Program provides training for new farmers as they enter the field, while also encouraging established farmers to improve such skills in response to changing circumstances and new information about sustainable farming practices."
The program was developed in fall 2003 with support from a U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant and is a collaborative effort of K-State, University of Missouri Extension, the Kansas City Food Circle and the Kansas Rural Center.
Apprenticeships can be paid or volunteer, depending on the agreement by host farmers and apprentices, Carey said. Apprentices gain core competencies through practical and theoretical training activities, including one-on-one training by host farmers, farm tours, workshops and apprentice-directed independent study.
These competencies were developed with the help of local organic direct market farmers, who identified topic areas and skill sets that they felt were essential for successful farmers.
"Though apprenticeship hours and living arrangements may vary with each working agreement, the program is designed to provide comparable training for all applicants," he said.
The program has attracted a wide range of applicants with various backgrounds, Carey said.
"Apprentices have ranged from inner city youths to professionals interested in a career change to farm owners looking for the skills to farm profitably. We've had a pretty diverse mix," he said.
Though the program is still in its early stages, responses to the Growing Growers Training Program have been highly favorable, according to Carey.
"At the end of the 2004 season, both apprentices and host farmers expressed high satisfaction with the program," Carey said. "Enrollment in the program doubled from 11 apprentices in 2004 to 28 in 2005, and several host farmers reported that having apprentices improved their farm operation in some way, including increased production or changed practices as a result of the program's teaching process."
After a promising start, the Growing Growers Training Program hopes to continue to assist organic farmers in their professional development, Carey said.
"There is an increasing public demand for local, fresh, organically grown produce," Carey said. "We're trying to give producers the skills to make a living meeting that demand."
More information on the Growing Growers Training Program is available at:
Available at the Web site is the program application, a list of potential host farms, scholarship opportunities and a schedule of program workshops, which are available to the public for a fee.