Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NYC, Yogurt Summit and Farewells

The last week of work was incredibly busy. In some ways it made it easier to say goodbye because there was not much time to process the fact that the internship was over and that I was heading home. Monday I wrapped up most of the projects I had been working on and cleaned out my desk. 

Tuesday I took a trip with Paula to NYC for a tour of Roosevelt Island. We took an early morning train and slowly made our way to the island. We took a really cool tram across the water that felt almost like a ride at a theme park. We had awesome views of the city from up there, and made it over to the island in a few short minutes. We also passed a tram going back in the other direction. 

Once we got to the island we walked around for a bit and found a great restaurant to eat at. They actually had a Cornell banner up next to the table we were sitting at! The owners came over after we ate and talked to us about Cornell and how excited they were for the new NYC Tech Campus to be built. It will mean a lot of business for them. 

After we ate, we met up with a few other Cornell people from Ithaca and various offices and started a walking tour of the island. Its a very interesting place because the population there is about 10,000 so there is a whole city town on the island, complete with a little main street with a library and various stores and businesses. Many of the people who live there, work in Manhattan, and others live elsewhere and work on the island. There are a fair number of small businesses and apartment complexes there, as well as a really old hospital. Its a bit creepy from the outside actually because the building is falling apart. The new Tech Campus will be built on one end of the island and they are actually just starting to accept applications for the "beta" class of students in the Masters of Engineering project. 

Upstate NY represent! 
After the tour I rushed to take the subway to Harlem for an interview with Red Rabbit, who provides healthy school meals to over 100 schools in NYC and surrounding areas. Most of the food is sourced locally from NY and the meals is all healthy and nutritious. They do really great work with education as well, and it was a great opportunity to be able to interview with them. It was fun to hear more about their programs. 

On Wednesday I had breakfast with Dean Boor and it was really great to talk with her about her background and about agriculture and the future. She was in Albany along with many other people for Governor Cuomo's Yogurt Summit concerning the state of the Greek-style yogurt economy in upstate New York. There was yogurt served, of course, and though they ran out of spoons, the crisis was soon averted. There was much discussion about economics, whey disposal, manure management, debt per cow, the role of Cornell and SUNY, and there was talk of NY becoming the yogurt empire! They even designed a logo for the event. It was a great opportunity to meet the Cornell people who were invited.

In the afternoon I hit up the Albany Food Festival on the Empire State Plaza and got some great food, then headed home to pack! I got home later Wednesday night and it was both weird but nice to be back home again. I am excited to see what jobs come through for the future, and I am so grateful that I had this awesome experience this summer. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Egg, Cow Comfort, and USA Women's Soccer!

It has been an exciting last week of work here at the Cornell University Government Relations Office in Albany! I have only a few days left and I will be home again by the end of next week. It is really strange to think about how this time of year I am usually getting ready to go back to school, to lead backpacking trips and take classes, and now its just regular life, no classes, no school, and I get to go on my own backpacking trips. I am eagerly awaiting updates from the jobs I have applied to, some I have interviewed for, some have emailed me and said they are reviewing applications, so now its just a waiting game. I am excited to see what works out, and where exactly, because I applied to jobs all over the place! 

Albany has been an interesting small city to live in, and it was hard trying not to put down my roots too deep because I knew I would be leaving. Last week I got to see Brandi Carlile at the Egg, which is a really awesome venue. Its literally shaped like an egg, and the acoustics were incredible, especially when they performed one song unplugged. I have done a couple of different projects this week, mostly dairy related for Lee. First I put together a list of Cornell Cooperative Extension offices, Directors, Agricultural Specialists, and contact information organized by County. This information will help people that he works with find the best CCE folks to contact with agricultural questions and projects. It was interesting to see each counties web pages, and the diversity in programs they do.

This is the Egg in the Fall, and yes those trees are trimmed to be square shaped. 
I have also been doing research on cow comfort and milk production to help Lee prepare for a meeting this week. Basically the research is showing that things like improving bedding, and temperature control with fans and misting, and adding in brushes for cows to groom themselves on (see pic below) can improve milk yield. Cow's can't speak for themselves, but we know they need plenty of water, good feed, fresh air, and a soft and clean place to rest. They need to be able to stand or lie down easily and have sound footing. In the Dairy Cattle Principles class I took last fall, I remember taking about how happy cows make more milk. Some even say that giving cows names and talking to them with their name, as an individual can increase yields. Some talk about music choices in the milking barn and how that impacts yield. Other talk about the handlers in general, saying that with kind and calm handlers cows will have higher production. All of these things are basically getting at cow comfort, and while I can't necessarily vouch for the science backing up all of the ideas, I must say they are very interesting hypotheses! 

Yesterday I did other research on Wisconsin and some new initiatives they have to increase dairy production in the state. This program is called 30X20 because they are trying to get up to 30 billion pounds of milk per year by 2020. Currently Wisconsin is ranked as #2 in US dairy production, with 26.1 billion pounds of milk in 2011. That means they would really have to ramp up production to meet these goals. Most people know Wisconsin as the #1 cheese producer in the US, but they need the milk to make that cheese, and so Governor Scott Walker started this plan to meet their demands in the state.  While growing dairy production is important to meet the demands of the processors, it is important to address other relevant issues like labor, CAFO's, small farm support, the environment, and cost of production. 

Speaking of dairy, one of the official sponsors of the Olympics this year is Chobani, with their incredible story of success. Yesterday I had a blast watching the U.S. Women's Soccer team kick some butt against Japan in the Gold Medal match in London. Yesterday's game had some highlights and incredible goals, especially the header by Carli Llyod. Soccer has always been my sport, I have always loved playing and the fact that it can really bring people together as a global sport. All you need is a ball. It was so satisfying to see the women bring in another gold medal, and avenge their loss from the 2011 World Cup.  I love the joy in this photo... 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July, July, July!

July is over, which means that National Ice Cream Month is over, but also that there are only a couple more weeks of this internship left. Craziness! I don't know if I have eaten enough ice cream this summer, though I did have a red velvet ice cream recently that was amazing!!! I must get to some of the soft serve places that give you oversized portions which are only open during the summer while I still can, and eat those huge servings while I still can! I have finally gotten familiar with Albany and become comfortable in the office. Its been so nice to get to know everyone here and learn about the work they do, and to be able to help them on their work.  I have been working on a few new projects, and continuing work on some of the older projects.

Unfortunately this is not my own picture, but it looks delicious! 

Another very exciting thing about this summer is that the Olympics have begun! Woo hoo! Though I am not really able to watch much on TV live, its really fun to see video clips online and follow the news. I am so happy for our U.S. gymnasts who have done so well! I am also cheering for U.S women's soccer and impressed by Michael Phelps and his 19 medals! Have you read the awesome NYtimes story about the woman who held the record for the most decorated olympian before Phelps got his 19th? She seems like a wonderful woman!

One project that I have been working on and just about finished is the manure storage database. I have most of the information we need about the Agricultural Non Point Source Abatement and Control Grants Program funds that have gone to farms since the program started in 1994. We are trying to answer some basic questions about how many storages have been funded, and the amount of state funds that have gone to them. A lot of state money has gone towards this program to assist farmers in abating and preventing water pollution from agricultural activities by providing technical assistance and financial incentives. This is because more than 90% of New York's water quality problems are due to nonpoint sources of water pollution. This can be from fertilizers or pesticides, manure, timber harvesting, construction, and road salt applications. For this project, we are looking only at manure storage on Dairy Farms and looking at those farms that have gotten funding and gone through with building a new storage system. Most of the systems installed will help farmers go from daily or short-term spreading of manure, to more long-term storage of manure. A few farms are even going a step further toward sustainability and pollution prevention by turning the manure into compost.

Another project I have been working on is looking at our Website and seeing what we can improve and include in addition to what we already have. I have been looking at other university web pages for their government relations offices and noting what they have in their links and how they organized everything. I went through every page on our own website to make sure our links were active and everything is updated. It is fun to explore the other websites and see where we can expand. A big change can also include more of our pictures and links to Cornell's facebook and twitter.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Coffee, News, and Gleaning

Yesterday morning I got to listen to NPR at work - a Talk of the Nation piece about Land Grants and the Future of Agriculture - which mentions Cornell, Cooperative Extension Programs around the U.S. and the importance of these programs and the distinct lack of funding for them. It mentions that extension agents now wear many hats, which seems entirely true now as offices are closed down and everything is consolidated. These people do amazing work to help farmers, promote nutrition education, Master Gardening programs, and much much more. Last summer I worked with Laura McDermott from Cornell Cooperative Extension, and it was incredible to see how much work all over the Capital District she did and how wide the impact was. As a member of the Capitol Region Vegetable and Small Fruit team the work they do with farmers is integral in helping with IPM and ensuring that crops grow to their potential.

It is strange having no homework and really having time to do things like cook and read the news. It is nice to be informed about what is going on in Albany with Capitol Confidential - a blog that outlines everything that is happening in the political world here in Albany - and then reading and listening to news from NPR, the BBC, and the New York Times. In the office we always try to keep track of any news that mentions Cornell or Cooperative Extension or news that will impact the University in some way. 

I am also starting to develop a bit of a taste for coffee - I still only have it once a week or so, and mostly just on early early days or when I am extra tired. There are two really wonderful Cafe's right on Lark Street just a short walk from my house. The Daily Grind is totally great with delicious food, amazing baked goods, and good coffee, there is also Crisan Bakery that I want to go to all the time, but have restrained myself.

Today I went to SUNY for the New York State Council on Food Policy annual summer meeting. There were talks about Environmental Sustainability, the Farm bill, Regional Updates, and Emerging Issues. SUNY Albany is doing a lot of work to get more local food in their dining halls, and currently they have about 20% local food. They talked a lot about the definition of "local" as well, it really varies, for them it includes everything in a 250 mile radius, and generally anything from New York State is included. It sounds like what is key for these kinds of partnerships are the middle man - having a good wholesaler involved seemed to work really well for them. Another interesting idea that was brought up is how more complicated items like baked goods were identified because the eggs and butter may be local, but then there is the sugar, flour, etc. and do all of the items in the food need to be local? I also learned about gleaning - which is collecting leftover or unusable crops from farmers fields. Here is a cool NPR article about how its making a comeback and a good quote -

"In the Old Testament, farmers are told not to pick their fields and vineyards clean, but instead to leave the edges for orphans, widows and travelers. In the modern day, gleaning is more about preventing would-be waste. Food gets left in the field for all kinds of reasons. Two big ones are that mechanical harvesting misses a lot — and sometimes the crops aren't pretty enough for supermarket shelves." 

Walking to work is also a really lovely thing. After having to drive hundreds of miles a week last summer, it is really nice to not have a car and pretty much walk everywhere I need to go, or take the bus. I love seeing my neighborhood, the shops, the dogs, the parks, and the buildings, and its a also a good way to get exercise! Here are some pics from my walk to work...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Research Stations, Social Media and the Gothics

This week I have been working on a new project looking at all of Cornell's Research Stations in New York for CALS, the Vet School, the ILR school, and also the Cornell Cooperative Extension Offices in NYC. There are a few that I have heard of before, but there are way more than I ever imagined. There are a lot of agriculturally focused ones such as the Geneva Agricultural Experiment Station, Musgrave Research Farm, Quality Milk, and others like Shackelton Point Field Station, the Arnot Forest, the Long Island Duck Research Center, and the Global Labor Institute. For this little project I have to find the address and contact information for each place, and the county and district it is in. Next I am looking up the NYS Assemblymember for each area, NYS Senator, and NYS Congressmember. This is so that our office can connect these legislators to the Cornell stations and keep them informed of what is going on in their districts.

The Manure Storage Project is still going, I have called pretty much all of the Soil and Water District Managers, or emailed them with the farms in their area, and the questions we are asking. So now my jobs is to wait, and follow up, and input information as it arrives. Hopefully there will be enough information there to do a further study on the impacts of the manure storage systems on the farms.

Earlier this week we also had and inter-office phone conference about social media and how we may use it to our benefit. It is really interesting how important social media has become to businesses, non-profits, government, and other organizations. One of my best friends is now working in California for a company doing social media work! Its so cool! I have just started my own twitter account, and I am still figuring out how it all works, but its an interesting time in advertising and media where the internet really is essential to getting the word out. For our office, it is less useful to have our own twitter or facebook, but I think the best thing would be if we can sort of latch on to the ones that Cornell has already and post things every once in a while. Having too many Cornell channels would confuse people I think, and for our office, we might just need to put out a message if we need support for a bill, or for some issues it may be important to get information out there so people can support us and see what we are up to.

I also got to go on an epic hike up the Gothics in the Adirondacks last weekend! It was a long hike - about 14 miles RT and about 3,600 ft of elevation gain in only a couple miles. There was definitely some scrambling and sheet rock faces to get up and down, but it was an excellent time! The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the view from the summit was amazing. There was actually a small summit called Pyramid peak right next to the Gothics that I thought had a better view than the Gothics! The last two pics were taken by a friend, but I had to put them up!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Manure Storage, Geneva Visit and the 4th of July!

This past week I worked mainly on a manure storage project for Lee. We have general information about manure storage systems that have been installed on farms in the past 10 years or so with the help of Agricultural Non-Point Source Grants. These are part of the Agricultural Environmental Management program of NY Soil and and Water. The goal is to prevent water pollution from agricultural activities and the Soil and Water District Managers provide technical assistance and financial incentives. The pollution occurs when there is rainfall or snow melt across the landscape and the run-off picks up pollutants and deposits them into larger water bodies. There are some interesting new systems out there to help manage the manure on farms like anaerobic digesters, composting facilities, and then general manure handling and storage systems. For now, we are trying to get information about when the systems were completed, and if the farms are doing short-term storage or long-term storage of the manure waste. I have a big excel database with information on it for all of these farms separated by county, and my job is to look for each districts soil and water contact person and call them with these questions. The goal ultimately is to see if there is enough interesting data to do a longer study and see how many manure storage systems have been funded on these dairy farms, if the farms are all still in business, or if the business has changed much in size, impacts on manure handling and equipment they use, if crop fertility and management changed, and how spreading has changed.

Wednesday was the 4th of July and we had the day off from work. It was great to get some things done around the apartment and clean and decorate my room a bit more. I hung out most of the day with Sarah, a great friend from Cornell who also just graduated and has a summer internship here in Albany. We had a lovely afternoon at a BBQ and then went to see the fireworks!

On Thursday our office took another day off of work because things have been so slow and decided to take a hike to my hometown of North Adams, MA to hike up Mt. Greylock. We only did a partial hike up the mountain, 3.5 up and 3.5 back down to where we parked our car, but there are longer hikes. Its interesting because you can hike up the mountain from a few different starting points, and from the very bottom it takes all day. The Appalachian Trail actually passes right through the peak, so there is an AT plaque and we saw a few through hikers! It was a gorgeous day.

I have also been working on organizing a legislative visit through our office to the Geneva Experiment Station. Every summer the office likes to organize a few legislative field trips so that people can learn about the work Cornell does all over the state. It has been fun learning about how mail merge works and using our database to help organize the email addresses. This has involved making an invitation with information and pictures to keep things exciting, coordinating email addresses and creating a message, and now I will be sending out the invite and collecting responses. I am also excited to attend the field trip because I have only been to Geneva once before!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ithaca Visit

Now its July! Goodness the summer is really flying. Also the fact that I will need to figure out my life after August is really sinking in. Its nice to actually have time to search for jobs and opportunities, and to have the option of really going anywhere to work. I had a really great weekend here. I went to a huge indoor rock-climbing gym in Half Moon, NY that has some great routes. I also got to make my favorite cupcake recipe for Zoe's 30th birthday party on Saturday - Guinness chocolate cupcakes with Baileys butter cream and a chocolate ganache filling! It was really fun to hang out with everyone from the office in a non-work setting and enjoy the sunshine. Sunday I went for a really gorgeous hike near Lake George on Buck Mountain with some friends and it was so nice to be outside and moving. Sometimes it is hard to sit inside a lot at the office and at a desk with the AC on while its gorgeous outside. The hike was about 3.2 miles each way and it was a beautiful day. When we got to the top, there was a huge storm that we could see just across the lake, which was unfortunately moving right towards us. It was an exciting descent getting drenched, but we had a good time.

On Monday Charlie, Zoe and I drove to Ithaca early in the morning for an exciting day. We spent most of the day with Assemblywoman Deborah Glick to take her on a tour of the Vet School and also to a meeting with President Skorton. Assemblywoman Glick is serving her 11th term, and she is the first openly lesbian or gay member of the NYS legislature. She is the chair of the Assembly's Higher Education Committee and was integral in helping Cornell get funding for the new expansion of the Cornell Vet School. It is a $22 million renovation project that will allow the class size to increase from about 100 students per year to about 120 students per year. Construction is supposed to start this summer, and there are multiple phases of the project which should be complete by 2015. The expansion will include new lecture halls, teaching labs, locker rooms, tutorial rooms, and a new atrium. The Vet School started with the founding of the University in 1865 and Andrew D. White the university's first president was instructed by Ezra Cornell to find the best person to teach courses in Veterinary Medicine. Cornell Faculty in 1871 passed a resolution requiring four years for a Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree and an additional two years for a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine - a degree which was previously unavailable form any institution in the U.S. The college was originally on the Ag Quad until 1957 when the 'new' vet school opened at the east end of Tower Road. Pretty much all students were males up until 1910 when Florence Kimball, the first woman in the U.S. to receive the DVM degree graduated. Even when the new building was built in 1957, the classes were still mostly male, however now the graduating classes are female-dominated, so new locker rooms are essential! 

I was basically tagging along for the visit planned for Assemblywoman Glick. Charlie and Zoe had seen most everything before, but for me it was all very new and exciting. We were joined by the Dean of the Vet School for a tour of the facilities, and of course as soon as I took out my camera to take pictures, my batteries died. It was wonderful to see the inside of the buildings I have passed by so many times. There were many memorable things, such as one hallway was lined with crazy old tools from Vet's bags that looked pretty terrifying. We went through the hospital and saw a lot of state of the art equipment like both a small animal and a large animal ct machine, x-ray machines for animals, the holding areas for large animals, and more. We got to see meet a few of the doctors on staff and see what work they were doing with animals, one cat had stones in his bladder and we got to see the x-ray. There was also a giant treadmill that a horse was running on for a study, which is also used for physical therapy. We also got to see the NYS Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory which is a nice new building right next door and hear about the work that they do there. They get over 150,000 submissions a year and are integral in providing effective surveillance and early disease detection for NY state.

I did get one picture before my camera died of Lucy Lou, a cow who lives in the Vet Hospital and is a blood donor. 

After the tour of the Vet School, we headed down to Day Hall for a meeting with President Skorton, the 12th President of the University. His office was very bright and all white, with white carpet, walls, and a big white sofa. He had a wall full of books and really interesting gadgets and art all around his office. There was also a very fancy coffee machine. President Skorton was incredibly nice, and actually remembered meeting me once at an Outdoor Odyssey event. Crazy! He was very down to earth, and it was very comfortable being there. He spoke with Assemblywoman Glick about updates from around Cornell, and thanked her for all of the help with the Vet School.

Next Charlie and Zoe had a meeting with the Major of Ithaca - Svante Myrick, who at 24 is the youngest Mayor of Ithaca ever! Here is a funny article about his parking space. Charlie and Zoe talked with him about how things work here in Albany, and gave him some ideas about how to lobby effectively. He was such a nice guy, and has some really innovative ideas for Ithaca.

It was strange to be in Ithaca for just one day, and not on my own agenda. It was lovely to get to stop at CTB though and get my favorite sandwich - the Autumn Sky - before heading home again to Albany.