Help advocate for young farmers: Take the National Young Farmer Survey

Help advocate for young farmers: Take the National Young Farmer Survey

Take the National Young Farmer Survey and let Congress know that #FarmersCount! The survey is conducted every five years by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) in order to understand and elevate the issues that matter most to young farmers and aspiring farmers. Take the survey today and share it broadly. It is crucial that the survey results represent all young farmers and aspiring farmers, no matter where they live or what they grow. Survey answers are completely confidential.


Cornell Small Farms Announces Support For Shiitake Viability Development

Cornell Small Farms Announces Support For Shiitake Viability Development


The Cornell Small Farms Program announces a new two-year project funded through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant to support the development of a new niche crop in New York state; log-grown shiitake mushrooms.

Interested farmers and service providers can learn more and sign up for updates here.

Research and development at Cornell over the past decade, along with several partnerships and research projects, has enabled greater understanding of the technical and business aspects of a log-grown shiitake enterprise. Shiitake grown on logs are a niche crop that requires a low-input investment and offers high returns that can also help offset land taxes in New York State.

Data from past research indicates that, over three seasons, a 1,000 log operation would cost $4,740 to establish and would yield 1,040 pounds of mushrooms annually and could generate $12,480 of income for the farmer each year. This rate can be perpetually sustained from year four onward and would qualify a producer for agricultural exemption in New York.

The crop is positioned for adoption by farmers who are interested in developing diversified niche crops on their farm. Over the next two years, the grant will focus on developing the following opportunities for farmers in New York:

– A printable planning tool and several online self-directed training modules will include enterprise budget worksheets, and cover important topics such as proper mushroom identification, forest management, production safety & sanitation measures, and strategic marketing. Available Spring 2017.

– A series of one-day workshops titled, “Log-Grown Shiitake: Viability for Small Farms” in five counties around New York State. Anyone who is growing commercially, starting up, or considering commercial production is welcome to attend. The workshop content will cover all the aspects of production from harvest to market.

Participants should be versed in the basics of how to produce log-grown mushrooms prior to attending the workshop. Take a class, or view our free online resources.

On the day following the workshop, current and prospective farmers can schedule FREE one-on-one consultations with extension educators to review their farm goals, resources, and discuss challenges and opportunities for their own production.

Sunday, January 29 – Franklin County CCE (Consultations on Jan 30)

Sunday, February 5 – Wyoming County CCE (Consultations on Feb 6)

Sunday, February 26 – Schuyler County CCE (Consultations on Feb 27)

Friday, March 3 – Greene County CCE (Consultations on March 4)

Friday, March 10 – Putnam County CCE (Consultations on March 11)

Cost: $30/person              TO REGISTER CLICK HERE

Helping New Farmers Find Land: Finger Lakes LandLink

Helping New Farmers Find Land: Finger Lakes LandLink
The Finger Lakes LandLink is a project of Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County and Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming.  It’s purpose is to help connect land owners and land seekers in the Finger Lakes region. Our goals are to:
  • Help beginning farmers find suitable land to lease or buy
  • Help retiring farmers connect with the next generation of farmers and keep their land in farming
  • Help retiring and beginning farmers create a mutually beneficial plan for ownership transition
The LandLink database stores information about land available for lease, loan or sale for beginning and established farmers in the 14 counties comprising the Finger Lakes region.  It likewise has a listing of land seekers.  Both land owner and land seeker listings are searchable by pertinent agricultural criteria.

This service is free and confidential.  If the land owners or land seekers do not wish to have their contact information listed on the database, Cornell Cooperative Extension staff will serve as the intermediary between landowners and land seekers.

Both landowners and land seekers can also request direct assistance from Cornell Cooperative Extension staff at any time.

How it works:

First, both land owners and land seekers will need to create an account.  Once your account is approved by the website manager, your listing will be entered into the database and you will have access to the other database listings.
Second, once your listing is approved by the website manager it will appear in the database and will be active for one year.  After one year, you will receive and automated email with the option to renew or remove your listing.  You can update your listing at any time by logging into your account.
Third, you can search either the land owner or land seeker listings to find an appropriate match.  Both land owners and land seekers have the option to either be contacted directly or to have all inquiries go though the website manager at Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Fourth, once a connection has been made between a land owner and land seeker both parties can request assistance from Cornell Cooperative Extension or utilize the resources listed on this website to draft an equitable lease.

Trainee Spotlight: Nasiha Ocasio

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. 

Meet Surik Mehrabyan, Groundswell Incubator Farmer

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

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.

Tune In to the Local Food & Farming Radio Hour!

Fridays 7-8 AM on WRFI
88.1 Ithaca, 91.9 Watkins Glen

by Sharon Clarke

For the past two months Groundswell staff and program participants have been my guests on the Friday Morning Show, a one-hour program which I produce and host. The show is exclusively about local food and farming, which makes it a perfect venue to spread the word about the work and the people of Groundswell.

Most recently, I interviewed Silas Conroy, co-owner of Crooked Carrot Community Supported Kitchen and Devon Van Noble, farmer/owner of Van Noble Farm  Devon is also Groundswell’s Incubator Farm Coordinator.  Silas was a participant in the first year of the Farm Business course and through it was able to gain valuable information which was immediately applied to the development of Crooked Carrot.  This session one of his business partners is also taking the business course!

Both Devon and Silas are first season farmers as well. This is the first year the Crooked Carrot team are growing their own vegetable crops. And for Devon, this is his first season raising his own hogs. The two admitted that previous experience working on farms certainly helped them get to where they are, but they also benefited from luck and the generosity of more experienced farmers in our community. For Devon, it has been support and experienced gained working with The Piggery Farm owned by Brad and Heather Marshall; while Silas has gotten significant encouragement and support from his relationship with Chaw Chang and Lucy Garrison-Clauson, of Stick and Stone Farm.

Tune in any Friday to find out more about what’s happening in local food and farming!

Trainee Spotlight: Steven Kidd, Carrie McCracken TRUCE Garden

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.

Under the Giuliani era (1994-2001), many community gardens in NYC were sold to private entities, an issue that sparked a long and heated battle beween the Mayor, NYS Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, and community gardeners throughout the City. Finally in 2002, with the help of administrators and community members, community garden lands were transferred to the Parks Department for administration. This legal change made it more difficult for the property to be sold or taken away because it falls under the category of recreational park land. This was a big victory for city gardeners and the fight for the right to grow food nationwide, and also was a milestone in Steven’s personal goal to bring about lasting and meaningful social change.

Steven came across Groundswell while searching for farmer training in his region. In 2012, through Groundswell’s Farm Business Planning Course, he gained skills in business planning and marketing. Steven believes that the need for farmer training is only growing, and more resources are needed to fill this demand. “There are thousands of African Americans that are interested in growing their own food or exploring the possibilities of being farmers. I’m personally aware of at least 50 families that are interested in growing their own food and I truly believe that it is bringing people together.”

When asked what the biggest thing he got from Groundswell, Steven says “Hope.” He is adamant that we, as a nation, must address environmental issues without exploiting others, and feels inspired that Groundswell is trying to do just that. He says his passion is renewed by seeing people who are working for change every day. “There’s a big movement to go green right now. The biggest problem is apathy; many people just can’t see or don’t care that there’s a problem,” he says. As someone who has experienced firsthand being excluded from opportunities in his quest for knowledge and learning, Steven also feels that it’s hard to find a place “where people are open to you – where you are not treated like an outsider.”

“Groundswell does not put limitations on you. They have you think critically.  They give you the opportunity to think things through and give you the information and training to figure it out for yourself,” he says.

Steven is currently exploring an apprenticeship model to becoming a farm owner, and maintaining active farmland in a sustainable manner. Currently, people from his organization are taking classes with Hawthorne Valley Farm in the Hudson Valley, which is closer to New York City. Hawthorne Valley now provides one meeting a month in NYC. In the future, Steven would like to participate in a plant sale for city gardeners sponsored by the City of New York. In addition, he’d like to set up a company that brokers small farmers and urban entrepreneurs.

We at Groundswell are inspired to hear about Steven’s work for food sovereignty in the City and hope to hear more in the days to come.

To learn more about the Carrie McCracken TRUCE garden, visit

Trainee spotlight: Devon Van Noble, Van Noble Farm

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.

In March of 2012 I was hired at for a part time position at The Piggery Farm, helping with sorting and loading pigs for slaughter on Mondays, and taking care of chores a few days per week.  The first thing I noticed in starting regular farm work was that I loved having designated time to be outside and using my body.  Which is still, to this day, one of the things I appreciate most about farm work! The physical aspect is stimulating to me because of the way it allows you to paint your painting…(a very fancy way to say:) it allows you to combine mind and body to create something that can nourish you and others. It is Art. Learning the principles of a trade, internalizing the nuances, and then developing your own innovation and adding to the great body of experience and knowledge that has been left before you is an extremely exciting creative endeavor to me. Farmers do all this, and express it in a form that is functional, lasting, and beautiful. Certainly some might say that West Haven Farm is more beautiful than a pig sty, but I think my babies are pretty damn beautiful!

The second thing I came to realize was that I REALLY enjoyed working with animals, and furthermore, it came naturally to me.  I realized a couple months into the job that the reason I never thought I would be a successful farmer – and kind of felt unintelligent in that regard – was only because I was barking up the wrong tree when I was thinking about crop farming! I should have realized this years ago, because I have a history of developing meaningful connections with animals: throughout high school in Florida, I worked at The Chimp Farm, a sanctuary for 33 chimpanzees (including Cheetah from the original Tarzan movie), 4 orangutans, a silver-back gorilla who as a baby in diapers was on Samsonite Commercials, a host of other smaller monkeys and primates, and a brown bear. I’ve always felt aware of animals’ temperaments and needs and how to interact with them. “Connection with animals” sounds kind of hokey, but there really is something to it, because when I started running around with hogs all day at The Piggery I came to be feel right at home with them. I am also very good at not stressing animals when we are sorting and loading.  And I feel proud about the work I do for the animals.  I love making sure that all the elements of their lives are in order and together in their pen so that they are comfortable and healthy.

Over the past 11 months or so, my perception about my future with farming has transformed. The Piggery has more demand than they can successfully supply through the Piggery Farm alone, so they often have to buy cuts of meat. Furthermore, they haven’t even begun to tap into the wholesale market that is just waiting for them to get their USDA certified butchering license (i.e. restaurants that can’t buy from them because the meat is butchered in their butcher shop at the store, which is only state certified, not USDA certified). So, not only has the Piggery been able to offer me a contract arrangement for the purchase of all of the market herd that I can raise, but they have also fronted me the first group of 21 sows to get started with. Probably most important, Brad, Heather and Casey have been extremely generous in sharing their time and resources and totally forthcoming about financial and production management issues.  I feel extremely confident in the advice that I have been getting over the past year because the farmer-owners and the farm manager have been working to start and expand a very similar sized enterprise for the past 6 years, and they know the mistakes that I can/will make and how to preemptively approach those points. I have made some mistakes but I’ve prevented many more by learning from theirs.

I started leasing land in Enfield in September of 2012 for my operation. The site currently has 3 barns, a water system from a pond, and perimeter high-tensile fence for my 37 pigs, with ~32 piglets expected to be born today and tomorrow! My next steps are developing a grazing plan with Tompkins County Soil & Water Conservation District, purchasing a skid steer, and finishing renovating the barn, including building farrowing pens. In the near future I hope to hire an employee at 25 hrs/wk to help the operation run more smoothly.

I feel so thankful for the help I’ve received from Groundswell, other farmers, and friends and family who encouraged me along the way to making Van Noble Farm a reality – finally!

Devon can be reached at

The New American Farmer

The New American Farmer

Groundswell receives award to train immigrant and refugee beginning farmers

We’re excited to announce a new, one-year grant award of $73,443 from New York Department of State’s New Americans Initiative! This initiative is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, with support from the Southern Tier East Regional Planning Development Program. The new funding will enable us to enhance our outreach, training and farm business incubation for immigrant and refugee beginning farmers.
Getting the word out
Are you a “New American” immigrant, with experience in farming in your home country? Or do you work with refugees or other immigrants in your community who might be interested in small-scale farming? If the answer is yes, Groundswell needs your help.  Beginning next spring, we will offer customized training in farm business management, production and marketing, as well as personalized mentoring from experienced farmers and business advisers. For those with limited English language skills, ESL support will be provided. Affordable access to land, water and equipment will also be available at the Groundswell Incubator Farm, at EcoVillage in Ithaca, New York.
Our focus in the next three months is on finding out who might be interested, and getting the word out to them. We’re looking for help from New Americans and from community-based groups who work with New Americans in Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins Counties. If you know of individuals or communities who may have an interest in farming, please contact us at 607-319-5095 or 

Changing the face of farming
“Like previous waves of new Americans, these newcomers are engines for economic growth in our state,” said Secretary of State Cesar Perales.”We are proud to be partnering with Groundswell and others to fund a program that helps newcomers skilled in agricultural production realize their entrepreneurial dreams, while strengthening the Southern Tier local agricultural economy. By working with this population to fill education gaps, locate capital, and identify property suitable for agriculture projects, new Americans will increase employment opportunities in the region, and preserve the region’s agricultural lands.”

“This project will significantly boost our ability to train and support New American beginning farmers,” says Devon Van Noble, Coordinator of Groundswell’s Incubator Farm. “We’ve had a number of immigrant trainees who have been able to participate fully in Groundswell’s existing programs, but those with significant language barriers or cultural barriers need more customized support.”

“Our goal is to foster a new generation of farmers that reflects the diversity of culture, color, and class in our region,” says Rachel Firak, Groundswell’s New Farmer Training Coordinator. “Support from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the NY Department of State and Southern Tier East will help us connect with immigrant communities in our area, find out who is interested in farming, and help them get started.”

Infrastructure, Equipment, and Tools

Infrastructure, Equipment, and Tools
Digging a test hole at the Incubator Farm.

By Devon Van Noble

Finding or creating the right tool for the job. Using what you have in front of you. Self-sufficiency. Ingenuity. 

These are parts of farming that are really exciting to many farmers.  It’s an inspiring time to be part of the sustainable farming community, because there is a movement of innovative thinkers that are developing new techniques for producing and processing food that are cost-effective and accessible.  All types of farmers are utilizing these kinds of innovations to save money and labor, improve the function of their tools and farm, and most importantly, to create quality products without high-risk investments in capital.

Groundswell has been gearing up for the launch of the Farm Enterprise Incubator Program in early 2013, and began prepping fields at EcoVillage over this summer.  At the Incubator Farm, beginning farmers will be able to get access not only to land, but also to infrastructure, equipment, and tools. These things are essential to start growing food, but they’re things that many new producers can’t afford before they are making sales of their own.  Once enrolled, Incubees will be able to lease land for up to 3 years before they graduate from the Program and are expected to transition to a new property.  This allows for new groups of beginning farmers to continue entering the program and benefit from the same infrastructure and resources.

Through a partnership between the Groundswell Center, beginning farmers, and support from the broader community, the “Incubees” will benefit from a three-year window to create enough revenue to capitalize their enterprise and transition to new land.  The community, in turn, will be supporting an enduring framework for new farmers to learn the skills and access the resources necessary to operate sustainable farm businesses that can feed local people.  The Incubator Program could play a significant role in the food and farming system in this region.

On October 21st, as part of the Groundswell Local Food & Farm Festival, we’ll launch the 2012 Incubator Farm Infrastructure Campaign through Kickstarter, which will help fund the construction of farm infrastructure and purchase of cost-effective equipment.  This infrastructure will be utilized by diverse beginning producers, making it possible for many to get started who would not be able to do so otherwise.  We believe this framework is critical to healthy local food and farms, and we invite you to be a part of supporting it.  Supporters will receive various benefits for participating, such as having your name engraved or painted on one of the fence posts, t-shirts, or a tour of the Farm.  Donations will be accepted at the Local Food & Farm Festival hosted at EcoVillage, and on the web into December.

With the help of farmer-consultants and others, Groundswell has assessed many options for farm infrastructure and equipment.  Current design plans include expanding the current West Haven Farm pond, purchasing a lightly-used deer fence from a Brooktondale farmer, and constructing a walk-in Cool Bot Cooler at the Farm Hack-Ithaca event.  There are many things that the community could help us find or purchase during the next few months.  We are not sure whether we will be able to purchase a new or a used tractor for the Farm, but if someone out there has a working tractor that they would like to see used by new farmers—we would love to hear about it!  Soon there will be a list of items that Groundswell is seeking for the Incubator, but please contact us as soon as possible if you have something you are considering donating.  Any items donated to the Incubator Farm would be tax-deductible as an in-kind donation.  (607-319-5095, or

If equipment, tools, and farm innovation excites you— check out the Farm Hack-Ithaca event happening on October 20th & 21st at EcoVillage.  Participation is FREE, but RSVP is required.

Devon Van Noble, Incubator Coordinator and Groundswell Staff

Applications Now Open for Groundswell Incubator Farm!

Applications Now Open for Groundswell Incubator Farm!

When the ice melts next spring, and the sun starts warming the ground, Groundswell’s first group of “incubees” will be moving into their newly-leased sites at the Groundswell Incubator Farm, located at EcoVillage. Application forms for the Farm Enterprise Incubator Program are now available online, and we are encouraging all types of beginning farmers to consider applying.

The Groundswell Incubator Farm offers a relatively low-risk entry avenue for new producers by providing access to land, production and marketing infrastructure, production support services (such as tractor tillage), and ongoing support from experienced farmer- and business- mentors.
If you think you might be interested in the Incubator, we encourage you to meet one-on-one with incubator Coordinator Devon Van Noble, who can answer your questions and help you complete the application forms. You can reach Devon at, or  (607)319-5095. Or you can find the application materials online at Click on Programs/Incubator.
The Incubator Application Form has two parts: Part 1 is a Personal Data Form and Part 2 is a Farm Enterprise Data Form. Your responses will give us a picture of your farm business concept, your cultural and farming background is, your current resources and your needs, both personally and for the business.
Learn about the Incubator Oversight Team…

About the Incubator Oversight Team

Starting a new farm business is a complex task, and creating a supportive environment for beginning farmers to grow their businesses requires a range of knowledge and backgrounds. The Incubator Oversight Team is composed of a mix of experienced and new farmers, business mentors, finance specialists, and landowners.

Since April of 2012, this Team has been meeting regularly to lay out the groundwork for the Incubator Program, and have been central in creating application materials. Together with Groundswell staff, the Oversight Team will be selecting a group of applicants to be Groundswell’s first group of incubee farmers by January 2013, and will continue to be involved in each incubee’s development through the program. The Team will serve as business and production mentors and will help each Incubee to assess their farm business plans, goals, and progress.
Groundswell Staff and the Oversight Team look forward to working with you on your farm enterprise. Get in touch with us if you, or someone you know, would like to apply.

Vendors wanted! Groundswell Local Food & Farm Festival, Oct 21

Farm and food entrepreneurs wanted! We’re looking for vendors of all kinds for our Local Food & Farm Fest, Sunday, October 21, 1-4 pm.

The Local Food & Farm Fest is a fundraiser for the Groundswell Incubator Farm, a land-access program for beginning farmers. This is a great opportunity for beginning farmers, prepared food vendors, and farm products vendors to get their name out while supporting the beginning farmer/food producer movement!

Please share the good news with your networks!

Sunday, October 21, 2012 (12pm – 4pm)

Groundswell’s Local Food & Farm Festival



Visit the site of Groundswell’s new Farm Incubator at EcoVillage and…

  • Enjoy fun FARMING ACTIVITIES for kids of all ages! Card some wool, build a hoop house, dig a soil sample, churn some butter, build a fence, or milk a goat!
  • Enjoy ETHNIC FOODS from all around the world featuring local farm products!
  • Chat with Groundswell’s Farmer-Instructors and Beginning Farmers at our LOCAL FOODS MINI-MARKET!
  • See the newest in FARMING INVENTIONS and learn how to build your own!
  • Take a TOUR of Groundswell’s Farm Enterprise Incubator, West Haven Farm and other EcoVillage highlights!
  • Help Groundswell raise funds to finish building the Farm Incubator!

Mark your calendar now- and plan to bring your family and friends!

Take our Beginning Producer Survey!

Take our Beginning Producer Survey!
The Groundswell Incubator Farm

Your input is valuable! Please complete our short online survey so we can find out more about your plans and your needs.


2012 Farm Enterprise Incubator – Beginning Producer Survey

Are you interested in farming but have no land of your own and no resources to buy land? Have you grown something for years in your garden that you are ready to produce on a larger-scale? Want to get some experience raising small livestock? Do you need some management experience under your belt before you can qualify for a loan to buy your own farm?
If any of the above describes you, we need your input!
We are now developing plans and policies for the Groundswell Farm Enterprise Incubator, and will be taking applications in Fall 2012 for the first group of “Incubees”, who will launch their enterprises in the 2013 season. We want to hear what your interests are, as well as what kinds of support would be most helpful for you to grow your enterprise. The feedback we receive from beginning producers will continue to help us to design effective program policies and support, as well as infrastructure that is suitable to the enterprises being incubated.
Your input will help to determine both:
the types of support and mentoring the Program will provide for “Incubee” enterprises, such as:

  • Financial planning/ training
  • Production planning
  • Developing a clear business model/plan
  • Market development
  • Processing capacity
  • Relationship-building

as well as the design plan for the site and its infrastructure, that will suit the enterprises of beginning producers in the area, including:

  • Type of water access
  • Fencing
  • Barn, sheds, hoophouses, or livestock shelters
  • Processing facilities that are compatible with multiple enterprises
  • Equipment and Field services

Complete the short online survey here so we can find out more about your plans and your needs.
We also encourage you to contact us directly about the Groundswell Center’s Farm Enterprise Incubator Program, either at or at (607) 277-0180. We are available to speak with you about your interest in access to low-cost land and infrastructure at the Incubator Site.

Giving Ground: How Land Access Empowers New Farmers

Giving Ground: How Land Access Empowers New Farmers
Young farmers Sam Bosco and Simone Lackey are entering into
a land agreement with Giving Ground Farm this year.

by Devon Van Noble

It is our pleasure to share with you some wonderful news about connections being made between new farmers and landowners in the Groundswell community.

Dedicated young farmers and Sam Bosco and his partner Simone Lackey have begun preparing for their first season at Giving Ground Farm with Betti and Joe Lambro in Hector, New York. Other friends in the area, Aaron Munzer and Kara Cusolito have launched Plowbreak Farm on land leased from Daryl and Suzanne Anderson. These types of land sharing arrangements are important opportunities for beginning farmers, who might not otherwise have access to farmland on which to learn and grow.

We are truly grateful for the strength of the small- and medium- scale farmers in the region that bring so much bounty to this area. In addition to feeding us, these producers have garnered invaluable knowledge about the land and life here. Their knowledge, along with new land opportunities, are essential ingredients for establishing the next generation of producers. By continuing to leverage these opportunities as a community, we can do a lot to support the preservation of local agricultural knowledge through the new farmers who carry on the traditions, and adapt them.

Today new farmers come up against enormous financial barriers to land ownership. The transition of resources from generation to generation has not been a historically equitable process. Many communities have been largely denied access to agricultural resources, especially land. Today, when land transfer happens, it often passes down through close relationships, which maintains the status quo of what kinds of people own land. New farmers, many of whom do not have farming families, often start out by renting land through short-term leases before they either are able to buy land or enter a long-term agreement.

It’s important to Groundswell that all who wish to become farmers have access to land. To that end, Groundswell will be making leasing opportunities available through our Farm Enterprise Incubator in 2013. We are now posting land opportunities on the Groundswell website and hope to increase land linking support that could facilitate connections for both farm leases, and especially long-term land transfers, in the future. The Farm Enterprise Incubator will ensure that the leases are made available to individuals from socially-disadvantaged and limited resource backgrounds, especially people of color and first-generation Americans. But this is only the beginning; it is extremely important that land resources everywhere are shared equitably.

We look to enterprises like Giving Ground and Plowbreak Farm for lessons they can teach us about how young farmers secure access to land on which to build their livelihoods.

About Giving Ground Farm


Giving Ground Farm is a 105-acre land-based community in Hector, New York. The founding members, Betti and Joe Lambro, had been laying out the vision for this community for about 5 years before it started. The vision: a group of 4 to 10 households that live and learn communally, and share in ownership of the land. Although Giving Ground Farm is the first business to be launched, the vision is that the land will be home to multiple land-based enterprises that generate income. In 2012, Giving Ground Farm aims to serve 40 CSA members, and hopes to reach all the members from hyper-local markets surrounding them right in Hector.

It all began when Betti Lambro contacted Groundswell, explaining that she and her husband Joe had just bought land to start their home and farm, and they were interested in finding some folks who wanted to either work or live at Giving Ground as the farm grew. Sam Bosco and his partner Simone Lackey learned of this opportunity through Groundswell, started talking to Betti and Joe last November and first met them in January. After having considered a co-ownership possibility with another group in Danby, Sam and Simone realized that they would prefer taking a slower, lower-risk entry to the land and relationships that Giving Ground offered. Through many dinner meetings and conversations over the past months, Betti and Joe had laid out very clear plans for creating both a productive CSA that thrived on the community farm dynamic. By February, Sam and Simone made plans to move out to Giving Ground Farm and work there full time in the 2012 season.

The 2012 Season at Giving Ground Farm


Although the group’s intention is to forge relationships as long-term farming partners, the agreement is that 2012 will serve as an exploration year. Sam and Simone say that this trial period will help to fulfill some of their short-term goals such as build relationships, learn what they have to offer Giving Ground and share it, develop a clear vision of their enterprises, and write a formal lease. Currently they are working through the dynamic between several different roles, being farm interns, farm partners, and community members at once. Those roles are expected to develop and solidify over time.

Sam and Simone will be assisting in the launch of the Giving Ground CSA this year. Joe Lambro will be managing crops for the CSA, and Sam and Simone will be managing their first poultry project with a flock of 50 laying hens. This microenterprise will provide eggs for the CSA shares, household supply, and for market. They have been encouraged to be creative in developing any other enterprises they could manage at Giving Ground, and this year they are considering options like herb production for medicinal teas, or getting a nursery license in order to sell potted plants and woven baskets.

We are extremely pleased for Sam, Simone, Betti, Joe, and Giving Ground. Congratulations!

Farm Service Agency offers new program: Land Contract (LC) Guarantee Program

Farm Service Agency offers new program: Land Contract (LC) Guarantee Program

by Devon Van Noble

We are pleased to share news of the launch of a new financing program through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), called the Land Contract Guarantee Program. As of January, the FSA will be offering loan guarantees to eligible farmers to buy and operate family sized farms. The focus of the program is to reduce the financial risk to sellers, who wish to sell agricultural property to a beginning farmer or a farmer who is a member of a “socially-disadvantaged group”. Groundswell has been working hard to develop new farmer training opportunities, but without financing options that are compatible with the scale of farming they are interested in, these new farmers wouldn’t be able to continue growing in our area.

In some places in the country, the purchase of farmland through land contracts is a key mechanism for land succession, and we see this Program as a wonderful opportunity for both, landowners and new farmers in Tompkins County and Central New York. If you are beginning to plan for the transition of your estate, or selling property, we hope you will take the time to understand how this financing option works. You can find more information at

What does this mean for beginning producers and landowners?

Typically, there is a financial risk to the seller that buyers might default on the contract payments, but to incentivize sales, FSA is offering a guarantee on up to 90 percent of the outstanding principal. In the case of default, the FSA would compensate the seller for the unpaid portion of the balance. The idea is that if land contract arrangements are less risky for landowners, and more accessible to new farmers, land will more often be transferred to the next generation of food producers, which helps ensure the long-term viability of regional food systems.

How it works

The program is designed to support sales of agricultural real estate to beginning or “socially-disadvantaged” farmers through land contracts. A land contract is an installment contract between a buyer and a seller for the sale of real property, in which complete ownership of the property is not transferred until all payments under the contract have been made. Buyers must make a down payment of at least 5% of the purchase price, and be able to project the ability to make land contract payments through a business plan. The monthly payments must be amortized over a 20 year period, so that the buyer is making fixed payments for the length of the contract. However the FSA will only be making guarantees available for 10 years, which means that after 10 years of payments, the risk of buyer-default returns to the seller.

Buyer eligibility

The FSA is focused on making these guarantees available to beginning farmers, or those who identify as “socially-disadvantaged.” However, there are several eligibility requirements that the buyer must meet, including: having U.S. citizenship or being a qualified alien, having the legal capacity to incur the obligation of the loan, and being unable to obtain credit elsewhere, yet also having acceptable credit history. The Buyer must not have had a previous loan which resulted in a loss to the FSA, nor be delinquent on any Federal debt, and lastly he or she must be the owner/operator of the farm upon completion of the contract. If you are considering purchasing land, and want to explore the Land Contract Guarantee Program, feel free to contact your local FSA office for an application. They can meet with potential buyers to help to fill out the application if necessary, as well as determine one’s eligibility for the program.

Read more about this program from the FSA