Cornell Small Farms Program Update Winter 2019

News from the Cornell Small Farm Program

A Growing Team

The Cornell Small Farms Program has experienced incredible growth in the last year, including the addition of three new team members. Over the summer we welcomed Nicole Waters and Kacey Deamer. Nicole joined us as the Beginning Farmer Coordinator, which has her working on our “Labor Ready Farmer” project and our work supporting veterans in agriculture. Kacey is our first Communications Specialist, and has been working on our storytelling and outreach strategy across the website, social media, newsletter, and more. Then this fall we welcomed another new team member, Shaun Bluethenthal, as our new Veteran Program Associate. Shaun is helping to broaden our work with farmer-veterans.

Expanding Our Reach

With the growth of our team, we have launched pilot programming to further support farmers in New York. Under the Labor Ready Project, we opened the “Master Class for Bilingual Crew Members” in partnership with the CCE Lake Ontario Fruit Program, GrowNYC’s FARMroots, and ESL Works. This series of seven classes is designed as a professional development and communication training course for bilingual orchard crew members. Training outcomes include increased confidence in English-language communication, people skills and overall business acumen. Benefits to growers is an essential component of the Labor Ready project. As such, owners play an integral role in the program, helping to shape training outcomes and providing feedback throughout the program. The Master Class series helps growers increase on-farm efficiency, save money and retain their very best employees. The first Master Class series was held through November and December 2018, with eight participating farms.

We continue to help farmers improve their technical and business skills by offering more than 20 online courses. Most courses are six weeks long, and each week features an evening webinar with follow-up readings, videos, and activities. Students and their instructors connect through online forums and live chat. More than 300 students have enrolled in the 2018-2019 course season thus far.
Our next block of courses starts the week of February 25:

  • BF 103: Taking Care of Business
  • BF 110: Soil Health
  • BF 153: Indoor Specialty Mushroom Cultivation
  • BF 160: Introduction to Beekeeping
  • BF 202: Writing a Business Plan
  • BF 220: Season Extension with High Tunnels
  • BF 231: Grazing Management

Course tuition entitles two people from a farm to attend, and discounts are available for early registration and registering for multiple courses. The registration deadline is Sunday, February 17 at 11:59 p.m. Check out the listings at for more information on a particular course and the instructors.

With the expansion of the Cornell Small Farms Program, we have also grown our list of advisors. In the fall we brought together a group of farmers, educators, ag service providers and others from around the state for a day of discussions about small farm viability in New York. A few key trends emerged from these conversations, which will help direct some of our program’s efforts in the coming year.

One main topic of conversation was developing business skills, both for small farm owners and farm employees. Professional development helps new and established farm owners become better managers and gives farm workers the skills they need to advance in management or prepare for farm ownership. Our program will work to strengthen the agriculture workforce through programming like the Master Class mentioned above.

New technologies and “digital ag” were also discussed. This ranged from better utilization of the technology available on a cell phone, to the potential of sensors and robotics to support small farm management. Building a successful small farm business involves innovating to streamline labor, improve productivity and increase access to markets. We want to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in small-scale farming.

Diversity was also a key topic, as our group discussed that the next generation of farmers is younger, more diverse in gender, ethnicity and race, and focused on resilient farming practices. Our program will continue to work to foster diversity among our New York farmers to new types of training programs.

We here at the Cornell Small Farms Program try to anticipate and respond to these and other emerging needs. Working closely with our Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and other partners, we will continue providing farmers across sectors and enterprises with quality educational resources, training and decision-making tools.

Local Farms Test Tarping

In this issue you’ll find the published research of Haley Rylander, a masters student working with the reduced tillage project of the Cornell Small Farms Program. Haley has also been visiting with farmers who have taken an active role in her research. Three of these farms are local to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, NY: Centurion Farm, Muddy Fingers Farm, and Ploughbreak Farm.

These farmers used tarps for different lengths of time and on different crops, with whatever pre- or post-treatment of the soil they chose.  They used a tarp over a number of beds and compared weed pressure and yield to that of un-tarped beds nearby.

From talking with these farmers about their experience with the trials, we have found some common themes. One of which is that tarps hold soil moisture at an ideal level. Another benefit of tarps is their ability to suppress weeds. Nina Saeli from Centurion Farm said that the weed suppression alone makes the tarps worth using.

“I timed myself when I weeded, on the tarped beans, it literally took me more time to walk the beds to look for weeds than it took me to actually weed,” Nina said. “On the un-tarped side with the beans, it was much more difficult, and I spent a lot more time weeding … once I let that side get a little away from me, I was on my hands and knees pulling those weeds up when I was not doing that on the tarped side.”

The farmers say there is definitely a learning curve in terms of figuring out how to incorporate tarps into their cropping plans and determining which crops and timings work best on their farms. In general, prepping beds before tarping seems to have the most positive effects, as tilling after tarping brings up more weed seeds.

Tarps are no miracle solution to eliminate tillage and weeds, but growers seem excited about using them and learning more about the benefits they can provide in a small farming system.

You can contact Haley for more information about her research at

Securing the Future of the Livestock Industry

The Cornell Small Farms Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted its biennial NY Small Farm Summits in March 2017, with a focus on the opportunities to grow the New York livestock industry.

Livestock production in NY contributes $893 million in sales to the rural New York economy, and most animals are raised on small farms. Demand far outstrips supply for NY meat and livestock, so there is room for growth, but there are a number of hurdles to livestock farmers’ success.

The goal of the statewide Summit was to prioritize research, education or other investments needed to support the viability of livestock producers in New York. Over 85% of the farmers involved in this Summit believe the New York livestock sector has potential for growth, and most farms (73%) have seen gross revenue from sales of livestock products increase over the last five years. With this optimism and growth, the farmers also noted specific research and extension needs that would address constraints to scaling up production.

Information gathered from the Summit, surveys, and further research on the livestock industry is now available as a full report, “Securing the Future of the New York State Livestock Industry.” The report focuses on the investments in research, education and marketing infrastructure that are needed if New York is to take advantage of its resources to expand the livestock sector. The full report can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF from the Cornell Small Farms Program website:

Kacey Deamer

Kacey is the Communications Manager for the Cornell Small Farms Program. In this role, she manages all storytelling and outreach across the program’s website, social media, e-newsletter, magazine and more. Kacey has worked in communications and journalism for more than a decade, with a primary focus on science and sustainability.

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