Xochitl Torres Small, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) visited Cornell AgriTech on Dec. 8 to talk with researchers, students, food entrepreneurs and other partners about specialty crop research initiatives, digital agriculture and economic development for New York state’s food industries.
The visit is part of Torres Small’s and the USDA’s tour of land-grant universities throughout the country.
“It's a joy to be back here, visiting with students and faculty from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,” Torres Small said. “Cornell AgriTech is a leader in innovative agricultural research that maximizes productivity, producer sustainability and resilience. Their work fits hand-in-hand with President Biden’s priority to champion American producers and rural communities.”
The visit began with a discussion with food entrepreneurs enrolled in Cornell’s Food Spark program, which guides students through the process of bringing a new food or beverage product to market – from feasibility to food safety to packaging and marketing. Torres Small then toured some of AgriTech’s greenhouses and learned about ongoing research into vegetable breeding, grape breeding and management of invasive pests and diseases.
“The USDA investment in Cornell AgriTech is vital to driving innovation, startups and science-based solutions that can propel economic development in rural communities throughout New York and beyond,” said Ben Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS. “It also represents an investment in our students, who gain expertise through hands-on experience helping to develop the technologies of the future.”
Cornell AgriTech hosted a roundtable discussion with Torres Small in Jordan Hall that included: Richard Ball, commissioner of New York state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets; Houlton; Chris Smart, the Goichman Family Director of Cornell AgriTech; Julie Suarez, CALS associate dean for land-grant affairs; Tina Square, Northeast region technical lead for the Intertribal Agriculture Council; Lillian Taylor, owner of Bully Hill Vineyards; Paul Guglielmo, owner of Craft Cannery, a food industry manufacturer and a winner in the 2022 Grow-NY competition; Gan-Yuan Zhong, research leader at the USDA’s Grape Genetics Research and Plant Genetic Resources Units in Geneva, New York; and graduate students Aleah Butler-Jones and Anna Wunsch.
“The exciting work taking place at Cornell AgriTech is meeting the moment as well as looking into the future,” said Brian Murray, director of USDA Rural Development for New York state. “Through their cutting-edge agricultural science, research and development they are leading the way with innovative solutions in addressing the future of food and the world’s agriculture systems. By doing so, they are addressing food equity and the challenging effects of climate change.”
Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.