Women in Agriculture – Cornell Cooperative Extension

This article was originally posted in Edible Buffalo’s Spring 2013 Edition.

Our local Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offices are doing great things to further the local food movement. The Cornell Cooperative Extension “puts knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. We bring local experience and research based solutions together, helping New York State families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world.”

Women have always had a strong role in agriculture. For thousands of years they have been loving stewards of the land. Women have cared for aging farms, salvaged failing harvests, fought off infestations and predators of all sorts with little outside support besides family and fellow farmers.

Now with a CCE office presiding in every county in New York, research is put into practice to support these often under-represented women farmers and small-scale producers and their families. By providing high value educational programs and university-backed resources, CCE is able to, according to Dr. Helene Dillard, Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, “(To) help solve real-life problems, transforming and improving New York families, farms, businesses and communities.” Four of these offices in WNY have extraordinary women at crafting inspiring programming and projects all designed to further the local food movement across our region.

Lynn Bliven works for CCE in Allegany County. She is a farmer, an educator, and an outreach specialist. She recently led workshops on beef at the WNY Connections Conference. When asked what inspired her in her youth, she shared, “As long as I can remember I wanted to be a farmer and have lots of animals. I lived half a mile from a small dairy farm run by a dairyman willing to put up with “help” from a 6 year old. A teacher at heart, youth extension work seemed the best way to combine my interest in livestock with helping others.”

Ginny Carlberg works for the CCE in Chautauqua County. She has been working to build a coalition of agencies in her county that focus on farm to school efforts. When asked who inspired her to do this work she explained, “I am very close with my mother, who is a great role model in how to balance family, farm, and an off of the farm job.  But the woman who has most impacted my career is my co-worker Lisa Kempisty, who has been an educator with CCE for over 25 years.  She, and the programs she operates with youth in agriculture, is the reason I am involved in agriculture today. She remains a great mentor for me and I really look up to her.  She has influenced and touched so many farm family lives over the years and I am very fortunate to work with such a caring and passionate person.”

Cathy Lovejoy Maloney is the Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. She is involved in a number of projects aimed at increasing access to fresh, local food. When asked what aspects of her position fires her up and are the best parts of what she does, she explained, “There are many aspects of my job I love. First, I am committed to our mission and CCE’s focus of working at the local level to help communities and families not just survive but thrive in this rapidly changing world. Our five focus mission areas, Agriculture and Food Systems; Environment and Natural Resources, Sustainable Energy, and Climate Change; 4-H Youth Development/Children, Youth, and Families; Nutrition, Food Safety and Security, and Obesity Prevention; and Community and Economic Vitality, are relevant, now more than ever, and truly coincide with the many issues we face today and will continue to grapple with in the future. I am particularly passionate about our local foods and food systems programming efforts. CCE has always had a fundamental connection with agriculture and that has not changed. However, the more recent recognition of the importance of a broader food systems perspective has really been a much-needed turning point. The multidisciplinary nature of food systems includes supporting an economically stable agricultural industry today, but also a longer-range vision of a viable and sustainable food system for decades to come. So while our efforts are about doing meaningful work today, it is also about our future and the future of our children and their children. On a personal as well as professional level, it is exciting to be part of this emerging area.”

Cheryl Thayer is new to Erie County’s CCE and was recently hired to focus on Economic Development in Agriculture. She also is involved in the Harvest program through Cornell University. She was asked about the stickier aspects of working for CCE. In the face of shrinking outside financial sources or outside groups that are adverse to change even when it is in their best interest, what does she do? She shared, “Generally speaking, like most governmental and non-for-profit organizations, financial barriers are certainly a challenge all CCE offices are faced with. Guided by our mission, we want to do the most we can for the communities we support. However, we are not funded by Cornell University, but rather a mix of government support, fundraising, and grant dollars. What programming services we’re able to provide is directly associated with the amount of funding we’re able to aggregate. There is little doubt that CCE has a tremendous positive impact in our NYS counties. However, in my opinion, quantifying the quality of the education and programming we provide is a challenge. That said, I think it’s critical that CCE attempts to do just that, so we’re able to demonstrate through numbers, just how important our impact really is.”  

The visioning they do is long reaching. Their work, and that of those who will follow, is to continually create opportunity to rebuild community by rebuilding the regional food system. Sharing their passion to be stewards of the land, to inspire others, working together to re-establish the vital connections between the farm and the world.