Agricultural sciences major benefits from $1 million gift

Cornell's interdisciplinary agricultural sciences major started out five years ago with just five students; today, it is a burgeoning program with more than 80, with an equal number from both rural and urban areas.

Now, a substantial gift from one of New York's most prominent farm families will allow the program to grow even further.

Richard C. Call, CALS '52, and his wife, Marie, have contributed $1 million to establish the Richard C. Call Directorship of Agricultural Sciences.

Antonio DiTommaso, director of the program and associate professor of crop and soil sciences, said the gift will be used for staffing, student internships, curriculum and programmatic support.

Just as valuable, however, is what the gift represents, he said.

The Call family at Cornell

There are more than 30 Cornellians in Richard Call's immediate family alone, including his father, two brothers, three sisters, granddaughter Jennifer '14 and grandniece Melissa '14, both agricultural sciences majors, grandniece Erica '11, grandnewphew Bill Brumsted '11, granddaughter Krista '13 and grandson Casey '12. His brother, David Call '54, served as the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences from 1978 to 1995, and Richard Call has served as a university trustee and a member of the CALS Advisory Council, the advisory committee of the Department of Animal Sciences and the Cornell Alumni Association. He was a recipient of the CALS Outstanding Alumni Award in 1985.

"It elevates the major, and having the Call name associated with the program is impressive and exciting because of all the contributions they have made to the college and the New York farming community," DiTommaso said of the family, which includes more than 30 Cornellians, including a former CALS dean and two current agricultural sciences majors (see sidebar).

Known as My-T Acres, the Call farm business was established in 1922; it operates more than 8,000 acres growing vegetables and grains in Genesee, Orleans and Livingston counties. It is now operated by Call's three sons, Nathan '77, Peter '79 and Phillip '81, and his niece, Patricia Riner.

Call has served the state's agricultural community on many fronts, from the Agway and H.P. Hood boards of directors and New York Dairy Herd Improvement Cooperative to the American Institute of Cooperation. He was honored in 2008 with a Distinguished Service Citation from the New York State Agricultural Society.

"We wanted to give back to the university and college that has been so helpful to us, and we have been very fortunate that we are able to help at this time," Call said.

Aimed at students wishing to pursue a general education in agriculture, the major includes core courses housed in several departments, including agribusiness, animal science, field crop and soil science, food science, horticulture, international agriculture, pest management and sustainable agriculture.

These are complemented by concentrations in animal science, agricultural economics and management, education and communication, crop production and management, and sustainable agriculture, as well as mandatory internships.

"We wanted it to represent the breadth of studies available here, spanning farm to consumer, while also providing the opportunity to go in depth into a particular area," DiTommaso said. "The major can really be tailored to individual interests, and that's been tremendously attractive to students."

The program draws a diversity of applicants from around the world, says Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, many of whom are attracted by the opportunity to study urban agriculture, organics and sustainable food systems.

"A cross-college collaboration of faculty advisers helps these students pursue their personal interests, which truly run the gamut," Boor said. "The program's interdisciplinary approach and focus on experiential learning align well with the vision of CALS. The major not only helps students become broad thinkers who are scientifically skilled, they are also leaving as leaders, ready to consult others about environmental and socio-economic issues related to agricultural systems."

DiTommaso said the program "has breathed new life into fields traditionally associated with agriculture. "It has really helped build momentum and a sense of community among several departments," he said. "Interest in agriculture is booming."

Stacey Shackford is a writer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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