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.

Thursday, April 2

A Cutting Edge Return to Old Traditions: Farming with Draft Animal Power

New farmers, returning to old traditions and using cutting edge knowledge, learn to “think like a horse” and farm with draft animals.
With the rising cost of fuel and farm equipment, more farmers are turning towards a centuries old tradition: farming with draft animals.  Even though farming with draft animals is a seven thousand year old technology, new farmers don’t have to utilize ancient equipment or ideas.  Instead, they can utilize cutting edge technology and innovative ideas to move towards fuel-independent farming.  

Traditionally, the skills required to work with draft animals were passed down through oral tradition, but with more and more young people choosing farming as a career, rather than inheriting it, there has become a need for a different way to gain this knowledge and experience.  Donn Hewes, of Northland Sheep Dairy and Donn’s Teamster School in Marathon, NY, has become passionate about passing on the almost-lost art of training and driving draft animals.  

On Saturday, May 2nd and Sunday, May 3rd, Donn’s Teamster School and the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming will host a two day Draft Animal Practicum designed to provide new farmers with hands-on experience in driving draft horses.  “This workshop will help folks better understand how draft horses and mules think and why they do what they do,” Hewes says.  “It’ll be a fun learning experience for anyone just getting started with horses.  We’ll spend time focusing on how we prepare animals for success at farm work.”  

Genevieve DeClerck, an aspiring farmer who participated in 2011 Draft Animal Practicum says, "The draft horse workshop at Northland was incredible. Literally one of the coolest things I've ever participated in EVER.”

What, Where, When

How Draft Horses & Mules Think Horse : Training Methods for Beginning Teamsters
Saturday & Sunday, May 2-3, 9 AM - 3PM
Location: Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon, NY
Tuition: $150 for one day,  $250 for two days. Tuition Assistance is available for those with limited financial resources.
To register please visit www.groundswellcenter.org or call 607-319-5095

Saturday, March 28

Incubator Farm News: Drop the Plows!

By Devon Van Noble, Incubator Program Manager

I believe everyone comes out of Winter feeling excited about the coming warm weather, but almost every farmer also carries a certain anxiousness about the impending Spring to-do list.  As the sun comes out farmers everywhere are preparing: starting seeds, fixing equipment, planning for markets.  Once the ground thaws, you better be ready to drop the plow, or you are starting the season behind the curve.   In the first 2 years at the Groundswell Incubator Farm, we have found ourselves with plenty of anxiety about the overwhelming farm to-do list and have been in catch-up mode most of the time.  In year 1 (2013) the deer fence wasn’t even complete until late June, and year 2 I felt like I was fixing and re-fixing the irrigation for most of the Spring.  Consequently the planning horizon for the Incubator Farmers was delayed each season, but in spite of the early setbacks each of the Farmers did an amazing job at growing their enterprises.

But this year is different!

Finally, in year 3, I can say that we all have some experience under our belts and have created a much more robust program for the five farmers on the land this year.  We started meeting with the farmers earlier in the year, developed an organic management course, and hired a farm mentor to work 1-on-1 with the farmers.  Through the organic management course the new incubator instructor, Andy Fellenz of Fellenz Family Farm in Phelps, is teaching the farmers about the practices involved with growing quality organic crops in ways that are efficient for a small commercial farm.  The curriculum he has developed is based on a combination of class time and field education that will cover topics from crop planning to soil fertility to pests & diseases.  On top of Andy’s training, the incubator farm mentor, Dean Koyanagi, of Tree Gate Farm in Ithaca, will be demonstrating the management practices he has learned through 9 years of raising a variety of crop families for his CSA and retail farm stand.  Dean will be displaying these practices in a 1/8th acre demonstration plot at the incubator, and he will be giving each incubator farmer direct feedback through a weekly farm log.  During his time on-site each week, Dean will also be supporting the farmers by answering their questions and helping them solve production problems as they come up.

I think all of us, including the incubator farmers, are already seeing the impacts of this preparation and experience that we have collectively put in place.  Groundswell staff have been blessed to be supported in developing this program by a dedicated team of advisors, including Barb Neal of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tioga County, Brian Caldwell of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, and Owen Raymond of Farm Credit-East.  Additionally, the program would not be what it is today without the ongoing support of our farm mentor, Dean Koyanagi, who has been a mentor to the farmers since 2013.  Dean’s patience, humility, and keen interest in supporting these new producers has been invaluable to the process of enhancing the mentoring in the program.  And no doubt, we owe a huge debt of appreciation to the Farmers who started with us and had the patience to stick with it— Surik Mehrabyan of Hill Top Farm, Damon Brangman of Roots Rising Farm, and Ye Myint.

We would also like to express our appreciation for the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that has allowed us to expand many of these elements of the Groundswell Incubator Program, as well as the Park Foundation which has provided ongoing support to Groundswell since the Incubator first launched.

Sunday, February 22

Introducing New Groundswell Staff

Becca Rimmel, Education Program Manager

Becca will be coordinating a number of Groundswell programs, including Finger Lakes CRAFT, Year-Round High Tunnels, Draft Animal Practicum, Finger Lakes Orchards Exchange, Cooperative Farming Network, and several other programs still being developed.
Becca brings to Groundswell a passion for sustainable food systems, awesome organizing skills, and years of experience with curriculum development, educational and mentoring program design, volunteer coordination, non-profit management, and group facilitation.  She has lots of experience working with farmers, having managed 3 different farmers markets, and serving last year as the Farm to School Americorps VISTA staff at New Roots Charter School. And to top it all off, she is also working towards a masters degree in Sustainable Food Systems through Green Mountain College's distance learning program.

Becca was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and spent time in quite a few different mid-western and New England states, before relocating to Ithaca. When she's not working, she enjoys hanging out with family, diggin╩╝ in the dirt, snapping photos, spinning yarn, and spending as much time birding and poking around in the woods as possible.

You can contact Becca at becca@groundswellcenter.org.

Rafael Aponte, Outreach Specialist

Rafael Aponte will be leading our outreach program, ensuring that Groundswell is connecting with the diverse audiences that we aspire to support. He will also be the lead curriculum designer for our Farming Opportunities workshops and Farming While Brown programs. A beginning farmer himself, Rafa's Rocky Acres Farm will serve as a host site for some of these programs.

Rafa was born and raised in the South Bronx and has over twelve years of experience working as a community activist, advocate, and educator.  In 2011 he completed the two-year Farm School NYC certificate program focused on urban agriculture and food justice. He then served as Assistant Farm Manager at Wassaic Community Farm in Wassaic, NY. He relocated to Ithaca, NY and completed Groundswell’s Farm Business Planning Course in 2012, and also joined Groundswell’s Steering Committee at that time.

In 2013 Aponte established Rocky Acres Community Farm in Dryden, NY, a community-minded farming venture that combines the spirit of activism with the transformative healing aspects of nature.

You can contact Rafa at rafael@groundswellcenter.org.