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, 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!