Ever dreamed of converting a vacant lot or a rooftop into a thriving farm? While many hopeful farmers begin their careers as apprentices on rural farms, now, opportunities to learn the bevy of skills necessary for starting and running successful urban farms are cropping up in the heart of New York City.
This year, the city’s largest school farm – the Youth Farm – will offer an 8 month training program for adults who want to get dirty and explore careers in organic agriculture and food justice. Apprentices pay on a sliding scale, and leave with a Certificate in Urban Farming.
Similar to many rural farms, the Youth Farm grows over 80 varieties of vegetables and over 60 varieties of flowers, and distributes their bounty through diverse markets: a 30 member CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”) program, a weekly farmers market, and multiple restaurant accounts.
Yet unlike its rural counterparts, the Youth Farm is located in East Flatbush, on a busy high school campus. Two hospitals are located right across the street, and diverse West Indian and Jewish residential communities just blocks away. The Farm offers some of the only fresh produce in the neighborhood, while community members are facing some of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the country.
“There are very few opportunities for people to explore this amazing career without leaving their home. Yet they might have a dream of improving our broken food system either through farming or education, and the Youth Farm is an ideal place to start,” says Co-Farm Manager Molly Culver, who is also a member of the farming collective BK Farmyards, which helps start up agricultural projects throughout Brooklyn and beyond.
Culver manages the Youth Farm with fellow BK Farmyards member Bee Ayer; both are graduates of the University of California – Santa Cruz’s renowned Farm and Garden program and developed the Urban Farm Training Program with their own UCSC apprenticeship in mind. Ayer brings a love of vegetables and Culver a love of flowers – they both teach around the city at the New School and for Farm School NYC, and share a commitment to creating equal access to farm training and fresh local food.
In order to simulate as much of a typical farming week as possible, Youth Farm apprentices work twenty hours a week on the farm, and work on specific sets of skills moving through four-week “rotations” in propagation (seed starting and greenhouse work), irrigation, CSA management, Flowers, and more.
The Urban Farm Training Program at the Youth Farm is designed as a part-time commitment: “Just enough time to ensure that you really absorb the skills, while leaving room in your schedule to pay the bills,” says Ayer.
The program is suited for lots of different people – there is no set type of participant:
“Maybe you really want to turn your love of cooking and gardening into a career, but you have a family or partner here in the city and you aren’t prepared to move to a farm upstate. Maybe you’re a chef looking to deepen your knowledge of specific vegetables. Or maybe you’re a teacher that wants to start a garden at your school. This program is suited for people who have diverse interests in helping grow our local food system,” adds Ayer.
Past program participants responded positively to the program in its pilot year in 2012. Said one, “There was so much opportunity for hands on work and the farmers were all very patient, kind and knowledgeable about the work.”
Said another, “I thought the schedule was a really perfect balance of feeling like you were consistently on the farm, while also being able to work on the side to support myself.”
If you are thinking of exploring farming as a career, download an application at www.bkfarmyards.com. Applications are due February 14th.
THE YOUTH FARM at Wingate Campus is a an educational production farm in East Flatbush that offers New Yorkers opportunities to increase their knowledge of the food system and build high-level organic growing skills to share with their communities. The Youth Farm grows organic food and ﬂowers on 1-acre for the community and beyond, and offers advanced farm training and leadership opportunities for youth and adults.
To schedule an interview with Molly call 646-623-6137 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.