The following interview with Elizabeth Gabriel of the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming is the second in a series of interviews we are doing with organizations around the country that provide services to beginning farmers. You can view the first of these interviews with the Cornell Small Farms Program HERE.
Beginning Farmers: Please introduce yourself and tell us what your role is within your organization.
Elizabeth: My name is Elizabeth Gabriel. I’m the new Director of Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming. I also run a small farm with my husband where we produce mushrooms, duck eggs, lamb, and maple syrup (and I teach yoga part-time!). Joanna Green, the founding director, retired in March and I was hired to attempt to fill her shoes. Groundswell Center is in its 5th year and has entered a very exciting phase of reflection, organizational growth and capacity building. My main roles include: building relationships with community members, farmers and farming organizations in the Finger Lakes; thinking creatively about how Groundswell can help farmers, local food-related businesses and food eaters; and fundraising so to be able to do this work.
Beginning Farmers: Can you tell me a little bit about your organization?
Elizabeth: Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming is a Project Partner of the Center for Transformative Action. (The Center for Transformative Action is an Ithaca NY-based 501-C3 organization with a 40+-year track record of supporting innovative educational and community projects. It is an alliance of individuals and organizations inspired by principles of nonviolence and committed to bold action for justice sustainability, and peace.) Groundswell’s mission is to help diverse learners develop the skills, knowledge and access to resources that they need to build more equitable and sustainable local food systems. We provide practical, experiential education and farm business training through a network of successful local farmers and partner organizations and seek to broaden the connection between farmers, food businesses and consumers so businesses are successful and access to fresh, regionally grown produce and products is more accessible to all. Our programs and efforts are designed to reach the Finger Lakes region, more specifically, the counties of Tompkins, Cortland, Broome, Tioga, and Schuyler in New York State.
Beginning Farmers: What programs do you offer for young, beginning, and small farmers? And how can people take advantage of those programs?
Elizabeth: Groundswell Center is an organization focused on beginning farmer training, thus all of our programming is geared towards people who have been farming 10 years or less and on people who homestead on a smaller, non commercial scale. Programs range from short farm or homestead tours (eg. CRAFT Farm Tours and the Homesteading Network) one day intensives (eg. Scything Workshop, Draft Horse Practicum) to a 12-week long Farm Business Planning Course which begins in January. We also run a 10-acre Incubator Farm, the first of its kind in New York, which is designed to assist new and beginning farmers to start their own farming businesses. The Incubator Farm provides people access to infrastructure, land, education and technical assistance.
We strive to keep our program enrollment fees low, to ensure they are accessible to a diverse range of participants. We offer tuition assistance based on self-reported need. We also offer transportation to programs from our office, based in Ithaca, NY.
Another important piece of our work is expanding the network of connections of farmers to wholesale and retail markets or consumers. We do this a number of ways including but not limited to directly introducing farmers to restauranteurs or chefs, working with communities to develop or expand farmers markets and providing marketing guidance to farmers and food businesses.
Beginning Farmers: What is your vision of the future for beginning farmers in your area? What are you hopeful about?
Elizabeth: I’m hopeful because of the creativity and resourcefulness of farmers. To be successful farming sustainably, farmers must be able to adapt to constant change and nothing ever being the same from month to month or season to season. This is one of the most exciting things about working with the land and also one of the most challenging. When I speak with farmers, whether its about the current drought or the most recent infestation of cucumber beetles, I hear inspiring stories about adaptation and plowing on through (pun intended) to figure out how to make something work and be abundant. (We are just about to launch a new story-telling column in collaboration with Cornell Small Farms and the Small Farms Quarterly called “Lessons from the Land”, which will be a platform for farmers to share their personal stories. Look out for the official press release next week!)
The Finger Lakes region is filled with so many incredible farmers and food businesses growing and making incredible food items and value-added products. Many of the people who run these businesses have a hard time making a living and keeping quality employees Yet, at the same time, this region, like so many, are filled with far too many people who can’t afford these fabulous items, who can’t easily travel to where they are sold, or who seek consistent and meaningful employment. My vision is that a farmers ability to be resourceful and creative will ever-expand to significantly impact those adults and children in need in our communities. I am hopeful that Groundswell can help facilitate this type of creativity to happen.
Beginning Farmers: What programs do you have upcoming? How can people get in contact with Groundswell?
Elizabeth: We are just about half-way through our two technical courses for the year. These are designed for more experienced beginning farmers and are: Managing Soils for Better Crops and Grazing and Pasture Management. Both of these courses are held monthly at different farms around the region, and can be joined at any time. We are super excited to offer for the first time, a one-day Scything (hand mowing) and Scythe-Making workshop coming up on August 7th. Additionally, we offer two monthly tours that are open to the public: CRAFT Farm Tours and the Homesteading Network Tours. These tours take place at regional farms or homesteads, offer something unique to that site and the chance to chat with other farmers and growers in a small, intimate setting. All Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming programs and events can be viewed at http://groundswellcenter.org/events/.