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On August 7 and 8, Small Farms’ own Violet Stone convened the inaugural gathering of the new Baskets to Pallets educator cohort. In this post, Violet shares a retrospective on who the new cohort is and the work they plan to do over the next two years.

Last week, I was happy to find myself out of my office chair and seated instead in the warm, bright Loft space at the Carriage House Café with 15 educators and farmers from all over the state. Most of the members of our new Baskets to Pallets cohort hadn’t met before, so we were excited to spend the morning getting to know each other’s passions, interests and niches within the food system. The group then turned focus toward its mission — to facilitate access to new market channels for farmers interested in entering “intermediate” venues such as food hubs, grocery stores, restaurants and cooperatives. The cohort will support farmers and producers who are experiencing cooling trends in direct markets such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) operations and farm-stands through providing coaching and training on how to successfully enter intermediate channels.

We launched into our work together by looking at big market trends such as the rapid acceleration of online grocery sales and consumer’s growing preferences for local, fresh food. Big trends affect sales for farmers on the ground, and we want to stay abreast of how the food scene is changing and how we can advise farmers to take advantage of new opportunities. Then, we reflected more personally on the marketing challenges and opportunities we were each observing in the regions where we work. Yes, the data tells us that local food is big and in growing demand, but local reports confirm it’s challenging to get small products to big markets and we have plenty of work ahead in getting farmers ready for wholesale and connecting them to scale-appropriate markets.

We rounded out our gathering by talking with buyers from throughout the Northeast. Conversations with staff at Headwater Food Hub, Red Tomato and Honest Weight Food Cooperative shed some perspectives on what buyers do and don’t need to have successful business relationships with farmers. Strong communication skills came up across the board, but not all buyers required GAPS/food safety certifications or had hard and fast requirements regarding grading/sorting/packaging. In summary, every buyer is unique and most of the success lies in finding the right producer/buyer match and building a relationship. As educators serving in the Baskets to Pallets cohort, we hope to help farmers navigate potential buyers and support steps toward wholesale success. That might mean supporting a producer in achieving better uniformity and consistency, food safety standards, grading/packaging, labeling, or whatever steps are needed to find success in intermediate markets.

So, what’s next for the cohort? We’ll be creating new educational content throughout the Fall in preparation for two regional Baskets to Pallets farmer trainings to take place during the winter months.

Do you have any feedback or ideas for our group? We’d love to hear from you. Reach out to Project Coordinator Violet Stone at or visit the project website.


Welcome to our new installment of Small Farms’ Recommended Reading! Here you’ll find a variety of articles handpicked each week by the Small Farms team. These include resources, educational articles, and tips — all in one location for a quick browse of news in addition to our bimonthly newsletter.

This week we’re reading about the dangers of ornamental plants and weeds to your pets and livestock, groundbreaking research in the benefits of consuming insects as an alternative form of protein, and tips for storing hay. There may be a future in hybrids of conventional and biological fungicides and there are new prosthetics available which can serve farmers better than traditional prosthetics. Finally, don’t sweat it if you didn’t keep up your summer garden; it’s a great time to plant cool weather vegetables.

Do you have reading recommendations? Share with us using our online form.

Livestock and Pet Owners: Be Wary of Your Backyard

Various weeds and ornamental plants will always be dangerous to animals, but this problem can become especially prominent in the dry months as pastures die and weeds thrive. Additionally, common household ornamentals tend to be toxic. View tips and read more.



Insects as an Alternative Form of Protein

Two billion people throughout the world regularly consume insects. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers studied insect protein consumption and found that gut microbiome health increased, therefore proving that there are benefits beyond being an environmentally friendly alternative protein source. Read more.


Tips for Storing Your Hay

As you store hay cut this summer, consider measuring density — the lower the density, the less spoilage — and removing bales from the field as quickly as possible. Building storage is expensive, but so is the cost of wasted hay. Start to record wasted hay expense to determine if you should consider building storage. Read more.


Future in Mix of Biological and Conventional Chemicals

Traditionally, biological and conventional chemicals were not able to be mixed (and still can’t be combined in the same container), but STK bio-ag technologies may have figured out a way to combine chemicals and leave less residue on crops. Read more.


Prosthetics Created for Farmer-Specific Needs

Farmers require prosthetics that are able to adjust to various terrains, able to withstand dust and chemical residue, and able to adapt for different machinery. Prosthetics are now available with higher sensitivity, components to switch-out with various machinery, and the ability to withstand environmental stresses. Read more.


Cool Weather Crops

Regretting that you didn’t have a garden this summer? It’s not too late! Black Radishes, Rainbow Chard, and Red Russian Kale are some options for cool weather crops that you can plant this August. Read more.

The Small Farms Program’s overall vision is a future where diverse and vibrant urban and rural farms build human capacity, revitalize communities, supply regional food systems, and foster ecological resilience in a changing world. Dani Baker and David Belding, partners in Cross Island Farms, have used Small Farms Program resources to build a farm that meets this vision. Cross Island Farms currently sells organic meats, fruits, eggs, and vegetables, is powered on sustainable energy, and stemmed from a childhood dream combined with a “Building Your Small Farm Dream” workshop hosted by the SFP in 2006.

Their story and other Small Farms Program successes were recently featured in the Spring Edition of PeriodiCALS (Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Quarterly Publication) and can be read here.

For instance, we have recently focused on ensuring that traditionally underserved groups have the resources to succeed in establishing farms. With the Labor Ready Farmer Program project, we are working to provide resources for Latino agricultural employees to move up the management ladder. Additionally, we have Operation Farm Ops: Veterans in Agriculture, which offers support to veterans desiring to farm via resources, workshops, and funding. One farm participating in this program is Centurion Farm, owned and operated by military veterans Nina and Jeffrey Saeli.

“One of the most valuable resources has been going to the workshops sponsored by the local Cornell extension offices,” Nina Saeli said of her experience. “They haven’t just been informative, but also provided many opportunities to network with local farmers.”

Helping farmers to scale up is one of the greatest challenges, as each farm has its own  individual needs. One of the ways we hope to assist farmers statewide is through the Baskets to Pallets Cohort, which is designed to train educators to provide farmers the resources necessary to find and prepare for alternative markets. These include wholesale channels to grocery stores, restaurants, food hubs, and schools/institutions.

We aim to serve the diverse array of farmers and producers throughout New York State and take pride in providing resources necessary for producers to succeed. Read more about our program in the PeriodiCALS feature.


Welcome to our second installment of Small Farms’ Recommended Reading! Here you’ll find a variety of articles handpicked each week by the Small Farms team. These include resources, educational articles, and tips — all in one location for a quick browse of news in addition to our bimonthly newsletter.

This week we’re reading about daylilies — an easy perennial to add to our gardens. We’ve also included a guide to transitioning beef cattle to organic production, recent research on the addition of lime to acidic soils, and why Americans are motivated to purchase convenience food. Additionally, we’ve included resource guides for farmers market managers and local producers, and tips for pork producers to share their story via social media.

Do you have reading recommendations? Share with us using our online form.

Easy Way to Add Color to Your Summer Garden

Due to their 24-hour life span, a large bed of daylilies will greet you with fresh flowers each day. Few diseases and pests affect these flowers and the ability to be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones three through nine make the daylily a practical option for gardeners throughout the northeast. Read more.


Beef Farmer? Considering a switch to organic herd practices?

This NOFA-NY fact sheet allows you to take a quick look at the primary factors in organically produced beef and will help you in making an informed decision regarding whether to transition your herd. Read more.


Plant Phosphorus Uptake: More Complicated Than Just Adding Lime

Lime is often added to acidic soils. However, this “bread and butter” solution alone did not prove significant to phosphorus uptake in plants in an experiment conducted in extremely acidic soils in Western Kenya. Researchers are working to determine whether using lime in quantities necessary for significant difference in plant uptake will result in soil health trade-offs. Read more.


Employment and Time Constraints: Why Americans Continue Choosing Convenience Food

Why are Americans continually choosing “convenience food” (restaurant meals and ready-to-eat meals from grocery stores) rather than preparing home cooked meals? USDA economic researchers found that limited resources, such as time and budget constraints, typically lead people to purchase less nutritious, “convenience food.”  Read more.


Farmers Market Manager? Consider Partnering with Local Faith Communities

This guide for farmers market managers explains the benefit of partnering with communities which typically focus on aiding the food insecure and those in poverty and offers advice on how to approach the partnership to ensure those that need fresh food the most are able to have access. Additionally, the guide provides step-by-step goal planning, an example of creating and working toward goals featuring SNAP benefits, and ends with several case studies for your review. Read more.


Resource Guide to Bring Local Food to Local Institutions

Special events, on-site farmers markets, and employment CSAs are some of the creative ways to bring local food to work and/or educational institutions. Farmers interested in expanding to this form of localized sales can use this guide and reference case studies to explore the option. Read more.


Go Social with Pork Production

Consumers pay attention to social media — a lot of attention. This article gives five reasons and basic tips, such as to keep it simple and “make it a conversation, not just a list of facts,” to become active on social media with your pork production. Read more.

Welcome to our first installment of Small Farms’ Recommended Reading! Here you’ll find a variety of articles handpicked each week by the Small Farms team.  These will include resources, educational articles, and tips — all in one location for a quick browse of news in addition to our bimonthly newsletter.

This week we’re reading about the future of fruits and vegetables: will the supermarkets of the future contain apples with colored flesh? We’ve also included a guide to producing maple syrup in the northeast, a guide to producing and marketing organic grains, and greenhouse alternatives to growing horticultural crops. Additional articles include entomological resources for pulse crop producers, and and tips to keep your flock of chickens happy and healthy this summer.

Do you have reading recommendations? Share with us using our online form.

Fruit and Veggies of the Future: Greater Nutrient Content?

The future of the supermarket could be fruits and vegetables laden with vitamins and minerals. Gene editing via CRISPR-CAS9, without the addition of new genes (as done in genetically modified organisms) allows scientists to tweak genes within fruits and vegetables.For example, rather than the skin of an apple providing most of the nutritional value, a new apple could have colored flesh that contains even more nutrients. Read more.


Sweet Option to Diversify Farms

Maple syrup production is difficult to use as a standalone source of income, but farmers in the Northeast may want to consider it as an option to diversify their farm and draw in potential customers. This guide discusses basic knowledge of production, considerations, financing, and alternate sources of sugaring other than maple trees. Read more.


Potential Solution to Eastern Horticultural Struggles

Eastern producers of horticultural crops face more challenges than Western producers — pests, diseases, and cosmetic issues combine for a less marketable crop. High tunnels could provide a solution for Eastern producers to combat the pests and diseases. Read more.



How to Produce and Market Organic Grains

An increasing demand annually for organic grains, for both human and livestock consumption, has resulted in an increased market. Details such as buyer contracts and grain elevators equipped to deal with organic crops are vital to successfully market and sell organic grains. This guide explains basic steps to take if considering organic grain production. Read more.


Pulse Insect Problems?  Worry No More. 

A new resource for growers of pulse crops worldwide! The July issue of the “Annals of the Entomological Society of America” features nine articles dedicated to pulse crop pests. The knowledge is garnered from the 2017 Meeting of the Entomological Society of America. Read more. 



Summertime Flock Health

Chickens are extremely sensitive to heat and can health concerns and decreases in productivity. Follow these tips to keep your flock happy, healthy, and productive this summer. Read more. 


Cornell Small Farms Program is excited to announce the expansion of our team with two new additions, Nicole and Kacey. Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator, Nicole, supports SFP’s dedication to providing guidance and resources to those entering careers in farming and to those in the formative years of a newly started farms in New York State. She is specifically working with the Labor Ready Farmer project and the Farm Ops: Veterans in Agriculture project. As Communications Specialist, Kacey will be increasing visibility of SFP’s work and telling valuable stories from those that we serve. Her work will include communications, design, multimedia and more as SFP invests further in outreach strategies.

Learn more about Nicole and Kacey below:

Raised locally in Freeville, NY, Nicole joined the Small Farms Program in 2018. Her work focuses on supporting beginning farmer projects throughout the Small Farms Program. A diverse background of experiences enhances her work coordinating efforts to support farm employees and beginning farmers. Post-graduation from SUNY Albany in 2004, Nicole was certified as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in Sevilla, Spain. Upon returning to the U.S., she co-taught English lessons at a dairy farm and took a part-time position at a local winery. The part-time winery position led to a degree in enology and a six-year career as an assistant winemaker in the Finger Lakes region. She has spent the last six years coordinating grant-funded projects and supporting international students seeking graduate degrees. Nicole’s free time is spent with her son, Sawyer, who shares a passion for canoeing, camping and hiking NYS forests.


As the Small Farms Program’s first dedicated communications specialist, Kacey will work to build a storytelling and outreach strategy across the website, social media, this newsletter, and more. Kacey has worked in communications and journalism for a decade, with specialties in science and sustainability. An Upstate New York native, Kacey received her undergraduate degrees in Journalism and Environmental Studies from Ithaca College. She is excited to return to the community she has always called home, and hopes to start a small farm of her own.

Register here

Ranch Management Consultants (RMC) are currently gauging interest to hold the business school of ranching in New England. If interested, take this four question survey:

Information on the school:


RMC has a long, successful track record of equipping ranchers like you with the tools and insights to transform your ranch into a sustainable business.

The Ranching For Profit School has been recognized internationally for 35 years as THE business school of ranching. In less than a week they cover more topics more effectively than any other program in agriculture. You’ll learn how to apply economic and financial principles to increase your profit, manage debt and improve cash flow. You’ll learn how to manage grazing to improve soil health and increase carrying capacity without increasing labor or input costs. You’ll take home tools to manage drought and build a resilient business that can withstand risk. You’ll learn how to increase personal effectiveness, build a cohesive team and draft a succession plan to successfully transition your ranch to future generations. More info found here.

by Meg Grzeskiewicz, On Pasture

Strong, written contracts can prevent some of the Boneheaded Business Blunders I made in my early years of ranching. My previous two articles have covered every brutally specific detail that I should have included in my former land lease contracts. This month I’m running down everything that needs to be in a custom grazing contract.

In the past I have made contracts too short and simple, in an effort to avoid overwhelming potential partners. I wanted them to think that working with me would be stress-free and easy. But in the years that followed, those contracts proved ineffective at solving disputes and protecting us from one another. Now I don’t hesitate to hand people 5-page contracts. The kind of people I want to work with will welcome the security of a strong contract and respect me for making sure my bases are covered.

These are just my thoughts and I am not a lawyer.

Before signing a lease contract, you should have your lawyer look it over and ask them if you have forgotten anything important! The legal fees are worth avoiding potentially expensive future issues. If you have not worked with an agricultural lawyer up to this point, definitely make contact with one. Using other people’s land and/or caring for other people’s livestock is legally risky! Even if you think you’re getting along really well with your potential partner right now, and you trust them to be fair to you, a lot can change over the length of a multi-year contract.


Here’s a sample contract you can download and work off to build your own.

My custom grazing contract starts out with an introduction that includes an effective date for the contract, and the names and contact information for both parties (individuals or legal entities).  It states that the Grazier, as an independent contractor, will utilize land that they lease or own to graze and care for cattle owned by the Owner.

1. Terms of the Agreement – Starting, Duration and Ending

My contract begins on the delivery date of the Owner’s cattle to the Grazier’s land and remains valid for one year from that date. You can change this to whatever length of time that you want. Some contracts just continue until someone decides to terminate it. This is nice for flexibility reasons, but it’s hard to make future plans for your business if your source of income could simply disappear at any time.

For a custom grazing contract, I like a one-year or one growing season deal that can be renewed annually. Land leases need to be a little longer, because it takes a lot more time and work to switch farms than it does to buy or sell or move livestock. You need more security when it comes to your land base, so I prefer a 3-year land lease.

If you’re starting a new deal with a new partner, be careful about committing for too long a term. If they turn out to be a nightmare to work with, or if you realize you need to switch gears in your operation, you don’t want to be trapped for another five years.

The contract must state procedures for renewal or termination. I require a written renewal to be signed no less than 90 days before the end of the current contract, or it will terminate at the end of the current term. This gives me time to make plans for switching groups of cattle, managing cash flow, and making new deals.

See 1.5 in this section? The contract includes, as an appendix, a listing of ear tag numbers for each animal of the Owner’s that is on the Grazier’s land. Any time animals are born, delivered or removed, this listing must be updated within 30 days.

Why this extra detail? I heard of a case a few years ago in which a dishonest custom grazier was secretly taking an owner’s cattle to the sale barn and pocketing the money. The owner caught on when a significant number of cattle in his inventory records could not be located.

Herd inventory is especially important with large herds. Putting color, age, sex, breed and other distinguishing traits on the listing helps ensure that no switching of ear tags takes place. Theft and fraud can also be combatted by requiring proof when a grazier reports an animal as dead. The owner can either require a photograph showing the ear tag or may elect to visit the grazier to inspect the carcass.

2. Compensation

Here’s my compensation language:

The owner will be responsible for paying the grazier:

Husbandry fees of $1.25 per head per day (a “head” being defined as a bovine over one year of age) on days when no hay is fed, and $1.00 per head per day on days when hay is fed. The owner must also reimburse the Grazier for all direct livestock expenses, which include but aren’t limited to hay, hay transport, mineral, salt, ear tags, medication, veterinary bills, livestock trucking, breeding expenses and pregnancy checks.

The Owner must ensure that the Grazier receives the full balance of the outstanding bill within 15 days after receiving an invoice from the Grazier. If/when the contract is terminated, the Owner must remove all livestock prior to the last day of the contract.

3. Insurance

Insurance is another important topic. The Grazier needs to have a general liability policy, and needs to list the Owner as an additional insured party. The Grazier does not provide livestock insurance on the Owner’s cattle. If the Owner wants livestock loss coverage, they must purchase their own. Both parties need to make sure that their insurance agents understand the deal and are able to provide effective coverage.

4. Liability and Risk of Loss

This section is about making sure the Owner knows about problems with stock. Specify what kind of communication are acceptable for “giving notice” of things required in the contract. Is texting or e-mail okay, or does written notice have to be mailed? Do verbal phone agreements stand, or must everything be written? I definitely recommend that everything be recorded in some written form. I save text messages, Facebook messages and e-mails from my contract partners. Not doing this in the past has caused me monumental headaches in “he said she said” situations.

Rights and Responsibilities

This part of the contract outlines what each party agrees to do as part of the contract. The first paragraph in this section is important because it provides an “escape clause” should one of the parties not hold up his/her end of the bargain.

5. Owner’s responsibilities

The primary responsibility of the owner is to promptly pay invoices.

6. Owner’s Rights

With responsibilities come rights. In my contract I’ve listed the owner’s right to visit the property where livestock are housed to make sure that the grazier is in compliance with the terms of the contract.

7. Grazier Responsibilities

The Grazier has a long list of responsibilities to fulfill primarily based on the management section. Check out my sample contract to see what I include.

Not that in 7.12 I include the kinds of records I will keep, including grazing charts, medical records and herd records. Be sure you are clear on what kinds of records must be kept to avoid any disagreements.

8. Livestock Management

I start by being clear that the Grazier has the right to make all livestock management decisions. This is another really important statement! Graziers should cooperate with Owners to decide on production practices that both parties are happy with, but not let the Owner dictate how the Grazier’s farm or business is run. That would make it more of a partnership or boss-employee relationship. The Grazier must have the ability to change management practices at any time whenever needed.

Next in this section, I lay out specifically how the cattle on my operation will be managed, and state that my adherence to these practices cannot be interpreted as negligence and cannot be considered grounds for termination of the contract. I describe my practices and rules for things like castration, breeding, antibiotic use, grazing, diet, calving, night checks, culling, and more.

Laying out this detail is important. Just because you think something is normal and acceptable does not guarantee that the cattle owner will think so too. For example, I do not mechanically wean calves. I allow them to stay with their mothers and they stop nursing when their mothers dry off. I don’t even think about it anymore. But for a lot of cattle producers, the thought of not weaning calves is insane. They might freak out if I tell them seven months after calving that I’m not weaning their calves.

If you are the Owner and are selling livestock or livestock products into a marketing program with production rules, make sure the contract requires your custom grazier to keep your herd in compliance with the program. Be sure to include that you have the right to visit your livestock

Don’t ever assume the other party in your deal is going to do something a certain way. Even if you don’t record every painstaking detail in writing, make sure you discuss everything before signing anything.

9. Relationship of Parties

In this section we agree once more on the relationship between Owner and Grazier.

The “independent contractor” part of the contract is important. During my ill-fated year of custom grazing without a contract, the owner of the cattle did not recognize my custom grazing activities as being separate from my work as an employee of a beef company they owned. As a result, the owner wanted a lot more control over my business and my production practices than I was willing to grant.

I learned that your contract needs to say that the Owner has no right to control, direct or supervise you, the Grazier, in carrying out the contract terms. The contract does not create any partnership, employment or joint venture.

10. Waiver

This section says, in fancy legal terms, that just because somebody doesn’t enforce some certain provision or exercise some right they have under the contract, that doesn’t void all or part of the contract. Changes can be made to the contract during a term, by way of both parties signing an amended contract. The written contract in question comprises the entirety of the agreement between the Owner and Grazier and supersedes all prior oral or written deals concerning the subject of the agreement.

What I Forgot

One thing that should have been in my last contract is that the Grazier has no obligation to market the Owner’s livestock. I was willing to help my herd owner find buyers for cattle on my farm that he wanted to sell, but I did not want sole responsibility for that task. The owner saw marketing as one of my duties as the custom grazier. This was a topic that we hadn’t discussed and the contract was not clear about whose job it was.

It didn’t end up being a problem, but it was still a concerning oversight that could have become a problem between different people. To avoid these situations in the future my contracts will include this sentence something like this: “This contract covers everything that the grazier agrees to do. Anything not written down here is not the responsibility of the grazier.”


At the end of the contract, both parties sign above their printed names and roles in their legal entities. You may also have a witness sign if desired. For extra protection, you may want to sign in the presence of a notary, and/or put the contract on public record with your county clerk.



As Northern New York farmers scout corn and soybean fields for any diseases that may impact crop health and yield, they can use five years’ worth of survey results as a guide to newly-emerging and common crop pathogens in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

The corn and soybean disease survey project is funded by the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. In addition to identifying current areas of concern and trends, the project provides regional farmers with the expertise of Cornell Cooperative Extension specialists who scout 12 sentinel fields of corn and 21 sentinel fields of soybeans. These fields on Northern New York Farms represent different soils and growing conditions, and a variety of cropping practices.

Fields are assessed at various stages of crop growth. The Bergstrom Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has cultured and analyzed field samples since 2013.

“Multi-year surveys better capture variations in weather from year-to-year, from a wet spring to drought in the past five years. The data helps farmers make more informed corn and soybean variety selections, evaluate soil and crop debris for potential problems, and plan management strategy,” said project leader and Cornell plant pathologist Dr. Gary C. Bergstrom, Ithaca, N.Y.

This disease survey project was started in 2013 as the first systematic assessment of corn and soybean diseases conducted in Northern New York in recent decades.

Results of the most recent NNY corn disease survey by county is online at

A statewide soybean disease survey is online at

For more information, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Field Crop Specialists Kitty O’Neil, 315-854-1218, and Mike Hunter, 315-788-8450.

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