Training Gardens and Business Incubators Back »

The La Montanita Co-op Veteran Farm Project (VFP) in Albuquerque, NM is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crop Grant program provides veterans workshops on sustainable farming practices, hands-on gardening and farming experience. Photo by Bob Nichols (USDAGov Flickr).

Written by Sierra Blachford under the direction and review of Chris Zdorovtsov (former SDSU Extension Community Development Field Specialist).


Community gardens are associated with urban areas and food production. However, community gardens can also be used as job training sites or small business incubators. There are many examples of these types of programs across the US. For example:

  • Providing job training to adults, veterans, refugees, prisoners
  • Health and nutrition education
  • Business incubators
  • On-the-job training
  • Job preparedness for youth

These programs at community gardens have a variety of names:

  • Business Incubator
  • Training Farm
  • Incubator Farm
  • Urban Farm

Example Programs

The following links and examples provide an idea of the diversity of programs taking place across the US:

The Juniper Gardens Training Farm | Kansas City, KS

  • “Is the home of Cultivate Kansas City’s Farm Business Development Program. Local residents, whether they are resettled refugees or Kansas City, KS residents, can turn their green thumb into a small business, participating in up to five years of hands-on training.”

Growing Power, Inc. Urban Farm Projects | Chicago, IL

  • Supports over 12 acres of urban and small farm projects in the Chicago metro area including Altgeld Gardens Community Farm. This specific program was established in 2010 in partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority and employs 100 teens during the summer and 15 during the school year.  Grand Park “Art on the Farm” Urban Agriculture Potager and additional program, partners with the Chicago Park district. This program focuses on job preparedness for young people. Farm interns grow produce and provide public tours.

City Seeds Urban Farm | St. Louis, MO

  • Therapeutic Horticulture: “This is a 15-week program (twice a year) teaching clients how to grow food, improving the nutrition literacy of clients, and building a strong connection to clients’ recovery goals through the 12 Steps of Gardening, nature journaling, maintaining personal beds and working collectively at City Seeds Urban Farm. Therapeutic horticulture serves clients overcoming homelessness, mental illness, chronic addiction and/or prison release."
  • Jobs Training: “The program is a 10-week intensive classroom and on-the-job training  in landscaping and horticulture. Since August 2009, over 150 Jobs Training participants have been placed in local St. Louis jobs in landscaping, recycling, nurseries, gardening retailers and other green-care jobs.”

New Roots for New Americans | Sioux Falls, SD

  • A new beginning farmer incubator program, where Sioux Falls refugees learn skills of horticulture and gardening, nutrition, cooking and food preservation skills as well as skills related to local food entrepreneurship. Participants gain, community garden plots at the New American Garden and an opportunity to sell produce at the New American Garden Market.

South Dakota Dept. of Corrections Gardens | Yankton & Springfield, SD

  • “Inmates at the Yankton Minimum Unit and Mike Durfee State Prison provide tons of fresh vegetables to community organizations in Yankton and Springfield each year. The inmates tend, plant, weed, irrigate the garden by hand in their spare time after they complete their other jobs.”

Yankton Federal Prison Camp | Yankton, SD

  • “Horticulturist Joe Hoffman manages tree, shrub, perennial, and annual aesthetics around the campus at the Yankton Federal Prison. Inmates grow vegetables from seed in the greenhouse. Then they tend and harvest the crop, which is used for fresh supplement to inmate meals. In addition, Hoffman teaches inmates a vocational horticulture program. The inmates can also enroll in a certified 2-year horticulture program.”

The majority of these training programs take place at community gardens in urban locations. However, South Dakota has a large rural population and many rural communities. How can rural communities develop training programs for their community gardens? Research has revealed ways that urban and rural community gardens are different. This research can help community gardens develop training programs that are sustainable in rural areas.

Community Gardens in Rural Areas

Ashley Sullivan from the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Tufts University identified seven types of rural community gardens:

  1. Traditional neighborhood-type gardens with individual and family plots
  2. Gardens that provide demonstration and education to gardeners at neighborhood gardens and home gardens
  3. Communal gardens tended collectively with the produce going to a local food pantry
  4. Educational gardens that offer classes to the public
  5. School gardens that incorporate gardening and nutrition education
  6. Community-assisted home gardens where an experienced gardener mentors novice gardeners in their home gardening efforts
  7. Gardens affiliated with an existing agency, apartment complex or church

The research conducted by Sullivan also identified challenges that community gardens experience in rural areas:

  • High rate of gardener and volunteer turnover
  • Animosity between “outsiders” and community members
  • Lack of gardening skills
  • Lack of transportation

As with any project, obstacles are to be expected. To conclude her research, Sullivan offered recommendations meeting and overcoming these challenges:

  • Do not assume that the traditional neighborhood community garden model will work in rural areas.
  • During the planning stages, identify obstacles to starting a community garden in a rural area.
  • Identify solutions to the obstacles.
  • Respect the values of the community and incorporate those vales into the garden’s design.
  • Be flexible when deciding how to organize a garden; incorporate different models into a plan to see which one works best.
  • Help gardeners cultivate a sense of ownership for the garden.
  • Take time to look at all of the factors that might hinder participation.
  • Involve local organizations and businesses (Mckelvey).

Training Programs in Rural Community Gardens

Community gardens interested in farm business incubators or job-training programs at their garden can utilize these resources:

  • Community Garden Start-up Workbook- Diggin’ the Dirt Community Style: This guide, created by SDSU Extension, helps teams work through the process of forming a community garden.
  • Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook: This handbook is a planning guide, including 29 worksheets to assist the business planning aspects of a community garden that is interested in offering business development and skills training programs.
  • The Farm Incubator Toolkit: This toolkit provides information on what should be considered when developing a farmer training programs. It provides examples of farmer leases, farm-site policies, application criteria, and other templates.

Source: Mckelvey, B. (2009). What is a community garden? Community Gardening Toolkit. University of Missouri Extension.

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