There's still time to sign up for a mentoring program designed to increase the number of fruit and vegetable growers. The Growing Growers Program, which includes educational workshops as well as on-farm apprenticeships, is targeting potential producers in west-central Missouri and east-central Kansas.

Deadline to apply for the program is March 31.

This is the first year the program includes part-time apprenticeships, says Mary Hendrickson, an assistant professor of rural sociology with University of Missouri Extension in Columbia and a Growing Growers board member. This will give people the opportunity to attend educational seminars and workshops without giving up their full-time jobs.

There also will be a 2007 class for participants in the full-time Growing Growers apprentice program.

Crystal Weber, an MU Extension community development specialist in Jackson County, says the workshops have a wide appeal.

"Existing farmers or those looking for a different form of production method or a new opportunity in sustainable agriculture are encouraged to get involved," she says. "The sessions also might interest students looking to expand their knowledge of agriculture or seeking agricultural opportunities outside the realm of traditional agriculture and farming."

Hendrickson says participants pay for the workshops and seminars they attend. After completing the program's workshops and submitting a business plan incorporating what they have learned, participants will be reimbursed $338 for their participation.

Workshop topics include soil building for vegetable and fruit crops; business management for small farms; starting a new farm and community supported agriculture program; and learning how to use organic and natural procedures to control pests, diseases and weeds. Workshops will be held at the Kansas State Research and Extension Farm in Olathe, Kan., and at farms and agri-businesses in and around Kansas City. For more information on the workshops, visit http://www.growinggrowers.org/workshop.htm.

The Growing Growers Training Program is conducted in cooperation cooperation with MU Extension, Kansas State Research and Extension, the Kansas Rural Center and the Kansas City Food Circle as well as grants from the North Central Risk Management Education Center and the North Central Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education Center.

To receive an application contact Hendrickson at (573) 882-7463 or Crystal Weber at (816) 377-2161.