Posted on Mar 02, 2021

EcoEducation: Farm at the Arb Apprenticeship at the MN Landscape Arboretum

The same day that we announced Liz and Steve's amazing gift of free access to the Arboretum for Twin Cities Rotary EcoClub members, we heard from Tim Wilson about the new (as of 2020) Farm Apprenticeship program at the Arb.  Although Minnesota is steeped in farm and agriculture history, fewer and fewer people are growing up on farms.  It can be hard for individuals who want to learn about making a living with small scale farming to find resources and information.  The Farm Apprenticeship addresses this issue. 
The newly opened Farm at the Arb (new as of 2019) is described as an interpretive farm - with fruits and vegetables grains an orchard and a vineyard.  While most of the research going on at the Arb is not open to the public, the Farm is a place where people can come and learn about agriculture.  
The Farm Apprenticeship program takes it to a next level and is designed for people who already have an excitement and interest in making a living in agriculture but do not have a farming background.  The program is a 9 month long paid internship with 450 classroom and lab hours and results in a U of M certificate and employment networking opportunities. The program also offers space for these budding farmers to experiment with their agriculture.  Access to farm land is a huge barrier to entry into agriculture.  
As far as the growing practices promoted by the program, the goal is to produce a very high yield in a small area.  Ways to do this is to extend the season (grow all 12 months of the year), choose plantings that are high value both in terms of nutritional value and the market.  For some participants the market can be providing food to their own communities through food shelves and community food programs.  For others it is local restaurants or co-ops.  
The Arb also maintains community youth gardens throughout the Twin Cities which are used as demonstration gardens and providing access to agriculture to people who may not be able to come to the Arboretum and normally would not be familiar with growing food.  Because of COVID, these community gardens could not be used as youth demonstration gardens in 2020.  The Farm Apprenticeship program took them over and focused on yield and in 2020, these gardens donated about 10,000 lbs of food across the Twin Cities. 
On prompting, our speaker, Tim, shared that his background includes starting CityFarm in Chicago - an effort to turn vacant lots into sustainable urban farms, and educate, engage, and feed the local community.  Pretty cool.  
The Arb Farm Apprenticeship program is seeking to expand to eventually provide apprenticeships to 25 people annually, expand the type of specialty crops that may be addressed and expand the community impact.  
Applications for the 2022 cohort will be available in the fall.