Update: Groundswell's Farm Enterprise Incubator

Urban agriculture leader Karen Washington visited
our incubator site in late April.

by Devon Van Noble

Ahhh — Finally the onset of lasting warm weather.  It’s not only a critical time of year for established farmers, it’s also an important season for assessing new farmland.  At the site of Groundswell’s Farm Enterprise Incubator, we’ve been busy measuring and mapping, reading the biological communities, taking soil samples, analyzing hydrology and digging test holes for ponds.  We have been fortunate to have the guidance of some great resource people in this process.

David Werier, a botanical consultant and an instructor in Groundswell’s Sustainable Farming Certificate Program this year, gave us a sense of how to think about the various types of vegetation and micro-ecosystems as we plan the site to interact with them.  We’ve found that the very different stages of succession across the site will offer opportunities to diversify the type of enterprises that are incubated, to preserve habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects, and create transitional spaces that we bring into production slowly.

Recently we have made a lot of progress in identifying potential water sources at the site, and found that digging a new farm pond is a strong possibility.  With the help of Phil Snyder, a consultant who has worked on several pond projects at EcoVillage, we have accurately identified the major flows through the site.  We’ve mapped out several locations that would be able to catch a sufficient amount of water to supply the Incubator enterprises.  After getting a bit smarter about the levels of regulation that can be involved, I was beginning to get concerned that some of the potential sites might not work, but thankfully we have been getting a positive response from the Town of Ithaca Planning Department, the New York State DEC, and the Army Corp of Engineers.  We will be returning to them with more detailed design plans soon, and I will post a new Incubator Update on our website with any news about the Incubator farm pond.

Incubator Oversight Team
 I’d like to publicly welcome and thank the  members of our new Oversight Team for the Farm Enterprise Incubator:

  • Leslie Ackerman, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, Business CENTS Program –  Financial/Business Management Adviser
  • Barb Neal, Green Legacy Tree Consultants –  Farmer/Arborist Adviser
  • Stephanie Greenwood, Land Partnership Committee, EcoVillage at Ithaca –  Stewardship Adviser
  • Jeff Gilmore, Board of Directors, EcoVillage at Ithaca –  Stewardship Adviser
  • Eldred Harris, eLab, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, and Business Development Incubator –  Enterprise Adviser
  • Brian Caldwell, Department of Horticulture, Cornell —  Farmer Adviser
  • Melissa Madden, The Good Life Farm – Farmer-Consultant
  • Garrett Miller, The Good Life Farm –  Farmer-Consultant

The first meetings of the Incubator Oversight Team have been full of great discussion about the farm incubator concept and the goals of the program here in Ithaca.  We are exploring what the program should look like, and what lease terms would be suitable for beginning producers in the area.  For example, should incubees be able to start in a large space right away, or should there be a gradual increase in the space one can use each year?  How much of the full rental value should they be expected to pay for land and equipment?  Since the support provided through the Incubator effectively subsidizes new enterprises, how will we avoid creating competitive influences on established farmers?  It will take some time for us to answer these questions in the coming months, but I want to thank the Incubator Oversight Team for the excellent discussion thus far.