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News from the Cornell Small Farms Program, Winter 2021

We are excited to announce an expansion of our team with three new additions: Jamie, Molly and Nina. Each has been involved in our program’s work in some way over the years, and we are glad to now have them as formal members of our team. 

Jamie Johnson will be the first dedicated multimedia assistant on the Cornell Small Farms Program team. He has worked with us since 2017 to support storytelling about our Farm Ops project. In this new role, he will be expanding video and audio content produced by the program. His work will include filming educational videos for online classes, profiles of farmers working with our programs, and managing the production of a new podcast. 

Molly Riordan worked with us from 2015-2017 as the Urban Agriculture Specialist leading the research and writing of The Promise of Urban Agriculture. She is rejoining our team for the next phase of our Urban Ag project, which includes curriculum development. Her work will illustrate how policymakers, city planners, and urban growers can create thriving urban agricultural communities, and invest in an equitable and sustainable food system. 

Nina Saeli spent the majority of her adult life moving around the county during military service. She moved to Central NY in 2013 to work as a public health preparedness coordinator, and in 2015 she and her husband began developing their farm business in the rural community of Locke after participating in one of our Farm Ops project’s trainings. Now, Nina is joining our team as a veterans project associate to assist other veterans interested in exploring opportunities in farming. 

Urban Ag Project Developing Curriculum to Support Producers, Planners and Policymakers 

Our Urban Ag project has partnered with USDA-AMS Marketing Services Division and Rooted, the Madison, WI-based center for urban agriculture enterprise and education, to collaborate and develop classes for commercial urban agriculturists, city planners, and policymakers. 

The project is informed by our publication, The Promise of Urban Agriculture, a national study of commercial farming in urban areas released in 2019. We are working with Rooted to revisit findings from the study to develop training to support urban agriculturists, city planners, and urban policymakers to successfully integrate commercial urban farming into city landscapes that promote racial equity and community. Over the next 18 months, the team will build and pilot training online and in-person.  

Our project “Realizing the Promise of Urban Agriculture” is funded by a USDA-AMS Cooperative Agreement, which also funded the original report. This Urban Ag project represents an innovative approach to urban agriculture by addressing planners and policymakers, as well as farmers, taking a holistic approach to support robust urban farming businesses and communities. 

Visit the Urban Ag project page for more information at: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/urban-ag/ 

Register Now for New Learning Opportunities This Year 

Our new season of online courses is almost halfway through, and now’s the time to register for our 10 block three courses which begin the week of January 11. Upcoming courses include farm business courses, and production courses covering beekeeping, mushrooms, sheep and more.  

We also have a new offering this January, a 5-week course on Social Media for Farmers (BF 205) to help you build your farm’s online audience. Check out this, and all of our online courses, at smallfarmcourses.com. 

 Another 4 courses start at the end of February, covering a range of topics such as grazing management, indoor mushroom production, soil health and more. 

You can register at any time, even after the courses have begun for the year. You can even register once they’ve ended and take them as completely self-paced courses. For more details and to register, visit:https://smallfarmcourses.com/ 

Reduced Tillage Project Uncovers Tarping Impacts for Organic Vegetable Farmers  

Over the last six years, our Reduced Tillage project has used an ongoing, long-term permanent bed research trial to answer questions about tarping to help us reduce tillage in organic vegetables. We manage a sequence of crops over multiple years and roll out different tarping and tillage practices side-by-side. It turns into a complicated management matrix where we compare tilled tarped plots to no-till tarped and all of it to untarped ground. Some tillage is deep, intensive, and makes a clean slate, some is as shallow as we can go — then we ask if tarps can take care of the rest. Tarps are just plastic, not a source of organic matter, so we’re also looking at what happens when combined with compost and mulch. Along the way, we’ve been partnering with the University of Maine to have parallel trials.  

Our experiment continued to move forward this year with support from NE SARE. This summer we put a beet crop in our rotation for the first time. Data piled up, we pulled out a beautiful beet crop in early August, and we donated most of the harvest, more than five tons, through local and regional outlets. The field was seeded to an oat-pea cover crop in preparation for planting early next spring and we’ve reflected on some of our trial observations this year.   

We’ve learned to not rely on tarping alone to control weeds and we are always prepared to do some hand weeding. Labor was in shorter supply for us this year, strained by COVID-19. So, as we add up our recorded weeding labor hours, we’ll have yet another lens to view how tarping affects farm labor. Now we’re feeling grateful for our rains this fall to support a strong cover crop and to soften the ground for soil sampling, but we won’t forget the extremely dry and hot summer we all struggled through. It’s one of those unforeseen pieces, as there’s always something. What we do know is that both tarps and tillage can drive changes in soil moisture, which may help us tell part of the story behind our beet yields. 

Learn more about our research on the Reduced Tillage project page at: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/reduced-tillage/ 

Helping Farmers Become Labor Ready through Relationships and Resources  

Through the work of our Labor Ready project, we aim to create pathways to management and farm ownership for Latino/Latina farmers. Recently, the Labor Ready project has completed work with two Spanish-speaking Smart Farming Teams (SFT). Miguel Saviroffan agricultural consultant and farm financial specialist, consulted with two separate orchard owners in the Western New York Lake Ontario Fruit region for the projects. In line with the greater initiative of the Labor Ready project, Miguel collaborated with both farm owners to address management related issues within their orchard businesses. However, these particular Spanish-speaking Smart Farming Teams had parallel objectives of increasing confidence in English language farm terminology and overall financial literacy. 

The monumental impact of the Smart Farming Teams through one-on-one consulting to address on-farm labor and management related issues is clearly articulated through Miguel’s work in WNY. Furthermore, the Labor Ready Project and our program as a whole, values the importance of LatinX leadership within the agricultural community.  

 Work is currently underway to create widely sharable resources for both English and Spanish-speaking farmers looking to pursue further skills in labor and farm financial management. The resources will include testimonial videos as well as, a Spanish-English pocket guide to farm financial terminology.  

 The creation of materials for Spanish-speaking audiences, by Latino authors, should not be overlooked, but emphasized as essential to the advancement of this community within the larger agricultural system. In the coming year the Small Farms Program will share the glossary widely, celebrate and recognize the authors, and continue to create further pathways to success for Spanish-speaking farm employees. 

Once complete, all resources will live on the Labor Ready project website at: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/labor-ready 

Kacey Deamer

Kacey is the Cornell Small Farms Program’s communications specialist. 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.