Incubator Highlight: Paw Pha

Incubator Highlight: Paw Pha

Meet one of our returning Incubator Farmers: Paw Pha


Paw started farming at the Incubator in 2015, operating a ¼ acre, and growing lots of Gongura (Roselle) and other traditional Burmese vegetables, including Watercress, Thai hot peppers, Lemon Cucumber, Long Beans, pumpkins, and Japanese eggplant.  as well as garlic, spring onions, and tomatoes.

In 2015 he started traveling to regional cities like Syracuse, Utica, and Buffalo to reach other Asian food markets in places where there are larger populations of Burmese folks. 

Paw is considered a leader in the Burmese community and has been integral in assisting other Burmese families get started at the Incubator Farm.

Groundswell’s Incubator Farm is full for 2017!

Groundswell’s Incubator Farm is full for 2017!

Groundswell is pleased to announce that our Incubator Farm is full for 2017! In 2016, we graduated our first farmer, Surik Mehrabyan after 4 years in our program. This created space for several new farmers to join for the upcoming season. These new farmers include: Alison Smith (Wild Air Flower Farm), Taylor Shuler (Herbs, medicinals, niche value-added products), Poe Too (Burmese and U.S. vegetables), Sea Nee Sow (Burmese and U.S. vegetables).

In addition to the new incubees, the farm welcomes back Ability in Bloom, Paw PhaAung Htoo & Ea Say, and Eh Hser & Merry Paw, (families originally from Burma who have been working with Groundswell for 3 seasons).

Stay tuned for more updates from the Incubator Farm as the season gets under way.

Incubator Update: A new hoop house for the wash station!

Incubator Update: A new hoop house for the wash station!
Devon and Jaya put the finishing touches on the hoop house that will hold our new wash station.


We are excited to say that the Incubator Farm now has a fantastic new hoop house that will soon house our farm wash station. Here our farmers will be able to wash all of their produce before it is taken to the Walk-In cooler that will be built later this spring.

Having this new wash station will be a huge time and labor saver for the farmers! Currently they have to take their produce home and wash it before marketing it (and they are also responsible for finding their own storage).  Having a large, efficient wash station at the farm means that it will be easier to quickly clean and process larger volumes of crops.  Incubator Farmers will be better able to raise and plan for perishable crops now that we will have dunk tanks, sprayers, sinks, and packing tables. The wash station is also a very important piece of infrastructure for marketing perishable crops, because is usually necessary to take the “field heat” off of the product right away so that it doesn’t wither or degrade.

In the future, this could enable Farmers to use additional land at the Incubator as they become capable of managing and marketing larger volume of clean, fresh produce.

This new hoop house is a Howard Hoover 20 x 24′ Tunnel with a FarmTek vinyl cover on it. It was generously funded by the USDA BFRDP grant Groundswell received in 2014.

Incubator Update: Burmese Farmers at Incubator

Incubator Update: Burmese Farmers at Incubator

As Groundswell was planning the Incubator Farm Program, people had been telling me about a man named Aung Htoo, a farmer from Burma who might be interested in farming locally.  Eventually, with translation help from Aung Htoo’s younger brother, I was able to meet Aung Htoo and his brother-in-law Eh Hser.  I told them about how the Program worked and what Groundswell could offer at the Farm, but they decided the Program wouldn’t work for them and I realize now, the time wasn’t right for us as an organization.  At that point, Groundswell had no connections with Burmese refugees or service providers in the area, and furthermore we didn’t have any background working with participants that speak English as a second language.  Since then, Groundswell has been able to build some of the trust that was needed, and we are very pleased that 5 – 8 Burmese farmers will be farming at the Incubator in 2016, including Aung Htoo and Eh Hser.


In 2014, the Groundswell Center received a grant from the Office of New Americans through the Appalachian Regional Commission to focus on building relationships with immigrants and refugees, and improving the accessibility of Groundswell programs.  We worked closely with Susannah Spero, a Groundswell intern who had worked with a similar farming program for New Americans in Burlington, Vermont.  After meeting with several service providers, we realized that there were some barriers preventing many New Americans from participating in the Incubator Program including transportation, childcare, the cost, and our limited language abilities as service-providers.  We knew that we needed to address each of those issues to successfully support refugee farmers, and that it would be a gradual learning process.  With Susannah’s help we learned a lot about communicating with New Americans.  We started creating plain language flyers and making visits to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with a slide show that visually described what the Incubator Farm was about.

As word about the Incubator Farm spread, service-providers including Catholic Charities and Challenge Workforce Solutions began to direct individuals interested in farming to Groundswell.  In 2014, Ye Myint joined the Incubator Farm to grow cucumbers for his sushi business and a crop named Gongura, part of the hibiscus family, that is used for spicing meats and pickling.  This year, another farmer named Paw Pha also started farming on ¼ acre where he grew water spinach, gongura, long beans, pumpkins and lemon cucumbers.  Before the season started, Paw Pha participated in Groundswell’s 10-week Farm Business Planning Course, where it was evident that 20150427_133407Paw was an extremely kind man and a very hard worker.  We soon learned that he was similarly a leader in his community, and had been the first of his family to come to the United States.  Paw has worked relentlessly over the years to assure that approximately 40 of his Karen relatives (Karen is one of many ethnic groups in Burma) have been able to arrive safely in Ithaca from Burma.   Thankfully, this winter Paw expects to pick up his own children from Thailand and next year his wife should be able to come to Ithaca as well.

It has been a blessing to work with Paw Pha, because he has taught Groundswell a lot about how to adapt the Incubator Program to work effectively for Burmese farmers.  He has been extremely clear with me about what works and what doesn’t, and it has been obvious that we will continue to need his guidance.  Paw is now working for Groundswell as a contractor to facilitate connections with other Burmese farmers and to help us adapt the Program to better support them.  He has hosted tours at the Incubator Farm, translated for meetings with new farmers, and next year Paw will be co-teaching and translating the Organic Management Basics course. Hopefully with this kind of creative power, Paw will help Groundswell develop a farm site that is useful for refugees from Burma and elsewhere.  I have a huge amount of trust in Paw, and I know that he will bring wonderful people to the Farm and steer the Program in a good direction.

With Paw’s help we were able to officially accept 4 new farmers to the Incubator for 2016, including Aung Htoo, his wife Ae Say, Aung Htoo’s sister Merry Paw, and her husband Eh Hser.  Aung Htoo has been working on several other farming projects since our first meeting, including working for West Haven Farm and Remembrance Farm, and now he and Eh Hser work at the new Food Hub in Groton.  Together with their wives, Aung Htoo and Eh Hser will be farming ¼ acre and have started this Fall by planting garlic.  Paw Pha also works with his family to farm.  His mother and 2 sisters to up often to work on the ¼ acre, and this year they will be adding another 1/8th acre to their plot.   We are very excited to have each of these families at the Farm, and I am looking forward to see how we can continue making changes that encourage other Burmese farmers to join the Incubator in the future.

New “Zone 1” at the Incubator Farm

New “Zone 1” at the Incubator Farm

Exciting developments at the Groundswell Incubator Farm!  


You might have caught some of the pictures earlier this summer: the Incubator Farm has some new infrastructure that will greatly enhance the farmers’ ability to grow beautiful fresh produce.

In permaculture, people often design a growing space based on the “Zones of Use”, and the area that is worked in most often, is logically called Zone 1.  This area should be easy to access and have a good flow for working within the other zones of the land.  Unfortunately, the original Zone 1 at the Incubator was a little offset from the rest of the farm and required driving across a grassy, sometimes muddy, path to get there.  Thankfully, the farmers have been willing to bootstrap it in the past—but now the Farm has a new driveway, expanded shed, new wash station, and soon will have a walk-in cooler, creating a fully functional Zone 1 with easy access to the rest of the farm’s fields.  

We hope that this new design will greatly enhance the ability of the Incubator Farmers to build successful businesses, by making washing, packing, and storage much simpler, as well as making it easier to access the tools and equipment.  The new improvements will also make it easier to host visitors at the Farm, so please let us know if you would ever like to come by and see the progress!

Incubator Update: Walk-in Cooler builds Incubator Farmer Capacity!

Incubator Update: Walk-in Cooler builds Incubator Farmer Capacity!

For the past two seasons, the farmers at the Groundswell Center’s Incubator Farm have been producing a wide variety of crops for both wholesale and retail customers.  Since the start-up costs for farm businesses are generally very high, one of the goals of the Groundswell Incubator Farm is to reduce the costs of key infrastructure and equipment for beginning producers, thus reducing the risk of entering the field.

Help us raise $2000 to build a new walk-in cooler for the Incubator Farmers this summer! Donate online today.
Help us raise $2000 to build a new walk-in cooler for the Incubator Farmers this summer! Donate online today.

Over the past 3 years, Groundswell has installed 5.5 acres of deer fencing, farm-wide irrigation and a hoophouse, as well as purchased key equipment like a walk-behind tractor and digital scales.  These pieces have helped the Incubator Farmers produce more of the quality crops they enjoy growing, but in order to successfully market their produce they still need better post-harvest infrastructure.

Surik Mehrabyan who runs Hill Side Farm at the Incubator, grows many vegetable varieties that are traditional in the Northeast, including eggplant, potatoes, garlic, peppers, squash, tomatoes, beans, and beets.  Surik has found several wholesale markets and retail customers who are able to purchase his crops fresh from the field, but any crops that he can’t sell fresh he has to either store at home, or compost.  When he harvests to go the Brooktondale Farmers’ Market, Surik can only pick as much as he thinks he can sell that day, because he doesn’t have a cooler to keep produce fresh until later in the week for his other markets.  By simply extending the freshness of crops by a few days, Surik will be able to sell a much larger portion of his harvest and in turn increase the profitability of his business.

In order to increase the capacity of our incubator farmers, Groundswell hopes to build an 8’ x 12’ walk-in cooler that will allow the farmers to store their crops, rather than having to market everything fresh out of the field.  This will give the farmers much more flexibility in marketing their products, meaning a larger amount of their harvest will be sold and they will be able to sell it at better prices.

But we can’t do this without your support!

Help Groundswell build this important piece of infrastructure for the Incubator Farmers by donating to the Groundswell Walk-in Cooler Campaign!  We are trying to raise $2000 by July 15th in order to have the Cooler ready in time for harvest!

More about the Walk-in Cooler

The Groundswell Walk-in Cooler will be made out of an 8’ x 12’ enclosed cargo trailer, with hinged double doors to provide quick and easy access for all of the Incubator farmers.  Groundswell will add 2” insulation around all the walls and ceiling, and install the cooling unit, made out of an 18,000 BTU air conditioner and a Coolbot microcontroller.  The Coolbot (visit is designed to work with the large A/C unit to get the room down to freezing temperatures without freezing up.  This system is especially elegant for small farmers, because the up-front cost is far less than standard refrigeration coolers and it will take much less electricity to create the same cooling power!  We are very excited to get our own system up and running!

For more information, please feel free to contact Groundswell’s Incubator Program Manager, Devon Van Noble, at



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!

Incubator Farm News: Drop the Plows!

Incubator Farm News: Drop the Plows!

By Devon Van Noble, Incubator Program Manager

The Groundswell Incubator Farm provides access to land, equipment, infrastructure, and short-term enterprise incubation for diverse beginning farmers.
The Groundswell Incubator Farm provides access to land, equipment, infrastructure, and short-term enterprise incubation for diverse beginning farmers.

I believe everyone comes out of Winter feeling excited about the coming warm weather, but almost every farmer also carries a certain anxiousness about the impending Spring to-do list.  As the sun comes out farmers everywhere are preparing: starting seeds, fixing equipment, planning for markets.  Once the ground thaws, you better be ready to drop the plow, or you are starting the season behind the curve.

In the first 2 years at the Groundswell Incubator Farm, we have found ourselves with plenty of anxiety about the overwhelming farm to-do list and have been in catch-up mode most of the time.  In year 1 (2013) the deer fence wasn’t even complete until late June, and year 2 I felt like I was fixing and re-fixing the irrigation for most of the Spring.  Consequently the planning horizon for the Incubator Farmers was delayed each season, but in spite of the early setbacks each of the Farmers did an amazing job at growing their enterprises.

But this year is different!

Finally, in year 3, I can say that we all have some experience under our belts and have created a much more robust program for the five farmers on the land this year.  We started meeting with the farmers earlier in the year, developed an organic management course, and hired a farm mentor to work 1-on-1 with the farmers.  Through the organic management course the new incubator instructor, Andy Fellenz of Fellenz Family Farm in Phelps, is teaching the farmers about the practices involved with growing quality organic crops in ways that are efficient for a small commercial farm.  The curriculum he has developed is based on a combination of class time and field education that will cover topics from crop planning to soil fertility to pests & diseases.

On top of Andy’s training, the incubator farm mentor, Dean Koyanagi, of Tree Gate Farm in Ithaca, will be demonstrating the management practices he has learned through 9 years of raising a variety of crop families for his CSA and retail farm stand.  Dean will be displaying these practices in a 1/8th acre demonstration plot at the incubator, and he will be giving each incubator farmer direct feedback through a weekly farm log.  During his time on-site each week, Dean will also be supporting the farmers by answering their questions and helping them solve production problems as they come up.

I think all of us, including the incubator farmers, are already seeing the impacts of this preparation and experience that we have collectively put in place.  Groundswell staff have been blessed to be supported in developing this program by a dedicated team of advisors, including Barb Neal of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tioga County, Brian Caldwell of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, and Owen Raymond of Farm Credit-East.

Additionally, the program would not be what it is today without the ongoing support of our farm mentor, Dean Koyanagi, who has been a mentor to the farmers since 2013.  Dean’s patience, humility, and keen interest in supporting these new producers has been invaluable to the process of enhancing the mentoring in the program.  And no doubt, we owe a huge debt of appreciation to the first Farmers who started with us and had the patience to stick with it— Surik Mehrabyan of Hill Top Farm, Damon Brangman of Roots Rising Farm, and Ye Myint.

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

Incubator Farm accepting applications for 2015

Incubator Farm accepting applications for 2015

Groundswell’s Incubator Farm opens its gates again to beginning producers!

ESL students visit the Groundswell Incubator Farm.

The Groundswell Center’s Farm Business Incubator Program is again accepting applications from beginning farmers who are ready to launch a new farm enterprise. After two successful growing seasons and three farmers in production at the Incubator Farm, we are encouraging eligible beginning farmers to apply to the 2015 Incubator Program. 

Producers who participate in the Incubator Program have access to land, irrigation, tools and equipment, as well as mentoring from Groundswell’s network of experienced farmers and business consultants. 

Participants can farm on 1/8 acre or 1/4 acre plots in their 1st year, and are able to apply for additional space, up to ½ acre, in their 2nd year. If you might be interested, we encourage you to contact us to discuss your farming goals and the policies of the Incubator Program.

In an effort to foster diversity and equity in the food system, Groundswell’s Incubator Program is focused on assisting beginning farmers of color, New Americans, veterans, and those with very limited financial resources in taking steps toward ownership. Tuition assistance and some language support services may be available if you fall into these categories. Please contact Groundswell Staff as early as possible to discuss your specific situation, and what support you would need to participate in the Program.

The Groundswell Incubator Farm is located at EcoVillage at Ithaca just 2 miles outside of the City of Ithaca. It is equipped with basic farm infrastructure including an 8-foot deer fence, drip irrigation, 72’ high tunnel, bathroom and storage shed, as well as cutting edge equipment including digital scales, BCS walk-behind tractor, and high-quality hand tools. Participants only pay modest fees to participate in the Farm Business Incubator Program, which allows them to establish their businesses with minimal capital investment and minimal risk.

For more information, please contact Groundswell’s Incubator Program Manager, Devon Van Noble, at

Groundswell’s Incubator Farm welcomes New Americans

Groundswell’s Incubator Farm welcomes New Americans
AP reporter Mary Esch interviews
Ye Myint, originally from Burma

We’re fortunate to have people from all over the world living right here in Tompkins County. Many come here to teach or to study. But for others, leaving their home country was a matter of survival, not choice.

Thankfully, there are organizations, teachers, sponsors, and church-based groups who are helping to connect refugees and other New Americans with the things they need to create a new life here in Tompkins County.

Many New Americans bring a huge amount of farming experience from their home countries. The community gardens in Ithaca have long provided an opportunity to grow food, including favorite items from their home cuisine that aren’t available in local stores. And now the Groundswell Incubator Farm offers New Americans the opportunity to grow even more food for their families, their communities, and the marketplace.

ESL students admiring Ye’s gongura and water spinach crops at the Farm.

To get the word out about the Incubator Farm, we’ve been working with English as a Second Language programs at TST BOCES and Tompkins Learning Partners. We’ve made several visits to ESL classes, and last week about 25 students from the TST-BOCES ESL program took a field trip to learn about the Groundswell Incubator Farm.

Even on such a gray and rainy day, the students were smiling and excited to see the Incubator Farm, and they were filled with questions about how the Farm works.  We are so grateful for the enthusiasm of all the students and teachers, and very hopeful that some may be interested and able to farm with Groundswell in the 2015 season. In any case, they will be spreading the word in their communities.

For more information about the Groundswell Incubator Farm and how you can support our work with New American farmers, please contact us at

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.

Breaking Ground at the Incubator Farm

Breaking Ground at the Incubator Farm

By Devon Van Noble

Groundswell is excited to announce that the first 2 applicants have been accepted to the Farm Enterprise Incubator for the 2013 season!  Damon Brangman, co-owner of the mobile vending stand Fruits & Roots Juice, and Surik Mehrabyan, a Physics Research Associate, will be among the first “Incubees” to put seeds in the ground at the Incubator Farm.  As Staff, we are excited to work alongside both of them as they hone in their business- and production- plans over the next 3 years.  Unlike farm training, incubation is a collaborative dialog between the Incubee, staff and mentors, and in the end these Incubees will make their own decisions about how to run their farm business.  We encourage you to be a part of helping these beginning farmers to grow!

Both of Damon and Surik have a background with growing food from their countries of origin as well as here in the Finger Lakes region.  Their past experience will be critical as they begin to implement their production plans.

Damon, originally from Bermuda, grew up working on organic mixed vegetable farms, and has worked on similar mixed vegetable farms here in the Ithaca area for several years.  Surik grew up on his family’s small homestead farm in the highlands in Armenia, and has managed a large garden plot at Cornell University for the past 3 years.  He says that in his youth, the two crops he grew up tending in his father’s garden every year were cabbage and potatoes, and in the past few years he has experimented with onions, chard, okra, cilantro, kohlrabi, and tomatoes.

Damon will be growing root crops to supply the Fruits & Roots Juice stand, including beets and carrots, which will substitute for the vegetables they would otherwise have to purchase for juicing.  His goals are to trial a few varieties of beets and carrots that he thinks will be good “juicers”, as well as try to expand sales through the mobile stand to include some fresh crops like salad greens.  For this season, Surik plans to focus on a few staple crops that he knows he can do well based on his experience.  His biggest priorities are increasing his scale from a “large garden” (~ 2000 ft.2) to a “small farm” (~10,000 ft.2), and determining the optimal market for his product.

It is truly exciting to be breaking ground with these two Incubees and we are looking forward to a busy- but productive- inaugural year at the Incubator Farm!

Interested in helping out?
Please come out to encourage these two beginning farmers as they get started into their first farming season at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.   There will be 3 Work Parties happening on April 27th and 28th, as well as May 4th from 11am to 3pm.  The main goal of these Spring Work Parties is to complete the “Fence-Raising” for the Incubator Farm’s 8’ Deer Fence.

There are many ways you can help these new enterprises to get off the ground successfully.

– Come to a Farm Work Party
– Offer your professional services to the Groundswell Incubees!
– Tell a beginning farmer (or a mentor) about the Incubator!
– Have old tools or farm equipment?  The Groundswell Incubator Farm is a wonderful way to put those rusting treasures to good use!  We are accepting donations of reasonably-used tools or equipment—please contact Devon Van Noble (727)410-4073, if you have a donation or questions!

Donate to the Incubator

Online donation system by ClickandPledge

There is still room for 1 more “Incubee” in the Program, and we encourage you to contact Groundswell Staff directly if you or someone you know is considering applying to the Program. (607)319-5095 or


Youth from Match High School in Boston, Help out Groundswell

“I learned that farming takes a lot of patience and perseverance…But living on a farm could be fun for anyone.”—Joselia Souza; MATCH High School Student, Boston, MA

Recently Groundswell was lucky enough to receive many helping hands from a group of awesome high school students to build the deer fence at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.  Visiting all the way from the MATCH Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts, these students were in town to experience a bit of what Ithaca’s college-scene has to offer, but they also spent much of their trip volunteering with some of the local community organizations.  For many of these students there are few opportunities to experience careers and lifestyles outside of the city, so we were thrilled to share a little bit of agriculture from the Town of Ithaca, and get some fence posts installed at the same time. When I first met the students as they were getting off the bus, I think many of them were a bit skeptical about the muddy farmer who was walking up to meet them.  Although most of them had been on farms before, they were all dressed to the level of fashion that most everyone does in high school.  Fortunately they were all extremely kind about my own messy-farmer fashion, but as they toured the farms at EcoVillage I could tell they were hesitantly-curious about what kind of work they had agreed to do.…

When we got to the Incubator Farm, the holes for the fence posts had already been dug, but our job was to level and set each post in its place by tamping the dirt around it.  For the corner-posts, we had to attach wood “feet” to the bottoms of the posts, and then pour concrete around them for added stability.  I can tell you that this Work Party immediately became a success when we started to use the tools, because as each student took a turn at screwing in the wood “feet” or at slamming the tamping bar down into the hole—everyone else was watching with collective support and excitement!  As we got more into working, their characters really came out and we all had a GREAT time.  As one student said, ““When we first got there, I was not at all happy. But by the end I was pounding dirt using a hammer with a smile on my face. I felt like I did something that day.”—Sidney McCauley*

The best part about the Work Party was that we saw their excitement around getting something physical done, which feels very different than working on a computer or in a classroom.  For many farmers, working with your hands and the earth’s tools: soil, wood, metal—is the most rewarding part of a farming-lifestyle.  It was clear that some of students picked up on this and I am so grateful that we were able to impart a sliver of this joy before they went back to their high school lives.  Big Shout-Out to our friends in Boston!  Thank you for all your hard work, and we hope you come back again next year!

Other quotes from MATCH students:
“It was really cool to see how much work goes into building part of a farm.”—Janel Williams*

“Learning how to build a fence together and the experience as a whole made us closer, and it was fun.”—Kerry Sonia*

Janel, Kerry, and Sidney are all Students at MATCH High School in Boston, Massachusetts.  MATCH is a Charter School focused on preparing low-income students for success in four-year colleges and are innovative and strive to find unique solutions to whatever issue may arise.  Please find out more about MATCH, here

Prepping the Ground!: Starting Work on Groundswell’s Incubator Farm

Prepping the Ground!: Starting Work on Groundswell’s Incubator Farm
The Groundswell Incubator pond site.

by Devon Van Noble

We’re thrilled to announce that field work on the Incubator site at EcoVillage has begun!  On June 23rd, Groundswell volunteer Jeff Gilmore from EcoVillage started brush-hogging a 3-acre section of the 10 acres designated for the project. In the coming weeks, Melissa Madden of The Good Life Farm is going to do the heavy work of plowing and discing the field for the first time in… too many years.  She and Jeff are doing a tremendous service for Groundswell by taking care of all of this initial field work.  Melissa will also be helping us put a nice cover crop on the ground by fall, probably some hearty rye that we’ll plow under at the start of the 2013 season to warm the beds up for the first group of trainees!  Additional sections will be cleared this fall using larger equipment to make space for infrastructure, such as a hoophouse and sheds.

After months of communication with consultants, neighbors, and regulators exploring different options for the Incubator site’s water supply, the Incubator team has determined that simply expanding the current West Haven Farm pond (just north of the Incubator site) is the simplest and most sensible solution.  John, Jen, and Todd of West Haven Farm have generously agreed to share this water supply with Groundswell, but there will be secure metering systems installed to help manage this common resource carefully. Creating a water supply has been one of the most intensive parts of developing this farmland, especially because of other interests that need to be considered. Readers who plan to develop land in the future would be wise to start evaluating your water source early in your design process.

If you’ve been up to EcoVillage in the past several weeks, you’ll notice that we aren’t the only ones working the land this summer.  The groundwork for the third neighborhood at EcoVillage, TREE, is well on its way.  In fact, it turns out that Groundswell will be using some of the same excavating equipment from the TREE project for developing the area, including the Incubator’s pond site.

To learn more about the Incubator design process, visit our website.

You can help build the Incubator!

Help us grow new opportunities for beginning farmers in our community!  By supporting the Farm Enterprise Incubator, you’ll be helping landless aspiring farmers take the first steps towards launching a viable farm business. The year, Groundswell will be using a crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter, to launch a 2-month fundraising campaign to pay for many of the elements of the Incubator’s infrastructure. By participating in our Kickstarter campaign, you’ll be able to specify which component of the site you wish to support, and you’ll also receive food & farm gifts for making a donation (so keep an eye out, because there will be some good “farm and food” perks for your participation!).  We will be kicking off this FUN-raising campaign at Groundswell’s first annual Food & Farm Festival in October.  The Festival will be your chance to see the Incubator Farm firsthand and show your support.

Want to make an in-kind contribution? The Incubator site can use sheds, fencing, hoophouses, wood and insulation to build a Cool Bot Cooler, and lightly-worn farm tools among other items.  If you or someone you know has items they believe would be of use for the program or Groundswell trainees, please have them contact us at, or call 607-277-0180.

Connecting Land and People

Connecting Land and People
Abandoned potato digger at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.
Photo by Devon Van Noble

by Devon Van Noble

In the past several years we have witnessed the Groundswell Center develop into a wonderful suite of programs for beginning farmers and food citizens. We thank all of you for making this momentum possible!
Recently Groundswell has begun to go beyond farmer training to engage in conversations about farmland access for aspiring farmers. Groundswell first touched on this conversation last fall in planning for the Farm Enterprise Incubator, which will offer access to land, infrastructure and support for diverse producers in the early years of their farm-based enterprise. However, the Incubator is only one piece in a community-wide puzzle of how to successfully connect new producers with land opportunities. For some of these land seekers, the Incubator will offer readily accessible infrastructure, training, and business development that they will need to get started. Others are prepared to seek independent land arrangements, but do not have the ability to create an agreement with landowners who could offer what they need.
As a community, it is important to find out how to best provide both land seekers and owners with the knowledge of how to make successful rental, transfer, and purchase arrangements, and possibly more critically, how to effectively build trusting and mutually beneficial partnerships between the diverse new producers in the area, and the current farmers and non-farming landowners. We know that there are a variety of ways that people have been trying to access and offer land for new enterprises, and we wanted to hear more about people’s experiences have been locally. Last week, we brought together members of the Groundswell community for a conversation on “Connecting Land and People”. A group of current farmers, “greenhorns,” and food citizens gathered to share their thoughts about the status of land access in the area and the actions that could be taken to enhance it.

Many people expressed interest in the municipal- and county-level policy measures that could help ensure the availability land for new producers, including farmland protection plans and innovative ways to set aside public land for production. We also discussed local investment in farm enterprises, such as the Cayuga LION and Slow Money Central New York Chapter, and how those, or similar models, could serve as a mechanism to connect new producers with investments for land access, as well as serve as a forum for meeting landowners themselves. Several farmers shared their experience with making land available for new producers; we learned that while some have had been able to successfully transition their farmland to the next generation, others have found that while “dating” with land seekers that they often lacked sufficient clarity in their plans. Regardless of the approach our region takes to bridge the gaps in farmland access, there is a clear need for relationship-building – both between landowners and diverse new farmers, and among the many organizations who address land issues in this region.
If you have ideas or input about facilitating land access for beginning farmers, we encourage you to send us your comments at We expect to follow up in future Advisor Meetings, and we hope you will consider coming to share your thoughts and experiences with the broader community.