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Leadership Training at Cornell in New York Agriculture

One of the best benefits to living in New York, for this Buffalo blow-in, is having local access to international networks and institutions. Growing up in a rural area, my family always looked to Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension system for well-researched resources about how to grow our favorite things better, from soil testing to best growing techniques for our region. But in times like these, with so much of our food imported from Canada, Mexico, and other foreign countries, with immigration of farm laborers becoming such a hotly debated national issue, how often do you wonder, even worry, about the bigger picture? What are the challenges facing us in securing a healthy local food system?

For people interested in the larger statewide, national, and global food production issues, Cornell is also an anchor for LEAD-NY, a leadership development program for those in the food, agriculture, and natural resource sectors. While meeting and networking with the most passionate food sector leaders in the state, participants travel throughout the region, with visits to Canada and Washington DC, learning about the issues that farms and related service providers face today. At the end of a two year program, participants travel abroad to observe firsthand the agricultural challenges of another country.


Recent trips have included Vietnam, the Philippines, Turkey, Spain, Chile and South Africa. There are many local graduates, including Stew and Deb Ritchie of Native Offerings Farm, Kevin Bittner of Bittner Singer Orchards in Niagara County, Cheryl Thayer of the Harvest New York Program and Diane Held, Executive Director of Erie County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension, to name a few.

LEAD-NY alumni rave about the quality of the connections they make as a result of the program, from enhanced friendships with peers throughout the state, to a widened perspective about the challenges facing the family farms that define New York agriculture, to the immense value of building first rate leadership skills for advancing food security into the next generation. Who do you know who would benefit from this type of training and network?

Recruitment for Class 18 will begin this fall. Applications will be available January 1, 2019, and  will be due March 1, 2019. Tuition for the first year of the next class will be $2400, and $3,500 for the second year, but some assistance is available. Often employers will sponsor student fees. Visit for more information.

Photo credits: LEAD-NY and LEAD-NY Alumni

Written by Arete


Megan Mills Hoffman, Alaskan-born and raised, arrived in Buffalo in 2003 thinking she'd stay for a few months, much like her other brief sojourns in Missoula, Montana; Oxford, Mississippi; Portland, Oregon; and Albany, New York. Then she discovered Wegman's cheese aisle and Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House, the first of which reminded her of her mother's experience living outside Manchester, England and the second of her father's experience in construction in Alaska. While discovering Buffalo's others treasures, she worked with Buffalo Rising as it first expanded online, the Burchfield Penney Art Center's New Museum Project, Buffalo State College, Western New York Land Conservancy, Young Audiences, and The Gow School. She has served on the boards of the Allentown Association, Mandala School, Western New York Environmental Alliance, and Field and Fork Network. With a B.S. in Sociology and twenty plus years of experience working in community development and grassroots organizations, she has embraced, developed, launched, and established, to varying degrees of success, a variety of local social movements, all directed at changing the way we think about our education and learning. She lives in a small town south of Buffalo, much like the one she grew up in, with her Buffalo-born husband, daughter, and Bernese Mountain dog.

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