Incubator Program to Support Beginning Farmers at CCE Tioga’s Hilltop Community Farm

There are many ways to learn about farming, and in recent years the number of online learning and digital resources available has drastically increased. But hands-on training offers something special. The experience and knowledge gained can help beginning farmers launch their careers, from growing vegetables to raising livestock, and more. 

One such opportunity is being developed by the Cornell Cooperative Extension team of Tioga County. Their new Hilltop Community Farm will provide beginning farmers assistance in a variety of ways, including an incubator farm for folks getting started in agriculture. The Cornell Small Farms Program team was recently invited to take an introductory tour to learn more about what’s to come. 

Livestock stable at Hilltop Community Farm. Jamie Johnson / Cornell Small Farms Program

The Hilltop Community Farm is a 107-acre farm owned by CCE Tioga. As the most significant land owned by a Cornell Cooperative Extension office, it consists of large farmland, several livestock stables, and three ponds. Before team members of CCE Tioga spent two years raising funding to purchase this land, it was operated as a dairy farm and an equine center. As explained by T Hanson, Executive Director of CCE Tioga, to honor the history of this farm, they decided to keep the livestock farming facilities, which include a large and brand new indoor riding arena with rubber footing and several warm rooms, and take advantage of those for opportunities to hold big agricultural events and in-person training sessions. 

The primary goal of Hilltop Community Farm is to help beginning farmers who lack finance, land, and/or training, to get basic agricultural knowledge to ensure they can start a profitable farming business on their own. They want to introduce climate-smart agriculture techniques to new farmers as well, such as the solar grazing system and food forest garden. 

They also plan to collaborate with 4-H communities to build connections with local schools to provide opportunities for children to connect positively with the environment and grow their interests in agriculture in an engaging and safe setting. 

As they plan to open to the public officially in spring 2023, Hilltop Community Farm is looking to bring in an initial group of farmers to participate in the incubator. They hope to train four vegetable crop farmers, three livestock farmers, and one specialty crop farmer. Each farmer will be provided suitable land for their production.

CCE Tioga members describe their food forest garden plan. Jamie Johnson / Cornell Small Farms Program

In the planned three-year tenure on the farm, staff from CCE Tioga will provide new farmers with land access and farming facilities with small-scale, climate-smart agriculture techniques. New farmers will also build mentorship with experienced farmers throughout the training. 

New farmers will not only be trained on techniques of growing crops and raising livestock, but also the business plan development and the marketing strategies. After their incubator period is completed, the staff at CCE Tioga will work with each farmer to build a sustainable farm business and provide technical assistance to help them acquire land, either through purchase or a lease agreement, to ensure their continuing success in farming. 

By the end of the three years, new farmers should have the tools they need to succeed in a farming career. The hope is that Hilltop Community Farm can become a positive force in regenerative agriculture throughout the state.

In order to contribute to the diversity in local agriculture, CCE Tioga has also consulted with local farmers of various backgrounds, including Amish, Afghan, and indigenous Peruvian farmers for feedback on this incubator farm plan. They plan to look for more participation from farmers from diverse backgrounds as the farm progresses.

T Hanson told the Small Farms team that one of the biggest challenges is always to get more new farmers joining. As the opening days are approaching, she hopes more beginning farmers could join the upcoming events and take advantage of this program to explore the tremendous potential for small-scale, diversified farms in Tioga County and become the new blood of the county’s farmer group.

You can visit their website for more information about the farm incubator program at Hilltop Community Farm, located at 343 Cass Hill Road in Candor, NY.

Yidi Wang

Yidi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in Psychology. She is interested in exploring how different subjects can serve as an artistic method and combine with psychology to contribute to the variety of therapeutic approaches. Her family has been participating in the local collaborated farms at Schenectady for many years. During the pandemic, she noticed that the farm work not only served as a way of planting and harvesting but also brought residents a sense of achievement and became a great way of relaxation and reducing the pressure and loneliness due to isolation. As an Army Veteran, she also hopes to support the Veteran group’s mental health by providing opportunities for them to use their agricultural skills from the military.
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