Max Zhang, left, professor of engineering, stands with students and community partners who set up blue food cabinets around Tompkins and Cortland counties.

Town-gown awards honor food-related community partnerships

Three community organizations dedicated to food research and security and agricultural justice were honored by Cornell for their campus-community partnerships in 2022.

The 12th annual Cornell Town-Gown Awards – also known as the TOGOs – celebrated cooperation between the university and the greater Ithaca community at a virtual ceremony held Nov. 19. Joel M. Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations, hosted the event.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Cornell President Martha E. Pollack offered her thanks and discussed the importance of community-campus partnerships.

Cornell impacting New York State

“One of the things I love about Cornell is that even though we’re Ivy League, we’re never ivory tower,” Pollack said. “Our community is deeply connected with the communities around us. Cornell and local communities aren’t just shared – we continually shape each other in ways that make both of us stronger.”

Malina presented TOGO partnership awards to:

  • Emmy’s Organics, an Ithaca-based snack company, and Cornell AgriTech centers;
  • Mutual Aid Tompkins, a volunteer resource-sharing network, and Max Zhang, professor of engineering in the College of Engineering, and his students; and
  • Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming and its intern, Bianca Garcia ’23.

Emmy’s Organics, which sells gluten-free foods nationwide, worked with Cornell AgriTech’s Food Venture Center and Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture to develop and improve products, optimize processes and find local partners. In turn, the company has brought new product ideas to students in AgriTech’s capstone course in food science, allowing them the opportunity for mentorship while taking product ideas from concept to formula development.

The award was presented to Ian Gaffney, Emmy’s co-founder; his team and AgriTech staff: Olga Padilla-Zakour, Bruno Xavier, Cynthia James, Shannon Prozeller, Elizabeth Sullivan, Roger Morse, George Howick and Robert Martin.

Mutual Aid Tompkins and Zhang and students in his spring 2022 “Introduction to the Internet of Things – Technology and Engagement” class were recognized for their collaboration. Students and teaching assistants designed and installed a “smart scale” in one of Mutual Aid Tompkins’ many blue food cabinets around Tompkins and Cortland counties; the scale notifies the volunteer network when a cupboard is empty and in need of supplies. The project extended beyond the class to maintain engagement with Mutual Aid Tompkins all year through the Engaged IoT project team funded by the Shen Fund for Social Impact at Cornell Engineering.

A student inspects one of the outdoor food pantries.

“All of the students who partnered on the project are now better equipped, and justifiably quite excited, to apply what they learned in the course to other areas for real-world impact on food insecurity in Tompkins County and beyond,” said Lynden A. Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering in the College of Engineering. “Additionally, through their work on the project, our students learned more about issues in our county, from food insecurity to homelessness and the underlying issues of mental health and substance abuse.”

The award was presented to Theresa Fulton and the Mutual Aid Tompkins network as well as Zhang, teaching assistants Haomiao Wang M.S. ’22 and Alex Coy ’21, and students Jerry Jin ’23, Canwen Zhang ’23, L.M. Nawrocki ’23, Felipe Santamaria ’23 and Alfredo Alberto Rodriguez, M.S. ’22.

Also receiving a TOGO award were the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, a nonprofit that empowers people from diverse backgrounds to build a more just and sustainable food system, and intern Bianca Garcia ’23, a Harrison College Scholar with an an additional major in anthropology and minors in nutrition and science and in technology studies.

Garcia spent her summer doing farm work and posing the question, “What is the power of food to heal?” She conducted interviews at Groundswell exploring the principles and practices of restorative justice agriculture. She sought out answers through interdisciplinary connections and hands-on research, connecting nutrition, food production, mental and physical wellness and cultural identity. She has continued her interviews throughout Tompkins and surrounding counties and is engaging with other local nonprofits and farmers.

Juliana Quaresma, Groundswell executive director, and Garcia accepted the award.

The second half of the event recognized 19 inspiring and impactful community leaders who have or will soon be retiring, who each received TOGOs awards:

  • Rob Ainslie, member, Ithaca City School District Board of Education;
  • Dan Brown, executive director, Racker;
  • James Brown, president and CEO, United Way of Tompkins County;
  • Cathy Covert, clerk, Tompkins County legislature;
  • Barbara Eckstrom, director, Tompkins County Department of Recycling and Materials Management;
  • Margherita Fabrizio, director, Carol Tatkon Center;
  • Mary Fessenden, director, Cornell Cinema;
  • Julie Holcomb, clerk, City of Ithaca;
  • Dwight Mengel, planner, Tompkins County Transportation;
  • Simon Moll, trustee, Village of Lansing;
  • Svante Myrick, mayor, City of Ithaca;
  • Ben Nelson, chief, Groton Fire Department;
  • Andy Noel, director, Cornell University Athletics;
  • Jan Nyrop, director, AgriTech;
  • Dave Prunty, executive director of auxiliary services, Ithaca College;
  • Suzanne Smith-Jablonski, executive director, Tompkins County Public Library Foundation;
  • Randy Smith, trustee, Village of Lansing;
  • Rick Snyder, finance director, Tompkins County;
  • John Turner, vice president of public relations, Cayuga Health System.

The final honors of the event went to Henry Granison, a former member of the Tompkins County Legislature, who died in November.

“This beloved husband, father and friend to all was a natural leader, thinker and doer,” said Susan Riley, deputy director of community relations at Cornell, “often ahead of the curve, but always leading with love and inclusion.” A plaque will be presented to Granison’s wife, Mary Beth Grant, senior associate dean of students and director of the care and crisis services team, and their daughters, Charlotte Granison and Samantha Granison.

A recording of the TOGO event will be posted on Cornell’s Community Relations website in the coming days.

Media Contact

Abby Kozlowski