As a first-time participant of the National Urban Extension Conference (NUEC), I was delighted to be surrounded by Extension professionals who work within similarly diverse counties as the one I serve. Two specific things stuck with me from the conference. One was how D’Argagnan Scorza, from UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability and also Founder and Director of the Social Justice Learning Institute, challenged attendees to identify “what we do as Extension professionals.” After leaving us to think, he provided his answer “we develop.” The other presentation that stuck with me was a workforce development presentation by Geniphyr Ponce-Pore from Colorado State University. She connected 4-H’s Life Skill Wheel to the soft skills many employers seek as the basis of hiring. So, as an agricultural and natural resources (ANR) educator who is working to “develop” residents in the arena of agriculture and horticulture, how do I use this to inspire programing?
Building future career pools. The idea of building future career pools for nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers, and farms is exciting. Cross-programing 4-H and ANR could be a great opportunity to do so. Youth often only consider careers they are exposed to and see people like themselves in. In urban settings this doesn’t often include ag careers. I was left with the question of, how can I work with 4-H to widen those horizons, expose youth to careers they might have not otherwise considered? 4-H provides the soft skills and beyond. How can ANR provide the base of technical skills, experiences on farms and in greenhouses, and an introduction to the industry?
Working with adults seeking careers. In Cuyahoga, I already do some work to “develop people” who are seeking agricultural careers. We have a program called Market Gardener Training, and its goal is to allow people to learn what it takes to start their own farm business. The participants are interested in urban agriculture as a source of income and a way to provide fresh foods to their community. We have had more than 200 participants and continue to see interest year after year. The motivation to start a farm business is strong, however for some participants the agriculture and business development skills are not—this leaves people with an incredibly steep learning curve to climb.
After listening to the workforce development presentation, it got me thinking about methods and partners that could help participants climb fast. A review of new and beginning farmer programs advises practitioners to go beyond classroom lectures, to include on-farm experiential-learning, online resources, and support in building social and knowledge networks (Niewolny & Lillard, 2010). In the way of partners, there are workforce development agencies in Cleveland that focus on getting people into new careers quickly. I have a sense that workforce development agencies know the struggle of a steep learning curve and working with people who need to climb fast. I am interested in connecting with local workforce development agencies to better understand the strategies they use to address these struggles.
I still have much to explore. If anyone is working on building future career pools or working with adults seeking careers, I am interested to connect on the topic. Like the advice I give to beginning farmers, I am open to listening and learning from others for best practices and lessons learned. In this case, relating to developing people into agriculture and horticulture careers.
Niewolny, K. L., & Lillard, P. T. (2010). Expanding the boundaries of beginning farmer training and program development: A review of contemporary initiatives to cultivate a new generation of American farmers. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 1(1), 65–88. Retrieved from https://www.foodsystemsjournal.org/index.php/fsj/article/view/11/4
Article Courtesy of Margaret Rivera, Agriculture and Natural Resource Educator, Cuyahoga County.