The success of last year’s inaugural Urban Agriculture Ambassador program, a joint venture between the city of Somerville and Green City Growers, is paving the way for an even bigger and better version of the initiative in 2014.
“Our feedback was that it was worth doing again, that it really worked out and that people were really excited about it,” said Urban Agriculture Ambassador Coordinator Adrianne Schaefer-Borrego. “This year we’re trying to build our capacity. We’ll have more of a public presence. Last year was a good starting point. All the sites said it was helpful to have an ambassador there.”
Applications are being accepted until March 10 for the program’s second iteration, which will take place this spring. Last year, the program accepted 16 applicants out of the nearly 100 who applied. This year, the Urban Agriculture Ambassador program will select 20 Somerville residents and give them hands-on training on how to successfully plan, plant, maintain and harvest a garden in an urban setting.
“We’re hoping to increase the diversity of the applicants and to be able to have the ambassadors communicate across all the different neighborhoods of Somerville,” Schaefer-Borrego said. “We’re trying to do a wider outreach process, so hopefully we can have the ability to have a good representation across our population.”
The free course is funded by the city and in return for the training they receive, the ambassadors are asked to volunteer 30 hours of their time at various urban agriculture sites in Somerville.
“Our goal really is to be able to support people who have ideas on how to get involved and to empower people who have the potential to do that,” Schaefer-Borrego said. “It’s a grassroots teaching approach in their neighborhood.”
Many of the volunteer urban agriculture sites from last year will remain the same, depending on the needs of the gardens. And instead of having one or two volunteers tending to the urban farms, teams will work together to ensure that they thrive throughout the growing season.
“The ambassadors have a choice to do their own project or to be matched up with an existing need,” Schaefer-Borrego said. “One of the ambassadors is helping to start a seed library at the city of Somerville library. It was his passion, his project, his idea.”
Another ambassador from last year’s program started a garden on Concord Avenue in a vacant lot. In response, the 2014 program will have a component that focuses on leadership and community organizing through a partnership with the Somerville Community Corporation.
“The point of that is to really empower people if they have ideas of their own,” Schaefer-Borrego said. “They’ll just kind of have a better starting point about who to talk to and how that works. We’re hoping to give people as many tools as possible to make that happen and connect with other people.”
Many of last year’s ambassadors committed to more than just the volunteer hours required of them, so the program will be tapping into those resources to create mentorships in 2014.
“I was very impressed with all of the ambassadors in that they are wanting to stay involved past the 30 hours that we had asked them to,” Schaefer-Borrego said. “That was sort of a goal of the program, to have a team that would stay involved.”
Interested in applying to be an urban agriculture ambassador? Applications are open to all Somerville residents and are being accepted until March 10. They can be found at all three Somerville Public Library branches or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.