Growing the Farm Enterprise Incubator in 2012

The Farm Enterprise Incubator at EcoVillage at Ithaca in 2011.

By Devon Van Noble

This winter marks a new phase for Groundswell’s Farm Enterprise Incubator — a program designed to provide beginning food producers with affordable, low-risk access to land, business mentorship, training, and support.  The Incubator program is especially focused on providing these opportunities to limited resource and socially-disadvantaged communities in the area.  For now, a field of approximately 10 acres has been designated by EcoVillage at Ithaca as the initial site of the Groundswell Incubator. This winter, Groundswell is engaging in a planning process with farmers and potential incubees to ensure that the Incubator meets everyone’s needs.

Permaculture Design at the Incubator Site

This past August, we began regularly walking the 10-acre Incubator site with our two farmer-consultants, Melissa Madden and Garrett Miller of the Good Life Farm in Interlaken, NY.  Having just used a permaculture design process to create their own 69-acre farm, we knew they would be wonderful coaches to help us thoroughly assess and understand the 10 acre site at EcoVillage.  Permaculture design is a process of truly understanding both the land and the people that you are working with.  Not only have we been evaluating the water flows, soil composition, and landform that make up the Incubator site, but Melissa and Garrett also helped us design an interview process that collects a swath of useful information from the many stakeholders who have an interest in the Incubator project.

After Melissa and Garrett introduced the permaculture principles, I think some of us were ready to just start designing!  But they kept reminding us that we had a lot of observations to make and data to collect before we would be prepared to actually lay out plans for the site.  Permaculture is really an iterative process between the needs of the land, the people and the life around them, so one of Melissa’s ongoing tasks has been to keep checking our expectations for the Incubator and help us to be open to the process as it develops. 

Stakeholder Interviews and the Incubator Oversight Team
Through the next several months we’ll continue interviewing stakeholders, with a focus on potential users of the site — the “incubees.”  We are also establishing an Incubator Oversight Team which will help finalize the site design plans by late spring, so we can begin implementing the infrastructure design over the summer.  Also during the summer, the Oversight Team will help draft the policies & procedures for the Incubator, and create an inclusive, accessible application process for the potential incubees by mid-Fall 2012.  This will allow us to get this show on the road in early 2013. 

Personally, I know there are still many people to speak with, and much work to do, but I am truly excited to see what kind of innovative infrastructure and services are created for new food producers by the launch of the Incubator next year.

Devon Van Noble
Groundswell Incubator Development Coordinator