A local program helping immigrants learn the ways of urban farming graduated their first class Saturday.
The program, which was taught at ECO City Farm in Edmonston, was the brainchild of Michelle Dudley, co-director of Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park, and Vinnie Bevivino, formerly of ECO City Farm, who now runs his own urban farming consulting firm called Seed and Cycle.
Seven students from around Prince George’s County and even as far as Gaithersburg graduated Saturday from the program and some even received a $2,700 stipend to start their own urban farms.
Dudley said the idea arose when there was a surplus from a $60,000 grant the farmers market had received from Project for Public Space. She and Bevivino decided that a market like Crossroads, that serves mostly low-income and immigrant families, should have farmers from the same socioeconomic background selling products as well.
They developed the concept of the 10-month long program, when students came to class twice a week – focusing on helping develop ECO City Farm itself on Saturdays.
, a spokeswoman with ECO City Farm, said the farm would like to continue this program in addition to a class they already teach in partnership with Prince George’s Community College.
“It allows more folks to become aware of farming in the city,” Catacalos said, adding that private landowners have approached them to offer their land to farmers.
Students learned everything from general farming techniques and composting to vermiculture and building hoophouses.
For trainee Jose Castillo, of Bladensburg, the class offered knowledge he doesn’t believe he would have found elsewhere.
“I learned the use of good composting,” Castillo said, “ and how hoophouses can help you grow more.”
He signed up for the program after learning about it through word-of-mouth and liked the idea of growing produce in the city.
Currently, Castillo has been working on a farm with the help of an internship through the Accokeek Foundation. Although he already produces about 25 pounds of honey a year in his own backyard and has his own garden, he hopes to expand his production soon.
The Edmonston-based farm has expanded since it and now sells produce at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market weekly.
Catacalos said at this point they do not know if they will offer the class again next year, but are hopeful they will have the funding.