Wanted: More market farmers for Kansas City area
Americans keep finding more and more reasons to eat locally grown fruits, vegetables and other foods. Farmers markets—the most obvious link between producers and consumers—are in a decades-long comeback, growing another 3.6 percent last year, according to a Kansas State University horticulturist.
The Kansas City “food shed,” however, is behind on the farm production side, said Cary Rivard, fruit and vegetable specialist with K-State Research and Extension. That’s why the Growing Growers program of Kansas City is looking for a few good apprentices for the 2014 growing season.
“Everyone in the area will benefit if we can help develop our existing market farmers, while training a new generation to join their ranks,” Rivard said. “Market farming isn’t for everyone. It’s hard work, and it’s a business.”
“If you’re accepted as an apprentice, though, Growing Growers can help you decide if farming is a good fit,” he said. “It can give you the basic skills and knowledge you need to get started. The program combines an on-farm experience with a whole series of take-home resources and classroom training. You don’t even need agricultural experience to qualify.”
Apprentices commit to being a March-November farm laborer. Host farms’ labor needs can range from four hours of volunteer help each Saturday to 40 hours of paid work per week. Growing Growers’ apprenticeship coordinator, Laura Christensen, helps host farmers and new apprentices find a good fit.
For their $500 tuition, apprentices get monthly farm tours plus books, factsheets and other materials. They have no-cost access to Growing Growers’ monthly workshops for professional market farmers, on subjects ranging from business planning to pest management.
“In addition to our core training workshops, we’re planning several advanced workshops in 2014,” Rivard said. “These include Diversifying your Markets through CSAs; Wholesale and Farm to School; Spotted Wing Drosophila; Introduction to Small Fruit Production; Low-till and No-till Cropping Systems; Introduction to Cut Flowers; and Scaling Up your Business/Packaging & Grading, all of which are included in the apprenticeship tuition. These workshops are also open to the public for a small fee as well.”
In addition to what they learn in the field, apprentices receive a minimum of eight hours of “sit down” training with their host. Typically, it covers how the farmer manages soil quality, plans a yearly production schedule, manages the business and more.
“It’s a whole lot of learning packed into a short time. The resources we provide are what market farmers and extension specialists have identified as the best available. But, field work is the core experience. The best way to learn about farming is from farmers, and an apprenticeship gives you that opportunity,” Rivard said.
The deadline for the 2014 Apprenticeship is March 1. More about the Growing Growers program is available online at http://www.growinggrowers.org/. Further information is also available by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling Christensen at 816-805-0362.
In addition to Missouri Extension and K-State Research and Extension, Growing Growers partners with the Kansas City Food Circle, Lincoln University Cooperative Extension, Cultivate Kansas City, and the Kansas Rural Center. The program’s home base is at the K-State Horticulture Research and Extension Center just west of Olathe.
This year’s host farms include operations in the Kansas counties of Leavenworth, Wyandotte and Douglas and the Missouri counties of Clay, Jackson, St. Clair and Lafayette.