By Billy Mitchell, NFU FSMA Training Coordinator
Over the years, the picture of a farmer and farm service provider working together has often looked the same – two people, sometimes with paperwork sprawled across a tailgate, looking out over rows and rows of a crop surrounded by farmland stretched to the horizon. It’s a classic scene, and one we are now seeing updated with an urban twist. Inside city limits across the U.S., small gatherings of people looking out at rooftops of flowers, small plots of diversified vegetables, or shipping containers filled with fragrant herbs. All these farms share one thing in common: they are tucked into a city landscape surrounded by homes, office buildings, and vacant lots. As these types of farms and farmers grow in number, educational opportunities that reflect the realities of farming in an area with more concrete than cows need to grow as well. That’s where groups like the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) come in.
NYFC has a long track record of providing education to urban farmers. Maggie Kaiser, who serves as the produce safety training coordinator for the organization, finds that there is a gap in what resources urban farmers need and what is readily available. She notes that these farmers can struggle to find assistance for “their growing operations, which may be operations using innovative ag technologies, smaller community-focused farms, or non-profit farms focused on education.” Kaiser knows from firsthand experience; she farms in New Orleans and has spent the past few years traveling the country to see and hear the challenges other urban farmers are facing. She helped Young Farmers meet one of those challenges – accessing produce safety education with a focus on small scale farmers – by co-authoring their guide A Small Farmer’s Practical Guide to Food Safety and a food safety online library resource page. Those are just two pieces of a much larger puzzle, and Kaiser says Young Farmers continues to close educational gaps “through online trainings, resources, and one-on-one technical assistance geared toward urban growers.”
The old saying that a photo is worth a thousand words has been backed up by study after study noting that visual aids can significantly improve retention. Recognizing this power of the photo and the need for adult learners to see themselves in the educational materials they are engaging with, Young Farmers will be adding photos and examples that showcase the urban farm landscape to the existing Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training curriculum. Kaiser and Young Farmers will also continue to take the time to listen and learn from growers, hosting urban agricultural panels that she says will “explore big issues facing urban growers and how they connect to their produce safety practices.” She sees this education addressing a big need, that “urban farms and community gardens often lack the personnel or financial ability to have a staff member wholly dedicated to food safety.” These resources will provide the education and tools for urban farmers to be confident in their produce safety knowledge and create food safety systems that are able to thrive in unique urban environments.
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