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  – and it was a fabulous weekend!

We learned there are a lot of folks out there who want to start farms or expand the ones they have. We originally planned for 25 participants, but thanks to an enthusiastic response, we maxed out our space and had 38 people join in over the 2 days. Our focus was on farming methods that work in cities, including recirculating hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient-rich, 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, whole farm planning and much more. 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 this 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) along with Farm Aid!

If you missed this workshop, we will be running another one in the spring.

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