September 2013: Alameda Point Collaborative’s Farm2Market Project

The Farm2Market Project is a program of the Alameda Point Collaborative (APC), a non-profit organization that provides housing and supportive services to families whose lives have been impacted by homelessness and disabilities. Located on the former Alameda Naval Air Station, Farm2Market is a support service program that provides paid work-training opportunities for APC residents engaged in workforce re-entry through an On-the-Job Training (OJT) Program.

Originally developed as a nutrition education and leadership development project for the youth of APC, the farm, then called “The Growing Youth Project,” focused mainly on issues of food access and healthy eating.  Re-designed as Farm2Market, the physical farm site now meets two priority APC community needs; providing healthy food alternatives and nutrition education, and through the development of a work-training environment where resident job trainees can develop transferable skills and tools.

The new goals carry over the Growing Youth Project (GYP) vision to provide information, education and access to healthy food alternatives.  The experience of homelessness can severely impact an individual or family’s ability to access healthy, nutritious foods and fresh produce. When homeless, meals are often obtained through soup kitchens, shelter meals and/or fast foods. Having the ability to make food choices or to prepare one’s own food is limited. Farm2Market produce is key to developing a new relationship and culture related to food and nutrition.  Produce from the Farm2Market farm is used as the foundation of every meal or refreshment served at APC sponsored activities and meetings, and is available for all OJT’s who work at the farm site.

Simultaneously, there is a strong correlation between the experience of homelessness and lack of income from employment.  For many, undiagnosed and untreated disabilities have kept people out of the workforce.  For others, irregular, spotted or non-verifiable work histories and long-term unemployment result in major challenges to obtaining and maintaining employment.

Farm2Market was specifically designed to use farm tasks to build general employability skills and tools.  The general goal of the program is not to train “farmers”, therefore, all tasks on the farm are discussed in the larger context of the skills practiced.  Farm2Market tasks such as soil and bed preparation, greenhouse propagation and plant care teach long term planning skills.  Weeding, irrigating, pest control and harvesting practice inventory development and management skills. While washing and preparing produce for market exercise the importance of quality control, product display, customer service and marketing skills.

Farm2Market operates as a small business Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and wholesale distribution operation, which in turn helps to fund the farm employment project.  The CSA member program initiated its first season in April 2013 with ‘seasonal’ 3 month memberships.  Working as a member of the Farm2Market team, trainees not only learn work readiness skills and engagement tools, they learn and understand how each workplace task is essential to the success of the production of quality fruits and vegetables to meet inventory needs for market commitments.  As such, unlike traditional CSA memberships, Farm2Market memberships support the resident on-the job training program by funding farm operations.

CSA shares, and more information about the project, are available at http://apcollaborative.org/csa/.

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