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, July 23

Trainee Spotlight: Nasiha Ocasio

Ever since I was young, my parents told me to follow my heart.  When I was six years old, this meant being a whale biologist.  Every time a nature show came on television featuring whales, I would sit in awe and marvel at nature's awesome power and almost supernatural mystique.  I have always been infatuated with the world around me, so much so that I often got lost as a small girl because I was following a butterfly or a rabbit.
Later on, I studied biology in college and became a marine science teacher in my hometown of Brooklyn, in the hopes that I was fulfilling what had always been my passion.  As a teacher, I became aware for the first time that I was passionate not just about science, but about our environment.  Teachers will often say that they learn more than they teach, and during my time as a teacher I found out so much about how our food system works in this country and throughout the world.  I thought to myself, “How is it possible, with all of our technological advances, that something so basic as food isn't done properly?”  I decided that I could not think of a greater cause than to provide clean sustainable, local food alternatives for my family and my community.
The idea was a culmination of many goals that I am passionate about: family, sustainability, education, and stewardship to name a few. My idea was to approach farming as a business, and to get my family involved. I didn't know much, but I knew farms don't really make money, and I had family members with good steady jobs to convince. Some family members with similar goals to mine, were relatively easy to sway.  Other, more practical family members, needed to be presented with a solid business plan with earning potential before they would sign on.  I am grateful to these family members, as they forced me into approaching potential problems in the most practical way.
One of the motivations for me to get into an agribusiness is the lack of products that meet my community's specific religious dietary restrictions.  As someone who is Muslim, I prefer to eat halal.  As someone who believes in sustainability, I prefer to eat grass-fed/organic/local.  The tricky part is finding foods that meet both of these criteria.  My product idea for organic halal foods originally stemmed from necessity, as I found that the current market is not catering to my food preferences sufficiently.  I have talked to many other Muslims who feel the same way, and are very frustrated with the choices currently available to them.  My family is very well-known and respected in New York City, and we can use those connections to carve out a niche market where this kind of product would sell.  And so, a marketing strategy was born.
The next step for us was to get some training.  We are city folk, and we have never lived or worked on a farm before.  We all agreed that we would not go into a farming situation blindly, without any experience.  So I started my search for an internship or course that would be my first introduction to farming.  At first I had difficulty finding a diversified training program from NYC.  Many of the urban farming programs are focused only on vegetables and perhaps some backyard chickens.  This is when I came across Groundswell. I found the Sustainable Farming Certificate Program through an internet search. I was very excited until I learned I would need to be available from April through October.  I had to leave my teaching position in NYC.  My commitment was certainly tested at this point, but I decided I would do it.  
It took a few years before everything aligned and I could move to Ithaca, but I have never regretted this decision.  Being surrounded by people with similar goals and values, it became clear to me that not only did I have a viable business and marketing plan with lots of potential, but the invaluable experience and advice I could obtain through Groundswell would be the key that unlocks this new world of farming for me, my family and community. 

Volunteer Spotlight: Erika Lundahl

When we put out a call for volunteer writers earlier this year, Erika Lundahl was the first to respond. Since then she has written three great stories about our trainees before being hired as an intern at YES! Magazine. Erika - we're very proud of you and so thankful for the great job you did for us. Best wishes at YES!

Dear Groundswell,

This is a thank you letter more than anything else. Writing for Groundswell over the last many months I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk to local Ithaca farmers, visit budding farms, and learn about Ithaca’s exciting struggle towards a more sustainable farming community. It’s been a real treat to see the widespread support in this community for farm-to-table living, and to learn about the land I’ve been living and eating off of while I’ve lived in Ithaca. So it’s with mixed feelings that I’m writing this send off, in between packing bags and getting ready to move cross-country.

In two weeks, I’ll be in Bainbridge, Washington starting an editorial internship with YES! Magazine. There, I look forward to honing my writing and editing skills, while embedded in a different kind of activist community. I’m thrilled to continue spreading the stories of people and organizations like Groundswell that do the important work of problem-solving on the grassroots level.

As you probably know, Groundswell offers educational programming for the community on sustainable farming, farm business planning. They provide the resources – financial advice, grant opportunities, a community of mentors – necessary to empower people to start their own successful farming endeavors. What you didn’t know, is that through my time volunteering with them, I gained the resources and experience necessary to move forward into the next step of my writing and community-minded life.

I’m grateful for the time I’ve spent with this organization, and look forward to hearing about the many successful farms born out of Groundswell's incubator program and other workshops. After all, for years I’ve reaped benefits of their work unknowingly. My fridge, mid-July, is full of magnificent kohlrabi, kale and cucumbers from my CSA, and Saturday morning trips to the Farmers Market punctuate and distill the whole my experience of living in Ithaca. I know I am far from alone in this fact.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you Groundswell. Thank you for all the work you do in this community, and thank you for giving me a place to grow.

Warmly, Erika

Meet Surik Mehrabyan, Groundswell Incubator Farmer

After more than two years of planning and preparation, the Groundswell Incubator Farm is up and running!

We are pleased to introduce the very first Groundswell Incubator Farmers, Damon Brangman and Surik Mehrabyan, who have been hard at work on their quarter-acre plots since May. Both plan to grow their enterprises at the Incubator over the next 3 years, before moving on to more permanent sites. We thank them both for taking the plunge with us in this first year of the Incubator Program!

Meet Surik Mehrabyan

Surik Mehrabyan has a background in physics & mathematics research, and originally came to Ithaca to work at Cornell University with the Synchrotron project. But after funding cuts eliminated that job, he found himself driving taxis and thinking about farming. During his childhood in Armenia, Surik had lived with his parents in the highlands, on what he describes as a “backyard-style” farm. His father grew lots of potatoes and cabbage that they lived off of, and Surik had learned how to grow his own food at a young age.

After moving to the Ithaca area twelve years ago, Surik had to get accustomed to the difference in climate and growing conditions in the Northeast US, but he’s been persistent about learning to grow crops well in this region, especially potatoes. His Groundswell Farmer-Mentor Dean Koyanagi of Tree Gate Farm met Surik several years ago at a potato conference at Cornell, and remembers his enthusiastic questions. Dean is greatly looking forward to working more with Surik, and is excited about Surik’s keen interest in understanding the full biology of crops and how to apply that knowledge to farm production.

Like many farmers out there, Surik really appreciates both the purpose and the experience of farming. The ¼ acre he is leasing at the Incubator Farm is the largest space he has managed yet, and although the labor involved can be grueling, he is excited to be able to work outdoors with his crops. For the past several years, Surik has been raising his crops at the Cornell Community Garden plots, and has been able to produce enough to share with many family and friends. By expanding his production at the Incubator Farm, Surik aims to experiment selling his produce to see what type of return he can make. His goal is to create a modest income for himself and his family from his farming enterprise, and would like to purchase his own land in the future to have the stability of a permanent farming arrangement.

For this season, Surik is growing crops that he is very familiar with, including about a tenth of an acre of specialty potatoes. Purple skin and white flesh, pink flesh, boiling potatoes, gold potatoes, and more! Ten different varieties in fact! He is also growing beets, onions potatoes, chard, beans, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and flowers.

Since this year will be the first time Surik has raised crops at this scale, or made commercial sales, he will be doing a lot of research and exploration of farming techniques as well as the market opportunities that might work for him. With the beautiful variety of potatoes he has, Surik may try selling directly to restaurants and through farmers’ markets.

Meet Damon Brangman, Groundswell Incubator Farmer

After more than two years of planning and preparation, the Groundswell Incubator Farm is up and running!

We are pleased to introduce the very first Groundswell Incubator Farmers, Damon Brangman and Surik Mehrabyan, who have been hard at work on their quarter-acre plots since May. Both plan to grow their enterprises at the Incubator over the next 3 years, before moving on to more permanent sites. We thank them both for taking the plunge with us in this first year of the Incubator Program!

Meet Damon Brangman

Damon grew up and went to college in Bermuda. His first farming experience was working for his great-uncle, who owned a landscaping business and farm. There Damon got lots of hands-on experience with small livestock like goats and chickens, and with organic vegetables which they sold through farmers’ markets. The time spent as a youth on his great-uncle’s farm sparked Damon’s lifelong passion for growing good food – a passion which kept him out several nights at the Incubator Farm this spring planting potatoes til 11 pm -- with a headlamp!

For the past several years Damon and his family have been developing a beautiful homestead farm in Danby, including goats, vegetables, and most recently a hoophouse. He and his wife Jackie Richardson have a mobile juice business, Fruits & Roots Juice, which they operate seasonally at venues around Ithaca and central New York. Damon wanted to start growing his own vegetables for the juice business, but didn’t have enough space at home. So he decided to expand his production at the Incubator Farm which will allow him to supply the juice business and develop other markets as well.

Damon is a soft spoken community leader who plays many different roles in Ithaca. He is a committed father to his 4 year-old daughter Isana, a farm educator/mentor at the Ithaca Youth Farm, co-owner of Fruits & Roots Juice, and most recently a Garden Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. He is just really excited about connecting people with food, especially people who don’t have easy access to quality, fresh foods. And with the experience he has gained here in Ithaca, he has some good ideas for marketing his fresh produce to low-income shoppers who typically don’t buy directly from farmers.

Many local CSA farms have tried discounting shares for low-income households, but that doesn’t necessarily work out. Some farms have had difficulty recruiting any low-income members. Instead of the typical CSA model, Damon will offer a pay-as-you-go alternative that he thinks will attract more people who currently don’t have access to farm-fresh foods. He plans to offer shares as a weekly box that you pay for each week, rather than pre-buying for the year. He also will have a drop-off in the Southside neighborhood, at Congo Square Market and possibly other Ithaca neighborhoods. His goal is to attract a group of customers who will be able to walk right down the street once a week, and buy a box of fresh veggies just for the following week.

The produce that Damon grows will be marketed via the mobile juice business in two ways. First, he will sell fresh produce directly to Fruit & Roots Juice customers, and second, he will be able to supply some of the root and leaf vegetables that go into the juices, reducing the need to purchase them at the grocery store. Groundswell will be helping him to do a careful analysis of costs and returns to see if it pays to grow his own organic produce for juicing.

Because the deer fence at the Incubator wasn’t completed early enough in the season, Damon was unable to grow beets and carrots for this year’s juicing. Therefore many of his early crops are those that could withstand the deer pressure, like potatoes - red, white & russet,  onionsbutternut squash and summer squash, which will be sold as fresh produce. He is also planting a fall crop of beets for juicing.

Homestead Farmers and Gardeners Gathering July 28

Full Fat Farm

Sunday July 28, 3 -5 PM

This month's Homesteaders Gathering will be on Sunday, July 28, 3:00 - 5:00 PM at the homestead of Valerie Hahn. The event is open to all Groundswell Members. Please register in advance to receive directions - see below.

Valerie and her family live in a rustic, passive solar house on a 26-acre homestead surrounded by New York State Forest lands. Our July Gathering will offer a chance to see how they use biodynamic and permaculture practices to maintain a diversified farmstead that includes two cows, a goat, hogs and chickens who graze on over six acres of pasture. During the visit, Groundswell Members will enjoy a special sampling of freshly-made raw cows' milk, cultured pasture butter and cheese!

The afternoon will include exploration of their pastures, the 1/2 acre vegetable garden, forest, fruit trees, herb gardens, ponds and creeks; and gravity-fed spring water.

When they bought the property in 2007 they set about creating a homestead that fulfilled both material and non-material needs. Join us on July 28th for this very special Homestead Gathering to learn more about how homestead life feeds body and soul.

Groundswell Members may register by calling 607-319-5095 or sending an email to info@groundswellcenter.org. You will receive a confirmation email unless the event is already full. To become a Groundswell Member click here.


Support the Ithaca Community Gardens!

For 30 years Ithaca Community Gardens has been at a valuable resource for people who want to grow their own, but don't have the space to do it at home. This includes many low-income households, and many immigrant and refugee families. A long-term lease with the City expires at the end of this year.  The City Council says it wants to make the land available for development, and has proposed a lease that would allow the City to remove the Gardens on 90 days notice.  Undeveloped land in the City is extremely scarce and very expensive, and no other suitable site for a large, urban community garden has been found.  Other progressive communities around the country are expanding their community gardens, in the name of sustainability and food justice; Ithaca should not be moving in the opposite direction!

What can we do?
Please contact Common Council members and the Mayor to voice your support for a new, long-term lease without the threat of early termination.  If you can, please attend a meeting of the City Administration Committee, this Wednesday, 7/24/2013, at 6:00 pm in City Hall, to show your support for the Gardens (or come to the next full Council meeting, on 8/7 at 6:00 pm). To learn more, contact ithacagardensboard@gmail.com. As always, thank you for your support of a strong local food system!

Upcoming Workshops - Register Now!

Pastured Pigs Basics
Wednesday, July 31, 5 - 8 PM. Kingbird Farm, Berkshire, NY
An introduction to pig biology and behavior; opportunities and challenges for profitable pasture-based pig farming; basics of care, feeding, housing, health issues, processing and marketing. Instructor: Karma Glos.Cost: $45-$60 Voluntary Sliding Scale. To register email info@groundswellcenter.org.

Organic Pastured Poultry Intensive
Monday, Aug 12, 10 AM - 4 PM. Kingbird Farm, Berkshire, NY
An in-depth, full-day program for those already raising poultry or with a serious interest in small-scale commercial production of meat and/or eggs. Get your questions answered by one of the region's leading experts in organic poultry systems. Instructor: Karma Glos.Cost: $120-$150 Voluntary Sliding Scale. To register email info@groundswellcenter.org.

Poultry Processing Practicum
Sessions run from 9am - 3pm by appointment. Kingbird Farm, Berkshire, NY
Hands-on instruction and practice in on-farm slaughter, processing and packaging of broilers (chickens) and/or ducks. Limited to two trainees per session. Instructors:Michael and Karma Glos. Cost: $60-$80. Voluntary Sliding Scale. To register send email to info@groundswellcenter.org. We will notify you of slaughter dates as they are scheduled.

Organic Sheep Dairy Intensive
Sunday, Aug 18, 10 AM - 4 PM. Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon, NY
An in-depth,full-day program for those with a serious interest in grazing, breeding and milking sheep, and producing farmstead cheese as a profitable small-scale business. Sheep producers, cheesemakers, and others interested in learning about certifiable organic systems are encouraged to attend. Understand market opportunities and production requirements. Get your questions answered by one of the top experts in the US on organic sheep dairying. Instructor: Maryrose Livingston 
Cost: $120-$150 Voluntary Sliding Scale. To register email info@groundswellcenter.org.

Draft Horse Intensive
Part I: Saturday, Sept 14, 10 AM - 4PM. Part II: Sunday, Sept 15, 10 AM - 4PM. Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon, NY
A hands-on practicum for the beginning teamster or serious wannabe. Learn to think like a horse. You may sign up for both days, or just for Part I. Prerequisites: Some experience with horses and permission of Instructor. Instructor: Donn Hewes. Cost: Part I only: $120-$150. Part I & Part II: $200-$250, Voluntary Sliding Scale. To apply for this course email info@groundswellcenter.org.

Hog Breeding & Farrowing Intensive
Monday Sep 16, 10 AM - 4 PM. Kingbird Farm, Berkshire, NY
An in-depth, full-day program for those thinking about getting into breeding hogs and farrowing your own piglets in a pasture-based system. Economics, breeding stock, management, facilities, markets… Get all your questions answered by one of the region's leading experts in organic pasture-pig systems. Instructor: Karma Glos 
Cost: $120-$150 Voluntary Sliding Scale. To register email info@groundswellcenter.org.

Cheesemaking Practicum
Part I: Sunday, Oct 6, 9 AM - 3 PM Part II: Monday Oct 7, 2 PM - 4 PM Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon, NY
Hands-on instruction and practice in making artisanal cheese on a commercial farmstead scale. Learn about the fermentation process, milk qualities, cultures, finding and using farmstead-scale equipment, regulations, economics and markets. Part II is optional for those who can attend and includes preparing the molded cheeses for aging in the Northland cheese cave. Instructor: Maryrose Livingston