Reflections from the RAPP Conference

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Written by Sarah Risely

CRIT agricultural programming staff had the great opportunity to host and attend the a national RAPP and ISED Solutions conference. This event brought together recipients of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), a federal grant program that provides funding to organizations that educate and mentor farmers-to-be, as well as organizations that pilot and report back on farmer training materials.

The conference gathered a large network of organizations running  agricultural programs across the country—both brand new and veterans  formed in the 80’s and 90’s. As a staff member of one of the ‘greener’  organizations, it was both affirming and inspiring to see such long-standing  and successful programs in cities reaching from Oakland, California to  Portland, Maine. The continued existence of these programs shows that t  they are not only sustainable, but programs that are useful for and desired  by refugee communities. Hearing their stories and seeing the work that they  have accomplished with their participants demonstrates how a trial-and-error, persistent, and humble approach to this work truly does pay off in the growth of gardens, programs, and participant success.

Perhaps the most helpful portion of the conference came in the form of program organizers presenting about their individual projects. Although coming from different contexts and using different approaches, each organization emphasized the importance of experiential student-driven learning. The Global Growers Network in Atlanta, Georgia spoke of their ‘scientific approach’ to learning: Identify a problem, develop solutions, test, and reflect. New American Sustainable Agricultural Project in Portland, Maine discussed comparing and contrasting farming practices in participants’ home countries and those in the U.S.—taking the time to discuss the “Why” behind these adaptations. These approaches put the farmers in charge of their education and emphasize self-reflection and farmer-to-farmer instruction—powerful tools for lasting educational experiences.

Although I left the conference thinking about the many challenges ahead, it was a comfort to know that there exists such a wide network of farmers, agencies, organizations, and experts all working towards a similar goal. Farming is a craft, honed over years and passed from generation to generation. Meeting such a driven and skilled group of individuals has shown me that this movement has created its own form of family in which knowledge is passed from one branch to the next. One that I hope will continue to grow and develop in the coming years.

Blackman Road Gardeners- part of Nashville’s refugee farming family .

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