Instant Inspiration: Kate Cardona

Instant Inspiration: Kate Cardona

Kate Cardona

Community Program Coordinator, Groundswell Center

20160711_164109-1Kate is Groundswell’s newest staff member, and will be serving as our Community Program Coordinator. We thought our inaugural edition of this series would give you a bit of an introduction to Kate!

Kate in her own words:

I’m originally from Brooklyn and carry a big piece of it with me wherever I go. I’m fiercely dedicated to my family and friends and to building community. I’ve spent a lot of the past many years working towards initiatives for racial and economic justice and draw lots of inspiration and motivation from people’s social movements around the world. Locally I work as the Community Program Coordinator with Groundswell, serve on the Showing Up for Racial Justice Steering Committee, and am on the board of the Multicultural Resource Center.

I spent the last two years as a preschool teacher in a toddler classroom and really appreciate the joy, curiosity and presence of children. I love learning about growing food and have spent time farming in both cities and in rural towns. Currently I’m really enjoying working in my garden, learning more about herbalism, and spending as much time dancing as possible!

10 Questions

Name one thing that you have tried to grow, raise, produce or cook that was a surprising success? A total failure?

I’ve started growing my own food just in the last three years, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I’ve been able to grow anything at all! For a long time I felt really intimidated to grow on my own and it’s been amazing to just dig in and go for it at my downtown Ithaca home. I have a special affinity for my herb garden, for how incredible they smell and how many culinary and medicinal uses they each have. I’ve never had success growing cilantro though, even though I’ve tried multiple times!

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

I get really fired up while talking and learning with other people about how to bring about a community and world with dignity, respect and justice for all of us. I love hearing people’s stories and learning their idiosyncrasies. Singing in groups, lots of dancing, working in my garden, gorge hikes, lake swims, spending time with children, reading books and eating ice cream!

If you could go back and tell your 18-year-old self one thing, what would it be?

Sit with complexity. The answer’s often a both/and rather than an either/or.

If you had a motto (or a mantra), what would it be?

We are unstoppable, another world is possible.

If you could cook a meal for any one person, living or dead, who would they be and what would you cook?

My family on my mother’s side has a homemade pancake recipe that’s been passed down through the years. I have so many memories of Saturday mornings sharing pancakes with fruit and maple syrup with different family members and friends in our apartment in Brooklyn. It’s a lot of fun to think of sitting around a huge table with our big extended family, grandparents who have passed on included, and serving them all up a warm, rich, sweet, delicious breakfast (my favorite meal of the day!). I’m so grateful for them all and don’t get to see them as much as I did in those days of childhood.

Name 3 things in nature that you find beautiful.

I love the beauty and meaning in things that spiral, so in keeping with that theme: fiddlehead ferns, snail shells and romanesco.

What is something you love to make?

Drawings– worlds of spiraling flowers, geometric shapes, moons and eyes.

What is your favorite word? What is your least favorite word?

It’s so hard to choose! When I was in elementary school my two best friends and I collected words that we loved the sound of on post it notes that we kept in altoid tins and other small boxes. There were thousands of post-its! I don’t know if it made the list back then but I really like the word “ampersand”. I’m not a big fan of “gumption”.

Instant Inspiration introduces you to an eclectic array of folks in our area connected with food and farming. We hope you find them and their work inspiring!  Contact us if you’d like to be featured! Read other Instant Inspiration posts by clicking on the “Instant Inspiration” category tag above. 

Q&A with Groundswell Board Member Mary Kate Wheeler: Climate Change, Water Access and Farming in Peru

Q&A with Groundswell Board Member Mary Kate Wheeler: Climate Change, Water Access and Farming in Peru

72192_originalCornell graduate student and Groundswell Board Member Mary Kate Wheeler spent 6 months in 2015 working in Peru collaborating with a local nonprofit, CARE Perú, to conduct surveys with 500 households in the Shullcas River Watershed.  The region is rapidly changing due to climate change and that is having implications on food security and nutrition. Mary Kate was kind enough to fill us in on the work she did and we thought we’d share some of her story.

GS: What have you been up to for the last 6 months in Peru?

MKW: For the last six months of 2015 I lived at 3,200 meters above sea level in the Central Peruvian Andes. There I collaborated with a local nonprofit, CARE Perú, to conduct surveys with 500 households in the Shullcas River Watershed. The Shullcas River links the melting Huaytapallana Glacier to the growing city of Huancayo, and provides an important source of irrigation for many small farms in between. The glacier’s rapid retreat is one of many climate change impacts projected to affect agriculture and food security in this region. Our research explores farm and household adaptations to climate change, and implications for food security and nutrition

GS: What does farming look like in the Peruvian Andes?unspecified-1

MKW: Farmers in the Shullcas River Watershed live between 3,300 and 3,900 meters above sea level, and their farming practices vary by elevation. At the lower end of that range they grow lots of maize, which is often accompanied by fava beans and modern varieties of potato. At higher elevations, farmers focus on traditional and modern potato varieties, along with other indigenous tubers including oca, olluco and mashua. Many families keep livestock for dairy, meat and fiber production, including llama, alpaca and the ever-popular cuy (guinea pig). In farming households both men and women participate in farm labor and decision-making.

Andean farms are tiny by U.S. standards. The typical farm in our study was only 0.25 hectares (0.6 acres), and 95% of farmers had less than 1 hectare (2.5 acres) for crop production. Farming is mostly oriented toward subsistence rather than commercial unspecified-4production. Only a quarter of all farming households sold any crops in the market, and most of these “commercial” farms still allocated much of their harvest to home consumption. For many, crop production is not a source of income, but a
strategy to supplement a household diet that also depends on purchased foods. Most families rely on at least one source of off-farm income to make ends meet.

GS: What kinds of challenges do small farmers face in the mountains?

MKW: The interconnected challenges of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition are a daily reality for farm families in the Andes. Remote rural households lack basic infrastructure to meet their health, education, information and financial needs. Low market prices and high transportation costs limit farm profits. The climate is changing faster in the Andes than in many parts of the world, so farmers face high climate uncertainty and greater production risks.

GS: What kind of education and support do farmer training organizations offer? 

MKW: Local nonprofit organizations provide education and extension services to build community capacity and support individual success in production and marketing. CARE Perú offers technical training through workshops, demonstration farms, farmer exchange visits and private consultations. Trainings emphasize climate-adaptive farming practices, including soil and water conservation strategies and the cultivation of native crops and varieties. CARE Perú also organizes producers to form farmer associations for specific products. Farmers in these groups share information and support each other to improve production practices, often with a goal of collectively marketing their products in higher value markets.

GS: How will your results help farmer training organizations and others to better serve smallholder farmers in the Andes?

unspecifiedMKW: Our research will help to explain why some farmers chose to adopt farm management practices that reduce their exposure to climate change impacts, while others do not. We will also explore important linkages between agriculture, food security and nutrition in our study area.

While the analysis is still underway, we expect our results will help farmer training organizations like CARE Perú to better promote climate change adaptation among farmers.  Our research will also inform the design of policies and programs that link climate adaptation in agriculture with improvements in household food security and nutrition.

You can learn more about the project here:

Faces of Groundswell: Nicole Scott

Faces of Groundswell: Nicole Scott

How do you get started in farming when you have no background in it?  

If you didn’t grow up in a farming family, how can you learn to tackle the complexity and difficulty of farming?  

IMG_1882These are the questions that inspired , one of Groundswell’s most recent volunteer interns, to work with Groundswell this Fall.  Having worked on a small, biodynamic farm where many of the farmers were greenhorns, Nicole saw how messy farming can be if you don’t have depth in your experience.  She really was excited about what Groundswell is doing because she saw how important it is to have a training and support pathway for new farmers.  As a senior in Animal Science at Cornell, Nicole is part of a course called “Agriculture, Food, Sustainability, & Social Justice”, which examines alternative agriculture and food concepts, and considers, “the historical background to our food and agricultural system, looking at different agriculture and food issues in the Global North and South.”  

As a part of her coursework, Nicole has been interning with Groundswell this semester but recently agreed to serve as the first Groundswell Advisory Board intern into next year!  Her work with us so far has involved helping the Incubator Program Manager, Devon Van Noble, to explore the possibilities for the farmers at the Groundswell Incubator to form a cooperative.  Many other incubator programs offer their farmers some sort of cooperative or collective marketing outlet in order to reduce the growers’ risk in the first few years.  So Nicole has been helping by researching and analyzing the feasibility of the various options, and will be presenting our findings to the Incubator advisory team at our December meeting.  

However Nicole has also had a role in Groundswell’s self-reflection as an organization this year.  We have had many recent opportunities to reflect with our Advisory Board, Staff, farmer educators, and a variety of community members about Groundswell’s value of social justice and mission of engaging diverse learners.  Although food sovereignty & social justice were somewhat new terms to Nicole before starting her course, working with Groundswell has given her insight into the complexities of justice and equity around food and farming.  She has seen the tensions of privilege in local communities, the importance of trust building and authenticity, and the difficulty of unpacking organizational culture and commitment.  Through the Food Justice Summit in September, Advisory Board Meetings, and weekly meetings with Staff, Nicole has been participating in this difficult and crucial conversation with us.  In addition, volunteering with Groundswell has been a wonderful opportunity for her to get a taste of the realities of working on-the-ground within a non-profit.  She has seen how the work really flows, the need for patience, and the passion involved in mission-driven work.

Although Nicole grew up in a suburb of Washington D.C., her family is historically from Jamaica and she has a lot of family who live there.  Her uncle owns pineapple farm that is tucked away from tourists and the city, and Nicole says that it is such a beautiful place with all kinds of fruit growing.  Her father grew up on his parents’ farm, where they had goats, cows, chickens and crops, but when her grandfather died it was too difficult and dangerous for her grandmother to live there alone.  So they had to sell the farm and got her a home in the city.  These days, Nicole’s grandmother is one of the few in her family who really understands and is excited about Nicole’s interest in agriculture, which surprised Nicole.  After she finishes at Cornell in May, Nicole is thinking that she might apply to work with the Peace Corps on agricultural projects in nations in the Global South.

THANKS Nicole!

Written by Devon Van Noble

Faces of Groundswell: Steve Selin

Faces of Groundswell: Steve Selin

Steve SelinsteveselinfromFLCH

South Hill Cider & Groundswell Alumnus

by Ben Roosa, Groundswell Volunteer


“The Finger Lakes Cider House is an excellent example of collaborative artists achieving something that would not be possible alone.” That’s what Steve Selin of South Hill Cider had to say about the exciting new establishment perched above Cayuga Lake’s Western shore.

Steve has no shortage of hats to wear.  He is the self-proclaimed owner, fermentation gnome, apple hunter and orchardist for South Hill Cider, one of five partner cideries involved with the Finger Lakes Cider House.  He is also an active musician and luthier (someone who makes and/or repairs string instruments), as well as a proud alumni of Groundswell’s Holistic Organic Orchard Management program in 2014.

Participating in the Orchard Management program provided Steve with the opportunity to meet and learn from experienced local orchardists and tour their orchards.  Now, after 10 years of cider-making using mostly wild apples and forgotten orchards supplemented with select varieties from other orchards, he has planted his own orchard with over 900 trees, some of which he grafted and grew out himself.  With this new endeavor, we can look forward to more excellent cider from South Hill Cider!

If you’d like to check out the Finger Lakes Cider House and try some of Steve’s cider, Groundswell invites everyone to our Good Afternoon at Good Life Farm event on August 15 from 2-5pm.  There will be delicious local fare, hand-crafted ciders, farm and cidery tours, and lots of family fun!  We hope to see you there!

Faces of Groundswell: Erica Frenay, Trainee

Faces of Groundswell: Erica Frenay, Trainee

ericafrenayBy Ben Roosa

In the six years since Shelterbelt’s inception, Erica and husband Craig Modisher have been working hard to establish the farm, build a home, and raise their children, all while maintaining off-farm jobs with the Cornell Small Farms Program and Ironwood Builders, respectively. However, Erica has still found time to take several Groundswell courses over the past few years. Building off of an exciting background of working and volunteering on farms around the world since college, Erica says that Groundswell programs and the generosity of local farming mentors has been essential to the success of Shelterbelt Farm.

Erica took the Holistic Organic Orchard Management course last year… a very timely endeavor, given that they are currently in the process of planting an orchard at Shelterbelt!  With the help of the class, they have planned and started to install a diverse, integrated orchard system, laid out in long contoured rows, that promises to produce an abundance of food.  Similarly, Erica is currently taking part in Groundswell’s year-round High Tunnels course which has helped to advise many decisions for Shelterbelt’s new and future hoop houses, from materials sourcing to orientation and management.  The farm plans to use these sun-warmed structures to extend food production through the entire year.

When asked what advice she had for new and beginning farmers, Erica asserted that “that reading and researching about agriculture is great, but no substitute for the wisdom of the local community of farmers and homesteaders.”

If you’re interested in connecting with other farmers and homesteaders in our community, please check out Groundswell’s Farmer to Farmer Networks and the Homesteaders Network.

Ben Roosa is a 2015 Volunteer Program Assistant with Groundswell and a great writer, don’t you think? Thank you Ben!

Call to Action: Dig Deeper!

Call to Action: Dig Deeper!

by Rafael Aponte, Outreach Coordinator

With the summer almost upon us in the Finger Lakes, DSC_4380things are beginning to heat up, and the time for heavy lifting is here!

During times of hard work I am inspired by the community gardeners I saw as a child in the South Bronx. These gardeners fought to reclaim abandoned plots of land from negligent landlords to create community spaces that would provide healthy food. I watched as they broke through man-made brick and leadened soils to turn barren spaces into ones of resilience and abundance. They took up their shovels as a political act of creating just alternatives to the conditions they faced.

It is in this spirit that I became a farmer.  And each season, I take up my own shovel to provide access to healthy, sustainably produced foods to underserved communities. I founded Rocky Acres Community Farm to support these principles and assist in creating new pathways to a fair food future.

All food is political, whether intended to be or not. The price of food, our access to it, and the hands that harvest it all carry a political implication. Unfortunately, not everyone’s best interests are reflected in what ultimately ends up on our plates. By fostering a space that allows for education and collaboration, we can confront the asymmetrical power structures that deny equity in our food system.

Here at Groundswell, we are pushing to support the many communities that are taking action to create a just structure where their voices are heard and their needs are met. From those returning home from war, families new to the U.S., or those historically denied access to land, Groundswell strives to provide support and education that acknowledges the struggles that both farmers and food citizens face.

If we only scratch the surface, our roots will never fully take hold.  As we dig deeper past the barriers we face and through our dominant cultural paradigms, we can see much larger systems at play. It is this broader systems thinking that allows us to make the necessary structural changes to create a food system that sustains us all.

We must take the time to look at what holds us back. Critical analysis of these barriers is the first step in producing a proactive framework that addresses them. We must all ask ourselves, what is stopping my community from creating a just food system?

Grab your shovel, roll up your sleeves, and lets all dig deeper.

Faces of Groundswell: Ye Myint

Faces of Groundswell: Ye Myint

Ye MyintYe Myint grew up in Myanmar, where he and his father grew tropical vegetables and fruits on a four acre diversified farm. Ye and his family came to the United States in 2002, and lived for 8 years in South Carolina before moving to Ithaca in 2010. He has been running a sushi company on the Cornell University campus and a few other local sites for the past four years, and although Ye says that he has been able to make a modest income making sushi— he is very eager to move beyond the kitchen to earn his income outdoors.

Now Ye has three children, the oldest of whom is studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and the youngest of whom is 3 years old. By the time his oldest child graduates from college, Ye hopes that he will be able to make a majority of his income from farming and already has some ideas on how he would expand the enterprise. Having strong connections among the sushi chefs in the region, Ye plans to grow crops that he knows are in high demand amongst sushi chefs, including cucumbers and carrots. In addition Ye is focusing on traditional Burmese crops including Gongura, a leafy plant in the hibiscus family which is widely used in South Asian/Indian cuisine. It is very hard to find Gongura in Central New York, and Ye hopes to be one of the first to offer it to local Burmese families from Ithaca and Syracuse.

Ye has the summer off from sushi making, and takes the time to focus on his farming enterprise. He gets a lot of help from his 20 year old son Mo, an engineering student at RIT, and other family members. We’re so happy to have Ye and his family at the Incubator Farm!

Faces of Groundswell: MaryKate Wheeler, Advisory Board Chair

Faces of Groundswell: MaryKate Wheeler, Advisory Board Chair

IMG_1132We’d like to shine our Volunteer Spotlight this month on Mary Kate Wheeler, the current Chair of Groundswell’s Advisory Board. Mary Kate is an Ithaca native who has also lived in the Pacific Northwest and Central America. She’s an avid kayaker and boat builder, and recently designed and built her own super energy efficient tiny house for off grid living.

We first met Mary Kate in 2013 when she participated in our Finger Lakes CRAFT program. She had recently moved to the Ithaca area from Spokane, WA, where she had several years of farm production and marketing experience. But during her CRAFT year, she made the hard decision not to pursue a career in farming – at least not for now. Instead, she wanted to put her analytical and organizational skills to work in support of sustainable development, creating more equitable food value chains and expanding market opportunities for smallholder farmers.

Mary Kate joined our Advisory Board (which we used to call our “Steering Committee”) in January 2014, impressing all of us with her critical thinking and hard work. She also applied and was accepted into Cornell’s MS program in Applied Economics and Management, beginning her studies last fall with a focus on sustainable development and food value chains under Dr. Miguel Gomez.

Mary Kate accepted her Board-mates invitation to serve as Chair beginning this pastMary Kate Wheeler February, and has been ably leading us through several important strategic analyses and decisions. We are so grateful for her leadership and continuing dedication to Groundswell’s mission!

“Working with Groundswell keeps me grounded. In my role as an Advisory Board member I have the opportunity to explore and address the challenges in our food system that motivated me to pursue a Masters in Applied Economics. Groundswell provides an opportunity for real-world experience that compliments my research and coursework at Cornell.” -Mary Kate Wheeler


Are you interested in serving on Groundswell’s Advisory Board? Find out more HERE.


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

Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie Chan

Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie Chan
Stephanie tending her new garden in Brooklyn.

Stephanie was a Groundswell trainee in 2011’s New Farmer Training Program. In 2011 and 2012, she served as Groundswell’s Program Evaluation Assistant. We’d like to thank her for her volunteer service!

Growing up in Oceanside, NY, Stephanie Chan and her family had a small plot of land in which they raised Chinese vegetables organically. This love for growing things eventually brought her to Cornell University in 2009 as a graduate student analyzing the economics and profitability of four different cropping systems for organic vegetable production. But she didn’t lose sight of the possibility of farming on a small scale, growing and marketing the delicious Asian vegetables which she had trouble finding locally. So in 2011 she enrolled in Groundswell’s first cohort of trainees in our New Farmer Training Program.

In August of 2011 Stephanie also began working with Groundswell as a volunteer Program Evaluation Assistant. Since then she’s spent hours and hours compiling and analyzing evaluation data from our Summer Practicum and Farm Business Planning Course, and assessing their impacts on students and trainees. Stephanie’s super analytic skills and her training in business and economics have been a great resource for Groundswell. Stephanie has worked with us almost a full year, but is moving on to Brooklyn, New York where she is seeking a position in non-profit research and developing her skills in urban farming.

Thank you, Stephanie, for your important contributions to Groundswell. We wish you all the best in your new ventures!

Instructor Profile: Keierra and Mario Callaway

Instructor Profile: Keierra and Mario Callaway

Mario and Keierra Callaway

Mario and Keierra were Groundswell trainees in 2011’s New Farmer Training Program, and returned in 2012 to teach our “Community Ecology: Understanding your Social Context” for our Sustainable Farming Certificate Program.

Keierra and Mario Callaway both grew up in rural Georgia, surrounded by farms and/or gardens, and both have a family history of farming. Keierra, now 26, remembers taking trips to the farmer’s market with her grandmother. Her aunt still has a farm in Georgia where she grows collard greens, turnips, squash, and tomatoes.

But the Callaways left their rural roots behind to become urban agriculturists. In 2010 they launched the Kwanzaa Village Garden, a vibrant community garden located on the Southwest side of Syracuse. Their brainchild Urban Verde, an environmentally and socially conscious company, offers gardening products designed to make growing accessible to everyone. The next year, seeking to broaden and deepen their knowledge of agricultural practices, they enrolled in Groundswell’s New Farmer Training Program and regularly made the hour-plus commute down to our training sessions. Through Groundswell, the Callaways met many like minded people, aspiring farmers with diverse backgrounds who were able to learn from each other. They also kept in touch with some instructors well after the program ended. Groundswell’s Community Liaison, Katrina Baxter, aided them in the community development aspect of their mission.

Kwaanza Village Garden in Syracuse, a dynamic community garden spearheaded by the Callaways.

Since participating in Groundswell’s program, Keierra and Mario have moved from Syracuse to Brooklyn, where they are pursuing their life-long mission to bring sustainability and healthy food to those areas where it is lacking. Mario is working at Brooklyn Grange Urban Rooftop Farms, and both are working with a community garden in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, helping with organizational development and getting the community involved.

We wish Mario and Keierra great success in their urban agriculture ventures!

Student Profile: Max Chapman

Student Profile: Max Chapman

Groundswell volunteer Audrey Gyr caught up with 2010 Summer Practicum student Max Chapman to find out what he’s been up to and what the Practicum means to him.

Max Chapman
Max Chapman first heard about Groundswell’s Summer Practicum from his adviser Kelly Wessel when he was an Environmental Studies major at TC3. At the time, Max was interested in becoming a biology major and was hoping to gain a greater scientific background in agriculture. He quickly grew to love working on West Haven Farm in Ithaca and began to feel a deeper connection to the Ithaca area after visiting local farms and businesses. 
He began working at Greenstar Cooperative Market in Ithaca after a Practicum class visit, and you can currently catch him at the deli counter at the West end location. He says that taking part in the Summer Practicum “broadened my awareness and consciousness, and helped shape my personal philosophy.” He enjoys working at Greenstar because they sell many local products and he can see firsthand how they contributes to Ithaca’s food system. When not working at Greenstar, Max is busy completing his EMT certification. In the future he plans on focusing on wilderness medicine.

Student Profile: Ellie Limpert (Summer Practicum 2010)

Student Profile: Ellie Limpert (Summer Practicum 2010)
Ellie at West Haven Farm.    
Groundswell volunteer Audrey Gyr caught up with former Groundswell student Ellie Limpert this past week to capture her reflections on her participation in Groundswell’s Summer Practicum in Sustainable Farming & Local Food Systems.

Groundswell: What is your background?
Ellie Limpert: I am a senior at Cornell University majoring in Biology and Society with a focus on Human and Environmental Health, and Agricultural Development. Before the Summer Practicum I was a nutritional science major. My minimal agricultural experience was as a horticulture apprentice at a greenhouse for 2 summers, and a bit of volunteering at Dilmun Hill the student Organic Farm. 2010- I was unsure how to spend my summer, I got an email from a sustainability club about the practicum and I was intrigued…looked into it, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 
GS: Where are you and what are you doing now?
EL: I am currently studying abroad in Granada Spain—in an Environmental Studies program. I am taking classes on Sustainability in the Mediterranean, Environmental Politics of the European Union, and Ecosystems of the Andalucia. In addition (most exciting!) I have found work on a local small organic farm! Never would I have even dreamt of seeking this out on my own, but since working at West Haven I have been longing to be on a farm again—there honestly isn’t another way I’d rather spend my free time—and it’s one of my most cherished experiences here!

Speaking of this—I met the man through my professor of Ecosystems after expressing great interest in working on a farm—when we visited, the farmer was very impressed by my knowledge of working on a farm—what all the vegetables were, the weeds (they have purslane!) and my ability to jump right in.
GS: What are your plans?
EL: I have a few opportunities I’m exploring, but what I’m most excited about is the Peace Corps. I am currently in the process of applying, and I hope to work with Agricultural Development and Food Security in Latin America. 
GS: How has your experience in the practicum shaped your thinking or your plans? 
EL: My experiences in the summer practicum completely reshaped my thinking. Firstly, from the many prominent speakers we had to come lead our classes on Wednesdays, I was exposed to a variety of topics, issues, and opportunities I was until then unaware of. We were always stimulated, always learning, debating, sharing ideas, and although it was a “long” day (9am-4pm), I honestly left each class filled with an intense energy to learn more.  As I said, I was originally a nutritional science major, but after the practicum decided to switch my focus to include Environmental Science and Agricultural Development. The Groundswell course really sparked an incredible interest within me. It wasn’t long before I caught the passion and excitement our instructors exuded, and I never wanted to lose that. 
GS: Looking back, what was the biggest thing you got out of the Summer Practicum?
EL: When I was in the program one of the most inspiring things for me (and I touched on this above) was just being around such passionate people- everyone who came to lecture, or we met on our tours had such incredible passion, such drive for what they were doing. They were excited to be doing what they were for a living, and proud to share. None of them were making the big bucks but they were definitely some of the happiest people I had ever seen. It was really eye-opening after being forced into the fast-paced money-making mentality my entire life and it really taught me to follow what I believe in when it comes to the future, and possible jobs– do what excites me and makes me feel proud, rather than seeking the largest pay-check because that is where I will be more willing to give my 100%, that is where I will always be learning and always be teaching.

Student Profile: Lynne and Justin of Finger Lakes CRAFT

Student Profile: Lynne and Justin of Finger Lakes CRAFT
Lynne and Justin plowing with horses at Northland.

Interview by Audrey Gyr, Groundswell volunteer

Lynne Haynor and Justin Schaude were both members of the Finger Lakes CRAFT program this year while they interned on Northland Sheep Dairy. While they were there, they started a vegetable market garden and sold at the Homer Farmers Market.

They first met while studying at UW Madison. Lynne was studying agroecology and Justin was working at the student garden while studying Rural Sociology. Lynne grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and first discovered agriculture at the age of 24 when she worked at a periurban gardening program for youth. The program focused on education and work readiness in marginalized communities and Lynne spent 3 growing seasons there producing organic vegetables.

Justin grew up in the suburbs of Minnesota and California. He dropped out of college and traveled extensively while working odd jobs, including in an orphanage in India. He first became attracted to agriculture while working at a men’s shelter in Minneapolis. During that time he read a book that posited farming as a strategy to get people off the street. Justin decided to go back to school for social work but he became more and more interested in farming.  He has been farming for the past 5 years. Lynne and Justin both did another apprenticeship on a CSA farm in Wisconsin after graduating from college. They have also worked on farms in Mexico. They strongly suggest any beginning farmers to have an apprenticeship because it can really help you plan what you want to do. They also stress the importance of having a mentor and that a beginner can accomplish a lot by just working on a project.

This summer Lynne and Justin were apprentices at Northland Sheep Dairy. They chose the farm because it was a place where Lynne could learn about sheep while Justin learned about horses.  Maryrose suggested that they begin a market garden on 1 acre of available land. They began selling their vegetables at the Homer Farmers Market which enabled them to gain practical business experience.  During this time they also were members of CRAFT. They enjoyed that the program enabled them to tour many different farms and see how other people did things.

Justin and Lynne have recently moved to Viroqua, Wisconsin and are excited to begin their life there. Lynne will be working at an organic certification agency and Justin will be working in carpentry and construction.

Student Profile: Marcia Harrington

Student Profile: Marcia Harrington

This month, Groundswell is proud to spotlight Marcia Harrington, a trainee from Groundswell’s New Farmer Training Program!

A lifetime New Yorker from Syracuse, Marcia grew up spending time in the garden and has happy early memories of her grandfather’s small urban farm. Her interest in agriculture continued in her teen years, when she enjoyed visiting family member’s farms. 6 years ago, after years of backyard gardening, she began seriously looking for a property where she could create a farm of her own. Two years ago, she bought a beautiful piece of land in the town of Skaneateles, and found herself living her dream of getting back to the land. Although Marcia did have an understanding of agriculture that she gleaned at an early age, she felt she needed to get some training to refresh her knowledge and says the New Farmer Training Program has given her the confidence to begin some of her dream projects. 

Although she spent brief periods of her life in other places across the Northeast, Marcia has maintained a very close connection to the Central New York area. As a young adult, Marcia got a Fine Arts Education between Carnegie-Mellon and Syracuse Univeristy. She had a studio at Eureka Studios in Armory Square where she founded a figure-drawing group called the “Walton St. Irregulars” that provided local atists with an opportunity to work with live models. In the 1980’s she became a cartographer at SU, where her work focused on thematic mapping of post-colonial Latin America. Marcia has also been a committed community organizer, active in the Interreligious Council’s Community Dialogue to End Racism, Syracuse’s Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today community councils, working in community gardens, and on the Board of the Syracuse Neighborhoods Initiative, addressing neighborhood vitality and safety. For the past 12 years, she worked for United Way of Central New York as the Marketing Vice President.

Marcia’s 8-acre homestead has been the same contiguous parcel since the house was first built in 1830, and has been a family homestead farm ever since. The previous owners had bought it just after the Great Depression and raised a family there. When the patriarch passed away, the home sat empty for about 5 years before Marcia moved in. Because it had not been updated in some time, Marcia hired a contractor to renovate the home. But when he went bankrupt in the middle of the project, Marcia realized that she was going to have to learn much more than just how to farm. She soon found that home renovtions can be a time and money pit, but the the work itself was something she could learn to do and she steadily took on each new challenge. Working on the home renovations gave her time to observed the land’s life through the year before she planted or modified the landscape, but this spring she could wait no longer! She prepared a 50’ x 50’ garden (see above; Marcia’s garden in June 2011) and has already grown a wide variety of herbs, flowers, and vegetables (see below; September 2011). You can see the joy in Marcia’s face when she describes the beautiful land and its Wassaic silt loam soil!

Facing the complexities of planning and managing many aspects of a farm venture, Marcia felt she needed to enroll in a famer training program to learn “how to get from where I am now to the beginnings of a farm.” When she began searching out farmer training courses, she originally explored an online option but decided it was worth travelling to get the practical experience that Groundswell’s New Farmer Training Program offered. Marcia says one of the greatest things she has found through the program is connection to a diverse community of people and resources that have helped to put her farm vision into perspective and make realistic plans. She has been delighted to be part of a diverse cohort that is enthusiastic and supportive. “The program and people seem well sensitized to the complexities of diversity—age, gender, life history as well as racial diversity,” she says. “There weren’t any cliques, just a lot of intermingling, and the electives are a wonderful personal setting to get to know people.” 

Marcia also found mentorship to be a key component of education. “Some things you learn from the farmer educators are technical, but there are many things that you learn about the life of farming as well.” Marcia has found that the farm tours and workshops have given her insight to the pragmatic decisions that farmers have make in order to make their operation run. “It’s not about being right, it’s about what works with what you have, and what you’re going to do. It’s really artistic design, and it’s iterative. You go back and forth between your farming ideals and the reality of the land you’re on.” She has realized that enterprise farming is very different from gardening or homesteading. Since enrolling in the program, Marcia has realized that her primary interest is in creating a productive homestead rather than operating a commercial farm.

Now 5 months into the program, she has found that one of the greatest things she has gained is the realization that she might know more than she originally believed. There is so much that she had internalized during her early experiences that she is tapping back into and getting reacquainted with. She says she has also lost some of her anxieties about getting it “right” and realized that though you may try your best, some things will be out of your control. “And it helps to know,” she says, “that each year you get a fresh slate.”