Groundswell playing host to ‘Celebrating Common Ground’


By Eric Banford

Tompkins Weekly

The North East Organic Farming Association of NY, with Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming, is hosting an open field day on soil science and weeds at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.

The workshop will take place from 3-5:30 p.m. Saturday, August 5; Cornell Research Technicians will be on hand with their Soil Health Mobile Trailer, and this event will be interpreted into the Karen language for the Incubator Farmers from Burma, and into Spanish for any interested attendees.

The focus of the training will be on weed identification, cover crops rotation, soil nutrients and health, and the resources available to help beginning farmers to succeed.

NOFA-NY came to collaborate with Groundswell as a way to reach farmers in Groundswell’s Incubator Farm Program who face language and cultural barriers.

“This is a project through the Risk Management Agency funded through the USDA, which provides funding for underserved populations or farmers at risk,” said Robert Perry, grain and field crop coordinator for NOFA-NY.

Perry oversees grain and field crop conference workshops and field days, and coordinates NOFA-NY’s Winter Conference Trade Show.

“We’ll have parallel education programs working with local agriculture and we focus on organic agriculture on top of that,” he said.

Groundswell is providing land access to some Burmese farmers who have limited abilities speaking English, this field day takes that into account so that they can learn valuable farming techniques that will help them succeed, according to Perry. He also emphasized that the field day is open to anyone interested, as the information will be helpful to all farmers.

“We live in the Cornell Land Grant community in Ithaca and have all of these resources that traditional farmers take for granted, like Cooperative Extension and Cornell University,” he said. “Local farmers from displaced communities don’t have that opportunity, so this is a chance to bring Cornell’s Soil Health Trailer to the Incubator Farm site and do some hands-on learning skills with the diversified community there.

“Ithaca is identified as a ‘Sanctuary Community,’ let’s embrace that and share our knowledge, see how we can make it a better place for everyone,” Perry added. “Some of the plants that we consider weeds might be considered a delicate salad green in other cultures, so it will be interesting to have those cultural exchanges and experiences as part of this field day.”

Cornell Research Technician Sandra Wayman and Fay Benson of Cornell Cooperative Extension Small Farms Program will have their Soil Health Mobile Trailer to demonstrate varying degrees of soil health and discuss ways to improve soil. They also have a rain simulator that shows how rain impacts soil of different types. The field day will provide time for questions from participants to ask, and for general discussion based on the audience’s interests.

“Part of the field day experience is bringing that learning experience both to the farmers and to the educators on site, it’s a two-way exchange,” said Perry.

“It should be interesting to see who comes,” added Liz Coakley, farm manager for the Incubator Farm. “We’re advertising to all farmers, but also specifically to groups of farmers who aren’t English speakers. A lot of the farmers who we work with at the Incubator are Karen speaking farmers from Burma, so having an event all in English would be hard for a lot of them to follow. There are also a lot of Spanish speaking farmers in the area who don’t have access to these informational days, so we decided to do interpretation into both languages.”

The Groundswell Incubator Farm was created to provide low risk land access to people who are generally underrepresented in the general farm world, according to Coakley.

“We work with refugees, immigrants, people of color, sometimes women are considered underrepresented,” she said. “We have a 10-acre parcel that we divide into quarter acre plots, and people come with some farming background and we give them a low-cost lease for three years.

“They then have access to physical resources like tractors, irrigation, deer fencing, and a shed,” Coakley added. “We then set them up with educational and mentoring resources.”

The end goal is for these farmers to learn enough to start their own farm business on land they purchase or rent, and have enough background to make that more successful, added Coakley.

“This experience gives them an edge as far as applying for loans based on what they’ve done already,” she said.

The event will be at Groundswell Incubator Farm, located at EcoVillage at 100 Rachel Carson Way, west of Ithaca. Signs will direct you to the farm site. A $5 donation is requested but not required, all are welcome to attend. For details and registration, visit


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