About the Program
The Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship program annually enrolls 15 to 20 students in a nine-month classroom and hands-on certificate course in sustainable urban agriculture that is accredited by the Illinois Community College Board for 31 continuing education credits. The certificate includes a 14-week paid internship at Windy City Harvest (WCH) farms or partnering urban-farming operations. The program is offered in collaboration with the City Colleges of Chicago’s Daley College satellite campus, Arturo Velasquez Institute, 2800 S. Western Avenue, on the city’s near west side. It attracts a diverse group of students: career changers, young adults with a history of incarceration, and those with significant barriers to employment. Apprenticeship students, who attend the program from early February through mid-October, are in charge of plant propagation for all WCH urban farm sites, as well as running the farm operations at Arturo Velasquez Institute. Students also work at the Rodeo and Legends Farms throughout the spring and fall semester.
The Apprenticeship uses a hands-on, plain-language, and team-focused approach to introduce students to production-oriented urban farming systems. We encourage students to join an ever-evolving community of practice whose mission is the practical application of horticultural knowledge through farming for defined markets. We offer an adaptive curriculum, curated from a variety of sources, instructed by practitioners with a range of experiences, and serving the needs of diverse learners. The USDA defines a “beginning farmer” as someone who has farmed for 10 years or less—the Apprenticeship helps its students begin or continue their journey as beginning farmers. Students can take additional 14-week evening courses now being developed, (e.g., Local Foods Business and Entrepreneurship), and graduates are also eligible to become incubator farmers for up to two years at Windy City Harvest’s Legends Farm, 4500 S. Dearborn Street. Both of these new Windy City Harvest program components are supported by funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program.
Since its first full year in 2008, Windy City Harvest has expanded its adult training and production operations to six sites and created one of the country’s most robust education and job-training programs in sustainable urban agriculture. Over seven years, Windy City Harvest has achieved the following:
- Developed a training curriculum and management protocol that draws on the best practices in sustainable agriculture and incorporates the Chicago Botanic Garden’s expertise in working with both accomplished and high-need students
- Worked with 71 adults who graduated from the Apprenticeship program (with 14 more scheduled to finish in 2014), including 12 young men from alternative sentencing backgrounds
- Placed 90 percent of all graduates to date in related seasonal and full-time jobs at places as diverse as Midwest Foods (wholesale distribution center), Uncommon Ground’s rooftop farm, FarmedHere (commercial aquaponics production), and local community farms such as the Talking Farm’s Howard Street site in Skokie
- Developed a network of business, nonprofit, and funding partners that support program work and employment of graduates
- Produced and harvested more than 300,000 pounds of premium produce for sale through wholesale, retail, and government-subsidized channels (e.g., Women, Infants, and Children’s distribution sites, and markets that take Illinois Link cards and senior coupons)
- Presented the Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship model at multiple local, regional, and national conferences
“Windy City Harvest just focuses on getting the job done. We have incredibly dedicated staff, great funding and business partners, and a wonderful ally in Daley College/Arturo Velasquez Institute. Sometimes I am amazed that we have been able to accomplish so many of our original goals. Then I remember that this work is like a magnet for people who are committed to positive change in the world. And if you did not start out that way, you are quickly converted when you start working with Windy City Harvest!”
— Angela Mason, director, Windy City Harvest