Three years ago, Surik Mehrabyan moved to Ithaca, N.Y., to work at Cornell University's Synchrotron project. But after funding cuts eliminated that job, he found himself driving taxis and thinking about farming. As a child, he lived on what he describes as a "backyard-style" farm in Armenia's highlands where he learned from his father how to grow potatoes and cabbage.
Damon Brangman grew up and went to college in Bermuda. His first farming experience was working for his great-uncle on a small, diversified farm where he got lots of hands-on experience with goats, chickens, and organic vegetables sold through local farmers' markets. The experience sparked Damon's passion for farming.
On the ground and growing
Both men's passion for growing food led them to join Groundswell's new Incubator Farm Program last spring. They're the first beginning farmers to launch their enterprises at the 10-acre parcel available to qualified beginning farmers who need affordable access to land.
Incubator Farm offers access to a walk-behind tractor, tools, water and irrigation lines, tractor services, production and business planning support, and mentoring from experienced farmers. "Small business incubation is an economic development strategy that's been around a long time," says Joanna Green, director of the Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming.
"We're just applying it to the farming sector. The extra support and mentoring increases the odds for launching a successful, profitable farm business."
Groundswell's Incubator Farm focuses on helping people who don't otherwise have a pathway into farming, adds Program Coordinator Devon Van Noble. "People with really limited financial resources, people of color, immigrants, refugees – these folks have priority in the application process, although anyone can apply."
How it works
Farmers have three years to develop their business. During this time, they receive lots of mentoring from experienced farmers. They have to complete Groundswell's farm business planning course
In the third year, they can get help applying for an operating loan or farm purchase loan if appropriate. They also get help in making a transition to another site.
Groundswell works with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County on a new "LandLink" project to connect beginning farmers with landowners, explains Noble. And it helps them negotiate a mutually beneficial lease or land purchase agreement.
Wanted: 2 or 3 new farmers
Groundswell seeks two to three farmers to join the Incubator Farm next year. Space is available for livestock micro-enterprises as well as crops.
For details about the program and an online application form, visit www.groundswellcenter.org. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 607-319-5095. Groundswell provides one-on-one assistance with the application process, plus translation support for those with limited English language skills.