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.

Monday, November 19

Just Harvest: Growing abundance in food deserts

by Zach Murray

Research has widely confirmed that millions of Americans live in communities that lack sufficient access to nutritious affordable foods. In many of these communities known as “food deserts” residents often travel well over a mile to access healthy foods most commonly available at grocery stores and supermarkets. Vulnerable low-income and minority households who have access to fewer supermarkets and vehicles than wealthier, predominantly white communities often populate food deserts. The USDA estimates that there are as many as 23.5 million residents of food deserts and 82.5% of this population resides in urban areas.

Physical distance to healthy foods adds pressure to vulnerable populations and is frequently linked to the preponderance of poor diet and in time to diabetes, obesity, and a number of diet related illnesses. The prevalence of small corner stores, convenience stores, and fast food, as well as the absence of supermarkets and other sources of fresh food, constitute a poor “food environment”. A poor food environment intensifies risk factors for obesity such as low-incomes, absence of reliable transportation, and lack of cooking knowledge. A number of medical professionals and scientists agree, a community’s food environment affects people’s eating habits, which are an essential contributor to obesity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General, 2001). When low-income households and people of color lack access to stores that feature nutritious, affordable, high quality foods, it is more difficult to make healthier diet decisions that could lead to improved health outcomes.

Therefore, distance to supermarkets and the availability of public transportation are important determinants of a community’s access to healthy food. It is no coincidence that many residents living within food desert communities are also SNAP (Food Stamps) recipients. While research reveals that SNAP recipients face barriers in accessing vital social services, SNAP recipients also experience difficulties redeeming their benefits in their own communities. SNAP recipients live on average, 1.8 miles from a nearby supermarket and redeem their benefits 4.9 miles away from their home. When healthy food is out of reach, families whose budgets are already stretched thin must find extra money to pay for higher local prices or to cover extra transportation costs. Commonly, SNAP users attempt to stretch their dollars by shopping at distant large grocery stores, supermarkets, and supercenters where they experience cost savings.

The New American Farmer

Groundswell receives award to train immigrant and refugee beginning farmers

We're excited to announce a new, one-year grant award of $73,443 from New York Department of State's New Americans Initiative! This initiative is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, with support from the Southern Tier East Regional Planning Development Program. The new funding will enable us to enhance our outreach, training and farm business incubation for immigrant and refugee beginning farmers.

Getting the word out
Are you a “New American” immigrant, with experience in farming in your home country? Or do you work with refugees or other immigrants in your community who might be interested in small-scale farming? If the answer is yes, Groundswell needs your help.  Beginning next spring, we will offer customized training in farm business management, production and marketing, as well as personalized mentoring from experienced farmers and business advisers. For those with limited English language skills, ESL support will be provided. Affordable access to land, water and equipment will also be available at the Groundswell Incubator Farm, at EcoVillage in Ithaca, New York.

Our focus in the next three months is on finding out who might be interested, and getting the word out to them. We’re looking for help from New Americans and from community-based groups who work with New Americans in Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins Counties. If you know of individuals or communities who may have an interest in farming, please contact us at 607-319-5095 or info@groundswellcenter.org. 

Changing the face of farming
“Like previous waves of new Americans, these newcomers are engines for economic growth in our state,” said Secretary of State Cesar Perales.”We are proud to be partnering with Groundswell and others to fund a program that helps newcomers skilled in agricultural production realize their entrepreneurial dreams, while strengthening the Southern Tier local agricultural economy. By working with this population to fill education gaps, locate capital, and identify property suitable for agriculture projects, new Americans will increase employment opportunities in the region, and preserve the region’s agricultural lands.”

“This project will significantly boost our ability to train and support New American beginning farmers,” says Devon Van Noble, Coordinator of Groundswell’s Incubator Farm. “We’ve had a number of immigrant trainees who have been able to participate fully in Groundswell’s existing programs, but those with significant language barriers or cultural barriers need more customized support.”

“Our goal is to foster a new generation of farmers that reflects the diversity of culture, color, and class in our region,” says Rachel Firak, Groundswell’s New Farmer Training Coordinator. “Support from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the NY Department of State and Southern Tier East will help us connect with immigrant communities in our area, find out who is interested in farming, and help them get started.”

Thursday, November 15

Thank you Groundswell Festival Vendors & Volunteers!

A painting of the Big Tent at our event.
Thanks to artist Khalil Bey!

Groundswell’s very first Local Foods & Farm Festival was a success-- and we couldn’t have done it without you!  Your participation made it a warm, informative and fun-filled event.

Our fabulous line-up of farmers, vendors and educators included West Haven Farm, Main Street Farm , Northland Sheep Dairy, Open Heart Farm, Wolf Tree Farm, Sapsquatch Maple, Edible Acres, Kestrel Perch Berry CSA, Dilmun Hill Student Farm, Kay’s Rare Cacti & Succulents, artist Khalil Bey, Crooked Carrot Community Supported Kitchen, Sol Kitchen, The Piggery, Cayuga Lake Creamery, Ithaca Youth Farm Project, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, Gardens 4 Humanity, Farmshed CNY, Good Life Cookbook, Tompkins County Solid Waste and Ithaca Community Radio. Thank you all for sharing your knowledge, your enthusiasm and your goodies!

Thank you SO MUCH to all our Volunteers:

Our Parking Crew Barb Neal, Matt Limbach and Nikki Sayward were awesome directing cars and keeping the road clear ‘til the very end!  You are much appreciated!

EcoVillagers,  Gregg Pitts and Jeff Gilmore provided us with a portable solar trailer for sound, and Art Godin set up the sound system and kept an eye on it all day. It worked great!

Xiao Luo, our student intern from the Sustainability Center, did a fabulous job with outreach and media before the event. Way to go Xiao!

Volunteer Coordinator, Sarah Kelsen, worked tirelessly, throughout the day, with a big smile, checking in volunteers and directing them to their task.  Thank you Sarah!

Hooray for our Groundswell Ambassadors Gil Gillespie, Monika Roth, Sam Bosco, Fred Schoeps, Jemila Sequeira, Peter Bardaglio, and Todd McLane who shared their enthusiasm at the Groundswell table, along with lots of information about our programs.

Thank you Sam Bosco for manning our entrance table engaging the public with a warm smile and information and helping throughout the festival—Sam you are a keeper!

Norma Gutierez, Liz Karabinakis, and Olivia Armstrong were awesome, helping with vendor registration and set-up, and making sure their needs were met during the event.

To the New Roots Teachers Todd Ayoung, Rebecca Cutter, Rebecca Graham; vista workers, Alex Graham and Leslie Santi, and most of all, all the New Roots Students who pulled together at the last minute to provide us with all those terrific, vibrant signs and soulful music Thank you!

And what about those incredible musicians?  Solo performer Luke Gustafson, Aiden Nielsen-Hodges and Jonathan Seaman, and the White Clay Thieves band, who all managed to entertain the crowd with a great music vibe for our festival - you all were GREAT!  Thank you again.

And how fabulous it was to have Binta Wold, Aiden Cotrell and Sarah helping us with odd jobs and with clean-up! Many, many thanks!

Finally, a big thank you to Groundswell’s Steering Committee members, who helped shape this event, and who have shown SO MUCH DEDICATION to the Groundswell mission:

•    Gil Gillespie
•    Todd McLane
•    Julia Lapp
•    Jemila Sequeira
•    Sam Bosco
•    Fred Schoeps
•    Monika Roth
•    Peter Bardaglio
•    Jeanne Leccese

Thank you again one and all!  We couldn’t have done it without you!  If we missed someone, we do apologize—be sure that your help contributed to the success of our event!

We are in this together, all of us, to create a community of members who have access to healthful and affordable agricultural products; engaging diverse learners to empower them with skills, knowledge and access to resources so they can build sustainable land-based livelihoods and equitable local food systems.

From your friends at Groundswell
Millie, Devon, Joanna, and Rachel

Friday, October 12

Infrastructure, Equipment, and Tools

Digging a test hole at the Incubator Farm.
By Devon Van Noble

Finding or creating the right tool for the job. Using what you have in front of you. Self-sufficiency. Ingenuity. 

These are parts of farming that are really exciting to many farmers.  It’s an inspiring time to be part of the sustainable farming community, because there is a movement of innovative thinkers that are developing new techniques for producing and processing food that are cost-effective and accessible.  All types of farmers are utilizing these kinds of innovations to save money and labor, improve the function of their tools and farm, and most importantly, to create quality products without high-risk investments in capital.

Groundswell has been gearing up for the launch of the Farm Enterprise Incubator Program in early 2013, and began prepping fields at EcoVillage over this summer.  At the Incubator Farm, beginning farmers will be able to get access not only to land, but also to infrastructure, equipment, and tools. These things are essential to start growing food, but they're things that many new producers can’t afford before they are making sales of their own.  Once enrolled, Incubees will be able to lease land for up to 3 years before they graduate from the Program and are expected to transition to a new property.  This allows for new groups of beginning farmers to continue entering the program and benefit from the same infrastructure and resources.

Through a partnership between the Groundswell Center, beginning farmers, and support from the broader community, the “Incubees” will benefit from a three-year window to create enough revenue to capitalize their enterprise and transition to new land.  The community, in turn, will be supporting an enduring framework for new farmers to learn the skills and access the resources necessary to operate sustainable farm businesses that can feed local people.  The Incubator Program could play a significant role in the food and farming system in this region.

On October 21st, as part of the Groundswell Local Food & Farm Festival, we'll launch the 2012 Incubator Farm Infrastructure Campaign through Kickstarter, which will help fund the construction of farm infrastructure and purchase of cost-effective equipment.  This infrastructure will be utilized by diverse beginning producers, making it possible for many to get started who would not be able to do so otherwise.  We believe this framework is critical to healthy local food and farms, and we invite you to be a part of supporting it.  Supporters will receive various benefits for participating, such as having your name engraved or painted on one of the fence posts, t-shirts, or a tour of the Farm.  Donations will be accepted at the Local Food & Farm Festival hosted at EcoVillage, and on the web into December.

Applications Now Open for Groundswell Incubator Farm!

When the ice melts next spring, and the sun starts warming the ground, Groundswell's first group of “incubees” will be moving into their newly-leased sites at the Groundswell Incubator Farm, located at EcoVillage. Application forms for the Farm Enterprise Incubator Program are now available online, and we are encouraging all types of beginning farmers to consider applying.

The Groundswell Incubator Farm offers a relatively low-risk entry avenue for new producers by providing access to land, production and marketing infrastructure, production support services (such as tractor tillage), and ongoing support from experienced farmer- and business- mentors.

If you think you might be interested in the Incubator, we encourage you to meet one-on-one with incubator Coordinator Devon Van Noble, who can answer your questions and help you complete the application forms. You can reach Devon at devon@groundswellcenter.org, or  (607)319-5095. Or you can find the application materials online at www.groundswellcenter.org. Click on Programs/Incubator.

The Incubator Application Form has two parts: Part 1 is a Personal Data Form and Part 2 is a Farm Enterprise Data Form. Your responses will give us a picture of your farm business concept, your cultural and farming background is, your current resources and your needs, both personally and for the business.
Learn about the Incubator Oversight Team...

About the Incubator Oversight Team

Starting a new farm business is a complex task, and creating a supportive environment for beginning farmers to grow their businesses requires a range of knowledge and backgrounds. The Incubator Oversight Team is composed of a mix of experienced and new farmers, business mentors, finance specialists, and landowners.
Since April of 2012, this Team has been meeting regularly to lay out the groundwork for the Incubator Program, and have been central in creating application materials. Together with Groundswell staff, the Oversight Team will be selecting a group of applicants to be Groundswell’s first group of incubee farmers by January 2013, and will continue to be involved in each incubee’s development through the program. The Team will serve as business and production mentors and will help each Incubee to assess their farm business plans, goals, and progress.
Groundswell Staff and the Oversight Team look forward to working with you on your farm enterprise. Get in touch with us if you, or someone you know, would like to apply.

Monday, September 17

Groundswell Offers "Sustainability Internships" to Area College Students

We'd like to extend a big welcome to new and returning students! 

To celebrate the start of the new year, Groundswell would like to announce two new student internship opportunities with Groundswell through the Sustainability Internship Program, a program of the Tompkins County Planning Department. The positions will be either work-study (paid) or volunteer position. Students of color and students with very limited financial resources are strongly encouraged to apply.

Please go to Sustainability Internship Program for more details on how to apply.

Work directly with our Administrative Manager, Milagros Gustafson-Hernandez.  Duties include database entry, phone calls, research, organizational development, desktop publishing, post office runs and other tasks as needed.

Skills required:  Strong organizational skills.  Excel, Word, social media, and Google docs. 

Total Project Hours or Weekly Time Commitment:  5-8 hours per week, preferably for both Fall and Spring semesters

We are conducting our first major community outreach event this fall - the Groundswell Local Food & Farming Festival, to be held October 21, at the site of our new “Incubator Farm” at EcoVillage. This is a critical opportunity for us to increase community awareness of our programs and strengthen our relationships with diverse populations in the Ithaca area community.  Assist Groundswell staff in planning, organizing, marketing, conducting, and evaluating Groundswell’s first Local Food & Farming Festival. Work closely with Administrative Manager Milagros Gustafson-Hernandez to recruit and coordinate volunteers, conduct outreach in the local community, develop informational materials, organize the educational program, and evaluate impacts.

Skills required:
Excellent organizational skills. Strong verbal and written communication skills. Strong skills with Excel, word processing, web-based communication and social media. Strong interest and enthusiasm about farming, food, multiculturalism and sustainability. Please indicate your level of experience with multicultural work or living situations in your application cover letter.

Total Project Hours or Weekly Time Commitment: 5-6 hours per week, up to 60 total hours. 

Internship Duration:    Fall Semester. May end in November if student prefers.

Please go to Sustainability Internship Program for more details on how to apply.

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Juju Harris

Juju Harris
By Kirtrina Baxter

Since my interest in this food justice movement began, I have met so many wonderful agriculturalists and foodies. The faces of a lot of these people are black and brown, and that is a telling statement of how the movement is bringing out and together those communities who are most affected by poor and non-foods. It is a fact that the poor health of those individuals in Black and Latino communities are more exaggerated due to the lack of healthy foods, and pioneers from these communities are making strides towards changing this. JuJu Harris from Maryland is just one of those pioneers.

Juju, as she prefers to be called, has years of experience in nutrition education and gardening. She is a passionate advocate of healthy living and works at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, in the DC area. The Arcadia Center has many services and programs, including an educational farm, a mobile market, a farm-to-school network and is looking into providing a food hub. Juju works most closely with the mobile market. She says one of the things she enjoys most about this is seeing the same people week to week and talking to them about food.

Juju commonly sets up shop in several markets, and they all have an interest in serving people of limited means. One of the markets has a token program that allows SNAP, WIC and elderly residents with farmers market vouchers to trade in for tokens that are matched dollar for dollar by the produce vendors. This program only dispenses a certain amount of tokens to the recipients weekly so that their vouchers may last them the entire month. Although this program is not in any of the markets where Juju works, she sees that this program is most effective in helping folks to sustain their federal dollars towards healthy eating throughout the month. One of the pitfalls of receiving federal food dollars is the probability of running out of benefits before the middle of the month, making it difficult to feed families in the later days of the month.

Friday, September 14

Get ready for the Food Justice Summit!

Walkathon and Block Party to be held Saturday, Sep. 22

Groundswell is proud to be collaborating with GreenStar Community Projects to present Ithaca’s Second Annual Food Justice Summit on Saturday, September 22nd from 10am-7pm in downtown Ithaca. The purpose of this uplifting multicultural family-friendly event is to promote social justice and community well-being and to raise funds to grow a sustainable local food system that promotes health, equity, and community control of essential resources. GreenStar Community Projects is a not-for-profit educational organization affiliated with GreenStar Cooperative Market.

Click HERE to make a donation.

A highlight of this year’s summit will be a keynote address and workshop by Charity Hicks, Co-Creator of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force and founding member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Hicks has worked for over ten years in research, public policy, and community activism in Detroit on health disparities, environment, food and nutrition. She is currently serving as a prestigious fellow for EAT4Health a national leadership development initiative that aims to fill gaps in the existing food policy advocacy ecosystem in order to make it more inclusive of low-income and people of color communities, more responsive to grassroots needs and ideas, and more effective in terms of protecting the environment, promoting good health, and rebuilding strong local economies.

The Food Justice Summit begins at 10am with a walk-a-thon starting at Neighborhood Pride (former Northside P&C) at 210 Hancock Street, downtown Ithaca. People of all ages are invited to register and walk up to 5 miles visiting gardens, food art mosaics and more with the chance to win exciting prizes. From noon till 7pm all are welcome to join the celebration outside Neighborhood Pride where the streets will be closed to enjoy live music including Thousands of One, Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde and Ernest Verb as well as dance performances, youth activities, cooking demonstrations, Gardens 4 Humanity's Iron Chef Jr. competition and more!

An organic ribs and chicken BBQ & vegetarian fare featuring food from local farms will be available for a suggested donation so everyone can enjoy and be nourished by the delicious bounty of our region. Event goers can find culturally significant and socially conscious wares for sale from locally-owned businesses, and peruse dozens of informational displays from local organizations working towards social justice, sustainability and community health.

Part of the proceeds will benefit Congo Square Market, a vibrant seasonal market in the heart of Ithaca's African American community with live music, crafts and fresh produce grown by neighborhood youth. The rest of the proceeds will support a series of planning meetings which will bring together community members, organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders in the local food system, to plan the infrastructure, distributions systems, financing, and other pieces of the just food system we need.

For additional information visit www.FoodJusticeSummit.org or contact info@GreenStarCommunityProjects.org or 607-379-9725.

The Jewel of Lisle: A Garden Provides

The Lisle Community Garden.
by Barbara C. Harrison

“Traveling to Apalachin, NY in June 2011, I came across a community garden. I stopped and walked the area. I was so taken with the size and beauty of the garden. This was not a community garden as we would characteristically think of a community garden, divided into individual plots and worked by individuals. It was one large plot gardened by the community. There was no one around, just a sign saying, ‘Take what you can use for the next two days,' ” recounts Jodie Van Wert, founder of the Lisle Community Garden.

A seed was planted. As she drove toward home, Jodie began thinking about how this kind of garden could become a reality in the Village of Lisle where she resides and works as a postal employee. “I deliver the mail. I see how people live. There is a huge need in this area for fresh vegetables and food. It is not available,” states Jodie.

A few months later, Jodie contacted Jerry Mackey, the Mayor of Lisle about the concept of a garden for the Village. He agreed, and her idea began to take shape.

Lisle is a small town located in the Southern Tier of New York State where everyone knows everyone else. All you need to do is mention your idea to one person. Word of mouth will spread it around town and bring to the table a group of interested people that have a passion, in this instance for gardening and/or giving.

Monday, September 10

Vendors wanted! Groundswell Local Food & Farm Festival, Oct 21

Farm and food entrepreneurs wanted! We're looking for vendors of all kinds for our Local Food & Farm Fest, Sunday, October 21, 1-4 pm.

The Local Food & Farm Fest is a fundraiser for the Groundswell Incubator Farm, a land-access program for beginning farmers. This is a great opportunity for beginning farmers, prepared food vendors, and farm products vendors to get their name out while supporting the beginning farmer/food producer movement!

Please share the good news with your networks!

Sunday, October 21, 2012 (12pm - 4pm)

Groundswell's Local Food & Farm Festival



Visit the site of Groundswell's new Farm Incubator at EcoVillage and...

  • Enjoy fun FARMING ACTIVITIES for kids of all ages! Card some wool, build a hoop house, dig a soil sample, churn some butter, build a fence, or milk a goat!
  • Enjoy ETHNIC FOODS from all around the world featuring local farm products!
  • Chat with Groundswell’s Farmer-Instructors and Beginning Farmers at our LOCAL FOODS MINI-MARKET!
  • See the newest in FARMING INVENTIONS and learn how to build your own!
  • Take a TOUR of Groundswell’s Farm Enterprise Incubator, West Haven Farm and other EcoVillage highlights!
  • Help Groundswell raise funds to finish building the Farm Incubator!

Mark your calendar now- and plan to bring your family and friends!

Monday, August 20

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Sista Sophia and Lady Buggs Farm

Sophia Buggs and Lady Buggs Farm, a farm and spiritual center.
by Kirtrina Baxter

When this interview started out it was not your conventional conversation. Sophia Buggs is a magikal woman with a beautiful spiritual nature, thus this article will be quite different as hers is a story of healing and ancestral callings.  Sista Sophia, as I lovingly call her, is a spiritual advisor as well as a gardener and apprentice farmer. She has her own business, Healing Flower, a spirituality and herbal consultant company. It is this business that she plans to transition into a sustainable farm and spiritual center called “Lady Buggs Farm” on the land that she owns.

Sista Sophia’s story starts off when she inherited the house her grandmother lived in and where she grew up. She lovingly remembers her grandmother’s garden and her locally famous zucchini bread. When moving back into the house after her grandmother’s transition, she was looking for this recipe along with other hand-written recipes her grandmother has saved. It was then that she became determined to restore the garden and make it even bigger, in her grandmother’s memory.

Though she knew that she wanted to grow food, she didn’t have much experience in gardening, so she reached out to some neighborhood community garden groups. Along her introductions into garden society, she met two women who shared her grandmother’s and mother’s names and birthday’s though in reverse. It was this sign that led Sista Sophia to know she was on the right path. Believing in ancestral guidance and the infinite power of the universe, Sista Sophia went about a long journey of familiarizing herself with the tools and skills she needed to create her dream of Lady Buggs Farm.

Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie Chan

Stephanie tending her new garden in Brooklyn.
Stephanie was a Groundswell trainee in 2011's New Farmer Training Program. In 2011 and 2012, she served as Groundswell's Program Evaluation Assistant. We'd like to thank her for her volunteer service!

Growing up in Oceanside, NY, Stephanie Chan and her family had a small plot of land in which they raised Chinese vegetables organically. This love for growing things eventually brought her to Cornell University in 2009 as a graduate student analyzing the economics and profitability of four different cropping systems for organic vegetable production. But she didn’t lose sight of the possibility of farming on a small scale, growing and marketing the delicious Asian vegetables which she had trouble finding locally. So in 2011 she enrolled in Groundswell’s first cohort of trainees in our New Farmer Training Program.

In August of 2011 Stephanie also began working with Groundswell as a volunteer Program Evaluation Assistant. Since then she’s spent hours and hours compiling and analyzing evaluation data from our Summer Practicum and Farm Business Planning Course, and assessing their impacts on students and trainees. Stephanie’s super analytic skills and her training in business and economics have been a great resource for Groundswell. Stephanie has worked with us almost a full year, but is moving on to Brooklyn, New York where she is seeking a position in non-profit research and developing her skills in urban farming.

Thank you, Stephanie, for your important contributions to Groundswell. We wish you all the best in your new ventures!

Instructor Profile: Keierra and Mario Callaway

Mario and Keierra Callaway
Mario and Keierra were Groundswell trainees in 2011's New Farmer Training Program, and returned in 2012 to teach our "Community Ecology: Understanding your Social Context" for our Sustainable Farming Certificate Program.

Keierra and Mario Callaway both grew up in rural Georgia, surrounded by farms and/or gardens, and both have a family history of farming. Keierra, now 26, remembers taking trips to the farmer’s market with her grandmother. Her aunt still has a farm in Georgia where she grows collard greens, turnips, squash, and tomatoes.

But the Callaways left their rural roots behind to become urban agriculturists. In 2010 they launched the Kwanzaa Village Garden, a vibrant community garden located on the Southwest side of Syracuse. Their brainchild Urban Verde, an environmentally and socially conscious company, offers gardening products designed to make growing accessible to everyone. The next year, seeking to broaden and deepen their knowledge of agricultural practices, they enrolled in Groundswell's New Farmer Training Program and regularly made the hour-plus commute down to our training sessions. Through Groundswell, the Callaways met many like minded people, aspiring farmers with diverse backgrounds who were able to learn from each other. They also kept in touch with some instructors well after the program ended. Groundswell’s Community Liaison, Katrina Baxter, aided them in the community development aspect of their mission.

Kwaanza Village Garden in Syracuse, a dynamic community garden spearheaded by the Callaways.
Since participating in Groundswell's program, Keierra and Mario have moved from Syracuse to Brooklyn, where they are pursuing their life-long mission to bring sustainability and healthy food to those areas where it is lacking. Mario is working at Brooklyn Grange Urban Rooftop Farms, and both are working with a community garden in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, helping with organizational development and getting the community involved.

We wish Mario and Keierra great success in their urban agriculture ventures!

Monday, July 16

Prepping the Ground!: Starting Work on Groundswell's Incubator Farm

The Groundswell Incubator pond site.
by Devon Van Noble

We’re thrilled to announce that field work on the Incubator site at EcoVillage has begun!  On June 23rd, Groundswell volunteer Jeff Gilmore from EcoVillage started brush-hogging a 3-acre section of the 10 acres designated for the project. In the coming weeks, Melissa Madden of The Good Life Farm is going to do the heavy work of plowing and discing the field for the first time in… too many years.  She and Jeff are doing a tremendous service for Groundswell by taking care of all of this initial field work.  Melissa will also be helping us put a nice cover crop on the ground by fall, probably some hearty rye that we’ll plow under at the start of the 2013 season to warm the beds up for the first group of trainees!  Additional sections will be cleared this fall using larger equipment to make space for infrastructure, such as a hoophouse and sheds. 

After months of communication with consultants, neighbors, and regulators exploring different options for the Incubator site's water supply, the Incubator team has determined that simply expanding the current West Haven Farm pond (just north of the Incubator site) is the simplest and most sensible solution.  John, Jen, and Todd of West Haven Farm have generously agreed to share this water supply with Groundswell, but there will be secure metering systems installed to help manage this common resource carefully. Creating a water supply has been one of the most intensive parts of developing this farmland, especially because of other interests that need to be considered. Readers who plan to develop land in the future would be wise to start evaluating your water source early in your design process.

If you’ve been up to EcoVillage in the past several weeks, you’ll notice that we aren’t the only ones working the land this summer.  The groundwork for the third neighborhood at EcoVillage, TREE, is well on its way.  In fact, it turns out that Groundswell will be using some of the same excavating equipment from the TREE project for developing the area, including the Incubator's pond site.

To learn more about the Incubator design process, visit our website.

You can help build the Incubator!

Help us grow new opportunities for beginning farmers in our community!  By supporting the Farm Enterprise Incubator, you'll be helping landless aspiring farmers take the first steps towards launching a viable farm business. The year, Groundswell will be using a crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter, to launch a 2-month fundraising campaign to pay for many of the elements of the Incubator’s infrastructure. By participating in our Kickstarter campaign, you'll be able to specify which component of the site you wish to support, and you'll also receive food & farm gifts for making a donation (so keep an eye out, because there will be some good “farm and food” perks for your participation!).  We will be kicking off this FUN-raising campaign at Groundswell’s first annual Food & Farm Festival in October.  The Festival will be your chance to see the Incubator Farm firsthand and show your support.

Want to make an in-kind contribution? The Incubator site can use sheds, fencing, hoophouses, wood and insulation to build a Cool Bot Cooler, and lightly-worn farm tools among other items.  If you or someone you know has items they believe would be of use for the program or Groundswell trainees, please have them contact us at info@groundswellcenter.org, or call 607-277-0180.

Friday, July 13

The Quintessential Black Farmer: The Urban Garden

Kirtrina's urban garden.
by Kirtrina Baxter

Urban gardening is the new wave of healthy eating in the city, but is it so new? When talking and meeting folks the last few months, I have met many people of African descent who tell me of ancestral garden spots created out of small spaces of land available practically anywhere around their living areas. My feeling is that this practice was carried over, not just from slavery, but from Africa where our ancestors were known agriculturalists and land stewards. It only makes sense that when they were forced to work the white man’s land that they continued to find ways to grow their own crops, some of which they had introduced to the American fields (such as yams, okra, eggplant, and black eyed peas), to supplement the scraps that they received for meals. This practice was carried on for many years as people of African descent migrated into urban areas in search of opportunity.

I am reading a book written in 1933 by a man of African descent, Carter G. Woodson, called The Mis-Education of the Negro. He tells a story of significance to me when he says that most black people he knows had always known they could at least always scrape a living out of the soil. He talks about how folks knew they could feed their families, if not much else, if they had a little bit of land to work with. It seems we are centuries away from this sentiment in our society, though this was less than 100 years ago.

Despite the hundreds of years of cruel, forced labor upon the earth, there were thousands of years previous that link me to the land of my ancestors. Though most of the crops we grow would be unfamiliar to them, the responsibilities and tasks are the same and the care is immeasurable to the earth that sustains us. Early on this July 4th morning, as many Americans are still resting and dreaming about the day’s festivities to come, I think of my ancestors who were still enslaved at the brink of this “American independence.” And as I revel in my small 10x9 urban plot, which is larger I’m sure than most folks had back in the day, I look up and give thanks to all those who came before me and paved a way for me to love the earth as we should and care for her as she does us.

Monday, June 18

Take our Beginning Producer Survey!

The Groundswell Incubator Farm

Your input is valuable! Please complete our short online survey so we can find out more about your plans and your needs.


2012 Farm Enterprise Incubator - Beginning Producer Survey

Are you interested in farming but have no land of your own and no resources to buy land? Have you grown something for years in your garden that you are ready to produce on a larger-scale? Want to get some experience raising small livestock? Do you need some management experience under your belt before you can qualify for a loan to buy your own farm?
If any of the above describes you, we need your input!
We are now developing plans and policies for the Groundswell Farm Enterprise Incubator, and will be taking applications in Fall 2012 for the first group of “Incubees”, who will launch their enterprises in the 2013 season. We want to hear what your interests are, as well as what kinds of support would be most helpful for you to grow your enterprise. The feedback we receive from beginning producers will continue to help us to design effective program policies and support, as well as infrastructure that is suitable to the enterprises being incubated.
Your input will help to determine both:
the types of support and mentoring the Program will provide for “Incubee” enterprises, such as:
  • Financial planning/ training
  • Production planning
  • Developing a clear business model/plan
  • Market development
  • Processing capacity
  • Relationship-building
as well as the design plan for the site and its infrastructure, that will suit the enterprises of beginning producers in the area, including:
  • Type of water access
  • Fencing
  • Barn, sheds, hoophouses, or livestock shelters
  • Processing facilities that are compatible with multiple enterprises
  • Equipment and Field services
Complete the short online survey here so we can find out more about your plans and your needs.
We also encourage you to contact us directly about the Groundswell Center’s Farm Enterprise Incubator Program, either at info@groundswellcenter.org or at (607) 277-0180. We are available to speak with you about your interest in access to low-cost land and infrastructure at the Incubator Site.

Connecting Land and People

Abandoned potato digger at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.
Photo by Devon Van Noble
 by Devon Van Noble

In the past several years we have witnessed the Groundswell Center develop into a wonderful suite of programs for beginning farmers and food citizens. We thank all of you for making this momentum possible! 

Recently Groundswell has begun to go beyond farmer training to engage in conversations about farmland access for aspiring farmers. Groundswell first touched on this conversation last fall in planning for the Farm Enterprise Incubator, which will offer access to land, infrastructure and support for diverse producers in the early years of their farm-based enterprise. However, the Incubator is only one piece in a community-wide puzzle of how to successfully connect new producers with land opportunities. For some of these land seekers, the Incubator will offer readily accessible infrastructure, training, and business development that they will need to get started. Others are prepared to seek independent land arrangements, but do not have the ability to create an agreement with landowners who could offer what they need. 

As a community, it is important to find out how to best provide both land seekers and owners with the knowledge of how to make successful rental, transfer, and purchase arrangements, and possibly more critically, how to effectively build trusting and mutually beneficial partnerships between the diverse new producers in the area, and the current farmers and non-farming landowners. We know that there are a variety of ways that people have been trying to access and offer land for new enterprises, and we wanted to hear more about people’s experiences have been locally. Last week, we brought together members of the Groundswell community for a conversation on “Connecting Land and People”. A group of current farmers, "greenhorns," and food citizens gathered to share their thoughts about the status of land access in the area and the actions that could be taken to enhance it. 

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Rashida's Earthship

Rashida Ali-Campbell and her earthship. Image courtesy of Rashida Ali-Campbell and Earthship Biotecture

by Kirtrina Baxter

In the wonderful world of sustainable housing, we have gotten to know many different ways to build environmentally-conscious, earth-friendly housing, so this new (well new for me since I am just learning of it) way to build green housing should come as no shock, even though the name speaks volumes…Earthship! Philadelphia is soon to be home to one of thousands of these green buildings that have been created around the world by designer and creator of “Earthship Biotecture”, Michael Reynolds. In this case, it is not Mr. Reynolds who is building it, but an African American woman named Rashida Ali-Campbell.

Sista Ali-Campbell first got the idea after watching a documentary called “Garbage Warrior” about Mr. Reynolds' Earthships.  She was immediately awed by the idea and wanted one for herself. But Ali-Campbell’s dedication to service and community made her think of ways to share this new found idea. “If only we had a self-sustainable building like that, the money we were always so worried about could be used to help people find a purpose, pay off their debt and send their kids to school.” So sista Ali-Campbell decided she would build a school for low-income residents to learn sustainable building techniques in this unique urban “Earthship Academy.”

Earthships are entirely made of natural and found materials, things like tires, glass and plastic bottles, and crushed aluminum cans. The name was coined because they look like spaceships as tires packed with dirt serve as the building foundation. They have the ability to heat and cool themselves, and produce wind and solar energy while growing their own fruits and vegetables. Some of these homes even come with chicken coops for eggs and catfish ponds. Earthships have their own sewage system and collect and sterilize water. They are totally self-sufficient and utility free.

Thursday, May 24

Update: Groundswell's Farm Enterprise Incubator

Urban agriculture leader Karen Washington visited
our incubator site in late April.
by Devon Van Noble

Ahhh -- Finally the onset of lasting warm weather.  It's not only a critical time of year for established farmers, it’s also an important season for assessing new farmland.  At the site of Groundswell's Farm Enterprise Incubator, we've been busy measuring and mapping, reading the biological communities, taking soil samples, analyzing hydrology and digging test holes for ponds.  We have been fortunate to have the guidance of some great resource people in this process. 

David Werier, a botanical consultant and an instructor in Groundswell’s Sustainable Farming Certificate Program this year, gave us a sense of how to think about the various types of vegetation and micro-ecosystems as we plan the site to interact with them.  We’ve found that the very different stages of succession across the site will offer opportunities to diversify the type of enterprises that are incubated, to preserve habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects, and create transitional spaces that we bring into production slowly. 
Recently we have made a lot of progress in identifying potential water sources at the site, and found that digging a new farm pond is a strong possibility.  With the help of Phil Snyder, a consultant who has worked on several pond projects at EcoVillage, we have accurately identified the major flows through the site.  We've mapped out several locations that would be able to catch a sufficient amount of water to supply the Incubator enterprises.  After getting a bit smarter about the levels of regulation that can be involved, I was beginning to get concerned that some of the potential sites might not work, but thankfully we have been getting a positive response from the Town of Ithaca Planning Department, the New York State DEC, and the Army Corp of Engineers.  We will be returning to them with more detailed design plans soon, and I will post a new Incubator Update on our website with any news about the Incubator farm pond.

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Marathon Master St Farm

by Kirtrina Baxter

Eddie Branch makes the Marathon Farm POP!
Moving to Philadelphia has been an enriching experience thus far. Over the past 2 months, I have had the opportunity to volunteer at the community garden three blocks from my house named the Marathon Master St Farm. The land parcel is very large and supports about twenty 70-ft raised beds for market produce and 15 smaller beds for residents. There are also bees and an amazing mural going up sponsored by Philadelphia, renowned Mural Arts Program. The farm hosts a children’s play area and a covered porch that they plan to turn into an outdoor community kitchen for cooking classes.

This farm, unlike a lot of other community farms, is sponsored by Marathon Grill, a successful local restaurant chain here in Philadelphia. The owners are very interested in locally sourcing food. The benefits of this sponsorship I am still learning about. However from my time volunteering and talking with Garden Manager Eddie Branch, I can see that the resources he has available to him are much more than I’ve experienced with other community garden projects.

Eddie Branch is really who this article is about because he makes the farm POP! Eddie lives on 27th St right next to the farm. He has been a resident there for 47 years. The farm is pretty new, this is only their second season but produce is growing abundantly. Eddie began volunteering last year when the project began. He is a handy man who has been doing construction and home repairs for years in the neighborhood. He says he’s always been good with his hands. But not only is he good with his hands he has an excellent memory that puts mine to shame and is a fast learner. He quickly picked up on everything that was happening at the farm in the first year.

At first, Eddie pitched in where he could and paid close attention to all that was going on. “Of course,” he says, “whatever’s going on in my neighborhood, I wanna know about it.” He was there daily and the previous farm manager gave him plenty of support and trusted him with large responsibilities seeing his enthusiasm and ability. Last summer Eddie suggested they offer the city-sponsored free children’s lunch program at the site. The program was so successful; the garden got a lot of publicity around it and the community really began to see what good things could come from this project. When I asked him about the idea for the program he mentioned that a neighbor moved in with 13 children and there were already lots of children in the neighborhood that would come over and play at the farm, so he felt it would serve the community well if they could offer the resident children this service, since they had the space.

Friday, April 13

Where does your "pink slime" come from?

A beef grinding operation. Photo by USDA/Wikimedia
by Audrey Gyr

In the past few weeks, the controversy surrounding “Lean Finely Textured Beef," otherwise known by its colorful moniker "pink slime," has raised many questions about the state of our food system. Created by Beef Products Inc., this product was invented ten years ago to turn fatty beef trimmings, which are highly susceptible to contamination by E. coli or Salmonella, into a product safe for human consumption.  Previously these trimmings had only been fit for pet food and cooking oil. However, by liquefying the trimmings and using a centrifuge to separate the fat and sinews from the meat and then spraying it with gaseous ammonia they could be safely mixed with regular hamburger meat and sold to an unsuspecting public.

You probably have heard Lean Finely Textured Beef referred to as “pink slime” in the news. The term was coined by a USDA microbiologist in 2002 in an email sent to colleagues, who went on to say "I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling." Nevertheless, it continued to be sold to school lunch programs, prisons, grocery stores, and restaurants across the country. In fact, some studies estimate that over 70 percent of all hamburgers sold contain “pink slime.”

Consumers have been outraged to find out that this ingredient and the ammonia used to produce it was never labeled on the food they were eating. The USDA says that “Lean Finely Textured Beef” did not have to be included on food labels because the ammonia used was classified as a processing agent. However, over the years there were many complaints about products that contained “Lean Finely Textured Beef.” Complaints mainly centered around the sometimes strong ammonia smell which could make the product unpalatable. In response, the company began reducing the amount of ammonia used in production. As a result, several batches which were intended for school lunches tested positive for salmonella in 2008. (You can find more details about this in an investigative piece written by Michael
Moss in 2009.)

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Preparing the garden

Weeding the urban garden plot
by Kirtrina Baxter

Today I decided to prep the garden for my spring planting. This will be my first official private food garden. I have grown lots of food in many places over the years, but never have I had the sole responsibility of growing food myself. Last year in I built an herb spiral in my backyard in Ithaca that grew well and I was able to harvest from, and I’ve grown herbs in the past on my own. I also put in a raised bed last year, but was too busy working on other projects to actually grow anything. Over the past 14 years I have participated with neighbors on community gardens, grown veggies at a few friend’s houses and helped grow produce and flowers at farms. However, this is my first very own food garden and I am totally excited. It is ironic that I lived in the country for 8 years and had to come back to the city to grow food, but I am up for the challenge and really excited to be urban gardening again.

While looking for a house in Philadelphia I had 3 priorities: lots of windows and sunlight; large closets; and a kitchen with lots of counter space. But I attached to this list a desire to have a small place to grow food. I figured, it was the city, and I didn’t want to expect too much. Well, I got everything I asked for and more. Not only do I have lots of light, closet and kitchen space, but my little backyard is actually a nice-sized garden plot. AWESOME!! I don’t need a bunch of trees and grass, although that is nice, as long as I can place my hands in some dirt and come up green!

The realtor who showed me the place said that it was set up as a garden, though no other tenant had used it as such. At first look, it seemed my 2 adjacent neighbors, who have the same lot as mine, could be gardeners as well. One had what seemed to be a rock garden, and the other had filled her space with rock mulch. To my surprise, when I met my neighbor with the rock garden (or so I thought) she told me that the women who lived here before me grew lots of veggies the last two seasons and that she too was planning on growing some this year. She had a bad case of moles two years previous and decided to do an overhaul of her space, hence the covered backyard and the large rounded rocks that were just placed there to keep the covering down.

Friday, March 23

Giving Ground: How Land Access Empowers New Farmers

Young farmers Sam Bosco and Simone Lackey are entering into
a land agreement with Giving Ground Farm this year.
by Devon Van Noble

It is our pleasure to share with you some wonderful news about connections being made between new farmers and landowners in the Groundswell community.

Dedicated young farmers and Sam Bosco and his partner Simone Lackey have begun preparing for their first season at Giving Ground Farm with Betti and Joe Lambro in Hector, New York. Other friends in the area, Aaron Munzer and Kara Cusolito have launched Plowbreak Farm on land leased from Daryl and Suzanne Anderson. These types of land sharing arrangements are important opportunities for beginning farmers, who might not otherwise have access to farmland on which to learn and grow.

We are truly grateful for the strength of the small- and medium- scale farmers in the region that bring so much bounty to this area. In addition to feeding us, these producers have garnered invaluable knowledge about the land and life here. Their knowledge, along with new land opportunities, are essential ingredients for establishing the next generation of producers. By continuing to leverage these opportunities as a community, we can do a lot to support the preservation of local agricultural knowledge through the new farmers who carry on the traditions, and adapt them.

Today new farmers come up against enormous financial barriers to land ownership. The transition of resources from generation to generation has not been a historically equitable process. Many communities have been largely denied access to agricultural resources, especially land. Today, when land transfer happens, it often passes down through close relationships, which maintains the status quo of what kinds of people own land. New farmers, many of whom do not have farming families, often start out by renting land through short-term leases before they either are able to buy land or enter a long-term agreement.

Wednesday, March 21

The Quintessential Black Farmer: African American Women Growers Unite

by Kirtrina Baxter

In recognition of women’s history month, I'd like to take a look at today’s African American women growers and how we are uniting in this new food movement. I just so happen to belong to a Facebook group that serves to connect women of color who have a love for growing food. In this forum, we discuss the many celebrations and tribulations of growing food and rejoice in individual accomplishments along the way. One of my sistaz on this page writes a wonderful blog called The Black/Land project. This project is set up to collect stories around the globe of how black people (or African descendants, as I like to say) relate to land. Through this project, she is able to connect with many different people of African descent.

This blog hosts an ongoing discussion of how women of African descent relate to land and place (there is also a video that accompanies this topic). It is of interest to note the diverse ways that these women relate to land, space and place. Some of the stories were very familiar to me, like one woman who said her mother, who was made to garden as a young girl, would not garden again because of this. I laughed when I heard this, thinking of how much I hated to weed my mother’s tomato garden as a child too! Some other stories were pretty foreign to me, like a women writer who loves horses tells the story of how she connected to the land while doing a project that included mules and horses. The stories ranged from women not feeling a relationship to the land at all before being asked about it, to those who relish in the wild daily. However, what resonated with each woman was a sense or understanding that land is important to us as a community, even if that had not been thought previously.

Back at the Facebook page, I smile as one sista talks about starting seed potatoes and another mentions building a raised bed for a friend because the weather is so nice. I grimace as one of my sistaz talks of throwing out her back pitching manure, and I sign on to car pool for an upcoming conference. There are beekeepers in this forum who speak with other women wanting to get started. They offer advice, resources and encouragement. All in all, this group has become a source of comfort to all of us who are remembering our connection to the land and creating opportunities for growth in our communities and families.

Tuesday, February 21

Staff spotlight: Chango Reese, Summer Practicum TA

Chango Reese will be serving as Teaching Assistant
 for the Groundswell Summer Practicum.
Groundswell volunteer Audrey Gyr caught up with Chango Reese, Groundswell's Summer Practicum TA, to share a bit about his story in this Staff spotlight.

by Audrey Gyr

When Chango Reese first moved to Ithaca from the Bronx three years ago, he immediately noticed the disparity between who had good food and who didn’t. In order to combat this inequity, Chango began a program with his friend Anthony Gallucci they called “Healthy Food for the Hood.” Their mission was to “combat unhealthy food pantry traditions with organic and locally grown food for our people, who felt excluded from places like GreenStar and the Farmers Market and who felt stigma about going to local pantries.”

The duo contacted local CSAs, who supplied them with surplus produce that they then boxed and distributed to families. Chango credits Ecovillage, West Haven Farm, Joanna Green, and Elan Shapiro for helping him and Gallucci make the program a success. Ithaca Community Harvest, an organization that strives to provide all of Ithaca's residents with locally grown, organic produce, heard about Anthony's and Chango’s program and suggested turning it into a market box program similar to a CSA, but without the up-front investment that many families find prohibitive. Chango saw it as an opportunity to expand the program's reach, so Ithaca Community Harvest hired him and devoted resources to support the program.

After turning over the program to Ithaca Community Harvest, Chango got involved with other groups in Ithaca's food movement, volunteering for urban agriculture group Gardens 4 Humanity and participating in Groundswell’s 2011 Summer Practicum. Chango found the Practicum to be valuable because it covered an immense amount of information in a short period of time. He says, “I was really interested in the farm tours and seeing all of the different livestock operations, from organic meat farms to commercial dairies. I realized that the lack of butchers and processing plants are very limiting to small farmers in the area.  Mondays were also great because we were able to get in the dirt and work outside.  The two biggest things I got out of the Practicum was learning more about the regulations that surround food production, and the meaning of labels such as certified organic and all-natural.”

Farm Service Agency offers new program: Land Contract (LC) Guarantee Program

by Devon Van Noble

We are pleased to share news of the launch of a new financing program through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), called the Land Contract Guarantee Program. As of January, the FSA will be offering loan guarantees to eligible farmers to buy and operate family sized farms. The focus of the program is to reduce the financial risk to sellers, who wish to sell agricultural property to a beginning farmer or a farmer who is a member of a "socially-disadvantaged group". Groundswell has been working hard to develop new farmer training opportunities, but without financing options that are compatible with the scale of farming they are interested in, these new farmers wouldn’t be able to continue growing in our area.

In some places in the country, the purchase of farmland through land contracts is a key mechanism for land succession, and we see this Program as a wonderful opportunity for both, landowners and new farmers in Tompkins County and Central New York. If you are beginning to plan for the transition of your estate, or selling property, we hope you will take the time to understand how this financing option works. You can find more information at www.fsa.usda.gov.

What does this mean for beginning producers and landowners?