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federal dollars trickling down all the right streambeds.

Posted: October 8 2010

The Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming will launch a three-year training program for beginning farmers and market gardeners

The EcoVillage at Ithaca Center for Sustainability Education is pleased to announce that its agricultural initiative, the Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming, will receive a three-year grant from the US Department of Agriculture to support the training of new farmers and urban market gardeners. The grant, totaling $349,873, will enable Groundswell and its project partners to provide training, mentoring, business planning support, and affordable access to land for beginning farmers.
“Our goal is to increase the number, diversity, profitability, and environmental sustainability of beginning farmers in the region,” says Joanna Green, Director of the Groundswell Center.  “We’re making a three-year investment to develop a strong, multicultural social and economic support network for new farmers.”
The project is the result of over two years of hard work, program planning and contributions of a broad-based group of volunteers, community leaders and organizations. “This is a really exciting development,” says Liz Walker, Director of EcoVillage’s educational programs. “I’m especially pleased that EcoVillage is able to make some of its agricultural land available to others in the community who don’t otherwise have access to land.”
Recognizing the diversity of potential farmers in the community, the project will address the training needs of three distinct groups:
•    Start-Ups - those  recently started in farming on their own, yet needing further training, mentoring, and business planning support in order to succeed;
•    Farming Interns -  those able and willing to spend two years working and learning on established farms;
•    Market Gardeners – those with limited land resources who are interested in developing small-scale commercial enterprises to serve local community markets.
“This is an inclusive initiative,” stresses Kirtrina Baxter, Program Coordinator at Southside Community Center and one of the project leaders. “We’ll be bringing together beginning and experienced farmers from different economic backgrounds and cultures to learn from one another and strengthen our local food system.”
While substantial funding for the project will come from USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Groundswell will be counting on supporters in the community to raise additional funds to develop the physical infrastructure for the farm business incubator program. This includes a water supply and irrigation system, deer fencing, a large “hoop house” for extending the growing season, and a shared use shed building.
In addition to supporting new farm businesses in the Finger Lakes region, organizers say the project will make the area a magnet for serious aspiring farmers nationwide, who will come here to gain hands-on experience and training before starting their own farms in other regions.
The project builds on training programs already established by Groundswell and other collaborating organizations by:
•    Actively engaging and supporting trainees with diverse economic and cultural backgrounds, with particular focus on historically marginalized populations;
•    Developing a two-year, structured Farm Internship Program in collaboration with the new Finger Lakes CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training);
•    Providing Mentor Training and ongoing support to Farmer Mentors to increase their effectiveness in training new farmers of diverse backgrounds and cultures;
•    Conducting a combination of Daytime Workshops and Twilight Workshops each year to address the different scheduling constraints of the three target groups;
•    Assisting trainees in developing a comprehensive Business Plan and connections to local markets;
•    Providing new farmers with affordable access to land, production and marketing infrastructure, and ongoing mentoring through the farm business incubator program at EcoVillage.
"By making hands-on training opportunities available for new farmers, Groundswell will be filling a critical training gap,” says Erica Frenay, co-manager of the Beginning Farmer Project at the Cornell Small Farms Program. “We really look forward to collaborating with them and helping to get the word out about their new programs."
Julia Mattick, Executive Director of the Tompkins County Workforce Investment Board, is also excited to hear about the grant.  “Agriculture is experiencing a Renaissance in the Finger Lakes.  By providing a combination of training, internships, and business mentoring to farmers, Groundswell is contributing new resources for economic development of the region.”
Groundswell’s sponsor, the EcoVillage at Ithaca Center for Sustainability Education, is a project of the not-for-profit Center for Transformative Action. For more information visit www.groundswellcenter.org, www.ecovillageithaca.org, and http://cta.sas.cornell.edu.