Growing organic farmers
Well before Safeway launched a line of organic products or Craigslist posted openings for school garden coordinators, UC Santa Cruz was training students for careers in organic farming.
The UC Santa Cruz Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture started in 1967 when the concept of organic was in its infancy. Forty-three years later, organic has gone mainstream and the apprenticeship program is more popular than ever.
A recently published study looking at the apprenticeship’s last 20 years found that a large percentage of its alumni are still involved in growing and marketing organic food and teaching others how to do so.
“It’s like an incubator,” said lead study author Jan Perez, research specialist with the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. “It’s a place for people to really experiment and live their values and be in a supportive community.”
The six-month residential apprenticeship program, which the center runs in conjunction with UC Santa Cruz Extension, features hands-on training in gardens, greenhouses, orchards and fields. The program combines theoretical and practical instruction, with students not only studying in the classroom but also taking fields trips and marketing organic produce on campus.
Of 299 alumni surveyed, more than 80 percent have done some type of farming or gardening work since graduating, with 65 percent still doing this work. Forty-two percent said they created jobs that did not previously exist and 35 percent are working in an educational area, according to the study in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.
For example, two apprentice alumni started Pie Ranch, a working Peninsula farm that educates high school students from San Francisco to Santa Cruz about sustainable agriculture. The farm, which grows ingredients for pies on its pie-shaped ranch, even has its own apprenticeship program.
“They’re really spreading what they’ve learned,” Perez said.
Meanwhile, interest continues to spread in the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. Last year, applications rose to 187 for more than 30 slots. This year’s application period closed Thursday (Sept. 30).