In 2008, Conservation Corps North Bay launched the Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden, a 5.8 acre teaching farm that provides unprecedented learning experiences, fosters environmental stewardship and provides solutions to California’s most pressing environmental problems. Considered the first industry-driven workforce development program of its kind within the California Community College system, the farm is a landmark collaboration led by Conservation Corps North Bay, and in partnership with the College of Marin and the University of California Cooperative Extension – Marin.
A cornerstone of the farm’s programs is Conservation Corps North Bay’s innovative field-study program for at-risk youth. Through this program, youth are paid for 20 hours a week of field study at the farm and earn up to $10,600 in AmeriCorps scholarships, while taking a minimum of six credits at College of Marin. For many who have families to support, this program is their only hope of attaining the goal of going to college and breaking a cycle of minimum wage employment.
Conservation Corps North Bay - San Rafael, California, United States
The Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden is the result of a two-year feasibility study and needs assessment conducted by the Marin Agricultural and Education Alliance (a coalition of 20 agriculture, education, and environmental agencies working to promote agricultural literacy for a sustainable food system) to determine the viability of creating an education farm and garden facility in Marin’s city-centered corridor. The study reviewed a host of programs and interviewed community stakeholders to identify programmatic gaps and to form an advisory board of 100+ practitioners who informed the project’s site plan. An exhaustive review of potential sites was also conducted before deciding on College of Marin’s Indian Valley Campus. We met with the Marin County Board of Supervisors and the Director of the Workforce Investment Board of Marin County to obtain start-up funding for the project, and then College of Marin, University of California Cooperative Extension and Conservation Corps North Bay began jointly fundraising for the project.
Over 100 stakeholders formed an advisory group to make recommendations for educational programs, possible sites, financial and governance structures, and to develop a site and business plan that would generate ongoing revenue to support the project.
This unique collaboration is rooted in Conservation Corps North Bay’s mission to develop youth and conserve natural resources. We have nearly 30 years of experience developing at-risk youth, helping them to complete their high school diplomas and go on to college, develop specialized job skills, and find meaningful and gainful employment – all while promoting environmental sustainability.
Through its demonstration gardens, educational offerings and environmental stewardship programs, the farm helps communities gain an understanding of and appreciation for locally, sustainably grown food, the environment, and how to apply sustainable practices to their daily lives. It will also play a key role in training the next generation of sustainable agriculture professionals, and expanding educational, job-training, and volunteer opportunities for at-risk youth.
The farm offers hands-on educational programs tailored to a diverse audience of at-risk youth, agriculture professionals, and the general public. Its key educational programs include: 1) The Environmental Landscape Certificate Program, which gives students a foundation in sustainable agriculture that is linked to four-year university standards and provides a career path and certificate. 2) The Field-Study Program provides disadvantaged youth with 20 hours of paid field-study and up to $10,600 in AmeriCorps scholarships while attending a minimum of six credits at College of Marin. 3) Marin Master Gardeners provide an extensive 18-week training course, as well as community workshops in sustainable horticulture.
The farm is a unique collaboration, one that has created significant buzz and continues to involve the support of numerous agencies in its operation including schools, nonprofits, government agencies, post-secondary educational institutions, and local farms, who continue to donate time, money, expertise and in-kind goods to the operation.
Evaluation included: 1) Intake and Assessment to gather information about applicants, assess eligibility and develop a baseline profile of participants. 2) Pre- and post-assessments to measure changes in environmental knowledge. 3) Satisfaction Surveys to our clients, partners and sponsors to measure the satisfaction with our programs. 4) Quarterly Assessments to determine client milestones and coordinate necessary steps to insure success. 5) Personal Interviews to solicit feedback on the effectiveness of the program. 6) Closeout Meetings to determine the overall impact of the project and make future recommendations.
One of the challenges highlighted through our evaluations is the need for additional support for our corps members to navigate the complex college admissions process and financial aid forms for the field-study program at the farm. As such, we strengthened the college access component of Conservation Corps North Bay’s education and job training program to provide greater individual support and training for our corps members at the farm.
Through the joint fundraising efforts of Conservation Corps North Bay, College of Marin, and the University of California Cooperative Extension – Marin, we have cultivated a diverse base of funders in support of the project, including recurring government grants, private foundations, corporate sponsors and individual donors. Conservation Corps North Bay has primary fundraising responsibility and employs a three-person development team, which fundraises year-round; in addition, the farm earns revenue from farmer’s market stand sales, which occur weekly on-site and at the Novato and San Rafael Farmer’s Markets, as well as sales to local restaurants and florists.
Further, in the fall of 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the California Community College System’s Chancellor and the California Conservation Corps’ Director formalizing partner responsibilities and renewable for up to 20 years. The leadership of all three partners has been carefully outlined, each partner continues to bring time and resources to the table in support of the collaborative project, and we anticipate continuing to do so in the future.
In one year, we have made extraordinary strides and been met with tremendous community support. Highlights include: 1) 100+ students enrolled in College of Marin’s Principles & Practices of Organic Farming, which once faced declining enrollments but now generates a waiting list within 24 hours of opening. 2) Over 2,000 students, youth, and community members participated in its programs. Hundreds of youth and volunteers learned about sustainable agriculture through service projects; at-risk youth received paid job training at the farm, while earning their high school diplomas and college scholarships; and school groups and volunteers toured the farm and learned about the benefits of healthy, locally grown produce. Importantly, our graduates are entering the field of sustainable agriculture as new farmers, are joining organizations that support farmers, and/or are applying sustainable practices in their daily lives, on their farms or in their home gardens.
Conservation Corps North Bay's Website: www.conservationcorpsnorthbay.org