Workforce training through urban farming
The food system represents one of the fastest-growing sectors and businesses are constantly searching for qualified employees. To succeed in food businesses, those employees need to have relevant hard and soft skills as well as a potential career trajectory.
One organization providing workforce training and mentorship in the farm and food sector is the Urban Farming Institute. In the five years that UFI has been teaching students, about 70 percent of the graduates have gone on to work in the food and farming sector. They are now employed at UFI, CommonWealth Kitchen, the Bowdoin Street Health Center, OASIS at Ballou, and local farmers markets, among other enterprises.
The Urban Farming Institute, based in Roxbury and soon to be in Mattapan, runs a farmer training program in the spring to connect people with how food is produced, and to teach important job skills for work in the food system and beyond. Up to 30 people participate in the nine-week classroom course. Six to eight students from this class are selected for the intensive, 20-week summer field program. Those students learn and participate in all farm functions, attend field trips, and participate in courses in financial literacy and business planning. Students graduate with the skills to succeed in jobs in the food sector.
The neighborhoods around UFI can experience high unemployment, so providing job skills to people from the area and people of color is especially valuable. Attracting diverse students who would benefit from the program is an important component of UFI’s work; they partner with organizations that can help them reach potential students from those communities.
Through workshops and volunteer events, UFI also teaches residents how to grow food in their gardens, porches, or windowsills. UFI also organizes an annual urban-farming conference. A newly formed community land trust will eventually acquire urban plots that will be leased to farmers. UFI shows people throughout the community that, in the words of Bobby Walker, UFI farm training manager, “We don’t just grow food, we grow people.”