The other day I found myself at a dirt farm. Technically a compost facility run by Cornell Farm Services, the operation housed dozens of piles of soil, each in a different phase of decomposition. Crows circled overhead, occasionally landing on the piles to eat rotting food scraps.
Now why was I at a dirt farm at 2 p.m. on a Monday? I was on a field trip in PLSCS 2600: Soil Science. As an agricultural science major, my classes expose me to unique places near Cornell, from cider orchards to dairies, and the occasional soil pit. Our transportation varies from rented party bus to eight-seater van, and long drives make for interesting conversations with unlikely companions.
Compared to my other classes, the agriculture curriculum offers a very different version of college than I believe most Cornell students experience. Whereas most Cornell classes are contained to classrooms, ag classes emphasize field experience. While I am uniquely biased by my major, I believe every student should take at least one ag class with a lab to experience the unique joy of discovering places and experiences you never knew existed. The land grant system is undeniably problematic, but it differentiates Cornell from other schools of similar caliber and should be appreciated to its fullest by students, regardless of discipline.
Ag classes are also uniquely pre-professional and technical, two characteristics that can easily be lost in liberal arts education. Last year, I took ANSC 2500: Dairy Cattle Principles, to fulfill an animal science requirement within my major. By March, I found myself holding a dead bovine reproductive tract in one hand and a semen straw in the other. Had you asked me four years ago what I imagined I’d do at college, practicing artificial insemination at 2 p.m. on a Monday afternoon would not have been on the list. But in many ways, this “skill” is far more relevant to my daily life than I realize — it’s an integral part of producing my cream cheese bagels and late night froyo runs at Jason’s.
My ag classes challenge my view of our food systems, but also of our social and cultural approaches to farming and farming communities. In my land-grant education, I have become increasingly aware of the struggles of rural communities, and increasingly respectful of the effort it takes to produce my meals. I struggle to reconcile feelings of great pride in our country and an urgent desire for change and improvement. I find purpose knowing that I am one of many students to participate in the land-grant mission of serving the community through agricultural research and development. Though colleges carry reputations of being insular bubbles, my agricultural classes have exposed me to livelihoods vastly different from my background and fostered nuance in my perspectives of our country.
I have always hated the humanities-STEM dichotomy, and don’t particularly subscribe to or believe in it. I don’t even fully understand where agriculture fits in that. However, I believe that every student, from classics majors to computer science ones, should enroll in at least one niche agriculture class. Agriculture is a unique part of Cornell’s identity and history, and one that should not be overlooked. Go out on a limb and take a risk — you never know what strange but significant places or skills or people you may encounter along the way.
Julia Poggi is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Outbox runs every other Sunday this semester.