ALBA’s Farmer Education and Enterprise Development (FEED) project develops the organic farming skills of immigrant farmworkers to support a more equitable and environmentally sustainable agriculture sector. The project leverages ALBA’s experienced bilingual staff, a proven consortium of farm service providers and a 100-acre organic farm training facility in the Salinas Valley.
Each year, some 75 limited-resource farmers gain affordable access to education, land, farming equipment and technical assistance. Through hands-on, land-based learning, they develop organic production and business management skills to pursue the dream of farm ownership or find better jobs. FEED has 2 components over five years: PEPA, and the Organic Farm Incubator, described below.
The Farmer Education Course (PEPA) offers participants on-farm education on organic farming practices and farm business management. Each year, aspiring farmers and agriculture professionals enroll in the 1-year, 250-hour course which uses both classroom and field training to prepare participants for launching and operating an organic vegetable and strawberry farm.
The course is split into 5, 8-week modules on soil health and crop planning, business planning, marketing, and organic production. The final module takes them through a ‘boot camp’ for farmers readying to launch their own farm which involves business plan development and coaching by staff and partners.
The class meets on a weekday evening and on Saturday afternoons to accommodate work schedules. Accredited by Hartnell Community College, ALBA welcomes guest speakers from the agribusiness, public and non-profit sectors and organizes field trips to give participants exposure to farm ownership and career pathways in organic agriculture.
Organic Farm Incubator (OFI)
Graduates of PEPA may enter the Organic Farm Incubator and launch their own farm on ALBA’s land. In any given year, ALBA leases over 80 acres of farmland to 36 to 40 start-up organic farms, of which 10 to 15 are newly launched. Land and equipment are offered at subsidized prices, set at 20% of market price in the first year, rising to 80% in the fourth and final year. Starting on 1/2 acre, farms expand up to five acres over four years before they transition from ALBA to continue farming independently.
Technical assistance from staff and partners, however, is provided at no charge while in the incubator. On a daily basis, ALBA’s experienced staff provides farmers guidance on production, management and compliance issues to help nascent farm enterprises establish themselves in a highly competitive environment.
Four members of our staff provide hands-on field assistance to our farmers in:
- Crop planning and ground preparation
- Sustainable production practices to maximize soil health.
- Organic pest management
- Tractor use and irrigation system management
Harvest and post-harvest handling Four additional staff members help with business and compliance issues:
- Business and financial management
- Marketing strategy and client development
- Employee and labor management
Managing food safety and organic certification standards. In addition, ALBA taps the expertise of several partners who provide training and business services to our farms (link to partners section) who provide business support services while in the incubator and through the transition to independent farm ownership.
ALBA is known for incubating organic family farms, but the program may have a greater impact on the workforce. In a typical class, 35 participants complete at least one module of PEPA, and 20 graduates complete all 5 modules. Twelve go on to launch a farm at ALBA, of whom 5 are establish viable farm enterprises. Therefore, only about 15% of ALBA participants end up farming independently with the majority using the experience to secure better employment or to earn college credit for students of Hartnell community college while providing valuable on-farm experience and career exposure.
With the agriculture sector facing a labor shortage along with a surge demand for organic produce, our land-based training in organic farm management is opening new opportunities for limited-resource farmers. We are observing these skills are being used by participant to find jobs that provide more comfortable and stable livelihoods than contract field labor.
- Farm management (e.g. Foremen, Supervisors, Production Managers)
- Food safety auditor
- Quality assurance
- Marketing and sales
- Irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide services
- Equipment operator
- Labor contractor
- Produce distribution
- Resource conservation
In the Community
ALBA has its hands full training farmers, but we also contribute on several community initiatives to give the community better access to food and on-farm education.