BFRDP Projects

Growing a New Tradition of Urban Farmers ("New Traditions")
[Progress Report]

Award Amount: $749,781
Grant Program: 2022 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Education Projects
Project Director: Gracie Cavnar


  • Overview
  • Results
  • Materials
  • Delivery Area
  • Comments

Project Overview

To survive, new farms-both urban and rural, must be financially sustainable, which requires a working knowledge of location specific horticultural practices, solid business skills and a robust peer network. It is extremely expensive to learn on the job, and most new farming enterprises fail within three years. Advance training, continuous knowledge acquisition and a solid peer network is critical to success. Other than the obvious limitations of an aspirational or beginning farmers' available time and investment capital-particularly for members of the BIPOC community, women and veterans-a clear barrier to any new successful training effort is the ability of the program to equitably address the variability of experience, expectations, and goals that each brings. With the support of BFRDP-NIFA, we endeavor to increase the number of economically and environmentally sustainable urban farms operated by socially disadvantaged farmers in Houston and along the Gulf Coast by tackling issues of localized knowledge, available time, training expense, and access to professional and peer to peer support especially for members of the BIPOC community, women and veterans.

We continue to maximize the reach of Growing Urban Farmers New Traditions and ensure its ultimate success by providing customizable platforms, extended learning and robust networking opportunities, and making business incubation support available in an integrated training program designed to support working and underserved students. Ultimately, students may choose the classes that best fit their needs, interests, and schedules, allowing them to leverage their basic training into even more profitable urban agriculture specialties and skills. We are offering sliding scholarships that waive up to 100% of the tuition for every iteration of our training.

At the core of the program is our Growing Urban Farmers intensive training, a three-month, hands-on course involving students in the full range of day-to-day and strategic aspects that make a small urban working farm financially successful. To better fit students' work and family obligations, we recently adjusted the 12-week intensive to 20 hours a week, allowing participants to continue to hold a job or manage school-aged children.  This has proven extremely popular with the Fall ‘23 cohort of students already three times the size of the Spring ’23.

In addition to the intensive, a series of New Traditions Master Classes offering advanced and specialty deep-dive short courses are held throughout the year and made more accessible to socially disadvantaged students with convenient scheduling, scholarships, and/or waived tuition and fees.  We frequently hold these on Saturdays and evenings for the greatest convenience to our potential students. In our first year, we have conducted ten extended learning opportunities, attracting fifty students (some repeatedly).

To further reduce participation barriers, we are working to design a sophisticated, easy to use online version of Hope Farms' Growing Urban Farmers New Tradition Intensive and Master Classes.  We want to offer these classes using a mobile-friendly platform that is accessible anytime either online or via cellular service by both smartphone and computer.  While we are deeply knowledgeable about direct content delivery, we had a steep learning curve about the fast-developing best practices for online learning.  We convened an advisory board of professionals to guide our decision making and planning, which delayed the start, but we are confident that the final product will be far superior.  To build the program, we have selected a Learndash plugin for our Hope Farms WordPress website.  Our intention is to design a learner-centric course that not only achieves the desired knowledge outcome, but also provides an engaging experience. We have finalized selection of our camera crew and hired a professional content developer and production manager who will begin filming in the fall of 2023.
Finally, having a mentor can change the playing field for a small business. Research has shown that small businesses that receive mentoring early in the development of the business achieve higher revenues and increased business growth. Farming businesses are no different. We are helping build social capital for our students by incubating a collegial, peer-to-peer network of urban farmers that will continue to exist and grow through Farmer Talks, a series of quarterly networking gatherings of trainees, alumni, ag educators, community leaders, master farmers and chefs who will share best practices and experiences with each other. These gatherings also serve as a platform for Extension Agents and others to provide continuing education. We hosted two large and eight smaller gatherings over the course of our first year, helping to build powerful connections among successful, beginning and aspirational farmers.  In fact one alumni secured a job through this network.

We built upon proven evaluation tactics using a third-party evaluation scientist to capture each trainee's previous knowledge of farming, degree of prior exposure to farming and the business of farming, and the overall effectiveness of the Growing Urban Farmers New Traditions training program. Upon application and after completion of training, each student completes a short survey assessing their agricultural and business exposure in addition to their self-efficacy of training on the farm. We conduct additional in-person interviews midway through training, at the completion of their program to assess knowledge retention.  We conduct follow-up interviews at 6 months and 1 year after they complete their training to track their continued pursuit of farming as a meaningful full or part time career.  The first cohort of students measured for this progress reflected an increase in horticultural knowledge and farming practices of 46.5%, achieving an average of 85% on knowledge testing. At the end of the Spring GUF Intensive, one half of them continued to pursue food growing and horticulture immediately after training and were still growing food at scale six-months after completion of training.

Once online- only training opportunities become available in Year 3, we will adapt these methods to accommodate the volume and interface differences for online-only students. Incentives for feedback may be utilized, but the same milestones and analysis will be retained.

All of these data were reviewed by Dr. Melissa Paschalis and are being submitted with this report. We plan to compile summary reports and make them available to the broader farming community upon request via links on our website. Personal identifying information in data files will be removed to minimize disclosure risk.

Number of Participants: 96


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Delivery Area

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Individual Stories / Examples of Success