Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Diversity in urban agriculture training: a dialogue with Farm School NYC

Back in April I posted an article on this blog about an urban agriculture conference I attended.  The email newsletter I sent out a week ago included a link to it, which brought it to the attention of one of the presenters at the conference, who requested for a correction.  The following email correspondence will include that correction, which I hope will create and inspire an ongoing conversation.  So read along and feel free to add your comment. I'm in the process of learning more about localizing agriculture, and will be writing more about it in future posts.

So following is
my response, and the original email I received from Jane Hodge, director of Farm School NYC.  I have invited Farm School NYC and Just Foods to reply in as much detail as they wish.  I will update this post with their reply, when it arrives. 


May 31, 2011


Thanks for getting back to me about my article. As you recall, I sent it to you for comment on April 5, just after I posted it, and did not hear from you until my email newsletter went out on May 24, which included a link to it, and again brought the article to your attention. I am glad that you were finally able to review it.  Since I'm clearly a supporter of the mission of Farm School NYC, I was surprised to hear that you were disappointed in the article. Here’s what I wrote about Farm School:

Jane Hodge of Just Food described Farm School NYC, the new school of urban agriculture. Just Food, if you don’t know, has helped start 80 community supported agriculture programs around the City, and a project linking locally grown food to 44 City food pantries and soup kitchens. Its City Farm program trains community gardeners to teach workshops and get out of the garden to interact with the surrounding neighborhood.

In the first year of the Farm School program, students take 15 core courses. In the second year, students will focus on either teaching, advocacy, urban agriculture, or enterprise development, through classes and a lengthy apprenticeship. Demand for training is high. For its 2011 pilot year, there were over 200 applicants for the 20 official spaces in the part time certificate program. Over half of the applicants have been women, a large number in their 20s and 30s, over half from Brooklyn, over half white. The School hopes to put course content online – a very prudent move, considering that the courses are already taking place, and can easily be made available online for what seems to be a large number of eager students with a modest investment in video editor staff time. USDA gave them funding for three years of operations.

It seems that the main reason for your disappointment is one line: “Over half of the applicants have been women, a large number in their 20s and 30s, over half from Brooklyn, over half white.” As you point out now, “less than half of the applicants were white, less than half were from Brooklyn.”

I want to acknowledge this correction. I hope that you will understand that I was taking notes by hand in the back of the room, and didn’t have access to your presentation notes, let alone detailed recall of them. 

However, in your email which I copy below, you seem to be a little defensive about your efforts to ensure a diverse applicant pool and student body.  I don’t see why you should be defensive, if as you say, less than half of the applicants are white, and less than half are from Brooklyn. Sounds like you've been doing a good job, and that you learned from your outreach efforts.

I agree with you that it is important that urban agriculture training be made available to NYC’s diverse communities, and I salute the Farm School’s commitment to this principle. So I invite you to share what you’ve learned.

As soon as you reply in writing, I'll add your answers to this blog post.  I also hope to get lots of comments from readers.  Invite your students and partners to comment too!

- What has been the nature of Farm School NYC’s outreach to diverse communities?

- What have your students, partners and contacts in those communities told you are their motivations for getting involved with urban agriculture, and pursuing study at Farm School NYC?

- Have those contacts told you about obstacles or concerns preventing them from studying at Farm School, or pursuing urban agriculture?

- If so, what are they? How can you and other urban agriculture advocates lessen those barriers?

The article also reviewed what I could recall of the presentations of various other speakers: Karen Washington, president of the NYC Community Garden Coalition; green market farmer Keith Stewart; Severine von Tscharner Fleming of the Greenhorns; Jeremy Smith, author of Growing a Garden City; and Christina Grace of NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.  I included quite a lot of links to various websites.   

Then, I asked a number of questions about where urban agriculture is headed in NYC.

Because I think Farm School NYC is such an important initiative, and few such trainings exist in NYC, some of the questions specifically mention Farm School. They're rhetorical questions and are not intended to be viewed as criticisms, but as opportunities for thought and discussion, and to advance the goals that Farm School NYC advocates.

The following questions go beyond the diversity issue to the larger context of scaling up urban agriculture in NYC.  We will all benefit from Farm School NYC’s experience. I look forward to your responses to these questions, which I will add to the new blog post as soon as you provide them. Here follow the questions from the original April 4 article:

The presenters covered a lot of ground, so to speak. How do we connect the dots, and identify possibilities, obstacles and fixes? Here's a number of questions to fill the next steps in our inquiry. Please add your answers, responses, and more questions in the comments section.

- The Farm School is certainly an attractive training program with strong demand. Where do the students trained in the Farm School go after graduation?

- With only twenty in the program now, what is the expected maximum number of students the program can sustainably train each year? Are there other training programs that are comparable?

- How many agriculture related job openings are there now in NYC? What are agricultural business opportunities not yet widespread in NYC which could reasonably be encouraged?

- Given that limited number of actual openings, is this program overly idealistic, with limited options for its graduates? If more options need to be developed for Farm School graduates, what might they be?

- Are there existing proposals to incentivize and encourage growth of NYC agriculture related jobs?

Thanks in advance for your response, which I will add below your letter. 



From: Jane Hodge [mailto:jane@justfood.org]

Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 12:44 PM

To: Dan Miner

Cc: jacquie@justfood.org'; Amy Blankstein

Subject: Re: Jacquie & Jane - BeyondOilNYC report from an NYC urban agriculture conference - your comments please?

Hi Dan,

Thanks for forwarding on your article, and I apologize for not getting back to you right away. I appreciate you writing about Farm School NYC, but I feel disappointed about some of what you said.

The information that you gave about the demographics of Farm School NYC's applicants is incorrect and misrepresents what I actually said at the conference. Here is all of what you wrote about our demographics: "For its 2011 pilot year, there were over 200 applicants for the 20 official spaces in the part time certificate program. Over half of the applicants have been women, a large number in their 20s and 30s, over half from Brooklyn, over half white." For a start, your information is incorrect. According to what we presented that day, less than half of the applicants were white, less than half were from Brooklyn. We had applicants from all 5 boroughs and outside of NYC, representing a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and our students so far have ranged in age from 22 to 87. But what is almost more significant is that you didn't mention anything about our commitment to ensuring a diverse applicant pool and student body, and not only was that my point that day at the conference, but that is one of the strongest foundations of Farm School NYC.

If you remember, I discussed the demographics of our applicants in the first application process after we had done quite a bit of outreach. Then I described the demographics of the applicants in the second round of applications, when we had done no outreach. What we found was that our outreach significantly impacted the diversity of the applicants, and that we are now committed to continuing to do that outreach. That was my message that day, and unfortunately that message is completely missing from your report back.

If you continue to distribute this article, I’d appreciate it if you could make changes to accurately represent what I said and what Farm School NYC stands for.

Thank you



Jane Hodge

Farm School NYC Director

Just Food

(212)645-9880 x228


On Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 6:16 PM, Dan Miner wrote:

Hi – I’m looking to identify promising new projects in urban agriculture / neighborhood food security, write about them, and find collaborators. Can you review this article, and suggest what future articles in the series should cover? Forward as you see fit. Please post your comments directly in the comments section of the blog. Thanks! - Dan


A report from an NYC urban agriculture conference

Dan Miner, BeyondOilNYC


At a recent urban agriculture conference in NYC, panelists discussed: the community garden movement; farming in the metro region for NYC greenmarkets; the transformative potential of community agriculture projects; the NYC Farm School; the growing community of young farmers; and today’s leading urban agriculture projects in NYC. To explore likely next steps in NYC food policy, and promising new projects, Beyond Oil NYC summarizes conference proceedings and poses twenty questions.

Answer a question, share your opinion, post your own question, and pitch your project in the comments section – or contact Dan Miner at 718.786.5300 x 27 or danminer@licbdc.org. Thanks!


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