Beginning farmer training programs are on the rise across the country, along with new barriers that face those from socially disenfranchised and vulnerable backgrounds. Now is a critical time to review our organizational approaches and improve collaboration to better address the intersectional challenges, urgencies, and opportunities ahead. This winter, MESA was honored to organize a workshop and present at the 2017 Ecofarm Conference with some of our esteemed partners on strategies, successes and gaps in beginning farmer training programs. We had the pleasure and privilege of collaborating with the talented following farmer educators:
- Megan Fehrman: Education Director, Rogue Farm Corps
- Marisa Alcorta: Apprenticeship Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning
- Leah Atwood: Program and Partnership Director, MESA
- Kellee Matsushita-Tseng: Farm Apprentice Coordinator, CASFS
- Ana Galvis Martinez: Agroecology Educator, MESA
Our workshop presented the four different beginning farmer training programs integrating various models of training, apprenticeships, mentorships, and farmer-to-farmer exchange. Each presenter shared experiences, best practices and future goals for their respective educational tools associated with experiential training, classroom learning and online curriculum. Topics ranged from balancing production and education demands in on-farm training, learning resources that interweave ecological, socio-political and economic dimensions, mentorship tools, and legal considerations. It also touched on program strategies to advance food justice, gender equality, agroecology and citizen science in combination with beginning farmer training.
One of the highlights in a breakout discussion was spearheaded from an audience member’s question on how to help beginning farmers and educators make social and political engagement a higher priority. There were many thoughtful responses, summarized as follows.
In order to transform the food system, those that are most marginalized must be empowered, listened to, and followed. For a paradigm to shift, those with power and privilege of all kinds must make more space and uplift the minds, voices and bodies of those that are most disenfranchised. If we accept this as true, but know that many people do not, one way to reach them is by cultivating relationships where they may not otherwise grow, and creating spaces for deep listening and connecting to others across historical divides.
Relationships can be one of our strongest drivers of change because changing behavior is based on caring enough to do so, and caring is based on understanding and empathizing. To advance social change we can leverage the power of personal relationships and storytelling because it is human nature to care about the people with whom we are connected. The people we are connected to and relate to have power to affect us and our decision-making, either because they have a presence in our lives or because we see a part of ourselves in them. When we hear someone’s story, we can connect it to our own experience and start to empathize. When we empathize, we can expand our relationships with people who have different realities from our own. From there we can increase our awareness of the different structural barriers they face, better understand their systemic roots, and activate our impetus for social transformation.
We hope to continue to do and share this work of understanding of how different beginning farmer training approaches are tackling challenges and creating solutions associated with rural and urban food systems, food sovereignty within historically marginalized communities, and small farm viability, with an eye always on improving our own approaches and strategies.
We are working on a more in-depth summary and side by side comparision of the different models as a follow-up to this workshop- stay tuned for more details!
Learn more and apply for MESA’s Bay Area Farmer Training Program.
Support our Bay Area Farmer Training Program through East Bay Gives!