Grafting and Pruning in the February Sun at Indian Creek Farm

Grafting and Pruning in the February Sun at Indian Creek Farm

By Kate Cardona, Groundswell Equity, Outreach and Course Coordinator

On Saturday, February 18th Groundswell hosted a Grafting and Pruning Workshop at Indian Creek Farm! It was a strange, gorgeous 60 degree and sunny February day, and we were glad to spend much of it outside getting hands-on experience with tree pruning.

The workshop began with an introduction from Groundswell Center to our organizational mission, which includes supporting diverse learners to gain the tools needed to build equitable and sustainable local food systems. For Groundswell, part of remaining accountable to that mission means engaging our course participants in conversations about food justice, or communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals” (definition from

Indian Creek is located in Ithaca on land that was stolen from the Cayuga people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy during the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War in the 1770s. Following this time of genocide and land theft, a tract of almost 2 million acres in central New York was divided into military bounty lands, and given to soldiers for their service against the British. This includes the 40 acres of Indian Creek Farm. We began the workshop by honoring the land, looking honestly at its history, acknowledging that the Cayuga people are still here, and asking participants to sit with the question of what it might look like to honor their requests and vision for land use. We can’t have food justice unless we acknowledge the injustice present in our food system since the founding of the U.S., from colonization to slavery to immigration policy and beyond.

We then spent time hearing from workshop participants about their own experiences in the realm of food justice. There were many powerful stories shared, ranging from school programs that teach tree grafting to students for their student run orchard, to community gardens that redistribute land and resources to residents for growing food, to the Philadelphia Orchard Project, community owned orchards in low-wealth neighborhoods in Philly.

Hearing these inspiring examples was a great way to dig into the hands on grafting education that the instructors Greg and Dusky had prepared! We learned about what grafting is and why we do it (tissue cloning to propagate fruit trees!), how to insert scion (the first year shoot of the variety of the tree you want) into rootstock (the hearty, established bottom part of the new graft), what to call the vasculature of the tree (cambium!), and a variety of grafting techniques. These included chip budding, tying, top working, bridge grafting, and bench grafting. We focused on bench grafting for the next few hours, and all participants got a chance to graft and bring home two or three of their own fruit trees using the Whip and Tongue technique. Check out the photos to see participants in action!

Post lunch break we gathered in the sunshine for the Pruning section of the workshop. After discussing the reasons for tree pruning (tree health and productivity), Dusky and Greg demonstrated various pruning techniques on apple tree branches, creating the needed “scaffolding” and talking through the reasons for their decisions of what to prune and what to leave. Participants then worked in teams to prune their own branches, leading to an apple tree fashion show where everyone shared their logic with the group! For the final part of the workshop, we went out into the orchard and watched Dusky and Greg prune the large established apple trees. Participants made suggestions of what to cut and took turns using the hand saw and loppers while Greg demonstrated how to use the chainsaw. The orchard was covered in snow that melted quickly under our boots as we walked around in the sun, taking in the breathtaking beauty of the winter orchard and the Finger Lakes hills. Thanks to Greg, Dusky and Indian Creek farm for hosting such an informative, participatory and fun workshop with Groundswell!

A Cutting Edge Return to Old Traditions: Farming with Draft Animal Power

A Cutting Edge Return to Old Traditions: Farming with Draft Animal Power

New farmers, returning to old traditions and using cutting edge knowledge, learn to “think like a horse” and farm with draft animals.

With the rising cost of fuel and farm equipment, more farmers are turning 2014 Draft Animals (1)towards a centuries old tradition: farming with draft animals.  Even though farming with draft animals is a seven thousand year old technology, new farmers don’t have to utilize ancient equipment or ideas.  Instead, they can utilize cutting edge technology and innovative ideas to move towards fuel-independent farming.

Traditionally, the skills required to work with draft animals were passed down through oral tradition, but with more and more young people choosing farming as a career, rather than inheriting it, there has become a need for a different way to gain this knowledge and experience.  Donn Hewes, of Northland Sheep Dairy and Donn’s Teamster School in Marathon, NY, has become passionate about passing on the almost-lost art of training and driving draft animals.

On Saturday, May 2nd and Sunday, May 3rd, Donn’s Teamster School and the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming will host a two day Draft Animal Practicum designed to provide new farmers with hands-on experience in driving draft horses.  “This workshop will help folks better understand how draft horses and mules think and why they do what they do,” Hewes says.  “It’ll be a fun learning experience for anyone just getting started with horses.  We’ll spend time focusing on how we prepare animals for success at farm work.”

Genevieve DeClerck, an aspiring farmer who participated in 2011 Draft Animal Practicum says, “The draft horse workshop at Northland was incredible. Literally one of the coolest things I’ve ever participated in EVER.”

What, Where, When

How Draft Horses & Mules Think Horse : Training Methods for Beginning Teamsters

Saturday & Sunday, May 2-3, 9 AM – 3PM

Location: Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon, NY

Tuition: $150 for one day,  $250 for two days. Tuition Assistance is available for those with limited financial resources.

To register please visit or call 607-319-5095

High Tunnels Year Round!

High Tunnels Year Round!


Groundswell, CCE and local Mentor Farmers are teaming up to offer a new season-long course on growing, managing and marketing high tunnel crops!


An Introduction to High Tunnels Workshopwill be held on MONDAY, February 9, from 1-4 PM at Good Life Farm in Interlaken. Judson Reid, Cooperative Extension Vegetable Crops Specialist and growers Melissa Madden of Good Life Farm and Evangeline Sarat of Sweet Land Farm will co-teach this session.  Come early at noon for soup and informal conversation with other growers. In addition, Patrick Barry from USDA NRCS will talk about funding for tunnels.  Introduction to High Tunnels Workshop, February 9, 2015

The February overview session is a stand-alone, introductory-level workshop. To register for the overview class on Feb. 9, call Cooperative Extension, 607-272-2292or email There is a $5 charge for this class. 

Year-Round High Tunnels Course, March – November 2015 

For those looking for more in-depth technical training, a 27-hour Year-Round High Tunnels Course will be The Good Life hoophousesoffered, patterned after Groundswell’s popular farmer-designed course in Holistic Organic Orchard Management. Sessions will be held on the second Sunday of each month, March through November. Each session will be held at a different farm, highlighting diverse production systems.  Host farmers and Cornell Cooperative Extension educators will address the full range of production and management issues including: soil fertility, pest and disease management, varieties, economics, marketing, and crop-specific practices for tomatoes, greens and fruit. 

To accommodate changes in daylight hours, our March and April classes will run from 1-4 PM; then from May through November, classes will run from 4-7 PM. The list of topics and host farms will be finalized in early December.


Class size is limited so please register early!

Our technical courses for commercial farmers are designed and taught by experienced farmers and stem from their interest in visiting each other’s operations, learning from peers, and their need to provide advanced technical training for their own employees.

Full tuition for the Year-Round High Tunnels Course is $435. Tuition assistance is available for those with financial limitations. To register and to apply for tuition assistance contact


2015 Year-Round High Tunnels Course schedule:

  • March 8, 1-4 PM
  • April 12, 1-4 PM
  • May 10, 4-7 PM
  • June 14, 4-7 PM
  • July 12, 4-7 PM
  • Sept. 13, 4-7 PM
  • Oct. 11, 4-7 PM
  • Nov. 8, 4-7 PM