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How Square Roots is Training Next-Gen Farmers During a Pandemic

Square Roots | 10.08.20

Two images of Square Roots farmers in Grand Rapids, MI posing with product outside a Square Roots farming container and harvesting arugula

The average age of the American farmer is 58 years old. If we're going to change the food system, we need to create more pathways for young people to launch successful careers in agriculture.

One of the many ways Square Roots invests in the future of farming is through our Next-Gen Farmer Training Program—aimed at new farmers or those at early stages in their careers. Farmers initially join Square Roots as Apprentice Growers. Through our proprietary training methodology—supported by our intuitive technology platform—Apprentice Growers rapidly learn the essential farm skills needed to move into permanent roles on the farm team and accelerate their careers.

Two images of Square Roots farmers transplanting basil and harvesting arugula.

We continuously evolve our training program to zero in on the skills and experiences that help employees become the best indoor farmers they can be. Throughout COVID-19, we have been committed to prioritizing people safety and plant safety which has led to changes in our day-to-day farming operations, as well as rewiring our in-flight farmer training programs in May and adapting how we run the Square Roots Next-Gen Farmer Training Program going forward. Also, after several years of training farmers, we’ve listened and learned to what farmers value from their experience at Square Roots and have incorporated that into our program going forward. Read more about what it’s like to be a grower at Square Roots and how the program has evolved:

Individual Pathways

Based on the needs of our farm production teams, apprentices are hired and onboarded, either individually or in pairs, on a rolling basis. By spacing out onboarding and training, our team is able to provide more attention and support to apprentices, allowing them to move more quickly through the training program and into permanent positions on our team. We expect most apprentices will complete their training in three to six months, but each will advance at their own pace.

Foundational Remote Learning

We have moved our training materials onto a virtual learning platform, which houses videos, interactive presentations, animated diagrams, virtual tours, and other types of content that can be brought to life beyond a typical presentation. Since COVID-19 restricts our ability to hold classroom-style learning, online learning can be self-serve, supporting different types of learning styles. It also drives consistency in training and terminology, reducing the burden on managers responsible for administering it.

Intensive ‘Boot-Camp’ Style Farm Immersion

Training for Apprentice Growers is laser focused on the skills required for new farmers to quickly become the best indoor farmers they can be. After the initial foundational onboarding, apprentices will jump into production, and, in parallel, will be equipped with the necessary context and complementary training to support expanded learning and competency much sooner. Apprentices will be supported by our software operating system the Farmer Toolbelt, empowering them to get up to speed much faster, engaging with data, and ultimately helping them become better growers. Throughout the training process, farmers will receive direct supervision by one of our experienced farm team members who will act as their training guide and provide professional and moral support.

Pathway to Permanent Employment at Square Roots

Central to Square Roots is our mission to empower Next-Gen leaders in urban farming, and the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program is one of the most direct ways we do that. The program is designed to bring young people with little or no experience up to speed in our proprietary indoor farms as quickly as possible and on to their careers in indoor farming—acting as an internal training program for permanent full-time employees on the Square Roots farm team.

The Apprentice Grower role is the first step in a career path to indoor farming at Square Roots. To start, apprentices will earn an hourly rate indexed to the area’s living wage, and receive 100% covered health benefits and equity in Square Roots. Once they’ve successfully mastered indoor growing fundamentals (we expect this to take three to six months), apprentices will be eligible to move into Associate Grower positions.

For more information and to learn about new open positions on our farm teams, follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter for updates.

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