Thursday, April 9, 2015

What do you do in the winter?

We hear this question often. The answer is: A LOT! While the market season brings the busyness of harvesting and farmer’s markets, the winter gives us time to dig deep in the learning process. As the Juniper Garden’s farm manager said recently, “This is a school, so I hope you see every interaction as a learning opportunity.” As a training farm- no matter the season- we focus on building the skills needed for New Roots farmers to succeed. Here are a few things that the farmers have been up to since the markets finished last fall! 

Every year beginning in January, Catholic Charities and Cultivate KC staff host weekly workshops that New Roots farmers are required to attend. The workshops begin with farmers signing their annual land lease and agreeing to the terms of the program. Topics then vary from greenhouse basics to paying sales tax and organic certification. Though all of the New Roots farmers grew food before they came to the United States, growing unfamiliar vegetables in a new climate can be quite a challenge. We value the time we have in the winter to review things we already knew and learn new skills from one another!

English Classes
All of the New Roots farmers speak English as their second (and sometimes third!) language. They are dedicated to improving their farm business by learning more English every year. Volunteers from the community spend a few hours each week in farmers’ homes, teaching everything from basic math to ordering seeds from a catalog. Farmers are given the chance to practice their English with native speakers in a relaxed setting, gearing up for the more hectic scenarios they find at the market! We are grateful for such incredible volunteers who spend months not only helping farmers with English, but building relationships.

Once February hit, New Roots farmers were ready to plant! With the help of a grant and volunteers, we were able to convert our high tunnel at Juniper Gardens into a greenhouse so the season can start early for us. New Roots farmers planted their Walla Walla onions when there was still frost on the plastic over the greenhouse! Farmers learn the process of starting plants inside, potting up, hardening off and then planting in their plots. They see the advantages to starting this way, and are able to navigate the seasonal differences from their home countries.

CSA and Market Paperwork
Applying to sell at a Farmer's Market can be a challenging feat! Most applications are several pages long and require a lot of documentation. With the language barrier, New Roots farmers often struggle to complete the applications on their own. We begin the process with interpreters, reading through rules and regulations, and have each farmer fill out their own applications. Though it's a lengthy process, the hope is that doing this several years in a row will equip farmers with the ability and confidence to complete them on their own when they graduate. The winter season is also spent following up with CSA customers, making contracts and planting according to how many people they will feed with their shares. This is a big undertaking, but our farmers value the relationships they gain through this process.

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