For the past three years, Circle Fresh Farms has been training returning military veterans, as well as different workforce opportunity clients like ex-offenders who are reintegrating into society, in organic farming practices.
“Farming is very therapeutic, and working with plants and watching other people taste a tomato you’ve grown is very gratifying,” says Circle Fresh Farms CEO Richard Naha.
That success has inspired Circle Fresh Farms to kick off a non-profit institute to offer courses on commercial-scale organic growing techniques, open to anyone who is interested. Thanks to funding from the Walmart Family Foundation, which at press time granted Circle Fresh the first year’s worth of funding, the institute is now formalizing itself as a non-profit and will seek out more funding from other foundations.
Three different campuses will offer courses in aquaponics, permaculture, vine crops and lettuce production. Courses will be a mix of three-month, nine-month and two-year internship programs, and students must complete nine modules within a certain time frame, which will give them a sense of their interests, and then they can choose a specialty from there, Naha says.
“We’re going to offer training to anyone, whether it’s a competitor of ours or another greenhouse grower,” he says. “Commercial-scale organic growing techniques are rarely taught in an educational setting, and the few commercial companies who understand how to grow organic food on a commercial scale often lock up their secrets by making employees sign non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. But we’re so passionate about making our country’s food healthier that we want to encourage the next generation of growers to know these techniques. The ultimate goal is for the Circle Fresh Institute to educate the next generation of farmers. Greenhouse growing will be an important part of our agricultural industry, in providing safe, nutritious food to the consumer.”