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Photo by Micah Castelo

Photo by Micah Castelo


Community solar providers like Nexamp are employing sheep to mow down their solar sites, giving Upstate New York sheep farmers an extra source of income and plenty of pasture for their flocks to graze on.

Out in Geneva, a flock of sheep is spending its morning lazily munching on grass and clover.

But they’re not just on a typical pasture. They’re grazing on a solar farm, an open field with solar arrays that feed renewable energy into the local community grid.

Nexamp, a Massachussetts-based community solar provider, launched the site last February as part of an initiative to bring solar energy to Upstate New York residents. Solar farms are growing in the state thanks to the $1.4 billion the state invested towards renewable energy projects.

But the solar farms come with an added benefit: providing local sheep farmers with a new source of revenue and plenty of pasture…

Photo by Micah Castelo

Photo by Micah Castelo

On the farm: Urban Delights celebrates 20 years of youth development through agriculture 

For 20 years, local youth have been learning entrepreneurship skills by growing, harvesting and selling produce through Jubilee Homes' Urban Delights Farm Stand program while improving access to healthy food in Syracuse's food deserts.

Even on summer Fridays, 16-year-old Aniyah Everson is keeping busy.

She’s a working teen, helping harvest and sell produce grown at the nearly one-acre lot on Bellevue and Midland avenues.

Last month, Everson stood under the sun in a black hoodie amid raised beds thriving with greenery — from bushes of mint and basil to rows of swiss chard and tomato vines. She bent over a bed planted with beets and gently pulled one out.

Almost a decade ago, there were no beets on the lot, nor any of the other crops organically-grown there today.

The lot stood vacant until Jubilee Homes of Syracuse, Inc. purchased the property and turned it into an urban farm which houses their Southwest Community Learning Farm and Urban Delights, a program that teaches youth entrepreneurship skills through small-scale agriculture…

Photo by Micah Castelo

Photo by Micah Castelo

Cortland’s forest preschool, where kids nap in hammocks and connect with nature year-round

Lime Hollow Forest Preschool is the only licensed outdoor preschool in Cortland County. The great outdoors is their classroom — in rain, shine or snow.

Maryfaith Decker Miller and a group of six children trudged through the snow to get to a fire pit. It was a chilly Wednesday afternoon — 19 degrees, to be exact — but they were determined to start a fire and bake bread.

When they got there, two children helped Decker Miller start the fire. They took turns trying to light a match. The rest of the group slid down an icy hill one by one, screaming with laughter. One child departed from the group to pick up branches and build a fort.

This is a typical day at Lime Hollow Forest Preschool, the only licensed outdoor preschool in Cortland County. Although their activities change depending on the season, the concept behind them is the same: letting children explore their surroundings and learn new skills while connecting with nature. Here, the great outdoors is their classroom — in rain, shine or snow…

Photo by Micah Castelo

Photo by Micah Castelo

From Somalia to Syracuse: How local program helps refugees grow and sell produce

The Syracuse Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program teaches refugees living in Syracuse how to farm, sell produce and launch a farm business.

Ahmed Abdirehman digs up a bunch of lettuce as the sun beats down on his neck.

He replants the lettuce on the other side of his plot of land at Salt City Harvest Farm, a 32-acre farm 12 miles outside the city of Syracuse. He planted them too close together, stunting their growth.

He wipes sweat off his brow and chuckles. "I don't know farming," he says.

Abdirehman, 56, is from Somalia. He fled to the U.S. in 2009 from his country's civil wars.

He came from a family of farmers. Now, he's learning how to farm the American way because he wants his own farm to grow organic produce…

Photo by Micah Castelo

Photo by Micah Castelo

Surveyors spot 74 bald eagles at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

At Montezuma, surveyors volunteer to keep track of the bald eagle population from Cayuga Lake’s north end to the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Chuck Gibson slowly drove by the Cayuga-Seneca Canal on a Friday morning. Marcia Phillips sat in the back seat, peering out the window.

“Any big blobs you see over there, make me aware,” Gibson said, nodding his head towards the bare trees on his right. “You might see it before I do.

Twenty-five minutes later, Phillips tapped on her window. Up ahead, a large bird glided through the sky.

“An eagle!” Phillips exclaimed.

Gibson stopped the car. He rolled his window down and looked through his binoculars. “Yes, that’s one immature eagle,” he said. Phillips pointed out another, flying next to the first. “Okay, two immature eagles,” Gibson said. “And they’re just out there having a good time riding the wind.”

Photo by Micah Castelo

Photo by Micah Castelo

Hemp in the Empire State: What the new federal Farm Bill means for NY’s growing industrial hemp industry

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized growing industrial hemp across all 50 states, opening new doors for struggling farmers and expanding hemp as a mainstream commodity.

New York’s farmers are waiting for changes in the state’s hemp industry after President Donald Trump signed a new farm bill into law last December.

The 2018 Farm Bill, amongst other provisions, is expected to open new doors for struggling farmers and expand hemp as a mainstream commodity with legislation that makes growing the high-value croplegal across all 50 states.

Although industrial hemp cultivation has been legal in New York since 2015, it was initially allowed under a pilot program. The state offered a limited number of research licenses to those interested in growing, processing and selling hemp for research purposes, starting with colleges and eventually expanding to farmers and businesses.

“The reason they were a research pilot program is because the 2014 Farm Bill required that states be allowed to conduct research to see whether industrial hemp was viable for states,” said Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins, an assistant professor of soil science and agronomy at SUNY Morrisville. “Now that industrial hemp is legalized, that guise of having all of the grow for research is gone.”

Photo by Micah Castelo

Photo by Micah Castelo

Rent the Chicken lets families raise chickens in their own backyards

Each rental comes with two or four egg-laying hens, a handmade seven-feet coop with wheels, a food and water dish and enough feed to last the chickens throughout the six-month rental period.

“When Fayetteville resident Sara Langan came across a web article on the best franchises of 2019 last spring and saw a chicken rental service called “Rent The Chicken” on the list, she clicked on the link right away.

She has a daughter who was considering becoming a veterinarian and another who thought of becoming a chef, so they figured having chickens—the closest they could get to raising livestock from their suburban home in the village of Fayetteville—would be pretty cool.

She called up Lisa and Steve Stevenson, affiliate partners with Rent The Chicken, to see if they had any left for rent.

“We had a couple [of] years leading up to it where I thought that would be neat,” Langan said. “But then, once we discovered Rent The Chicken, we were all in.”