Welcome to Groundswell

Groundswell’s mission
is to help youth and adult learners develop the skills and knowledge they need to build sustainable local food systems. Our focus is providing hands-on, experiential learning opportunities with real working farms and food businesses in the Ithaca area. Through collaboration with area schools, colleges and universities, Groundswell offers programs of study for beginning farmers, students, community members, and professionals.

Groundswell is an initiative of the EcoVillage Center for Sustainability Education in Ithaca, NY, which is a project of the Center for Transformative Action. Visit the Groundswell website to learn more about our programs, initiatives and resources.


New Americans, New Farmers: How immigrants and refugees are enriching the landscape

A New American farmer with Burlington, VT's
New Farms for New Americans

by Susannah Spero

Farms run by New Americans are thriving all over the United States. Fueled primarily by federal and state funding, New American agriculture programs offer immigrants and refugees opportunities to prosper from their agricultural skills while gaining valuable English language, marketing, and management experience.

New Americans often worked as farmers in their native countries and thus possess a great deal of agricultural knowledge; however, after arriving in the United States, New Americans may lack the capital necessary to purchase land or manage a farm business. Agricultural programming for New Americans extends the benefits of the local food and farming movement to these populations, merging public interest in the development of vibrant regional food economies with New Americans’ expertise and needs.


UN: Democracy and diversity can mend broken food systems

From the United Nations:
GENEVA (10 March 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, 
today called for the world’s food systems to be radically and democratically redesigned to ensure the human right to adequate food and freedom from hunger.

“The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is an achievable goal. However, it will not be enough to refine the logic of our food systems – it must instead be reversed,” Mr. De Schutter stressed during the presentation of his final report* to the UN Human Rights Council after a six-year term as Special Rapporteur.

The expert warned that the current food systems are efficient only from the point of view of maximizing agribusiness profits. “At the local, national and international levels, the policy environment must urgently accommodate alternative, democratically-mandated visions,” he said.

Objectives such as supplying diverse, culturally-acceptable foods to communities, supporting smallholders, sustaining soil and water resources, and raising food security within particularly vulnerable areas, must not be crowded out by the one-dimensional quest to produce more food.”

“The greatest deficit in the food economy is the democratic one. By harnessing people’s knowledge and building their needs and preferences into the design of ambitious food policies at every level, we would arrive at food systems that are built to endure,” Mr. De Schutter said.

Local food systems
“Food democracy must start from the bottom-up, at the level of villages, regions, cities, and municipalities,” the rights expert said.


Community College Farming Program Has Groundswell Roots

Todd McLane, now Organic Farm Director for TC3, is shown
teaching Groundswell's Summer Practicum students in 2010.

TC3's new Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program grew out of Groundswell's Summer Practicum

Groundswell is delighted to welcome TC3's new Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program onto the scene!

And we're especially pleased to announce that long-time Groundswell Mentor Farmer Todd McLane will serve as Director of the new TC3 Organic Farm.

TC3's new program had its origins in Groundswell's Summer Practicum in Sustainable Farming and Local Food Systems, which we offered from 2010 to 2012 in collaboration with the community college.

TC3 President Carl Haynes was impressed with the program and with the enthusiasm of our students. And he appreciated the fact that Groundswell was bringing new students to TC3 from as far away as North Carolina. So he and TC3 colleagues have been working hard since then to develop the new Farm-To-Bistro venture.

Program Information

The Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program emphasizes the practical skills it takes to manage a small, diverse farm, while providing students with a broad exposure to the social and ecological considerations of truly sustainable food production and distribution. Students in the program take courses in entrepreneurship, accounting, environmental studies, biology, and unique food systems seminars. 

They will apply this knowledge on a working farm located on TC3’s main campus and work closely with food retailers, restaurants, as well as the TC3 Eatery and the College’s planned Coltivare culinary center in downtown Ithaca as part of the College’s unique Farm to Bistro program.

From Groundswell's Incubator Coordinator

By Devon Van Noble

A few days ago it was in the 40’s in Enfield for a few minutes, and I slipped up and said, “Whew- Summer is

A friend laughed back at me, “Bahhh-- you are jumping the gun on that one, guy!” 

Growing up in Florida, I got exhausted of the relentless heat and humidity. When I moved to Ithaca about 11 years ago, I found the Northern winters invigorating, and loved the fact that there was a reason to huddle up inside when it got cold out. 

There is a sense of interdependence with our friends and neighbors during this time of year. The cold forces us to prepare and work with nature and consider how we are going to survive through the elements that are beyond our control. 

In short, it’s a humbling season. When winter arrives, I look forward to the sunny days playing in this Winter wonderland— skiing at Greek Peak, hiking around frozen waterfalls, sledding at Cornell... But after this winter, I just want to be warm.

This is only the second winter at Van Noble Farm, and it has been kind of a rough season. Sub-zero temperatures heading into December caught me off guard and rather unprepared to keep young piglets warm and protected. My tool of choice for “unfreezing” water bins each day has been a hefty sledge hammer and a pair of rubber gloves, but often even that seems futile because ice crusts form after 10 minutes. 

I know I am not the only livestock producer who is suffering from the “Polar Vortices” that have characterized this winter. My heart goes out to all those producers who have had to clench their teeth to make it through to spring. 

It’s not that I don’t still have a fondness for the snow, the stillness, and the cold— I just have a different perspective on this season now. It can be enjoyable and beautiful, but it carries a serious potential for hardship. Thankfully, SPRING IS COMING! And there are so many exciting projects to look forward to in 2014.

Waiting for spring,


Volunteer Spotlight: Susannah Spero

This talented Intern is helping Groundswell to better serve refugee farmers

Groundswell has been blessed to work with some amazingly talented volunteers.  This month we're super-pleased to spotlight Susannah Spero, who graduated from Hamilton College in 2013 with a self- designed degree in Socioeconomic and Political Studies. Since last September Susannah has been working with us on our New American Farmers Project, which helps refugees and other immigrants to explore opportunities and get started in agriculture. 

Before joining Groundswell, Susannah spent several summers on farms, and worked closely with refugee families from Africa and Asia as an intern with the New Farms for New Americans program in Burlington, Vermont. There she helped manage several acres of crops at the Intervale Center farm and designed trainings on farming and marketing for 60 refugee families.

Susannah's experience and insights have proved to be invaluable in positioning Groundswell to better serve refugee families in our community. She helped us think through many of the barriers they face in trying to farm in the United States. Last fall she helped us to plan a pilot project for local refugees, which we are beginning to implement this year.

 Here in Ithaca there are many Burmese and Karen refugees with a background in small-scale farming, growing food for their families and for local markets. Our Incubator Farm provides land, infrastructure, tools and equipment to help them get started. However, exploring farming opportunities takes time, especially for those who are just getting familiarized with the ecology and culture of the region.   

Susannah opened up our thinking about practical pathways that refugees can take to overcome barriers and grow into farming.  Rather than trying to assimilate their own farming traditions with the commercial farm business model prevalent in the United States, Susannah advocated a collective model in which multiple families work together on a small plot, sharing labor and risks, and learning together as they gradually develop their markets. This is the pathway that has worked well at other incubator programs for refugee farmers.

With Susannah’s proposal and her guidance Groundswell has been able to prepare for the 2014 season with a much clearer vision of how we can support refugees at the Incubator Farm. With this foundation, we have been able to connect with service providers and sponsors in the area who already work closely with refugees, and explain to them precisely what we offer.  We are beginning to meet with interested refugees, and hope to be working with a small group of growers this spring. 

We're grateful that Susannah is able to continue working with us through the spring. As the growing season approaches, She will be helping us to connect with refugees who are interested in the Incubator Farm, and organizing the support systems identified in her proposal, including childcare, transportation, and marketing assistance.  We are very excited to continue this work with her this year, and look forward to how the New American Farmer Project will continue to grow.  

If you'd like to get involved in supporting New American beginning farmers at the Incubator, please get in touch with us at (607)319-5095, or newamericans@groundswellcenter.org.


Sign Up Now for 2014 Programs

2014 Farm Business Planning Course

Thursday nights, 6-9 PM, January 9 - March 13

This course is for serious beginning farmers who needs a plan, and for established farmers who want to improve their business skills.Ten weekly sessions cover all major aspects of the farm business start-up process, including assessing your resources; legal and regulatory issues; production planning; marketing; financial feasibility, budgets and record keeping; and more. For info and online application form, click HERE.

2014 Groundswell Incubator Farm Program

Early decision applications are due November 30, Late applications also accepted

Incubator Farmer Surik Mehrabyan
at the Incubator Farm at EcoVillage

We're looking for 2-3 more new farmers to join the Groundswell Incubator Farm in 2014! Your best chance for acceptance in the program is to apply right away. But we will accept applications until available slots are filled. 

In addition to growing space, the Incubator offers access to tools, water and irrigation lines, tractor services, production and marketing infrastructure, and mentoring from experienced farmers. Space is available for livestock micro-enterprises as well as crops.

For details about the program and an online application form, click HERE. If you think the Incubator might be for you, we encourage you to give Devon Van Noble a call at 727-410-4073. He can answer your questions and help you decide whether to apply.

2014 Holistic Organic Orchard Management Course

Fourth Sundays of each month, 1-4 PM, January through October 2014 (except July)

This is a unique opportunity to learn from some of the region's most respected and innovative growers. Beginning and experienced commercial producers and serious homestead orchardists are invited to participate. For info and easy online registration form, click HERE.

Groundswell Volunteer Spotlight: Kemberli Sargent

Sustainability Intern hones videography skills, helps us tell the Groundswell story

By now there are dozens of amazing Groundswell graduates out "in the field", doing great things with the farming skills and connections we've helped them develop. We do our best to keep up with them and tell you their stories when we can, but really... that could be a full-time job!

Enter Kemberli Sargent. Back in September the Sustainability Center in Ithaca hooked us up with Kemberli through their Sustainability Internship Program. Kemberli graduated from Cornell last August with a Master's in Regional Planning, and wanted an opportunity to develop her skills as a videographer while looking for a job in her field.

In three short months Kemberli has almost completed six awesome video profiles of Groundswell trainees. We've been so impressed by the quality - and quantity - of her work on the project, and can't wait to share the finished products. They will really help us tell The Groundswell Story!

We asked Kemberli to share a little bit about why she was interested in working with Groundswell, and what she got out of the experience. "I grew up on a small ranch in the Texas Panhandle where my family raised grass-fed cattle. Growing up in such a rural area helped me develop a love and appreciation for farming and agriculture," she explained. 

"I wanted to work for Groundswell in order to learn more about how they have developed a successful farming education and land access program. Through my interview project I was able to learn about the effects of the program from the farmer trainees, and develop my own narrative building and video editing skills in the process." 

We are very grateful for the opportunity to work with such a dedicated and talented volunteer. We wish Kemberli the best as she pursues a career in "urban planning focused on community health in the built environment as well as access to resources such as food and recreation."

Become a Groundswell Volunteer!

Build your resume while making a difference

Groundswell depends on dedicated volunteers for all kinds of support, from tabling at events to research and writing, from making videos to serving on our Steering Committee. If you'd like to be involved, let us know. In addition we'll be offering two more formal Sustainability Internships starting in January. For more information contact us at info@groundswellcenter.org.