From the Director May 2016: Seeking the Balance of Equity in Local Farming

From the Director May 2016: Seeking the Balance of Equity in Local Farming

Perhaps you saw the article last week After a Century in Decline, Black Farmers Are Back and on the Rise.” The article received great attention, as it should. It was published originally by Yes! Magazine, and republished by more than a half-dozen other online news sources. The article was forwarded to me by 5 individuals and came through my inbox via 5 different list serves.  To be honest, I momentarily found it refreshing to know that I’m in the loop on current events involving farming and people of color. Rather, I should say, at least my inbox is in the loop.

I ask myself almost constantly; what are we, Groundswell, doing to change a ‘business as usual’ paradigm in farming?

If you read our newsletter regularly, you know that Groundswell’s mission includes the word “diverse”. In the context of our mission, diverse means multiple cultures, nationalities, races, genders, classes, and ages; however, we have a priority to engage diversity in race, culture and class. Diversity is key to establishing a just and sustainable food system that enhances the lives of farmers, food producers, eaters and our planet.

In my four months as director, I have spent much of my time listening to people and reflecting on past actions of the organization with regards to equity and inclusion. I have heard praises, disappointments and all things in between. What is clear is that we have done amazing work training people to be new farmers and to support the continuing education of existing farmers; and we continue to do so. We have provided land access to New Americans through our Incubator Farm Program, who have in turn been able to start successful farm businesses.  Through our farm business class and one-on-one support, we have helped and supported Cha Cha and the development of the non-profit he has created in Ghana called Ndor Eco Village.  We have involved people of diverse races in planning meetings and hiring processes. We have reached out to communities of color in hopes to bring more diversity to our programs. We have paid consultants to educate our staff and board on equity and inclusion and specifically, to help us understand how to diversify our work.

Yet, most of our program participants are not people of color.  

We are still a predominantly white organization.  

This story is not new. Just last fall, Groundswell founder and former Director Joanna reflected on our inclusion and diversity efforts when she wrote this blog post in response to a staff member of color resigning. It’s important for us to revisit these lessons repeatedly.

Consequently, many questions arise for me at this point in the job. Are the relationships that exist between Groundswell and communities of color synergistic and built on trust? Are we having an impact on “creating equitable food systems” and how do we know? What systems have we developed to hold us accountable to ensuring that priority is placed on inclusion and equity in our work?  What are we teaching in our curricula that recognizes the racist and brutalist history of agriculture in our country or the land-theft in this State? How are we committing to diversity and inclusion in all our work, and not just as a “project” of our work? Does being a mostly white organization mean we are not successful? What does “success” look like in this work?  

I’ve just begun to ask these questions and to establish the foundation to be able to answer them. It feels important to me to keep you well-informed to the work we are doing in this regard.  With time, my hope is that transparency helps elicit trust and provides an opportunity for feedback and support.  Food justice work is complex. It is challenging. It is personal. And it takes a committed community working together.

Here are just some of our current efforts:

  • Learning about, engaging with and participating in food justice efforts in the immediate and regional community that support and celebrate all races and cultures.
  • Continuing to educate ourselves through conversations with others and enrolling staff and board members in workshops and trainings on diversity and race including but not limited to NLI – From Scarcity to Abundance.
  • Developing a set of evaluation tools and preparing to conduct assessments of Groundswell program effectiveness.
  • Including in the job description of all Groundswell staff the responsibility of attending and assisting local or regional groups in ways they say they need support.
  • Drafting a hiring protocol that holds us accountable to create accessible position descriptions that value lived experiences as well as ‘traditional’ experiences, publicizes these positions near and far both online and in person, offers alternative forms of interviewing methods, and requires a team of diverse reviewers who make the final hiring choice. We will be sharing this draft protocol soon, through our e-lists and with our partners, in hopes to receive feedback and improve it before it’s implemented.   
  • Hiring staff members who were chosen in large part because of their commitment to a just food system and the promotion of anti-racist communities. We will share more about these new positions once they officially start this summer.  
  • Beginning the developing of curricula to be included in all of our programs that will include but not be limited to historical information about how the legacy of racial discrimination affects black Americans to learn farming, develop food businesses and secure land and what land-grab efforts were like in New York State and the impact on Native Americans.
  • Planning a series of stakeholder meetings in part with the intention of designing programs with input from the groups for which these programs are supposed to serve.

Though the work of Soul Fire Farm deserves recognition and to be shared far and wide, we hope that stories like this becomes less and less rare. Like you, we envision a society where there is an increase in farmers and food producers of all races, classes, genders and cultures; a society without food insecurity and injustice. We are committed to doing our part to train and support these producers. And furthermore, we are committed to expanding and improving our efforts and behaviors to be more inclusive, respectful and celebratory of diversity.  We look forward to working together to achieve these goals. We will make mistakes.  We will make people happy. And we welcome your feedback and support to hold us accountable to this imperative work along the way.

Farmer Interview : Evangeline Sarat talks Living Wages

56bb8d40a0c1d.imageSweetland Farm, in Trumansburg, NY has been in operation for 10 years. In 2015 owner/farmer Evangeline Sarat decided to start paying  her employees a living wage. Groundswell Director Elizabeth Gabriel sat down with Evangeline to talk about how she came to the decision to offer living wages, and how she is making it work on her farm.


EG: How did your decision to pay a living wage come about?

ES: In 2014 I began running the farm as a sole proprietor. In that year we offered normal pay. Being an only manager, I was able to make a decent salary (around a living wage), pay my loans and build equity. Plus, being a single mom, I prioritized my relationship with my kids over the farm. So I would stop farming when the kids got off the bus, the workers would still be working. That was all possible because of the farm workers.
I’ve been going to meditation retreats and developing spirituality practice. As a result, I started being very aware of this fact, that I was living this way, and my employees were not. One day the idea came to me (to pay living wages) and I couldn’t see anyway not to do it, even though I knew it was very risky.

EG: I’m sure many farmers in our area have thought about how to pay their employees living wages. How did you make it work, financially? 

ES: First, I raised the price of our CSA (2 person share) by $60-100 (sliding scale). Then, I decreased the season by 3 weeks. That was healthier for everyone. For me, my employees, the farmland. I felt like this was a reasonable request of the CSA members – asking them to support a fair community food system. I didn’t run the exact numbers, but with the new wage in place, I figured I would need 300 CSA members paying about $675 per share to make the farm run as it was. I also wrote a letter to CSA members explaining the goal of providing a living wage for my employees. I first offered it to the employees who worked here for a year (2 workers) and then by November everyone got a living wage (4 workers). It was terrifying. I didn’t know if we would run out of money or not.

EG: So what was the response? How did everyone take it?

ES: We lost some of our CSA Membership, though nobody said it was because of the price increase. (Many stated it was our location.) Members seemed to understand the concept, but some also thought that because the cost of the share increased so would the value of what was included. 

For my employees, I can see a significant change in their lifestyle and ability to live comfortably from month to month. It is definitely impacting their quality of life. And I think this opens the farm work to being an option for people with less privilege.

EG: Since you have done it, what would you say to other farmers contemplating increasing wages for their employees? 

ES: It’s a risk. So is farming. I don’t feel like it’s something that if you don’t do, you’re not being moral. I get why people can’t do it. But I was willing to take the consequences of leaving the farm if I couldn’t make it work.  I do think it would be really cool to see other CSA’s jump to Living Wage and all CSA’s increase their prices.  Everybody might lose a few members, but it could be an overall success for the CSA model.

From the Director April 2016: Living Wages & Sustainable Outcomes

Greetings Groundswell friends, farmers and supporters,

The minimum wage increase signed into law this week by Governor Cuomo is big news for all New York State businesses and employees – including farms. The bill states that there will be an increase in the minimum wage in upstate NY to $12.50 (over five years), ​while in the rest of the State the wage increase will increase to $15/hour (see below for more details). While the bill is a major accomplishment in many ways, of course, as with any bill, there are strong supporters as well as critics.

For example, $12.50 falls short of the current Living Wage in Tompkins County, which is $14.34/hour. While the same high cost of living exists for other upstate counties, the bill is accused of not recognizing the expensive cost of living in NY outside of the New York City region. Others critique the governor’s phase-in plan, saying its unrealistic and that the State should figure out a way to help small business owners pay this wage.

Groundswell seeks to build strong, vibrant communities by promoting sustainable land-based livelihoods. Though it’s not the focus of our efforts, we feel fair wages are a key to these goals; yet, we also know most small-scale sustainable farmers are unable to pay themselves a living wage, let alone their employees.  The issues are complex and financially challenging and we are just beginning to explore them in more depth. Additionally, we are exploring ways Groundswell can support regional farms to prepare for the wage increases through information sharing, workshops, and more.  To begin this effort, we are sharing a brief interview I held with Evangeline Sarat, owner of Sweet Land Farm CSA in Trumansburg. Evangeline began paying her employees a living wage in 2015 and is a Certified Living Wage Employer. Read the interview on the Groundswell blog here.

I look forward to having more conversations with you about living wages and more! Please call or email me anytime.

With thoughts of warmth for your flowering trees and plants,



Minimum Wage—The minimum wage will increase on the following schedule:

Region Final Wage Final Phase-in
New York City $15.00 12/31/18
New York City (<10 employees) $15.00 12/31/19
Westchester & Long Island $15.00 12/31/21
Upstate $12.50 (index to $15) 12/31/20

Upstate Schedule

Minimum Wage Phase-in Date
$9.70 12/31/16
$10.40 12/31/17
$11.10 12/31/18
$11.80 12/31/19
$12.50 12/31/20


Groundswell Community Gathering – July 18

Groundswell Community Gathering – July 18

From the Director

You’re invited! Groundswell Community Gathering July 18!

Mark your calendar for the next Groundswell Community Gathering on Thursday, July 18 at the new Sustainability Center at 111 N. Albany Street in downtown Ithaca. Enjoy a variety of locally sourced snacks and beverages starting at 6:30, followed by a short program and community discussion at 7 PM. We’ll share highlights of our program impacts over the last several years, introduce you to some of the beginning farmers we’ve been working with, and talk about our funding outlook for the upcoming year and steps you can take to help Grow Your Farmer! See you there!

Tune In to the Local Food & Farming Radio Hour!

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

by Sharon Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Rashida’s Earthship

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Rashida’s Earthship
Rashida Ali-Campbell and her earthship. Image courtesy of Rashida Ali-Campbell and Earthship Biotecture

by Kirtrina Baxter

In the wonderful world of sustainable housing, we have gotten to know many different ways to build environmentally-conscious, earth-friendly housing, so this new (well new for me since I am just learning of it) way to build green housing should come as no shock, even though the name speaks volumes…Earthship! Philadelphia is soon to be home to one of thousands of these green buildings that have been created around the world by designer and creator of “Earthship Biotecture”, Michael Reynolds. In this case, it is not Mr. Reynolds who is building it, but an African American woman named Rashida Ali-Campbell.

Sista Ali-Campbell first got the idea after watching a documentary called “Garbage Warrior” about Mr. Reynolds’ Earthships.  She was immediately awed by the idea and wanted one for herself. But Ali-Campbell’s dedication to service and community made her think of ways to share this new found idea. “If only we had a self-sustainable building like that, the money we were always so worried about could be used to help people find a purpose, pay off their debt and send their kids to school.” So sista Ali-Campbell decided she would build a school for low-income residents to learn sustainable building techniques in this unique urban “Earthship Academy.”

Earthships are entirely made of natural and found materials, things like tires, glass and plastic bottles, and crushed aluminum cans. The name was coined because they look like spaceships as tires packed with dirt serve as the building foundation. They have the ability to heat and cool themselves, and produce wind and solar energy while growing their own fruits and vegetables. Some of these homes even come with chicken coops for eggs and catfish ponds. Earthships have their own sewage system and collect and sterilize water. They are totally self-sufficient and utility free.
Since Philadelphia is home to tons of discarded waste and vacant land (they have about 75,000 vacant lots), and a decade ago Philadelphia made headlines for large city fires for the anonymous burning of tires, it is a ripe city for this type of venture. Ali-Campbell says that a vacant lot with lots of tires would be the ideal location. After four years of much negotiating with city zoning officials and a newly created landing zone, Rashida Ali-Campbell’s Earthship Academy is set to sail soon with a lot picked out and construction starting the end of this year.

Right now sista Ali-Campbell is fervently seeking funding support for this amazing endeavor. Look for her on facebook– she is also giving a webinar on Saturday!! You can also learn more about earthships on Youtube.

What do we mean by a “sustainable” food system?

Food activists often say they work for a “sustainable,” “healthy,” “fair,” and “diverse” food system. These words sound good enough. But what exactly do they mean? Clarifying our terms is an critical facet of making a coherent statement and a measurable impact on our communities. As organizations and individuals, we would do well to sit down with our colleagues and elucidate our mission statements to ensure that we are all on the same page when it comes to envisioning a better future.

Last summer, four major public health entities- The American Dietetic Association, American Nurses Association, American Planning Association, and American Public Health Association- did exactly that. They worked together to develop seven principles of a healthy, sustainable food system that they could use as a “shared platform for systems-wide food policy change.” Groundswell joins them in affirming these vitally important tenets of a food system that works for everyone. Thanks to Groundswell advisor Gil Gillespie for sharing this important message.

Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System

We support socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable food systems that promote health — the current and future health of individuals, communities, and the natural environment.
A healthy, sustainable food system is:


  • Supports the physical and mental health of all farmers, workers, and eaters
  • Accounts for the public health impacts across the entire lifecycle of how food is produced, processed, packaged, labeled, distributed, marketed, consumed, and disposed


  • Conserves, protects, and regenerates natural resources, landscapes, and biodiversity
  • Meets our current food and nutrition needs without compromising the ability of the system to meet the needs of future generations


  • Thrives in the face of challenges, such as unpredictable climate, increased pest resistance, and declining, increasingly expensive water and energy supplies

Diverse in

  • Size and scale — includes a diverse range of food production, transformation, distribution, marketing, consumption, and disposal practices, occurring at diverse scales, from local and regional to national and global
  • Geography — considers geographic differences in natural resources, climate, customs, and heritage
  • Culture — appreciates and supports a diversity of cultures, socio-demographics, and lifestyles
  • Choice — provides a variety of health-promoting food choices for all


  • Supports fair and just communities and conditions for all farmers, workers, and eaters
  • Provides equitable physical access to aff ordable food that is health promoting and culturally appropriate

Economically Balanced

  • Provides economic opportunities that are balanced across geographic regions of the country and at different scales of activity, from local to global, for a diverse range of food system stakeholders
  • Affords farmers and workers in all sectors of the system a living wage


  • Provides opportunities for farmers, workers, and eaters to gain the knowledge necessary to understand how food is produced, transformed, distributed, marketed, consumed, and disposed
  • Empowers farmers, workers and eaters to actively participate in decision making in all sectors of the system

A healthy, sustainable food system emphasizes, strengthens, and makes visible the interdependent and inseparable relationships between individual sectors (from production to waste disposal) and characteristics (health-promoting, sustainable, resilient, diverse, fair, economically balanced, and transparent) of the system.

For more information, visit the American Planning Association’s website.

Choosing a Sustainable Future

Co-founder and director of Ecovillage (and Groundswell advisor) Liz Walker has a new book- and a new blog!

Here’s a snippet from Liz about her book, Choosing A Sustainable Future: Ideas and Inspiration from Ithaca, NY:

“In this book, I try to capture the breadth and essence of the fast-growing sustainability and social justice movement in the Ithaca area. As the cover says, “A small city’s big vision that can help transform your own community.” I’ve been a grassroots activist my whole life, and I’ve rarely seen such a blossoming of interest and activity with a common purpose as is growing here.

There is a unity of purpose here that is reflected across a wide spectrum of players:

* from the county planning department, which has a goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 – for the whole county of 100,000 people!

* to small businesses, such as Garden Gate, which uses a biodiesel-powered van to deliver fresh, locally grown produce, dairy, meats and more,

* to academia (we have Cornell University, Ithaca College and TC3, our local community college, all engaged in creating courses about sustainability topics, as well as greening their buildings and operations)

* to grassroots efforts to provide alternative health care, alternative currency, food security, and more.

Many of these players work with each other and form coalitions to address specific areas. I hope you get a chance to read all about it, since I think the people and the organizations here are creating something truly inspiring!”

For more information, visit:

Cultivating a sustainable local food system

By Joanna Green

Published in Tompkins Weekly

Let’s say you’re a young adult – or maybe a not so young adult – and you’re interested in learning about small-scale farming as a potential livelihood. Where can you go to find out what farming is all about and get the training you need to farm successfully?

Or let’s say you’re an individual or small business owner who just wants to play a role in building a strong, sustainable local food system in our community. How can you plug in and support the next generation of farmers and local foods businesses?

Join the Groundswell!

The Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming is addressing the need for hands-on training and education to support beginning farmers, urban market gardeners and other local foods entrepreneurs in the region. Groundswell has been spearheaded by a hard-working group of local foods boosters including farmers, community members, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and faculty and students from Cornell, Ithaca College and TC3.

To find out more about Groundswell’s groundbreaking (!) educational programs that is putting Ithaca on the map as a destination for high quality farm-based education go to our website at

An innovative partnership with TC3 – HAS BEGUN until the middle of July the blog will feature the experiences of participants in the practicum

Groundswell is partnering with the Environmental Studies Program at Tompkins Cortland Community College to offer a “Summer Practicum in Sustainable Farming and Local Food Systems.” This unique, 8-week course is geared for students, community members and professionals interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture, local food systems, and small-scale farming. Much of the teaching will take place at West Haven Farm at EcoVillage, as well as other farms, local food businesses, and organizations in the area.