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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chobani, High Tunnels, and the Database

I can't believe I have been here for almost a whole month! It has been really nice working with everyone, and the atmosphere is great, very open communication, and people care about what is going on each day so they can keep track of each other. I spent a lot of time last week on the database that our office uses on filemaker pro. The database contains a lot of different information from profiles of state Senators and Assembly-Members, to Congressmen, to Cornell staff, as well as event information, issues we deal with and people who work on them, letters we write, on all sorts of people we frequently connect with. My project was to update and add profiles for all of the New York Senators and Assembly Members, in addition to Congressmen. I visited each of their websites and got updated contact information, photos, committees they are on and issues they are involved in. It was interesting to see just how long some people have been in office and the districts that they represent. While it was not the most exciting project, it also helped me learn more about the people we are working with and connect the names with faces.

On Friday I went on a trip with Lee to Chenango County for a Chobani lunch and celebration of the dairy industry in the county as well as highlight the past successes and future plans of Chobani. The food was delicious, and of course we had chobani yogurt parfaits with berries and granola. The 2012 Chenango County Dairy Princess made a short speech, as well as Ken Smith from Cornell Cooperative Extension. Finally Hamdi Ulukaya, the President, CEO and Founder of Chobani spoke. It was really wonderful to hear the Chobani story and the focus that they have on job creation, dairy farms, and economic development that benefits the area. Hamdi grew up in Turkey, and his family had sheep and cows and made yogurt and cheese. He came to the U.S. to learn English and go to business school, and started a feta cheese company. Hamdi talked about taking out an SBA loan buying the Kraft plant in 2005 that had been closed for a long time. He seemed to really focus on the importance on everyone in the operation and talked about the first year of operation with his first employees and selling yogurt to one grocery store. It took a year and a half until they got the perfect cup of yogurt and they launched the prodcut in 2007 calling it Chobani which means shepherd. It was amazing to hear that Chobani is now the number three brand of yogurt in the country that ships 1.7 million yogurt cases weekly to stores around the country! This year they are even an olympic sponsor, and Hamdi is taking five of his original employees who have been there with him since the beginning to London with him. It is nice to hear a story of a company with a great product being so successful, and how he understands the products connection to farms. He mentioned how the company is just a link in the chain, with milk coming from cows on dairy farms and then being processed and made into yogurt and then the supermarkets and consumers and that many people do not see these links between the food they eat and the farms it comes from.

The second half of the day Lee and I traveled out to Norwich Meadows Farm  which is about 80 acres total, with only some of that in production. They are totally organic and actually sell 90% of their product in New York city. We were there to learn more about the 4.5 acres of high tunnels they were growing food in. It was incredible to see, just rows and rows and rows of these hoop houses with everything from swiss chard to strawberries to artichokes inside!

High tunnels (aka hoop houses) are unheated, semi-permanent structures made out of steel hoops and covered in plastic. They are sited on field soil, and usually have roll up side curtains for passive ventilation, and they are cheaper to build then greenhouses. We learned about how water and manpower were really the largest limiting factors to using high tunnels, but they offer season extension and protection from pests and inclement weather. They have been using high tunnels for many years, and so we could see some of the first ones they used, and how they changed the over the years with spacing and length and design. They have been very inventive and focused on good management.

It was really interesting to hear one of the partners talking about how intellectually demanding farming is, especially since he is a doctor during the day. He felt that the farmer has to be a jack of all trades, and must be an economist, biologist, agronomist, soil scientist, manager, businessman, etc. It really is a demanding job! I really enjoyed seeing the farm and was amazed at just how many different crops they grew. They even had their own bee-hives and made honey!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Farm Visits and the Farm Bill

It has been really fun exploring Albany and finding places to eat, play, and hang out like Washington Park, Bombers, The Daily Grind and Nia/Yoga Studio. A friend from Cornell is here for the summer too, so its really nice to have someone to hang out with (the pic is from dinner at El Loco). Friday was an excellent day! Lee and I traveled to three different farms in Schoharie County with a few other people from Soil and Water and Cornell Cooperative Extension. They are putting on a sort of seminar/class/training to educate new employees about agriculture and conservation. As part of the training, people will travel to these three farms and learn from the farmers and educators. 

The first farm we visited was a small dairy, conventional, and they grow all of their own hay and had Holstein cows. They had a really interesting manure management system with a lagoon and a pump and it is something they will talk about a lot during the training. The farm had three very adorable dogs running around. Also! We had to wear plastic boots on each farm for bio-security reasons to make sure we did not transport anything from farm to farm. They are pretty funny looking, they make a lot of noise when you walk around, and they are like a mini sauna on a hot day, but they are necessary. 

The second farm was a very very small dairy (they were milking about 35 cows) and they were only a few years into production. They are totally organic and mostly grass fed cows, and what was interesting is variety in the types of breeds they had like Dutch Belted mixed with Holsteins and Jerseys. They sold their milk to a co-op and also a yogurt company in the area. It was a gorgeous farm, and the family was definitely working really hard to make it happen, but they seemed happy. It was interesting to hear the story of one owner who had worked as an occupational therapist and was intrigued by the links between the kids problems and their diets. Many of them were on gluten fee or dairy free or sugar free diets, and she wanted to get back closer to the source of food and become a producer for her own kids. 

The third farm was called Sap Bush Hollow Farm  and I found their operation to be the most interesting. They do completely grass-fed meat, including lamb, beef, pork, and poultry. They are in a super hilly area and they graze the animals on gorgeous pastures that are super steep. They have a license to do all of their own processing and meat cutting for the chicken, and it was really cool to hear the steps in the process. They have a great business model, with a premium product, at a high (but totally appropriate) price and they do mostly direct marketing. Some of their customers come from other states even, and there was one story of a woman from CT coming three times a year and filling her car with meat for her family and friends. So awesome. They have a gorgeous farm and happy animals and a really great set-up for selling at home. They also sell wool and organic honey, candles, soaps and other products they make with the animal products. They also had a llama and an alpaca to guard the sheep. Sweet. 

Being on all of these farms reminded me of why I am so interested in agricultural science and the policy behind it. These people work so hard every day and most are doing it because they love it. Of course there are ups and down, like when one of the dogs on the first farm swam across the poo lagoon, or on the second farm when they realized they had a lot of pasture that needed to be rejuvenated (seed and soil wise) or on the last farm when one of the beef cows got out and was lost for three days. I love the simplicity in the way of life, and getting to be outside all the time. So I have also been trying to keep up with the Farm Bill (S. 3240) news because its up for reauthorization and it sounds like its moving pretty slowly through the process. Currently there are 247 proposed amendments that need to be sorted out and the big issue is making sure the bill moves forward. For 2012 it is called the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. I found a really great visual after reading an NPR article about the Farm Bill, and it outlines some of the issues with the legislation pretty well - here it is.  The farm bill is an omnibus bill that started after the great depression with FDR during the New Deal Programs. It has evolved over the years into a multi-faceted piece of legislation that has over 1000 pages and 15 different titles that cover everything from food stamps to crop subsidies to conservation programs and international food aid. In my opinion many of the issues we are dealing with in this country - obesity, lack of jobs, over spending, are all interconnected. Our current food system does not support the crops that nutritionists recommend for us to be healthy - mainly fruits and vegetables - and like the woman on the second farm noted, we are also dealing with insurmountable health impacts of our diets. We have huge environmental issues cased by farming practices that ignore the earth, we have monocultures and associated issues with resilience on farms. When the Farm Bill first came around, people grew many crops, and used some fertilizer, and now people grow one crop and use much more fertilizer. Additionally we have fewer and fewer farms and farmers with more focus on yield. As our food becomes less and less local, and we lose our connections with farming, there is less knowledge and awareness of farming and where our food comes from. When have a system where the biggest most money making farms get the most subsidies and those that make the least and need it get the least subsidies, it is definitely broken. The last farm we visited really gave me hope because they are thriving and doing well by the animals and the earth, and giving customers a product that they can't get other places. One thing that I know I hope to do in life is help people become excited about food, to know where it comes from, how to cook it, that it can bring so much joy to our lives. If you want to learn more about the Farm Bill, there are some amazing resources out there - Food Fight: A Citizens Guide to the Food and Farm Bill is GREAT, their website has some good basic info. The American Farmland Trust also does a lot of great work, and they have a website dedicated to farm bill information. Grist also has some great articles.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NY Farm Days and Settling In

My first weekend in Albany was good! There was the Art on Lark festival with music and food and awesome art and also the Capital Pride Parade and Festival down Lark St. on Saturday. It is a really hard transition from Cornell and living with 7 of my best friends, to being in a whole new city and no knowing anyone. It is hard to figure out how to break in to a new place, trying to find the good restaurants and bars, good places to run, pick-up soccer games, how to get to the co-op, how does the bus work, what's the best bakery and cafe? Its a process! My house is lovely, and my roommate is great, she works for the Department of Environmental Conservation and its been interesting to learn about her experience there and get to know her. One thing I will have to work on this summer is a plan for after August ends, and there are so many options! I have some pretty diverse interests in policy, agriculture, natural resources, and maybe education. Of course there is a lot of overlap with these subjects, but its hard to figure out my strengths and interests and things I like and don't like and what experiences I feel would help me along the way. This internship is a really great opportunity to learn more about government and policy with a New York State focus and Cornell specific work. It is nice because though I have graduated and left Ithaca, I am still thinking of Cornell every day.

Yesterday was Dairy Day here on Capital Hill in the Legislative Office Building by the Assembly Minority.  There were Dairy Princesses from various counties, a former NY Giants running back (Joe Morris), and representation from various groups like Organic Valley, Farm Bureau, Dairy One, Hood, and more offering information, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, milk and other dairy related goods. Staff members of State Assembly members were scooping out ice cream for hours to long lines of people. It was really nice to see Organic Valley there because one of my good friends at Cornell has a dairy farm that is a member and they do really great work. Its a dairy farmer co-op with about 1400 members nation-wide.

It has been interesting seeing the last two weeks of session and trying to get the three bills moving. The healthcare bill is having hard time moving through, but the police officer residency bill has passed the Senate and will hopefully go through the Assembly soon. The pistol shooting/safety course bill has moved through both houses which is great and now just needs the Governors signature. Part of our job is talking to important people in various offices to make sure they are familiar with the issue and bill and can help it move forward. Today I also had to deliver about 12 letters to different Senators and Assembly Members, and it was an adventure seeing all the different floors of the Legislative Office Building and the Capital Building too. At the top of one staircase there was some beautiful painting on the walls and cool windows.

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my bed and my mattress, and looking forward to tomorrow. Lee and I are going on some farm visits! Yay! I am excited to get to enjoy the nice weather, and dress down. Who knows, maybe I will even break out my Carhart overalls.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Busy End of the Week

Thursday I learned about the three experiment stations that Cornell has, which are integral in the research that Cornell does. The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva has been around for over 125 years! It became part of Cornell University in 1923, and includes over 700 acres of land, orchards and vineyards. The research they do there includes: horticulture and research in production of fruits and vegetables, food safety and food science, entomology and IPM, viticulture, and and plant pathology. They also do extension work to make sure the producers and consumers and food businesses are up to date on research. Then there is Willsboro Research Farm which is located along Lake Champlain and was donated to Cornell is 1982. This farm has a wide range of research projects going on with dairy, fertilizer, renewable energy, greenhouses, wine grape trials, organic research, and forage production. There is an automated weather station that provides important information on air and soil temperatures, light, precipitation, and wind.  Finally there is Uihlein Farm located in the Adirondack Mountains which is dedicated to potato research and seed stock production. There is also a laboratory and greenhouse on the farm that is used for breeding programs and produce about 65 varieties of potatoes for distribution to seed growers.

Lee also introduced me to a new project I will take over for New York Farm Days. This event was started ten years ago by Secretary Hilary Clinton, and continues with Senator Kristen Gillibrand. It is held in Washington, D.C. and typically features over 50 exhibitors sharing farm fresh products and wines. Last year Cornell features its Apple Breeding Program and served three new apple varieties. This year our focus will be on two new raspberry varieties that have been introduced, as well as high tunnels. My job is to design our table layout and write the informational posters for the table and communicate with the professor in charge of the research. It will be exciting to figure it all out!

On Friday Zoe and I headed to New York City on an early morning train to attend and help run the Symposium and MOU Signing for the Kwara State Agricultural Modernization Master Plan (KAMP) at the ILR conference center in Manhattan. First of all it was my fourth time in the City, and goodness it is so overwhelming! So many people and tall buildings and crazily enough I ran into an old friend from high school who is living there and auditioning for shows to pursue a career in theater. It was a crazy coincidence to run into her a diner where Zoe and I had breakfast.

The ILR center was recently renovated, and it is lovely inside, a perfect location for the afternoon. It was really wonderful to learn more about Nigeria and the Kwara state which is one of the most innovative agricultural states in Nigeria. They have developed a five-year transformational agricultural modernization master plan to help establish Kwara as the agricultural hub in Nigeria. Cornell is partnering with Kwara state to help implement the plan. There were over forty attendees to the event, and there was a large delegation from Nigeria of government officials, professors, and more as well as Cornell University professors and administrators. It was a very busy afternoon, followed by a wonderful dinner and celebration at the Hilton Hotel. It really felt like a wedding with fancy food and people toasting and celebrating the work that has been done for this project. There was a huge cake in addition to dessert that was delicious, butter shaped like roses, and many courses. A Nigerian comedian spoke and though I couldn't understand all the jokes, there was a happy feeling all around. There was also Nigerian music, which was really neat.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bills, Bills, Bills

I will be spending this summer working in Albany, NY as a Policy Intern with the Cornell Office of Federal Government Relations. Over the next couple months, I will be immersed in all the projects the office takes on, and will have the opportunity to sit in on legislative meetings, working on research projects, social media, and organizing and attending field trips to various places and any other miscellaneous jobs that are needed. Yesterday was my first day on the job and its great! The office is a lovely five minute walk from my apartment on Hudson Ave.

 I started the day off getting settled in at my very own desk, connecting to the Internet, finding the bathroom, and befriending the coffee machine. Pretty quickly I learned about some of the work the office is doing with three bills for Cornell. The first is bill A10204 (S.7436) which is being brought in to exempt students in gun safety and proficiency courses from certain provisions of law. It was interesting to learn how this process went, from identifying the issue, to getting the bill together, and following it through the chain of government till it is passed. The next bill I learned about is bill number A10400 regarding the Cornell Police employees, many of whom do not live in Tompkins county for various reasons. Finally there is a bill (S.7314-A) that has not yet been introduced that aims to help Cornell provide excellent health coverage to its students through allowing it to so self-insurance. This would save students about 6-8% of the cost of current coverage which is $1,776. It provides the same consumer protections, oversight and approval process that insurance companies are required to operate under. Yesterday I went all around the Capital Buildings here in Albany with Zoe Nelson, who is a State Legislative Associate and talked to various people in the Senate and the Assembly to gain more co-sponsors for the bill. It is an absolutely gorgeous building, really full of history and different types of architecture. There are some really neat exhibits up and the place is full of history to explore. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of wearing new shoes that had not been broken in, and had to deal with terrible blisters the whole time, but it was still an adventure going around the building, trying to find people, and meeting with each one about this bill.

The rest of this week I will be working more with Zoe to get this bill going, and on Friday we head to NYC for the Agri-Investment Symposium and MOU Signing Ceremony of Kwara State Agricultural Modernization Master Plan. It will be over 40 people and I am very excited to see what its all about. Its amazing that NYC is only a two and a half hour train ride away. I am so happy to be working with such awesome people this summer - Charlie is the Assistant Vice President and also has a twin brother, they are both very good at Ping Pong - Lee is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Specialist and I think I will learn a lot from him this summer - finally Paula is the Administrative Assistant who seems to keep everyone together and has a really great spirit and style. I am excited for the rest of the week to come!