Volunteer Spotlight: Susannah Spero

This talented Intern is helping Groundswell to better serve refugee farmers

Groundswell has been blessed to work with some amazingly talented volunteers.  This month we’re super-pleased to spotlight Susannah Spero, who graduated from Hamilton College in 2013 with a self- designed degree in Socioeconomic and Political Studies. Since last September Susannah has been working with us on our New American Farmers Project, which helps refugees and other immigrants to explore opportunities and get started in agriculture. 

Before joining Groundswell, Susannah spent several summers on farms, and worked closely with refugee families from Africa and Asia as an intern with the New Farms for New Americans program in Burlington, Vermont. There she helped manage several acres of crops at the Intervale Center farm and designed trainings on farming and marketing for 60 refugee families.
Susannah’s experience and insights have proved to be invaluable in positioning Groundswell to better serve refugee families in our community. She helped us think through many of the barriers they face in trying to farm in the United States. Last fall she helped us to plan a pilot project for local refugees, which we are beginning to implement this year.
 Here in Ithaca there are many Burmese and Karen refugees with a background in small-scale farming, growing food for their families and for local markets. Our Incubator Farm provides land, infrastructure, tools and equipment to help them get started. However, exploring farming opportunities takes time, especially for those who are just getting familiarized with the ecology and culture of the region.   

Susannah opened up our thinking about practical pathways that refugees can take to overcome barriers and grow into farming.  Rather than trying to assimilate their own farming traditions with the commercial farm business model prevalent in the United States, Susannah advocated a collective model in which multiple families work together on a small plot, sharing labor and risks, and learning together as they gradually develop their markets. This is the pathway that has worked well at other incubator programs for refugee farmers.

With Susannah’s proposal and her guidance Groundswell has been able to prepare for the 2014 season with a much clearer vision of how we can support refugees at the Incubator Farm. With this foundation, we have been able to connect with service providers and sponsors in the area who already work closely with refugees, and explain to them precisely what we offer.  We are beginning to meet with interested refugees, and hope to be working with a small group of growers this spring. 
We’re grateful that Susannah is able to continue working with us through the spring. As the growing season approaches, She will be helping us to connect with refugees who are interested in the Incubator Farm, and organizing the support systems identified in her proposal, including childcare, transportation, and marketing assistance.  We are very excited to continue this work with her this year, and look forward to how the New American Farmer Project will continue to grow.  
If you’d like to get involved in supporting New American beginning farmers at the Incubator, please get in touch with us at (607)319-5095, or newamericans@groundswellcenter.org.