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.

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?

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Dreaming of Timbuctoo

Dreaming of Timbuctoo, an exhibit documenting a chapter of black
land ownership in Upstate NY at The History Center in Ithaca

by Kirtrina Baxter

The concept of the black farmer is not just a vestige of slavery. In fact, Africans had agricultural systems for centuries, and as some more recent studies assert, even millenia ago. In this county we know as the US, however, African American farmers are usually associated with post-enslaved people, staying on at the plantations where they were enslaved in the south. What a lot of people may not know is that blacks owned land and farmed on that land in the south and in the north during slavery and after.

Right here in our own neck of the woods, there were black farming communities set up in the mid-1800’s. I visited an exhibit this past week at The History Center in Tompkins County entitled Dreaming of Timbuctoo. This exhibit speaks of an abolitionist plan right here in New York State to give 120,000 acres of land in the Adirondacks (mostly in Essex and Franklin Counties) to 3000 black people in 1846. 

“The vision of an Adirondack farm settlement for African-American New Yorkers was a response to the nightmarish facts of daily life for black people in metropolitan New York in the 1830s and 1840s. Waves of white immigrants were displacing black laborers and artisans from long-held jobs. A housing shortage forced impoverished black families into epidemic-ridden slums. Bounty hunters on the trail of fugitive slaves prowled black neighborhoods. Most insultingly, a discriminatory $250 property requirement for free black men disenfranchised nearly all black New Yorkers from 1821 until 1873.” 
Dreaming of Timbuctoo
Of these 3000 grantees, not many settled on the land. Some felt it was a difficult move because they would be isolated from the black communities of support they were familiar with and accustomed to in the city. Others assessed the move as not economically secure enough, realizing the costly efforts of homesteading would be an enormous undertaking that included the cost of moving which many could not afford.  And still others were so immersed in the freedom movement that they could not break away to work the land. There were various reasons why some never took possession of their granted land; however, there were also many reasons to do so.