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.


Thank You Hoophouse Builders!

Volunteers and staff fasten the plastic on our brand new
20' x 72' hoophouse at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.
Photo by Jim Bosjolie.
We want to shout out a huge THANK YOU to the generous volunteers who have helped Groundswell install our new hoophouse at the Incubator Farm. 

Sara Koste, Rafael Aponte, Ann Piombino, Aidan Hodges, and Elan Shapiro have shown up to work in all sorts of Spring weather to put together this big puzzle. They have laid down ground cover, put up the walls, carried the hoops, built the end walls, attached wiggle wire, and bolted everything together.

We really appreciate the hours that each of them took to work with us and get the project completed in short time. All that is left to do is put the plastic on the roof and get the BCS tractor out to prepare the beds! 

The 72’ long hoophouse at the Incubator Farm was manufactured locally by the Howard Hoover Family Farm in Penn Yan. Hoover's tubular steel structures have become fairly popular due to the ease of installation and mobility. 

Our hoophouse will enable Incubator farmers to extend the growing season into spring and fall, and to grow heat loving summer crops more intensively. Damon Brangman of Roots Rising Farm plans to experiment with some specialty crops from the Caribbean.

If you're interested in volunteering on other projects at the Incubator Farm or working with the Farmers, please let us know at (607)319-5095 or info@groundswellcenter.org.


What Works? Farmer-Led Education

Groundswell's popular Organic Orchards class met in
February at Black Diamond Farm in Trumansburg
to study pruning techniques with master
orchardist Ian Merwin.
By Joanna Green

I love it when a group of really wonderful people put their heads together to make something happen. I love it when a really great idea turns into reality. And I especially love it when it turns out to be a lot of fun!

That's what's happening with Groundswell's new season-long course in Holistic Organic Orchard Management.

Last year a group of small-scale commercial orchardists came to Groundswell and proposed a new program to meet the needs of the emerging organic tree fruits industry. It's hard to grow quality fruit organically, and  here in the Ithaca area there's a tremendous amount of innovation going on in local orchards. Growers  wanted an opportunity to share their knowledge, compare notes, and educate their employees about effective organic management strategies.

I loved the idea. As a home orchardist I'd had a hard time figuring out how to grow a nice crop of apples. And from our previous courses, I knew there were lots of people like me - serious home orchardists who would love to learn from The Masters.

So we cooked up the idea of a monthly program which would focus on a different aspect of production  throughout the entire season. We had nine experienced growers eager to be involved as instructors. But we had no idea how many people would sign up. How much would they be willing to pay for this extraordinary education? Could we bring in enough revenues to pay instructors? Groundswell?

We decided to take a chance together and try it out. Groundswell agreed to manage the course enrollments, marketing, and administration, without compensation if necessary.  The growers agreed to teach without compensation if necessary. We figured out a sliding scale for tuition that seemed reasonable, and began putting the word out...

Well... as it turned out the course has proven extremely popular. We're completely maxed out with 28 students this year. Orchardist Chris Negronida has done an absolutely stellar job organizing the curriculum, instructors, and resource materials. Chris and the instructors are getting paid, and there's even some net revenues for Groundswell. 
Orchardist Chris Negronida organized the curriculum
and resource materials for the Groundswell's Holistic
Organic Orchards class, and also serves as
Instructor and Course Coordinator

The class meets from 1-4 PM on the fourth Sunday of the month, Jan-Oct (except July). Each session takes place at a different local orchard and involves 2-3 instructors, so the large class is able to split up into several small groups for hands-on activities. There's always a whole lot of conversation among experienced and beginning orchardists. Everyone is learning a lot, even those who've been at it for decades.

We're excited about this model of farmer-led programming! It's a great idea that really works, and it's helping to grow a sector of our agricultural economy with strong market demand. We look forward to cooking up other dynamic, farmer-led educational programs to meet the needs of farmers, homesteaders, and emerging markets.

Joanna Green is Director of the Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming in Ithaca, NY.


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.