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, onions, butternut squash and summer squash, which will be sold as fresh produce. He is also planting a fall crop of beets for juicing.