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, April 15

Red Byrd Orchard taps into growing market for artisanal ciders

By: Erika Lundahl

Eric Shatt’s kids get excited to help him run the cider press each year. “We need to remember to put aside some apples to press some non-alcoholic cider they can actually drink,” jokes Eric, owner of [Red Byrd Orchard Cider](http://redbyrdorchardcider.com/).

Based in Burdett, NY, Eric Shatt and his wife, Deva Maas began selling artisanal hard ciders in 2012, pressed from heirloom, wild seedling and European cider apples grown in their family orchards. Eric, who started planting trees in 2004 with the intention of pressing cider, credits Groundswell’s 2012 [Farm Business Planning Course](http://www.groundswellcenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=133&Itemid=156) as a key factor in helping them develop the business chops to get the cidery off the ground.

“The class helped us develop a business plan for the first time and really crunch the numbers to get a good idea of what it would take to move the cidery forward,” says Shatt. And Red Byrd is certainly moving forward. The cidery, now in its second official season of distribution, was recently approved for a business loan through Alternatives Federal Credit Union.

The Alternatives loan will allow for more operating capital to be used to purchase equipment, expand the facility, and increase their capacity for cider distribution. Its an exciting next step in the cidery’s evolution, made possible by the resources and financial mentors of the Groundswell program. “It was that class that showed us that a business loan was even an option for a business of our size.” Said Shatt. Shatt loves the process of taking care of the trees, and the pressing process - the equipment bought with the loan money will help optimize the process to make more and better apple and pear cider.

And Shatt knows his way around Cider.  Fermenting from the age 15, he graduated from New Mexico State University with a degree in agrobiology. When he’s not working in his own orchards, he works as Cornell University’s Orchard and Research Farms Manager.  Maas too, holds a degree in sustainable agriculture from Evergreen State College, and has brought her expertise to a number of different agricultural endeavors in the past few years. Groundswell, Shatt says, gives farmers like them the opportunity turn their life long passions into a profitable business. Figuring out the break-even point per barrel of cider was key to developing the pricing for their Spring 2013 keg and bottle CSA program.

Last fall Red Byrd also joined forces with several other upstate NY cider makers to form the Finger Lakes Cider Alliance. Finger Lakes Cider Alliance, a group of cider makers that includes 6 New York ciderys and one New Hampshire cidery, launched “Cider Week” in Ithaca last fall, a cross-marketing campaign that celebrated cider at many different restaurants in the Finger Lakes region.

This season Red Byrd is pairing up with [The Good Life Farm](http://www.groundswellcenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=143%3Acraft-farm-profile-the-good-life-farm&catid=40%3Afarms&Itemid=127) in Interlaken, NY as an add-on for the farm’s fruit and vegetable CSA share.  Shatt says he’s looking forward to getting their cider into a few local restaurants or bars. All signs point to Red Byrd further tapping into the upstate New York farming community, and they know that Groundswell is a friend and resource they can come to with any financial questions they might have.

“A lot of people don’t think about the numbers as much as they should, because it’s not their primary interest,” said Shatt. Shatt and Maas, between raising kids, sheep, and working jobs, have figured out how to divide the business responsibilities of the cidery so they can spend the most time doing what they love.  Shatt runs the pressing production operations, Maas does more of the distribution and marketing, blogging about all things cider on their website, and they work the orchards together. It’s an exciting time for Red Byrd, and for the upstate cider community.

To see what Red Byrd’s up to now, check them out on their website at redbyrdorchardcider.com.

Breaking Ground at the Incubator Farm

By Devon Van Noble

Groundswell is excited to announce that the first 2 applicants have been accepted to the Farm Enterprise Incubator for the 2013 season!  Damon Brangman, co-owner of the mobile vending stand Fruits & Roots Juice, and Surik Mehrabyan, a Physics Research Associate, will be among the first “Incubees” to put seeds in the ground at the Incubator Farm.  As Staff, we are excited to work alongside both of them as they hone in their business- and production- plans over the next 3 years.  Unlike farm training, incubation is a collaborative dialog between the Incubee, staff and mentors, and in the end these Incubees will make their own decisions about how to run their farm business.  We encourage you to be a part of helping these beginning farmers to grow!

Both of Damon and Surik have a background with growing food from their countries of origin as well as here in the Finger Lakes region.  Their past experience will be critical as they begin to implement their production plans.

Damon, originally from Bermuda, grew up working on organic mixed vegetable farms, and has worked on similar mixed vegetable farms here in the Ithaca area for several years.  Surik grew up on his family’s small homestead farm in the highlands in Armenia, and has managed a large garden plot at Cornell University for the past 3 years.  He says that in his youth, the two crops he grew up tending in his father’s garden every year were cabbage and potatoes, and in the past few years he has experimented with onions, chard, okra, cilantro, kohlrabi, and tomatoes.

Damon will be growing root crops to supply the Fruits & Roots Juice stand, including beets and carrots, which will substitute for the vegetables they would otherwise have to purchase for juicing.  His goals are to trial a few varieties of beets and carrots that he thinks will be good “juicers”, as well as try to expand sales through the mobile stand to include some fresh crops like salad greens.  For this season, Surik plans to focus on a few staple crops that he knows he can do well based on his experience.  His biggest priorities are increasing his scale from a “large garden” (~ 2000 ft.2) to a “small farm” (~10,000 ft.2), and determining the optimal market for his product.

It is truly exciting to be breaking ground with these two Incubees and we are looking forward to a busy- but productive- inaugural year at the Incubator Farm!

Interested in helping out?
Please come out to encourage these two beginning farmers as they get started into their first farming season at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.   There will be 3 Work Parties happening on April 27th and 28th, as well as May 4th from 11am to 3pm.  The main goal of these Spring Work Parties is to complete the “Fence-Raising” for the Incubator Farm’s 8’ Deer Fence.

There are many ways you can help these new enterprises to get off the ground successfully.

- Come to a Farm Work Party
- Offer your professional services to the Groundswell Incubees!
- Tell a beginning farmer (or a mentor) about the Incubator!
- Have old tools or farm equipment?  The Groundswell Incubator Farm is a wonderful way to put those rusting treasures to good use!  We are accepting donations of reasonably-used tools or equipment—please contact Devon Van Noble (727)410-4073, if you have a donation or questions!

Donate to the Incubator

Online donation system by ClickandPledge

There is still room for 1 more “Incubee” in the Program, and we encourage you to contact Groundswell Staff directly if you or someone you know is considering applying to the Program. (607)319-5095 or devon@groundswellcenter.org


Youth from Match High School in Boston, Help out Groundswell

“I learned that farming takes a lot of patience and perseverance…But living on a farm could be fun for anyone.”—Joselia Souza; MATCH High School Student, Boston, MA

Recently Groundswell was lucky enough to receive many helping hands from a group of awesome high school students to build the deer fence at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.  Visiting all the way from the MATCH Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts, these students were in town to experience a bit of what Ithaca’s college-scene has to offer, but they also spent much of their trip volunteering with some of the local community organizations.  For many of these students there are few opportunities to experience careers and lifestyles outside of the city, so we were thrilled to share a little bit of agriculture from the Town of Ithaca, and get some fence posts installed at the same time. When I first met the students as they were getting off the bus, I think many of them were a bit skeptical about the muddy farmer who was walking up to meet them.  Although most of them had been on farms before, they were all dressed to the level of fashion that most everyone does in high school.  Fortunately they were all extremely kind about my own messy-farmer fashion, but as they toured the farms at EcoVillage I could tell they were hesitantly-curious about what kind of work they had agreed to do.…

When we got to the Incubator Farm, the holes for the fence posts had already been dug, but our job was to level and set each post in its place by tamping the dirt around it.  For the corner-posts, we had to attach wood “feet” to the bottoms of the posts, and then pour concrete around them for added stability.  I can tell you that this Work Party immediately became a success when we started to use the tools, because as each student took a turn at screwing in the wood “feet” or at slamming the tamping bar down into the hole—everyone else was watching with collective support and excitement!  As we got more into working, their characters really came out and we all had a GREAT time.  As one student said, ““When we first got there, I was not at all happy. But by the end I was pounding dirt using a hammer with a smile on my face. I felt like I did something that day.”—Sidney McCauley*

The best part about the Work Party was that we saw their excitement around getting something physical done, which feels very different than working on a computer or in a classroom.  For many farmers, working with your hands and the earth’s tools: soil, wood, metal—is the most rewarding part of a farming-lifestyle.  It was clear that some of students picked up on this and I am so grateful that we were able to impart a sliver of this joy before they went back to their high school lives.  Big Shout-Out to our friends in Boston!  Thank you for all your hard work, and we hope you come back again next year!

Other quotes from MATCH students:
“It was really cool to see how much work goes into building part of a farm.”—Janel Williams*

“Learning how to build a fence together and the experience as a whole made us closer, and it was fun.”—Kerry Sonia*

Janel, Kerry, and Sidney are all Students at MATCH High School in Boston, Massachusetts.  MATCH is a Charter School focused on preparing low-income students for success in four-year colleges and are innovative and strive to find unique solutions to whatever issue may arise.  Please find out more about MATCH, here http://matcheducation.org/match-schools.