Country farming and city farming are like two sides of the same coin: Both involve raising plants and animals for food and require similar expertise in horticulture and animal husbandry. But in contrast to their country cousins, urban farmers face unique challenges when it comes to dealing with land scarcity, an urban ecosystem and the political whims of city governments. Until now, there have been limited opportunities for urban farmers to obtain a well-rounded education about all of the aspects of urban farming while receiving hands-on experience in the field.
In response to that need, Just Food in New York announced that in January 2011, it will open Farm School NYC: The New York City School of Urban Agriculture. The school will offer a two-year certificate program in urban agriculture in addition to individual short courses for non-certificate students.
More Than ‘Just Food’
Just Food has connected local farms to New York neighborhoods since 1995. It helps to increase access to fresh food in the urban setting by promoting community-supported agriculture and by facilitating increased production, marketing, and distribution of food from community gardens.
In a natural next step, Just Food initiated the formation Farm School NYC to make urban agriculture training programs accessible to people of all income and educational levels, to expand urban farming, and subsequently to reduce hunger and diet-related diseases in low-income urban communities.
Farm School NYC will offer academic education and hands-on field experience for aspiring urban farmers. The program meets urban-farming businesses’ increasing need for education in food security and economic development, says Jacquie Berger, executive director for Just Food.
“This program is for those [who] want a career in urban farming, which requires a broader and deeper experience in the urban farm setting,” she says.
According the school’s executive board, Farm School NYC is the first of its kind. While other universities might offer agriculture programs or short-term community certificate programs, this program is unique in that the scope, intensity and size of the program is more comprehensive any other, says Berger.
In addition to the expected agriculture courses, the farm school’s coursework includes carpentry basics, food justice, culinary skills, marketing, and small-farm planning and design. Instructors will have diverse backgrounds, from those with formal agriculture training to those with community organizing experience.
Academic work will be balanced with farm work in real-world classrooms that include community gardens and urban farms scattered throughout the city.
Taqwa Community Farm in the Bronx will host one of the Farm School NYC classrooms. In the shadow of Yankee Stadium, what once was a vacant lot is now a vibrant urban farm full of garden plots, fruit trees, chickens, bees and a water-catchment system.
“Taqwa Community Farm in the Bronx is the type of urban farm that we want to invest in and replicate,” Berger says. “It is a model to follow.”
She says she hopes Farm School NYC will perpetuate the practices of this farm throughout New York and along the East Coast.
Farm School Enrollment
Enrollment in Farm School NYC is available to anyone who can commute to the class locations. The courses are 10 weeks long. A typical week will include one three-hour weeknight class and one four-hour weekend class. The first year will consist of 15 courses, and during the second year, students will participate in a five-month apprenticeship with advanced courses in their chosen fields of study.
Just Food expects 10 certificate students to enroll in Farm School NYC per course during the first semester and plans to expand to 100 students as they admit those interested in individual courses. The directors of Farm School NYC are working with universities in New York to obtain accreditation for the program in the near future.
Students wishing to enroll in Farm School NYC will need to complete a written application and interview. They will be selected based on demonstrated desire, life experience and their plans after completing the program. Applications are available through Just Food’s website or by calling 212-645-9880 extension 224.
The cost of the certificate program will be determined based on need using a sliding scale. Individual courses will cost up to $15 per hour of classroom time.
Certificate-track students are required to participate in work-study during their second year. The work-study helps defray student fees and ensure the sustainability of the school.