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, January 22

Trainee Spotlight: Steven Kidd, Carrie McCracken TRUCE Garden

A photo from the Carrie McCracken TRUCE Garden: "Marilyn Mosely explains the garden's child-affirming Memorial Sunflower Project to a new neighbor. Though one of our community's invisible structurally unemployed, she contributes many volunteer hours creating graphic work for the garden. Leaders are but stakes for the vines to begin their assent. The year is starting out  tough; but we are climbing higher." - Steven Kidd

By Milagros Gustafson-Hernandez

Steven Kidd is a gardener and community organizer in the food sovereignty movement in Harlem, NYC, and participated in Groundswell's Farm Business Planning Course in 2012. Here he shares his story and his hopes for the future.

Steven became interested in farming in the late 70’s, when he moved from Harlem to Kentucky. There he met his ex father-in-law, a Louisiana native who grew vegetables for his family on a plot of land. When his father-in-law passed away, his children- including Steven's ex-wife, disagreed about what to do with the land. His ex wife wanted to continue her father’s legacy of farming, but could not come up with the financing to purchase it.  The other sibling sold the land for about 1/8 of what it was worth. Steven feels this is a prime example of the epidemic of black land loss in our country: how predatory financiers scoop up black-owned land at a fraction of its worth, leaving generations of black families landless and with fewer assets over generations.

Shortly after this incident left him shaken, Steven became determined to get involved with gardening. Some friends of his were growing peppers in their backyards and were jarring pepper sauces in their homes, where they had set up processing kitchens. Steven began looking for spots to garden in the city. A sign on the fence of a nearby vacant lot said it was being taken care of as a community gardening project, but no one was really tending to the garden, and it was locked and inaccessible. So Steven had to travel quite a distance to another community to do his gardening. He felt the commute was unnecessary if there was a spot near his home that could be used.  He contacted the City and they eventually provided him with a key to the garden near his home.

This garden became the Carrie McCracken TRUCE Community Garden in Harlem, NY, a garden which "striv[es] for a green and welcoming space offering horticultural, educational, and cultural activities." This is the garden with which Steven spends most of his time now. Having a space to garden-- to grow plants as well as community -- was monumental. But Steven felt he needed more education and training.

Trainee spotlight: Devon Van Noble, Van Noble Farm

Devon and one of his pigs.
Groundswell trainee, staff member, and new farmer Devon Van Noble shares his personal journey from dreamer to farmer.

by Devon Van Noble

I feel like I've been becoming a farmer for my whole life, but it's only in the past few years that my journey really took off. Growing up in suburban community in Florida, where locally-sourced food is a rarity, I was only recently able to connect with farming on the ground. I read plenty about farming in school but really only started participating in it when I returned from Vermont, where I went to grad school, to Ithaca. In the spring of 2011 I started working for Groundswell, and soon after I took Groundswell's Sustainable Farming Certificate Program (SFCP). That season I also began harvesting with Early Morning Farm in Genoa, a medium-sized organic vegetable farm, on Fridays.

Coming into the SFCP, I felt like a “noob.” I was still totally unsure of what to do or how I could successfully enter farming. But by becoming immersed in the Ithaca agriculture scene, I quickly familiarized myself with Groundswell's Mentor Farmers, learned about other enterprises that existed locally, and gained a general sense of how farming was being done in this area. In the SFCP program, I learned the basics of crop production, planning, and management, and toyed around with the idea of raising livestock. But most importantly, it was one of my first steps towards becoming a farmer. I needed that intensive experience of seeing many different operations in a short period of time, and I also needed the time to go back to the same farm and get a deeper picture into the farm.  By seeing the enterprises at various stages of production you get a better sense of the businesses and what they require.

After I finished the SFCP program, I don’t think I was totally conscious of it, but I was definitely discouraged about my prospects of being a successful farmer.  The main reason for this is that I realized (and maybe had this inclination prior to the program) how much intelligence and what strong skill sets it takes to be a successful farmer.  And the reality really hit me that most farmers are forced to supplement with off-farm income, and only a select few really make their living off of it (and some of them are in substantial debt).  It is an incredible feat to manage your production, finances, labor, and markets, not to mention put it all together in a successful and coherent way. I felt really intimidated by all of that.

Since I had based my entire farming future upon the idea that I would be a crop farmer, and plants are not nearly as intuitive to me as animals, I felt that it would be many many years—and a major uphill battle of classes, reading, questions, and mistakes—before I would be competent enough to make a living from a farm enterprise. At that point, I had never even considered that I could really pull off being a livestock farmer. I'm not sure why—maybe because I didn't quite understand how livestock farmers successfully process and sell their product. Because this option never seemed open to me, I imagined that I'd remain in an off-farm job for the next few years with only occasional day trips to work on farms.