April 23, 2023

WEIRENS | Sow Much to Discover: The Flourishing Agriculture of Cornell

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On my first day ever at Cornell, my family and I got a bit lost. It was the day before move-in, and we were exploring campus for ourselves, far off the beaten path toward the easternmost part of campus where the teaching barns are. A Minnesotan family of animal lovers, we had seen farms on the campus map and were determined to investigate them ourselves. Finally, after a long walk in the rain, we stumbled upon a collection of several different barns, sheds and greenhouses. 

We wandered about, feet sinking deep into mud, exhausted from days of travel and not really expecting much. We were at a college after all, not the state fair. But the stench said otherwise. Following the smell of manure, we entered a barn — exploring further, we were delighted to turn a corner and find hundreds of pairs of eyes blinking back at us. 

Several pens full of hundreds of sheep were casually tucked into the corner of campus. Upon further inspection, we found hogs and cows as well. Glowing with approval, we returned to our hotel knowing I hadn’t wasted my Early Decision application. Just last weekend, I visited with my boyfriend on a sunny day to see the spring lambs frolic. Both the lambs and ewes looked happy and healthy. Apparently an unusually high number of lambs survived this spring, hence the impressive amount. I also checked in on the hogs, who had increased in numbers and were enormously fat. Their jowls quivered with hoggish greed as they stomped and snuffled in their feed. Charmed, I decided it was time to write about Cornell’s fantastic agriculture programs. 

By no means am I an agriculture or plant science major — I’m not even in CALS. However, as a government major in A&S with a love for all things plants and animals, I can’t help but revel in our surroundings. Furthermore, I believe not enough Cornellians appreciate or know about the amazing agriculture, animal science and outdoors programs that are available to students on campus. 

For example, last summer I worked as a research intern for Cornell Orchards, which is definitely the coolest job I’ve ever had. Prior to seeing the job application, I didn’t even know we had an orchard on campus. Not only do we grow several types of apples, but also grapes, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and countless types of berries. We worked at Cornell research facilities and farms in Lansing, Geneva and on Mount Pleasant, and drove tractors, went on cider tours, conducted experiments and ate loads of fresh fruit, all while honing other character-building skills such as weeding, digging holes, pruning trees and hauling heavy objects. I’d highly recommend the internship for anyone interested in agriculture with a taste for fruit and physical labor. 

For more casual enjoyers of the outdoors and agriculture, Cornell has a gorgeous botanical garden, wildflower garden and arboretum right on campus, easily accessible from Mann Library, North Campus and Stocking Hall. So many people I’ve spoken to about the gardens don’t even know they exist, and are shocked to see how nice they are upon visiting. They are perfect for running, hiking, picnicking or just relaxing in nature. They even have a special winter garden for trees and plants that can be enjoyed in Ithaca’s neverending cold and grayness. 

I took a class at the Botanic Gardens my freshman fall, Nature RX, which is my favorite Cornell class to date — I highly recommend it to anyone regardless of course of study. I know that it’s hard to have time to do something outside of your major, work or extracurriculars, especially at a fast-paced university like Cornell, but our gardens are well worth exploring if you have a free hour or two. 

Cornell also has three Greek life organizations devoted to agriculture, both professional and social, that support the education and culture of farming in the Cornell community and beyond. 

For example, earlier this week there was a lovely agricultural festival on the Arts Quad. Students had the opportunity to sample dairy products, lasso a wooden bull and cradle baby chicks, among other activities. The thriving student agriculture presence, both in Greek organizations and outside of them, made such an event so successful.

Even those who aren’t in CALS can appreciate the benefits of Cornell’s fantastic agriculture programs and culture. It’s easy to abandon parts of yourself that aren’t essential to success here, but we should all take the time to get outside this spring and visit the animals, orchards or one of the gardens while you and the sun are here at the same time. 

Aurora Weirens is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Northern Light runs alternate Sundays this semester.