Groundswell goes to Soul Fire Farm

Groundswell goes to Soul Fire Farm

maxresdefaultThis fall the staff of Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming along with Ithaca community members took a day trip to Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, NY, a “family farm committed to dismantling the oppressive structures that misguide our food system”. Soul Fire is farmed by a mixed race family who grow vegetables and small fruits on 1.5 acres and also have a one acre mixed orchard and 3 acres of pasture for egg and meat chickens. A sliding-scale farm share CSA feeds 70-100 families in the nearby cities of Troy and Albany, and educational programs run during much of the year on topics ranging from food justice training for youth to sustainable development support for grassroots activists.

img_3056 img_3054Soul Fire Farm’s focus is on ending racism in the food system, and their programs are run by and for people of color, low-income people, women, religious minorities, and those targeted by the criminal punishment system. Their commitment to centering those most historically marginalized in the food system is evident in programs like the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion, a regenerative farming training for people of color.

Groundswell staff had heard many wonderful things about Soul Fire Farm over the years, and we were excited to finally see it in action. When we arrived on Saturday morning Soul Fire’s “Community Workday” was already in full swing. Around 40 people were busy at work around the farm, some helping to terrace a hillside for a new orchard, some cleaning the abundant garlic harvest, some chopping and stacking wood, and some kneading cabbage and filling mason jars with delicious kraut. After being warmly greeted by Leah and Jonah, the head farmers, we jumped in and spent the morning talking, laughing and learning with the other attendees who had come from around the region.

One thing that stood out to me from our morning working together was how openly our multiracial group of participants talked about race, racism and the food system. As we filled the kraut jars, talk flowed from was learned at a recent Undoing Racism training for white farmers to issues of gentrification in downtown Troy to the marginalization many folks of color experience when trying to broach the subject of race in the workplace. There was a refreshing sense of shared understanding of how these topics are all intimately connected, and how issues of land, food, and health are so often also issues of racial and economic injustice. It was clear that Soul Fire provides a unique space where clarity and honesty about systemic oppression is the norm, and the health, healing and well-being of people of color is centered.

Before lunch, we stood in a circle and each person named something they were grateful for, which was then echoed back by the entire group. Community, health, bodies, liberation, sunshine, garlic, connection, hard work and more were lifted up before we gathered on the grass for a delicious potluck lunch. Afterward Leah led a circle to share more about Soul Fire’s food justice mission, sharing pictures of the farm through the years and opening up the space for questions. We talked about the difficulties inherent in trying to have a profitable farm business and providing accessible food for communities, flawed agricultural policy, ways to support the leadership of people of color in the food system, and more. Leah was clear that she does not have all the answers, but that these questions, conversations and resulting actions are what lead to transformation.

It was very inspiring for all of us to be at Soul Fire Farm and to witness the spirit of positivity, justice and love that Leah, Jonah and all of the farm apprentices and residents bring to their work. They are creating a space where farmers of color can speak to the injustice they experience in the food system, get support, and build the skills to address it. We returned to Ithaca feeling nourished by the beautiful vegetables they grow and the sense of community and warmth they are cultivating.

From the Director: March 2016

It’s been a busy and exciting first month since I have begun working as new Director of Groundswell. I’ve met with community members, farmers, and partner organizations in order to build and maintain relationships that Joanna and the Groundswell staff have cultivated over the years. Fortunately, Joanna has been generous with both time and energy, enabling us to work together and create as smooth of a transition as possible.
As I settle into this position, a few of my top priorities have become clear:

(1) Continue our commitment to being an inclusive and equitable organization while focusing on our mission to train small-scale farmers in order to build sustainable local food systems. This commitment is critical, and it will take time. Thanks to the guidance we receive from community members and organizations, we are developing strategies that are specific, realistic, and measurable. We will continue to be transparent about our plans and hold ourselves accountable to this important work.

(2) Expand the reach of our programs by offering exciting, unique, and high quality learning opportunities for new and more experienced farmers.  Thanks to our skilled farmer-educators, we have a wide array of programs and events scheduled for 2016 including the popular Draft Animal Practicum and two new technical courses on Managing for Better Soils and Grazing & Pasture Management. Also to come in 2016, a workshop on Scything and Appropriate Technology (stay tuned!…)

(3) Create a more financially stable organization by diversifying our funding sources. I am currently creating a Business Sponsorship Program that will provide opportunities for like-minded businesses and their employees to get involved in Groundswell’s work to foster an equitable and just food system.

Of all the work I do, my best days are those in which I get to meet and learn from Groundswell supporters. I welcome your ideas, input and feedback – on my work as the Director, or on the work of Groundswell as an organization.  I encourage you to email or call me at any time.  Together, we will continue building an equitable and sustainable food system that supports our farmers, our land and our community.

Warmly,
Elizabeth  

Introducing New Groundswell Staff

Introducing New Groundswell Staff

Becca Rimmel, Education Program ManagerBecca Rimmel

Becca will be coordinating a number of Groundswell programs, including Finger Lakes CRAFT, Year-Round High Tunnels, Draft Animal Practicum, Finger Lakes Orchards Exchange, Cooperative Farming Network, and several other programs still being developed.

Becca brings to Groundswell a passion for sustainable food systems, awesome organizing skills, and years of experience with curriculum development, educational and mentoring program design, volunteer coordination, non-profit management, and group facilitation.  She has lots of experience working with farmers, having managed 3 different farmers markets, and serving last year as the Farm to School Americorps VISTA staff at New Roots Charter School. And to top it all off, she is also working towards a masters degree in Sustainable Food Systems through Green Mountain College’s distance learning program.

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

You can contact Becca at becca@groundswellcenter.org.

Rafael Aponte, Outreach SpecialistRafa cropped

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

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

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

You can contact Rafa at rafael@groundswellcenter.org.