New and Beginning Farmers Workshop
In September, we announced that we’d be hosting a training program for new and beginning urban farmers in partnership with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network (NOFFN). Together with NOFFN, we held our first workshop in NOLA last month – and it was a fabulous weekend!
We learned there are a lot of folks out there who want to start farms. We originally planned for 25 participants, but thanks to an enthusiastic response, we maxed out our space and had 36 people join in over the 2 days. Our focus was on farming methods that work in cities, including recirculating hydroponics (growing plants in continually recycled water in place of soil), aquaponics (growing fish and plants together in one water-based system), and traditional soil-based farming in raised beds and in the ground. In addition to teaching the farming methods themselves, we spent a lot of time discussing the business of farming, too — legal requirements, effective marketing techniques, and whole farm planning etc. Our hope was to give participants the knowledge they need not only to grow sustainable food but a sustainable business too.
Each morning of the two-day workshop began with breakfast, followed by classroom-style presentations with question-and-answer sessions. After a lunch break, we spent the afternoons “on the farm” with demonstrations, hands-on activities, and tours. At the close of the weekend, our wrap up was a group discussion with experienced local farmers, who will act as mentors to workshop participants as they put their new skills into practice.
This workshop, the first in hopefully a series of many, happened because many people had been requesting a farmer training program for some time. Urban farming can help address various food- related problems we see in the U.S. today: Food deserts — neighborhoods that may have plenty of fast-food chains but do not have grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables. Diet related illnesses – like obesity and diabetes. Urban farms can provide more healthy, fresh fruits, vegetables, and even fish right where food is most needed.
Urban farms can also create economic opportunities in neighborhoods that currently lack them. With the help of recirculating agriculture and other city-friendly growing techniques, anyone can turn a backyard, balcony, rooftop, alley, basement, or practically any other outdoor or indoor space into a place that produces fresh food. That food can feed farmers and their families, and it can be the basis of a successful business. As more people join the urban farming movement, they will create a vibrant local food economy in our cities. The result will be greater access to local, fresh foods and more food dollars staying within local communities!
We thank all the people who made the workshop a success: our participants, all the instructors and mentor farmers, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the USDA, whose Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is a key funder of the program (Grant #2012-49400-19676).
If you missed the November workshop, we will be running another one in the spring — join our mailing list if you haven’t already, and stay tuned!