In the Kansas City area, as in many other cities across the country, there is a growing demand for locally produced farm products. Growing Growers works to help area growers meet that demand.
First, we help existing farms expand their operations to whatever degree makes sense for them. As farmers, we can expand by developing our production skills, by becoming more effective at selling our product, and by “growing” our farms. There is a challenge in this kind of expansion, it takes time, money, and the willingness to learn new skills.
Second, we help new farms get started. As the older generation of farmers retires, we need farmers to replace them, and more. Getting into farming “from scratch” is not an easy thing. It requires a wide range of skills - agricultural, marketing, and business management. it requires land, and it requires financial investment.
Growing Growers was established to address this need for more farmers and for more effective farmers. As a collaboration between K-State Research and Extension, University of Missouri Research and Extension, Lincoln University Cooperative Extension, the Kansas City Food Circle (a consumer organization), Cultivate KC and the Kansas Rural Center, we set out the goal of providing educational opportunities to help new growers get started and established ones get better at what they do.
We do this through:
FARM APPRENTICESHIPS: Every year, Growing Growers helps organize apprenticeships on farms that sell in the Kansas City metropolitan area (including Lawrence, KS). Farm apprentices work on a local farm to get first-hand, practical experience; they attend monthly workshops; they get direct one-on-one training from their farmer. The apprenticeships are both paid and volunteer; we offer a first year apprenticeship that provides a broad overview of farming and then a follow-up second year apprenticeship that emphasizes more advanced farm management skills.
MONTHLY WORKSHOPS: Beginning in March of each year, we offer monthly workshops that address many of the skill sets required to run a local farm, from soil building to production planning to marketing to farm business management. The workshops are geared toward the beginning farmer, but offer good information and skill development for more experienced farmers as well. They are open to anyone.
GROWERS LISTSERV: Part of what helps us develop as an industry is communication and information sharing. We’ve set up an email listserv of area growers, restaurateurs, grocery stores, and others interested in the local farming industry. The listserv is a quick and easy way for a farmer to contact other farmers with emails like “I’m looking for a good source for local soil amendments” or “I’ve got a bean picker that I want to sell” or “I’ve got a surplus of potatoes that I need to sell. Does anyone have any suggestions?” Local grocers and restaurants can post emails soliciting suppliers; people organizing educational activities can send out notices about workshops, farm tours and conferences. Anyone can sign up for the listserv. To sign up, send an email to: email@example.com.
OTHER EDUCATIONAL AND NETWORKING EVENTS: We also organize special events to help develop the local farming industry. Most recently, we organized a one day conference, “Feeding Kansas City,” that addressed marketing channels for local farm products, to help farmers figure out how and where to sell their vegetables, meats, and dairy products. We’ve organized workshops on farm business planning, budgets and financing, since money is key to starting or developing a farm. We try to respond to needs we see in the local farming community and to partner with other organizations to address these needs.