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Wild edible mustards.
Photo courtesy of CCE Columbia and Greene Counties Agroforestry Research Center.

Edible Weeds from Farm to Market is a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) funded project of CCE Columbia and Greene Counties Agroforestry Research Center. The project is researching the use and marketability of edible weeds as supplemental farm crops. A free resource guide will be developed for farmers on how (and why) to add edible weeds to their harvest lists. Many common weeds that growers battle with, such as purslane, lamb’s quarters, and pigweed amaranth, are the very ones popping up on restaurant menus and at farmers’ markets.

The market potential for edible weeds is expanding. Some farmers are well-positioned to take advantage of this supplemental income. Are you a farmer in the Northeast interested or experienced in selling wild foods from your farm? If so, take a few minutes to fill out this survey by December 31, 2018. 

To learn more about this project, visit The survey results, combined with a literature review and interviews, will be used to create the resource guide and be available to farmers through the Northeast. To get involved, contact Tusha Yakovleva at There are various ways to participate and any input about the intersections of agriculture and wild foods is welcomed.

Ticks have become a “significant public health issue in New York” and the population has recently spiked. A warming climate and changes in land use can increase risk to tick exposure. Ticks are vectors of many diseases for both humans and animals, and a new species of tick, “the longhorned tick,” was spotted over the summer in Westchester County.

New York State Integrated Pest Management has a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions to help you protect yourself and your livestock from ticks, and know what to do if you find them. Additionally, Western New York CCE is hosting a Tick Awareness Forum this January to gain awareness of tick-borne diseases in New York State and better understand management options to reduce the risk of human-tick encounters.

Learn more about tick risks and management with NY Integrated Pest Management.

The Cornell Small Farms Program will be attending several conferences in early 2019. From presentations of our research to special events, you can connect with the our team and fellow farmers at the conferences listed below.

New York State Vegetable Growers Association  2019 Empire State Producer’s Expo

Reduced Tillage Project: Ryan Maher, Brian Caldwell, & Haley Rylander
Tuesday, January 15, 2019 10:45 am – 12:00 pm

Attend the Soil Health Sessions at the 2019 Empire State Producers Expo to learn how you can use cover cropping and reduced tillage practices in vegetables. Learn from experienced farmers that have adapted tools and systems to work for their farm, the benefits they have seen, and the challenges they still face. Get a below ground look at cover crops, hear about successes with organic reduced tillage on small farms, and follow the state-wide effort to support farmers in adopting soil health practices. Come to think through strategies that will work to reduce inputs and improve soil productivity on your farm.


Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York Climate of Change Conference

Farm Ops: Veterans in Agriculture: Dean Koyanagi and Shaun Bluethenthal
Friday, January 18, 2019 4:00 pm

The National Center of Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the Cornell Small Farms Program are hosting a farmer veteran meet-up at the NOFA-NY 2019 Winter Conference on January 18th, 2019 at 4:00pm. NCAT runs the Armed to Farm program, a week-long intensive training for military veterans, and is building a network of farmer veterans throughout the country. The meet-up will be a chance for NY farmer veterans to connect with each other, discuss available trainings, and explore opportunities for cooperation.


Half-Day Intensive: Tarps, Tillage and Time: What’s Happening with your Soils and Weeds?
Saturday, January 19, 2019 8:00 am – 10:45 am

Using black tarps in crop management can reduce tillage, reduce weed pressure, increase crop yield, and preserve prepared soil for weeks or even months prior to planting. Learn about research results and farmer experiences on best strategies to integrate tarping into vegetable systems. Come prepared to have a deep discussion, share your own successes and challenges, and think through the next steps for better tarping on your farm.


Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture Annual Conference

Beginner Farmer Learning Network: Erica Frenay
Saturday, February 9 7:30 am – 4:00 pm

This annual meeting is an opportunity for all farm service providers to learn from each other and discuss the successes and challenges they encounter as they support beginning farmers through their first 10 years of business. The morning program integrates with the full conference. The group will meet together for lunch and through the afternoon.


The Cornell Small Farms Program’s 2018-2019 season of online courses is underway, and it’s time to start planning your educational opportunities for the new year!

So register now to learn about woodland mushrooms, markets and profits, fruit trees, financial planning, and commercial sheep. Registration closes for block three on Sunday, January 6 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Block Three Courses Start the Week of January 14

Markets and Profits 

Have an idea for a farm enterprise but not sure if it’s feasible? This online course will help you explore the potential markets and profitability of your ideas. It is perfect for beginning farmers in their first few years of production who are looking for help exploring marketing, developing budgets, and exploring tools to help achieve profitability.


Veggie Farming Part 2- Season-Long Care to Harvest

This follow-up to our Veggie Farming Planning course will cover vegetable production from transplanting to harvest, including information on in-season fertility, integrated pest management, weed control, harvesting strategies, and tips for marketing your products. Be prepared to create an in-season fertility and pest/weed control plan as part of this course.


Woodland Mushroom Cultivation


Many new farmers get started with poultry because it’s a relatively low-investment enterprise with a fairly quick revenue turnaround. The margins can be slim though, and farmers need to develop the necessary skillset to produce a product that is both safe and profitable. This course will help you get started in building a successful poultry enterprise.


Holistic Financial Planning

Struggling to make your farm operation profitable without driving yourself into the ground? This financial planning course will help you with the delicate act of balancing healthy profits with healthy land, a healthy farm family and personal life. This course is intended for farmers with at least one season of experience and some record income and expenses.


Tree Fruit Production

Planting and management of apple and other tree fruit orchards is a rewarding hobby and business, but important considerations must be met to ensure success. This course’s content includes site selection and management, rootstock and cultivar selection, orchard systems, pest and nutrient management, and harvest considerations.


Commercial Sheep Production

Have sheep or thinking about getting a flock? Producers of all experience levels will learn something in this course, from production to marketing, processing, and sales of lamb and sheep products. There is no one right way to raise sheep — just a palette of options for you to choose from, to suit your farming objectives and lifestyle.


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. If you aren’t able to attend the webinars in real-time, they are always recorded for later viewing.

You can check out the listings on our site for more information on a particular course and the instructors. Course tuition entitles two people from a farm to attend. Discounts for early sign-up and multiple course sign-ups are also available. Learn more about registration, payment, computer requirements, and more on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

The Farm Ops project of the Cornell Small Farms Program provides expertise and community for veterans interested in agriculture across New York State. Connecting veterans with the Armed to Farm conference is often a first step in providing agricultural training and farm tours. If veterans want to make the transition into farming, the Small Farms Program provides a central location to the program with Marine Veteran Dean Koyanagi heading up the Farm Ops program.

Logan Yarbrough served as s Staff Sgt. and a light infantry squad leader in the Army from 2007-15. He raises meat goats on a 40-acre farm in Brooktondale, NY.
Credit: Lindsay France

Grants, workshops, reduced rates for online classes, regional networking, and other resources all aid veteran farmers throughout the state. A recent article in the Cornell Chronicle tells the stories of several veterans that have benefited from Farm Ops.

Logan Yarbrough, Army veteran, has a 40 acre goat farm in Brooktondale, NY. He knows he made a 30% profit margin after Farm Ops set him up with a free accounting consultation with Tompkins County CCE. Regional networking proved instrumental when from a simple forwarded email came with thousands of dollars of equipment from a retiring goat farmer in the area.

Retired U.S. Army colonel John Lemondes, of Chautauqua County, helped launch the New York chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. This nonprofit assists veterans in land acquisition, financing, and other factors in agricultural operation. Veterans can tap into both the Farmer Veteran Coalition and Cornell Small Farms Program Farm Ops when starting their farm.

Veterans often find farming a satisfying career; a high-risk, ever changing business requiring tough, hands-on labor is often a challenging and rewarding transition. Farm Ops has already trained over 800 veterans in the last three years and offer continuous support to veteran farmers.


In celebration of Veterans Day, a number of other news outlets reported on the work of our Farm Ops program. Read more:

Cornell Farm Ops sets up NYS veterans for success, Cornell Chronicle

           See also Oneida Daily Dispatch.

Finding New Farmers, The Highlands Current

Farm Ops program gives veteran farmers a boost,

Learn how Army veterans are in the farming business thanks to Cornell program, Ithaca Journal

This Veteran Learned the Value of American Wool in the Army. Now He’s Raising His Own Sheep, Civil Eats

Working the Soil, Reconnecting to Life After Service, Spectrum News

A journey from pain to purpose: A local veteran finds peace on a farm, WXXI News

Military member mulls farm career, Watertown Daily Times

From Rifles to Radishes: Cornell Program Helps Veterans Farm, Cornell Daily Sun

Program helping veterans transition into farming, Rochester First

            See also My Twin Tiers

Cornell Farm Ops program helps vets transition into farming, Local Syracuse



Gabriel describes the farm’s mushroom operation. Credit: Jonathan Miller/Einaudi Center

Agroforestry extension specialist, Steve Gabriel, works for the Cornell Small Farms Program in addition to owning and operating Wellspring Forest Farm and School with his wife, Elizabeth. Their farm and school run on ecologically conscious agroforestry principles, where each final product they sell is dependent on another aspect of their farm. Their principles of farming in an interconnected system depend on the idea that “everything in nature is connected.”

Wellspring Forest Farm and School was chosen as a project example in the Ithaca area for the first Ecological Learning Collaboratory. The Collaboratory was an opportunity for attendees from around the world to learn about alternate ways to farm and to share information about

Steve Gabriel of Wellspring Forest Farm in Trumansburg, New York, describes the farm’s erosion control measures. Credit: Jonathan Miller/Einaudi Center

practices from the global north and the global south as a cross-culture collaboration. The event shared different ecologically sound farming principles that have institutional support through faculty at Cornell University. Faculty involved have focuses in health, food, livelihoods, environmental sustainability, and social justice. The intersection of how all these things can work together was demonstrated through visits to the Ithaca area projects.

Steve and Elizabeth Gabriel’s farm is just one example of the diverse and vibrant farms throughout New York State. To learn more about other initiatives and the Collaboratory event, check out this article from the Cornell Chronicle.



If you haven’t already seen the impact of climate change in your area, you can now. A  new tool allows users to view change in climate by county, thanks to work by the Cornell Center for Climate Smart Farming and Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions . The tool should be particularly useful to educators, gardeners, farmers, and researchers.

“We’ve talked to farmers and they’ve asked us for how the climate has changed in their specific location,” Allison Chatrchyan, director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, told the Cornell Chronicle. “We know that people can relate more to climate change when the impacts are seen locally and personally.”

The Climate Change in Your County Tool is the culmination of years of data from the Northeast Region Climate Center located in Ithaca. The data, from 1950-2013, shows an overall trend of upward temperatures despite some outlier years and counties. For example, Tompkins County where the Small Farms Program is located, shows an average of 0.2° F per year from 1950 to 2013, and an increased average of 0.6° F per year from 1980 to 2013.

The tool has features other than temperature record. There is an option to see the change in growing season (Tompkins County has an average of 4.1 more days per decade), growing degree days, average high and low temperatures, and number of days over 90° F in a year. The tool is still considered the “beta version,” so there could be more features available in the future.

Want to see the change in your county? Access the tool here.   




If you head out to the Homer C. Thompson Research Farm in Freeville, NY, you’ll find a field filled with permanent beds in the organic section of the farm. These beds have been under trial for four years using different combinations of tarps, mulches, and tillage depths to discover the ideal system for an organic vegetable farmer who desires to reduce their tillage without succumbing to weed pressure. Years of meticulous planning and carrying out of the experiment have led to results that farmers in the northeast can implement.

Permanent beds in Freeville, NY.

The results of the four-year trial will be shared at the Farmer to Farmer Conference hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). On Monday, November 5, 2018. The Small Farms staff and a representative from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension will be presenting at the Permanent Bed Session. The Freeville experiment was duplicated in both Maine and Michigan to test the effects of the methods across various climates and better serve farmers throughout the northeast based on their region.

Learn more about our research using the permanent bed system, as well as general methods to reduce tillage in vegetables on our project website. More resources include past Small Farm Quarterly articles: Strip Tillage and Cover Crops and Take Me Out to a Tarped Field, both written by Ryan Maher and Brian Caldwell of the Small Farms Program.

Recently, a resource handbook on reducing tillage in organic systems was produced, including a section by Ryan Maher on zone tillage systems.

If you would like to hear exciting results firsthand, consider registering for the MOFGA Farmer to Farmer Conference being held November 3-5 in Northport, Maine. And be sure to attend the Small Farms Program’s Permanent Bed System presentation on Monday, November 5, from 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

By Betsy Hicks, South Central New York Dairy & Field Crops

Today’s economy has every producer struggling to find ways to increase cash flow. We fill stalls, add a few more cows, keep plentiful heifers in the pipeline, and estimate

The author with a dairy farmer.

our projected inventory of first calf heifers due to calve and add it to the count of cows in our milking string. Banks, profit teams, nutritionists, owners, veterinarians, managers – everyone looks at these numbers. Adding more cows lets us extrapolate out numbers of projections of what milk could look like and potentially positively impact cash flow. We know feed costs, we know how long it takes us to milk extra cows; we put numbers to things to define what these extra cows can do to our bottom line.

But at what point does putting an extra cow in the barn starts to yield negative results? Yes, milk per stall may look great, but what strain or stress has it put on the entire system? With fresh cow groups, or close-up dry groups, we know exactly how many cows we can put in the group before we start seeing metabolic issues. With heifers, though, are we able to define exactly what those negatives are? And what about the added strain on the human element? If you have narrow alley ways, slippery floors in the summertime and more cows in a group than before, what does that do for the efficiency of the worker? How about the worker’s state of mind while trying to sift through that group of cows?

When we overcrowd the system, yes, we’re trying to be as productive as possible – filling the barn to capacity will pretty much always yield more cash flow than a barn that’s half full. Pushing the limits leads us to the law of diminishing returns – we put another cow in the group, but instead of the average of the group being 80 lbs/cow, now it’s 78 or 77. Still positive, being that we added more milk, but not quite as high as we were before. We overcrowd that fresh cow group and blow up with ketosis and DA’s– that’s the point of negative returns, not a fun or profitable place to be.

Image source:

So, let’s think about these points in our system and how we can relate it back to results. Yes, we need to cash flow, but more animals aren’t always the answer. I challenge you to look at each point in your system and identify where you are past the point of getting a positive return. If we were making $24 conventional milk again, I have a feeling that a lot of transition heifer barns would be going up to correct a huge overcrowding issue in our replacement program. Again, though, more animals isn’t always the answer. To relieve crowding, we can either put animals in a bigger space, or we can remove animals from the space. New barns aren’t in the cards that dairy producers are holding right now, so removing animals from the space is the next best answer. Do you know how many heifers you need to maintain your herd size or maintain growth for expansion? Odds are, with the results in reproductive efficiency that I see on many herds today, we don’t need to keep a 1:1 ratio of heifers to cows – probably 80% of the cow herd is realistic, even with a herd in expansion mode.

If you only keep 80% though, that means some heifers have to leave! I challenge herds all the time – what are the criteria for deciding if that heifer gets to stay? This needs to be decided BEFORE the calf hits the ground. Many times, I’ve seen half beef breeds running around in heifer pens because the producer decided to use beef semen as a way to either get a problem cow pregnant or to convince themselves that they don’t want to keep the genetics from the cow, and they didn’t sell the calf afterwards. In either scenario, the producer needs to make a management decision AHEAD OF TIME. Every herd has a bottom third of cows. This is a good place to start making decisions about who to keep.

What happens when we start maximizing our system instead of overtaxing our system? We have less milk to have to feed – or the capacity to feed more milk to fewer calves and maximize growth. Letting a few calves leave the farm immediately may open up opportunities to starting weighing heifers at specific time points to reveal gaps in performance that can be addressed. We have less crowded heifer pens – or healthier calves that don’t have underlying respiratory disease and have reached puberty faster. We have heifers that reach the milking string more quickly – or heifers of the proper size calving in that start to pay you back sooner. With the milking string, we have cows calving in that have no metabolic issues and reach consistently high peak milks. We have time to not just trim cows that need attention, but do maintenance trims on the whole herd. We have ample bedding in stalls and cleaner pens for cows to spend their day in. From the human aspect, taking care of healthy cows and calves is far less stressful than caring for the poor performers in the group.

Making these management decisions doesn’t happen overnight, and can be overwhelming. Having the conversation with your nutritionist, veterinarian and/or extension educator is a great place to start.

Implementing your strategy will be hard, but knowing that taking a proactive approach to managing herd size will only benefit your dairy in the years to come.


Betsy Hicks is a dairy specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension South Central New York Dairy & Field Crops team




By Jason Detzel

Last year I received a grant from the New York 4-H Development Program to complete a poultry project with 4-H youth in the County.  Naturally I chose to purchase an incubator, fertile eggs, and some supplies to teach a class on hatching chickens and to showcase the process at the Ulster County Fair.

Why hatching chicks?  Children grow to interact and understand the world though the guidance of caregivers and teachers.  Hatching out chickens allows us to introduce sensitive topics in a supportive manner to the people in our society who often have the most difficult time making sense of the world around them.  Introducing these themes in real time and as they occur in an applied setting gives kids the room to think about what they are doing, to question why things are happening, and ultimately sort through the information and teach others about the experience.

All of the kids loved interacting with the chicks.

As a team we can monitor the incubator daily, candle the eggs for signs of life, and eventually experience a new life coming into the world and all the responsibilities and chores that go along with nurturing them.   Besides the beauty and excitement of birth, there is the other side of this project that is just as integral.  Chicks that do not hatch, chicks that are sick, different, need a little extra help, and those that die all come with embedded lessons and understandings.

In my former life, the one where I didn’t look at poop in a microscope or talk about fistulas, I was a special education teacher.  For about ten years I taught, lived, laughed, and cried with students and their families as they made their way through a world largely developed for neurotypical folks.  With that in mind, I made the decision to only offer this course to special ed. classrooms in the Kingston City School District, and boy was I impressed.

These were not the clinical classrooms that I have seen in the past but vibrant and supportive rooms of learning where kids could be safe, be themselves, and work towards mastering the skills that will allow them to be as independent as possible.  I find that we sometimes take for granted the fact that these kids are not challenged as often as their peers in their daily lives.  So with the help of some truly phenomenal teachers and aides (and I’m not just saying that, my time in the classroom allowed me to witness the fair, caring, and stable relationships that these teams exude), we set out to both teach and learn together though the chicken hatching project.

One of the classrooms we worked with.

So we got down to business.  With the help of the teachers and the aides we hosted a classroom session where we presented the daily logs, the student responsibilities, talked about the process and the perils of growing chicks out in the classroom, and began introducing the complex and amazing process that transforms a few cells in an egg to an eating, walking, and pooping chicken. It was amazing to watch the students make the connections between the biological development of the chicks and of themselves.  Some of the students enjoyed cleaning or filling in the logs but all of them enjoyed their time playing and handling the tiny birds.  This became obvious on the last day of project when I came to pick up the chicks to bring them to their new farm home.  After a little over a month spent caring for and interacting with the chicks, the students were sad to see them go and we had more than a few tears as I left with the little ones in a simple cardboard box.

All of the classroom project were a success but that does not mean that all the chicks hatched.  In fact, one classroom had zero chicks hatch and another lost the majority of their animals only days before the big day.  But the purpose of this was not to hatch chicks; the purpose was to introduce life lesson to students and to help them grow and learn in a supportive environment and in this regard I know that we exceeded this goal.

Jason Detzel is a livestock educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County

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