To address the grower skills training gap, we have spent time asking new entrant growers what would have helped them to better launch their careers as they grow their own businesses. 

We have collected that hindsight and are now in the process of developing a year-long, in-depth, practical / theory based course on a dynamic growing project Nr. Bristol. The aim is that the course centres the learner’s journey and needs, and equips you with the knowledge and hands on skills to take a real step forward into the growing world.

Background to the course

There are very few pathways into agroecological market gardening and growing in the UK. While there are a growing number of entry level courses, there is no current training course that provides the in-depth training needed that provides the skills needed for those wishing to pursue a career in agroecological growing. 

Most new entrants take the route of doing an unpaid/low paid traineeship on a farm for a season. While some offer a good amount of training, others end up being unpaid labour with little knowledge exchange. These traineeships are also usually only for a growing season, missing the November – March months where farms reflect, plan for the year ahead, make seed orders and carry out important maintenance jobs, leaving big gaps in the knowledge of participants, and the rural local and unpaid/low paid nature of these traineeships mean it isn’t a viable option for many. In addition, with rule changes around the National Minimum Wage, such traineeships are likely to become less common as host farms are no longer able to offer them without paying a wage.

The aim

We aim to reimagine what a comprehensive training programme for agroecological growing would look like; a course where the training is centred at the heart of the experience, with the field based work in support of the learning outcomes. 

Our vision is a year long programme where participants receive a balance of classroom and field based teaching in organic and agroecological growing, alongside supporting skills in business management, marketing, people management and more. We want to create a course that teaches people the reflective and evaluative processes to equip them to make decisions in the future. We see the need for people to learn about growing on different scales, to drive tractors, gain practical skills such as carpentry and mechanics, and to understand processes like crop planning and marketing.

Course Structure

The course will run for a calendar year, 3 days / week, and we are planning a 70/30 practical / classroom learning divide.

There will be skilled, experienced tutors on farm and in class, as well as field trips to exciting projects in the area. In addition, we have forged links with local farms and are building a grower community for work placements and further opportunities. 

Teaching will include:

  • Hands on growing a wide range of crops, field and protected veg. We’ll learn crop planning, rotations, green manures, weed control techniques, pest and disease, companion planting and marketing. We’ll also look at orchard management, soft fruit and flowers.
  • Machinery for scale, hand tools, two wheeled tractors as well as field scale tractor and cultivation implements.
  • Business – we’ll look at real time farm accounts to understand how to budget and forecast for your project. We’ll look at planning permissions, Organic Certification, Environmental Health legislation, VAT, PAYE and DEFRA payments to enable you to confidently navigate the legal world.
  • Practical skills that we need to hold it all together. Tractor won’t start? Lets fix that 🙂 Need a compost loo? We can build that too. We’ll learn the skills to keep our farms running sweetly.
  • People management and community. No one’s an island right? We’ll discover best practice and learn great ways to involve the community, manage volunteers and key things like safeguarding.
  • And it’s not all work! Let’s join up to enjoy the fruits of our learning and celebrate the changing seasons and bountiful harvest.

Interested? Fill in our survey to help us shape the course by telling us how it would work for you and what you want to get out of it. Even if you aren’t ready to join at this stage, will take a different path or are already in a growing business it would be invaluable to us to capture your thoughts.

Please help us create and up-skill a more equal, food secure, human scale, agricultural movement that has the wisdom and resilience to face the challenges ahead!