Training for Urban Ag- Gardening/Farming and Horses
March 4, 2013 10:12 AM   Subscribe

So I am really interested in the Food Justice movement and urban gardening. Ideally, I would like to be involved with helping people grow their own food in the city. I have NO experience. I am pursuing a Masters in Public Health and I think that this would dovetail nicely with my research interests. Would it be a good idea for me to get formal training in gardening?

I see that Tufts offers a dual degree in Agriculture, Food & Environment and Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning . I'm not sure if the Urban Planning degree is something that would be helpful. I'm not super interested in that subject- I am more excited about the Urban Ag/Food issues. NYU's MA program in Food Studies- Food Systems, also looks really interesting. But, I really would like to get hands-on farmer and gardening training. I have seen Growing Power, put their program is very expensive, also Windy City Harvest looks great- they offer a certificate program which appeals to me- but it is a 40 hr a week program, so I will not be able to pursue that training while working and in school. Maybe after?? I was going to do a 7 month program with a community garden project but it got canceled. So what are your thoughts? In regards to formal training- is that is a good idea ? and where to study and any other ideas. Another question, loosely related is stable management.

I REALLY want to get around horses again, but taking lessons can be expensive, and I am living in chicago right now. When I was in North Carolina, I took a class at the community college on stable management. This was perefect, it was super cheap and I got to be around horses- brushing, riding, mucking stalls etc. I have not been able to easily find something like that in Chicago. Any ideas about where I should look for a similar program//opportunity like the one I mentioned?
posted by TRUELOTUS to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The academic world for this is not my forte, but here's some other resources that come to mind:

Growing Power enlists volunteers at their facility on Iron St in Chicago. Why not start there?

Also, there are several mailing lists for the food policy community here in Chicago/suburbs. AUA (Advocates for Urban Agriculture) has a great one. Jump on and start connecting.

If you are near Logan Square, come visit the only storefront food co-op in the city, the Dill Pickle. (Full disclosure: I started it and just completed my second term with the board.) Personal pride aside, our folks are beyond connected in the food justice movement here in the city and can be a great resource for you.

Also, next Friday, March 15 from 9-5, is the 8th Annual CFPAC Food Policy Summit at UIC, part of the Good Food Festival. I'm speaking on one of the panels; let me know if you're going, and perhaps we can met up and grab a few minutes to talk.
posted by deliciae at 10:24 AM on March 4, 2013

I can't help much, but my sister is a public health person and has spent the last several years hovering around urban ag and basically everything you're talking about. Judging by what she's done, and what my urban hippie friends are into, I think you need to back out of the "formal" training mindset for a bit. Professional level employment in this area is limited, and there are tons of volunteers doing the actual hands-in-dirt farmwork every day without paying for the field experience.

Call up an urban farm group you admire and start digging. Ask around for people who are employed in the field (hah!) and find out what qualifications/degrees are actually required. You'll spend a lot less money and get more practical experience that way.
posted by Think_Long at 10:36 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Therapeutic riding stables may need volunteers to help with the dirty work, and in return may allow you to ride. (Note none of those listed are actually in the city.)

The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences may need volunteers or have programs you can get involved in.

Chicago Master Gardener training, through the University of Illinois Extension.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:42 AM on March 4, 2013

While Think_Long is probably correct in the short term, in the long run, we're going to need people with degrees in this field.

Right now, most of the people I know in urban agriculture are at a maximum, master gardeners. Most of us (at least in L.A.) are just flying by the seat of our pants. Eventually, if this movement continues, we'll need people to actually be experienced in the field and have something to teach.

In terms of hands-on experience, I second the master gardener training.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:47 AM on March 4, 2013

Looking at Public Health programs, you might also look at BU, I know at least one professor there has been involved in urban gardening and public health issues.

I agree with the above that volunteering with an urban gardening group will get you great actual gardening experience and know-how. And that paying jobs in the field are relatively rare.
posted by ldthomps at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2013

Response by poster: WOW! Thanks! I just love the support here. Hey IDTHOMPS, I was accepted to BU so I'll take another look, thanks :) Ok, I will not thread sit. Just wanted to make sure I expressed gratitude.
posted by TRUELOTUS at 10:58 AM on March 4, 2013

Thirding Master Gardener training to start. There is a volunteering component to it, and I would then absolutely volunteer with a local urban farming org to round out the hands-on learning.

I don't disagree that long-term there will be more call for degrees in the field, but I think picking up the formal training can be a more long-term goal, informed by experience. Master Gardener training and volunteering with an urban ag organization will give you a broad look at the issues involved, hands-on gardening experience, and immediate involvement.
posted by faineant at 11:23 AM on March 4, 2013

Two quick points:

1. Go read Paradise Lot. It just came out and it is a fantastic, inspirational and practical book about urban gardening. It is so good that I think you should read it before you make any other decisions.

2. If I was going to grad school and wanted to get into urban gardening and permaculture, I would try for real, practical, skills instead of a "planning" or "policy" degree. Those people are a dime a dozen. Get the technical and life-sciences background and the problem solving mind-set, and you can get a job anywhere, or hang up your own shingle like the two guys in the book above-- be your own boss and make a nice living doing what you want. If I were in your shoes, I would be looking for a grad school in Landscape Architecture that has a program tailored to what you are looking for. I know from experience that the University of Washington hits all of those major goals you listed-- they even offer a specialization in urban gardening, I think. Good luck!
posted by seasparrow at 1:29 PM on March 4, 2013

If I wanted to make a difference in the public perception and acceptance of urban farming I'd pursue coursework in eco-toxicology, specifically persistent soil contaminants and bio-concentration thereof, or hydrology/ water management or landscape architecture. Pretty sure these are the hurdles to wider adoption, there are already plenty of people who know how to grow vegetables.
posted by fshgrl at 2:10 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you checked out Center for a Livable Future at Hopkins? I know of them (although not personally) as a program combining public health and food security / agriculture / social justice.

As a fellow MPH candiate and someone with ~4 years of health education experience, I'll echo what Think_Long said above - real community experiences should inform your next steps, especially before getting a second Masters degree. My impression is that urban gardening projects that are most successful aren't so because someone had an in-depth knowledge of botany, or other technical details (although getting those people on your team might be critical) - it's about the collaborative community organizing, building sustainable partnerships between those with land and those who want to use it for something not obviously "profitable".

I defer to those with more experience in this specific field, but from the health organizations I've worked in and for, real-world successes (and struggles) tell me way more about that person's skill and expertise than the number of degrees they've gotten! And PS - you rock! I love hearing about other public health folks doing innovative things with their degrees! :)
posted by pants at 7:13 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older How can I randomize colored squares?   |   Arroz con YUM! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.