Farm School NYC: Growing the Next Generation of Farmers

John KixMiller (center, in hat) and fellow Farm School NYC students learn season extension techniques.

In 2001, when gangs, drugs and violence were on the rise in the neighborhood, John KixMiller, a longtime resident of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, decided to take a stand. He started an after-school program for teens at the 64th Street Community Garden. Ten years later John was eager to grow his gardening and teaching skills and to find new ways to inspire the children in his program. "I realized I didn’t know enough about gardening, plants and activities, so I applied [to Farm School NYC] just to be able to do my job better."

Farm School NYC is the comprehensive professional training program in urban agriculture launched by Just Food and a network of partners in 2011.With applications open to everyone regardless of experience, the program brings together students who have never grown anything with students and teachers offering years of agricultural experience. Classes are held across NYC in community gardens, markets, and donated classroom space, exposing students to a wide variety of farming styles, experts and information.

"The great thing about Farm School is it brings people new to the food movement together with people who can offer experience and perspective," says Jane Hodge, Farm School NYC Director.

The school’s mission is to empower students with the desire to change the environment and their communities. John says the program was "amazingly deepened my understanding of teaching, community building and justice. [It] introduced me to a network of community gardens and leaders that I never would have known. I can’t even calculate how influential these connections have been in developing our program here."

He now runs 10 groups a week, spending his afternoons in the garden with community youth and school groups. He has also revitalized the garden, built a  new garden canopy, framed new growing beds and purchased soil and plants.

As the number of youth at the garden grows, John is reminded how important programs like these are. "People don’t understand what happens to teenagers when they really don't have opportunities to use their free time - when they don't see leaders, or have the access and ability to do meaningful things," says John.

His goal for the afterschool programs is to inspire alliances between the food movement, youth development and community building, strengthening all three movements and the people they serve.

Here at Just Food, we are thrilled to be working with motivated and passionate people that are changing the landscape of New York City for years to come.