East Bay Urban Farmer Field School
A collaboration for urban farmer-driven community food security in the East Bay
In 10 years California's population will grow from 36 to 46 million people, with 80% concentrated in cities. Over the last decade, urban agriculture has improved access to fresh, affordable and nutritious food in the greater Bay Area – where in many neighborhoods one in three residents are food insecure. As we continue to grow, the San Francisco 9-county Bay Area will need effective urban food production to meet the demand for fresh, healthy, affordable food in low-income communities.
The rise of urban farms and gardens in the East Bay region is a reflection of widespread community efforts for food security in underserved neighborhoods. Nearly a dozen farms of half an acre to several acres in size and hundreds of community gardens now supply a significant portion of fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income residents in Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro through corner stores, farmers markets, community-supported agriculture, school gardens and grub box programs.
Urban farmers are a heterogeneous demographic with a rapidly-expanding—if uneven—knowledge base of agroecology, cuisine, dietary needs, marketing expertise and civic engagement. As food providers, urban gardeners have complex and evolving sets of needs and problems to solve that include land, financing, and technical assistance in soil remediation, fertility and pest management, as well as processing and packaging, distribution and marketing.
Most of these issues are being addressed independently by each farm, without the benefit of formal extension services. While many problems of urban agriculture are common to all East Bay urban farms, the ability to solve them is incomplete and fragmented within and between urban farmers. Unlike rural villages, where agricultural knowledge is continually shared and reinforced through extended family networks, informal knowledge sharing between urban farmers in the East Bay is difficult because farms are located in different neighborhoods and communities. A non-profit institutional culture of competition for limited grant funding prevails among community service organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area that is also not conducive to collaboration between urban farmers.
The East Bay Urban Farmer Field Schools builds the capacity of urban farmers—and the communities they serve—to address the production, distribution and inter-organizational issues facing local food systems in the East Bay. The field schools provide an opportunity to generate useful agroecological knowledge and build farmer-to-farmer and community relationships for community-driven food security.
Please consider a tax-deductible donation to support this work.
The East Bay Farmer Field Schools have started with three urban farm organizations that are rooted in underserved communities: Dig Deep, Spiral Gardens, Phat Beets. Food First facilitates the half-day meeting/workshops and contacts and brings in materials and expertise to address farmer’s concerns as needed (e.g., agroecologists, marketing specialists, etc.).
Farmers set their own learning agenda based on a collective assessment of their common problems. Learning sites rotate between participant’s farms in accordance with a schedule set by the farmers (e.g. monthly or bi-weekly). Food First will document the FFS process in written and video form, for uses to be determined by the farmers themselves.
Your donation will help grow this valuable field training in proven sustainable and organic farming techniques.
Background on Farmer Field Schools
Farmer Field Schools (FFS) and Farmer-to-Farmer methods have been instrumental in building local capacity to develop sustainable food systems in many parts of the world. Farmers, accompanied by a facilitator, establish a peer learning network based on innovation, solidarity and empowerment. The FFS meets periodically on participant’s farms to identify common problems and design experiments to test possible solutions. Basic agroecological knowledge and methods are shared between farmer-experimenters. Technical experts are brought in as needed. Steadily, farmers build the capacity to develop their own agriculture. As the FFS begin to address off-farm issues (distribution, marketing, financing, etc.), community members, local business people and social workers may be brought in to help define and test solutions to larger, local food system problems.
Some characteristics of this approach—applicable in rural and urban settings—include:
• methods are experiential, participatory, and learner centered.
• meetings include at least three activities: the agro-ecosystem analysis, a “special topic”, and a group dynamics activity.
• participants conduct a study comparing agroecological with conventional plots.
• between 25 and 30 farmers can participate in a Farmer Field School. Participants learn together in small groups of five to maximize participation.
• farmers make presentations about the results of their studies.
• pre- and post-assessments are conducted for diagnostic purposes and determining follow-up.
Although Farmer Field Schools were originally designed to promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM), empowerment has been an essential feature from the beginning. The curriculum of the FFS was built on the assumption that farmers could only implement IPM once they had acquired the ability to carry out their own analysis, make their own decisions and organize their own activities. The empowerment process, rather than the adoption of specific IPM techniques, is what produces many of the developmental benefits of the FFS
1. What is relevant and meaningful is decided by the learner and must be discovered by the learner. Learning flourishes in a situation in which teaching is seen as a facilitating process that assists people to explore and discover the personal meaning of events for them.
2. Learning is a consequence of experience. People become responsible when they have assumed responsibility and experienced success.
3. Cooperative approaches are enabling. As people invest in collaborative group approaches, they develop a better sense of their own worth.
4. Learning is an evolutionary process and is characterized by free and open communication, confrontation, acceptance, respect and the right to make mistakes.
5. Each person's experience of reality is unique. As they become more aware of how they learn and solve problems, they can refine and modify their own styles of learning and action.