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Apprenticeships boost local food systems

Program to help meet increasing demand for local produce and support new growers.

Claudene Wharton, Communications and Senior Marketing Specialist

June 28, 2023

4 Min Read
Organic farm
An organic farm in California is tended to.USDA ARS

Some aspiring small-scale farmers will have the opportunity to serve a one-year apprenticeship to bolster their abilities to start and run a small-scale operation, thanks to a new Nevada Farm Apprenticeship Program being offered by the University of Nevada, Reno.

The program will provide a $40,000 stipend to participants, based on an average of 32 program hours a week, and will be hosted at the University’s Desert Farming Initiative, which is part of the Experiment Station’s Valley Road Field Lab in Reno.

It is expected to be the first certified farm apprenticeship program in Nevada, pending certification from the Nevada Department of Labor.

“We are really pleased to be able to offer this hands-on, intensive farming apprenticeship program, to help fill in the gaps for those with a degree or some background in agriculture, but not quite enough knowledge or experience to start and run their own small-scale farming business,” said Bill Payne, dean of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. “Our Desert Farming Initiative team has put together an excellent program that I am sure will help establish some new small-scale farms in our state.”

The initial program is being funded by a $256,000 three-year grant from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, as part of its Regional Food Systems Partnership Program, along with contributions from the College.

Applications for the first two apprenticeships will be taken beginning this July. Selections will be made through a competitive process, and apprenticeships begin in October. Next summer, applications will be taken for another three apprenticeships, with those chosen beginning October 2024.

Inspired by California

Staff visited three successful apprenticeship programs in California to build Nevada’s program with time-tested approaches. Apprentices will be guided through a science-based curriculum taught by a team of specialists from the College and partners in the agricultural industry, as well as will receive hands-on practical farm training at the Desert Farm Initiative and partner farms, including Holley Family Farms in Dayton. The program emphasis is on certified-organic and climate-smart practices for small-scale outdoor farming.

Each apprentice will manage a farm incubator space at the Desert Farming Initiative, where they will execute a crop and sales plan according to their particular farming interests. They will be allotted approximately one-eighth of an acre for growing field crops, temperature-controlled greenhouse space for starting seedlings, and half of a hoop house for season extension. Incubator spaces will be managed under the Desert Farming Initiative’s organic certification and Nevada producer license, as well as rigorous food safety requirements.

“This program will be a springboard for people who are serious about pursuing a career in fruit and vegetable production,” said Jill Moe, director of the Desert Farming Initiative, adding that it’s for those who intend to do small-scale farming, meaning a gross farm income of anywhere between $25,000 to $350,000. “We’re hearing from farmers market managers, food co-ops and food hubs that there just isn’t enough local produce to meet regional demand, and we’re creating a pathway to success for a new generation of farmers.”

Moe added that the farm-to-fork and local foods movements have inspired new interest in farming as a career, but that there’s a lot to know before jumping in.

“It’s not just understanding how to grow crops in this climate,” Moe said. “It’s also creating a business plan, marketing, food safety, legal requirements, accounting, software, collaboration within the food system and managing people. Our program will cover all that and more.”

Business education

The Churchill Entrepreneur Development Association and the Churchill office of the Nevada Small Business Development Center will provide education in business principles and practices. Apprentices who complete the program will understand the regional farming landscape in Nevada, farm-to-market avenues, and topics in food security and food sovereignty.

Moe said the program will also prioritize Hispanic, indigenous and other underserved community members, and is working with tribal communities and the College’s Extension unit to incorporate appropriate information and guest instructors.

Team members who are developing and will implement the program include Anna Miller, education program coordinator; Garrett Menghini, farm production manager; Felipe Barrios Masias, associate professor focusing on agronomy; Staci Emm, Extension professor managing the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program; and Kelli Kelly, agricultural business advisor with the Churchill Enterprise Development Association.

Successful applicants will have at least two seasons of farming experience, or a degree from an agricultural education program, or demonstrated experience as a gardener with intention to scale up into farming. Further information about the program and application instructions will be posted to the program’s website in early July.

“We want to provide practical information and hands-on training for those with some farming knowledge and the burning desire to get into the business,” Moe said. “It’s about equipping them with the knowledge they need to start a successful, sustainable enterprise, while contributing to our state’s healthy local food supply and economy. It’s what a land-grant university should be doing, right?”

Source: University of Nevada, Reno

About the Author(s)

Claudene Wharton

Communications and Senior Marketing Specialist, University of Nevada, Reno

Wharton has more than 30 years of experience in collaborative leadership, community engagement, government and media relations, program development and implementation, fund development and fundraising, management and strategic communications for nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education.

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