Sharing the Love of Working the Land

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Tompkins Weekly 12-9-13

By Damon Brangman

My interest in farming was first sparked as a youth growing up in Bermuda. One of my fondest memories, I was 13 or so, is of bringing fresh organic greens that I had grown to my grandmother.   She was so genuinely appreciative of my gift that it inspired me to continue in some way giving to my family and community.  My first job was landscaping with my uncle who held a small agricultural and livestock farm.  Every morning we had to bring fresh feed and water to all of his animals before going to landscape and garden.  This helped to develop my appreciation for the hard work and continuous diligence that goes into the stewardship of animals and in caring for farmed produce.  As I got older I continued to farm throughout high school with the neighborhood farmer.  He instilled in me the value and importance of growing vegetables organically.  This farm, known as “Roots Development,” has grown extensively in size and is one of the only organic farms on the entire island to this day.

As a young teenager my family gave me access to a plot of land to farmland often the younger neighborhood children would come visit, help out and mostly learn about how different vegetables grew.  I would harvest vegetables and then cook a large pot of stew, which would be shared with those who came to visit the garden and kids from the community.  These opportunities to connect with the younger generation helped to foster an appreciation and understanding of where their food came from and also how to prepare it.

After leaving Bermuda I have carried with me the value of growing my own food and helping others do the same. Currently I work at Cornell Cooperative Extension as a Neighborhood Garden Specialist in the Gardens 4 Humanity Program, an initiative of the Whole Community Project.  This program creates access to a range of opportunities for area youth to gain exposure to gardening and farming.  The Youth Farm Project, Southside Community Center, GIAC, Ithaca High School’s Garden Club and New Roots Charter School are some of the organizations with which we provide garden-based education.  The experience working with Ithaca’s younger community echoes the life that I had cultivated for myself in Bermuda.

I also have integrated this love for farming in my family life. In 2004 I met my wife, Jackie, in Ithaca and we shared a connection over the love of fresh food and attaining better health.  We decided to put down roots here in Ithaca.  As a family of two we learned from experimenting in our own kitchen and developing delicious and healthy juice and smoothie combinations while using fresh vegetables and greens from our own home garden.  After the birth of our first child, we began a small-scale juicing business called Fruits and Roots Juice in order to provide a delicious, nutritious and health-conscious service to our community.  We feel intrinsically good about our business: by farming our own organic produce for our juices we are insuring that our customers and community are getting only the best and freshest.

This year I was given an opportunity through Groundswell’s Incubator Farm Program to begin cultivating a quarter acre of land for a period of three years.  I plan on using this time to learn about which crop varieties are suited best for this climate and yield the highest quality results for our small-scale juicing business.  Our desire is to develop a working model that will demonstrate how to be independent and sustainable by mostly growing our own ingredients and sourcing locally as much as possible.  In addition, we hope this model will help to encourage more relationships between local growers and producers of value-added products.

Through our work as educators, farmers and family we seek to share our experience with others in hopes of mutually learning and growing as a community.  By sharing our passion for the respect of nature we hope in turn that the youth we work with will continue the legacy of caring for the land and being self-sufficient.  As descendants of Africans we also desire to be representative of our ancestors who as a matter of birthright grew their own food and cared for their family and community through food production and sustainable harvesting practices.  Our hope is that more people will be encouraged by our efforts and take ownership of their health and the land.

Damon Brangman works at Cornell Cooperative Extension as a neighborhood garden specialist in the Gardens for Humanity program.


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