How do you get started in farming when you have no background in it?
If you didn’t grow up in a farming family, how can you learn to tackle the complexity and difficulty of farming?
These are the questions that inspired , one of Groundswell’s most recent volunteer interns, to work with Groundswell this Fall. Having worked on a small, biodynamic farm where many of the farmers were greenhorns, Nicole saw how messy farming can be if you don’t have depth in your experience. She really was excited about what Groundswell is doing because she saw how important it is to have a training and support pathway for new farmers. As a senior in Animal Science at Cornell, Nicole is part of a course called “Agriculture, Food, Sustainability, & Social Justice”, which examines alternative agriculture and food concepts, and considers, “the historical background to our food and agricultural system, looking at different agriculture and food issues in the Global North and South.”
As a part of her coursework, Nicole has been interning with Groundswell this semester but recently agreed to serve as the first Groundswell Advisory Board intern into next year! Her work with us so far has involved helping the Incubator Program Manager, Devon Van Noble, to explore the possibilities for the farmers at the Groundswell Incubator to form a cooperative. Many other incubator programs offer their farmers some sort of cooperative or collective marketing outlet in order to reduce the growers’ risk in the first few years. So Nicole has been helping by researching and analyzing the feasibility of the various options, and will be presenting our findings to the Incubator advisory team at our December meeting.
However Nicole has also had a role in Groundswell’s self-reflection as an organization this year. We have had many recent opportunities to reflect with our Advisory Board, Staff, farmer educators, and a variety of community members about Groundswell’s value of social justice and mission of engaging diverse learners. Although food sovereignty & social justice were somewhat new terms to Nicole before starting her course, working with Groundswell has given her insight into the complexities of justice and equity around food and farming. She has seen the tensions of privilege in local communities, the importance of trust building and authenticity, and the difficulty of unpacking organizational culture and commitment. Through the Food Justice Summit in September, Advisory Board Meetings, and weekly meetings with Staff, Nicole has been participating in this difficult and crucial conversation with us. In addition, volunteering with Groundswell has been a wonderful opportunity for her to get a taste of the realities of working on-the-ground within a non-profit. She has seen how the work really flows, the need for patience, and the passion involved in mission-driven work.
Although Nicole grew up in a suburb of Washington D.C., her family is historically from Jamaica and she has a lot of family who live there. Her uncle owns pineapple farm that is tucked away from tourists and the city, and Nicole says that it is such a beautiful place with all kinds of fruit growing. Her father grew up on his parents’ farm, where they had goats, cows, chickens and crops, but when her grandfather died it was too difficult and dangerous for her grandmother to live there alone. So they had to sell the farm and got her a home in the city. These days, Nicole’s grandmother is one of the few in her family who really understands and is excited about Nicole’s interest in agriculture, which surprised Nicole. After she finishes at Cornell in May, Nicole is thinking that she might apply to work with the Peace Corps on agricultural projects in nations in the Global South.