By Natalie Simms
The Davies Shelter is launching an Urban Farming training initiative this spring that will not only provide transitional employment for shelter guests but also opportunities for the community to join in their efforts to grow healthy food for those who need it most.
In October, The Davies Shelter was awarded two grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including a $50,000, one-year grant for beginning ranchers and farmers that will be used to fund the new Urban Farming training program. An additional $212,000, three-year grant was awarded through the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program for the Shelter’s Farm Bus initiative.
“We are so excited about the Urban Farming initiative that will allow us to hire guests of the shelter for short-term contracts…to give them job training on the farm, to teach entrepreneurship and how to start a business,” says Devon Smyth, executive director of The Davies Shelter.
“This is a new way to help our guests with resume building. So many are dealing with other issues like substance abuse or emotional issues that they don’t have the time to work on job building skills. This will help provide an opportunity for them.”
In partnership with the South Rome Alliance (formerly the development corporation), The Davies Shelter operates the South Meadows Farm on two acres off Pollock Street in South Rome (featured in the above video). In addition, the shelter has a community garden off 19th Street next to the men’s shelter to feed their guests. Some raised bed gardens also have been added at the Ruth and Naomi Women’s Shelter off North Broad Street.
“Getting these grants is the natural progression of our work…it all started when we had 8 raised beds at the garden where the Bagwell Food Pantry was located and then grew to 16 beds and now the farm and farm bus,” says Smyth.
The Davies Shelter Farm Manager Tim Hayes and Development Director Bobby Jones will head up the new Urban Farmer training program. They plan to begin the first phase of the program in February.
“We are starting to look now at who would be interested in the program and will be taking applications from our guests and anyone in the community. We plan to recruit from the shelters and have up to 15 people involved,” says Hayes.
“Our ultimate goal with the program is to find people interested in a long-term relationship with the farm. Once they go through the training, we will give them to option to use our farm space for their own market farms.”
The farming “boot camp” will including classes and training over February and March, then participants will have to complete a 200-hour apprenticeship between March and September.
“The trainees will be able to work as slowly or quickly as they want to complete the apprenticeship…they can work full-time or just on weekends. Once they finish the apprenticeship, then they will be able to have their own market garden, where they will grow their own produce and we will be able to sell it on our farm bus and give them the proceeds…that is as long as we have the grant,” says Hayes.
The Davies Shelter hopes the program will be a success and they can reapply for the grant annually or for a long-term grant.
“If all goes well, we may be able to lease more acreage or expand on other small, raised bed gardens in the City that aren’t being used,” he says.
Hayes, Jones and Berry College’s Dr. Brian Campbell, chair of Berry’s Environmental Science & Studies program, will be teaching the new farmers. Campbell has been assisting the Davies Shelters with their gardens since 2014.
“My initial motivation in that work was to make more nutritious healthy fresh food available at the food pantry because such fresh vegetables have been scarce at food pantries, and to provide educational opportunities to the food insecure to learn how to grow some of their own healthy fresh vegetables,” says Campbell.
As for the new training initiative, Campbell says, “I will be providing training and guidance for the amateur farmers who are learning through the grants and I will be hosting a workshop on the science of seed saving, basically agricultural biodiversity conservation.
“I am very excited about this Urban Farming Initiative and these grants because they represent the educational component that I have hoped to achieve all along. In the past, it has been difficult to provide educational opportunities, so these grants allow the Davies Shelter to serve those in need by providing both education and training and an ability to grow healthy food for one’s self and family and larger community. These grants seriously help the Shelters achieve their goals of food security and improved health and opportunity for underserved members of our community.”
Campbell hopes the program will eventually feed the larger community and provide income for those in need.
“I envision a transition in which food insecure community members begin increased involvement and management in the Davies Shelter farm and gardens to feed their own families and the larger community as a potential livelihood and income generator,” he says.
“I sincerely hope that it will result in more healthy, locally grown vegetables and fruits available in the community because of community collaboration around local and community farms and gardens.”
For anyone interested in learning more about the Urban Farmer training program or applying for the program, you can call Bobby Jones at 706-512-1152 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.