By LEIGH VINCOLA/ecoRI News contributor
PROVIDENCE — This growing season the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) will introduce a farming apprenticeship specifically designed for veterans and minorities. Funded by a grant from the USDA’s Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program, this is the first opportunity of its kind in the area.
The program, beginning in May, will place apprentices on three local farms.
SCLT’s mission is to provide opportunities for people to grow food, particularly in urban areas and with diverse populations. While the land trust’s urban gardening programs are strong, and have been for decades, it has been historically difficult for minority populations to enter into commercial growing.
“The lack of affordable farmland, education and resources for [veterans and] people of color has made it hard for them to get into organic farming as a career,” said Andrew Cook, SCLT’s farm network associate. “Our goal is to clear a path for anyone who wants to get started.”
The apprenticeship is a part-time paid position that runs through the entire 2016 growing season. Each apprentice will be exposed to the full range of daily experiences that go into running a commercial farm. In addition to hands-on work, SCLT will organize farm tours, workshops and educational opportunities that touch on the business and financial side of organic farming.
At the end of the season, with a business plan in hand, apprentices will have the opportunity to start their own farm at SCLT’s Urban Edge Farm in Cranston, where new plots have been cleared.
Christina Dedora, who runs Blue Skys Farm, is grateful for the collaborative environment at Urban Edge that has helped her sustain her business for a decade.
“This is my chance to pay it forward and pass along opportunities to others who want to get in involved,” she said.
Potential apprentices are being interviewed now, and the application pool is deep and robust, according to Cook. Participants are expected to be announced this month, and ecoRI News will follow their progress throughout the growing season.