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.