To see why Nate Chittenden ’00 was the perfect choice to receive the inaugural Cornell University Hometown Alumni Award, you had to look no further than the beaming, multigenerational community of family, neighbors and friends who came to the celebratory event honoring him June 23 in Stuyvesant, New York.
Chittenden, a third-generation dairy farmer, co-manages Dutch Hollow Farm in Columbia County, about 15 miles south of Albany, with his brothers Alan ’90 and Brian and his parents, Paul and Melanie. With about 1,500 head of cows and heifers, Dutch Hollow Farm has the second-largest registered Jersey herd in the state and has received several national cattle association honors.
The new award was launched this year by Cornell’s Division of University Relations, in collaboration with Alumni Affairs and Development and other campus units, to honor alumni in New York state counties. Recipients will be Cornell graduates who returned to their home counties to start, or enhance, a business or nonprofit, and who regularly volunteer and are deeply engaged in their communities.
The award presentation, held on the farm, was attended by about four dozen extended family members of all ages; neighbors; farm employees and colleagues; dairy industry associates; Cornell staff members; and county, state and federal representatives and officials. It was obvious from the glowing remarks, warm emotions and neighborly mingling that Chittenden’s and his family’s efforts have made a lasting impact, growing the farm and business while simultaneously strengthening a community and serving as a model for dairy farms statewide.
Chittenden, who earned a degree in dairy science from the College of Agriculture of Life Sciences, is a longtime member of the Columbia-Greene Cornell Cooperative Extension Board of Directors, has had leadership positions on the board of Agri-Mark Young Cooperators, and has been a local 4-H dairy leader for more than 20 years.
As part of his dairy advocacy, Chittenden and his family have made Dutch Hollow Farm a popular destination for local and regional school field trips, and he has built relationships statewide that extend to New York City: The farm produces some of the dairy items that are featured in dishes at “Iron Chef” Marc Forgione’s restaurant in TriBeCa.
This partnership is colorfully commemorated at the New York City restaurant with a mural depicting Chittenden with a Jersey cow. Likewise, on the side of Dutch Hollow Farm’s visitor center, there is a large painted mural of Forgione with a pitcher of milk.
During the award ceremony, U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19th Dist. (who lives five miles down the road), presented Chittenden with a proclamation, calling the farm “a showpiece for New York agriculture.” Faso, who serves on the House agriculture committee, saluted Chittenden and his family for “everything they’ve done to promote dairy and to promote agriculture.”
“Farms in rural New York state are part of the social fabric of our lives,” said Richard Ball, commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, noting Chittenden’s advocacy work for agriculture. The Cornell award “couldn’t start with a better family than yours, Nate,” he said.
State Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107th Dist., who went to high school with Chittenden and his wife, Jill, praised the innovation Chittenden has brought to farming, calling him “a tremendous friend and contributor to our community.”
Joel Malina, Cornell vice president for university relations, presented Chittenden with the award plaque, noting Cornell’s founding land-grant mission “to create knowledge with a public purpose and to help ensure a vibrant and healthy future for all New Yorkers.” Malina read the inscription that commends Chittenden for his leadership, advocacy and community service, “with appreciation for utilizing your Cornell education for the betterment of your home community, New York state and the common good.”
Cornell also will make a $1,000 contribution in Chittenden’s name to the Columbia and Greene County Cooperative Extension Paul and Maria Morra Scholarship Trust.
“This has been a humbling experience,” an emotional Chittenden said after accepting the award. “To me, coming home has been about being part of a family and getting back to my family. … Anybody who knows this family knows that it’s never just one of us. It takes the entire family, galvanized and working together, to make anything happen here.”
“That Cornell link, that network, it stays with you,” he said. “It’s not just the education – it’s the people you meet while you’re there.” He praised Cornell Cooperative Extension and other university programs that continue to help dairy farms and other agriculture across the state.
Chittenden’s family connections go back to his great-grandfather, Louis Fish, Class of 1911; four of Fish’s children were also Cornell graduates. Current Cornellian members of his family include his sister Karin Chittenden-Couch ’96, a dairy farmer in Australia; brother Alan ’90, who co-manages Dutch Hollow Farm; niece Emily ’17, who also works on the farm; and niece Cassie ’14, who works nearby for the Farm Credit Bureau.