Onika Abraham, Director of Farm School NYC, is a farmer and educator with more than 15 years of experience as a senior nonprofit manager and an MBA in marketing and entrepreneurship from City University of New York’s Zicklin School of Business.
Onika joined Farm School NYC as Director in May 2014. Less than six months into her tenure, Farm School NYC faced a crippling financial situation when it did not receive a renewal of its USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program funding. With Onika’s leadership, the School streamlined staffing, galvanized volunteers, forged new partnerships, restructured its earned income structure, developed an individual giving program, and organized the School’s first fundraising events including a film series and a play premiere. Due to these efforts, in 2015 Farm School NYC continued to offer all 20 courses to more than 50 individual students and graduated 14 certificate students – more than double the number of graduates in any prior year—with 1/6 of the budget and 1/3 of the staffing of the prior year.
A Farm School NYC teacher before she was the Director, Onika has always been drawn to growing and teaching. After leaving her position as Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Safe Horizon in 2010, she spent the next five years with her hands in the soil—learning as much as possible about growing sustainably. Onika’s first formal training was the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Brooklyn Urban Gardener certification program, an experiential, participatory course that focuses on sustainable horticultural practices suited to the urban environment, street tree stewardship, community engagement practices, effective teaching methods, and greening resources available in Brooklyn.
In 2012, Onika completed the Farm & Garden Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) in Santa Cruz. The Apprenticeship provides intensive training in the concepts and practices of organic gardening and small-scale farming. The full-time program is held at the Center's 30-acre CASFS/UCSC Farm and 3-acre Alan Chadwick Garden on the UCSC campus. The Apprenticeship training program offers 300 hours of classroom instruction and 700 hours of in-field training and hands-on experience in the greenhouses, gardens, orchards, and fields.
At CASFS, Onika valued the hands-on agricultural training but was concerned by the lack of focus on social justice—one of the pillars of Agroecology. She served on the Social Justice Action Committee, helping expand the curriculum, diversify staff and faculty, and create more support systems for apprentices of color, including hosting the first CASFS People of Color Reunion, now an annual event which has drawn farmers from across the country each year.
Onika’s work to support farmers of color and increase the number of black farmers nationally, in particular, predates her time at CASFS. She is one of the co-founders of Black Urban Growers and has helped organize three national Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conferences since 2010. Her commitment to this work continues in her efforts to recruit Farm School NYC students that reflect the diversity of New York City, especially those from low resource and socially disadvantaged communities, and help them achieve their professional farming goals.