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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI – Governor Dan McKee toured Farmer’s Daughter Greenhouses Friday in South Kingstown, touting the role of the multi-generational, woman-owned family farm in a state program that expands workforce training ‘work.

The goal of the Growing Futures RI program is to train the next generation of “green collar” natural resource professionals. It also aims to help member businesses like Farmer’s Daughter meet the growing demand for plant-based products and services.

The program is able to take participants from entry level to professional certificates and licenses.

McKee said that as lieutenant governor, he received 40 requests to visit farms in Rhode Island. The governor said his farm tours were the most popular and requested of his visits to many local small businesses.

The talks that resulted from those visits are what led to the state’s development of the Growing Futures program, he said.

“It’s a formation of small businesses that we’ve never seen before in Rhode Island,” he said. “That’s where we are right now.”

McKee also included grants for small farms, agricultural and landscaping businesses in the state’s recently passed budget.

“These small business grants are really important for the industry,” he said.

Farmer’s Daughter owner Sarah Partyka has three employees who have completed the Growing Futures program. Two have been employed for two years and the third for one year.

“It’s quite an honor to have the governor and green industry representatives here today,” she said. “I’m very grateful. It’s a wonderful way to find new people interested in the industry. We meet people who are interested in green industry and connect them.

McKee was joined by Matt Weldon, director of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, and

Shannon Brawley, executive director of the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association.

Growing Futures is funded by the Real Jobs Rhode Island Grants Program from the Department of Labor and Training and other sources.

“The government used to take federal money and train people and then pray they got jobs,” Weldon said. “We changed that a few years ago to invest in good ideas.”

Weldon said Growing Futures helps workers launch a career in an industry that — pun intended — is growing.

Weldon said the state is clawing back jobs, dropping from 6% unemployment a year ago to 2.9% today.

“We are getting jobs back, but we have to think about where the jobs of tomorrow are, in five years, in 10 years,” he said. “That’s what programs like this do.”

The Nursery and Landscape Association developed the Growing Futures program which includes an apprenticeship for youth, the development of a two-year degree at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the nation’s first multi-employer registered apprenticeship program for the agriculture and plant industry. It is designed to connect employers and workers.

“It really addresses one of the biggest issues in the industry, which is bringing young people into the industry,” Brawley said. “We have a huge aging population, farmers too, which puts our land at risk.”

The program is designed to provide training for “meaningful, gainful employment,” she added.

Brawley said RINLA has more than 40 companies in its registered apprenticeship program and nearly 100 apprentices.

“They’re on the pitch today, ahead of the biggest holiday of the season,” she said.

A paid, five-week pre-apprenticeship program provides hands-on work in the state’s Arcadia management area, Brawley added.

“I’m very proud of this work,” she says. “From this program, we place people in jobs.”

RINLA member companies say the program has delivered tangible benefits.

Catherine Weaver, owner of Tupelo Design Studio in North Kingstown, is also a member of the RINLA Board of Directors and a member of the Growing Futures Advisory Committee. Weaver also teaches landscape architecture at the University of Rhode Island.

She works in coastal and urban communities where the stress of climate change is felt. It is often called upon to provide landscapes that are both resilient and embody climate adaptation.

“I’m very proud to be part of the Growing Futures initiative,” she said. “I couldn’t do my job without all the member companies in this room and those working today.

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