We’re not really a last-resort suicide hotline type of thing. We’re able to identify a case and start to turn things around before it gets to the point that it is a suicide call.

— Hal McCabe, outreach director of NY FarmNet, describes the role the CALS-led farmer helpline plays in helping to prevent suicide for New York’s most distressed farmers. 

Where Are They Now: Kaitlin Hardy

In the Spring 2012 issue of periodiCALS, we featured portraits of 12 outstanding seniors. Student writer Andrea Alfano ‘14 has been checking in with these young alumni to see what they’ve been up to, and we will be posting some of their stories over the next several weeks as part of a special Where Are They Now feature.

As a varsity gymnast, neuroscience researcher, and biology major at Cornell, Kaitlin Hardy ‘12 proved she is not willing to let her epilepsy limit her. Kaitlin devoted her undergraduate studies to learning more about this neurological disorder so that she could use her knowledge to educate others. In her sophomore year, Kaitlin teamed up with hockey player Dan Nicholls ’11 to co-found FACES (Facts, Advocacy and Control of Epileptic Seizures), an organization aimed at educating people, especially kids, on epilepsy through community events and hands-on science-based activities.

Kaitlin’s dedication to contributing to a better understanding of epilepsy has certainly not waned. After spending some time traveling around Europe, she began working on a master’s degree in Clinical Neuroscience, focusing her work on epilepsy. She recently completed her dissertation, which proposes a way to gauge how effective a particular surgery for epileptic patients may be without any invasive procedures.

“This was me finding a way to take physical control over my current situation and deciding that I was going to do what I could to make a change.” she said.

In addition to her research, Kaitlin has also been interning at St. Luke’s Hospital/Temple Medical School observing neurosurgery and gaining experience in depth electrode implantation as a means of measuring neurological electrical activity.

To Kaitlin, it’s important not only to help create a better understanding of epilepsy, but also to provide support for others suffering from the disorder. She keeps in close contact with young people with epilepsy that she’s met over the past few years, offering them advice and support. Recently, Kaitlin has also started volunteering for the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania. She is also involved in Camp EAGR, an annual event for epileptic children.

“These children deserve the world, and a large part of their future life successes will come from successful seizure control and a life without debilitating side effects from anti-epileptic drugs,” Kaitlin said.

Check out Kaitlin’s original portrait here.

Dr. Watkins Goes to Washington

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Last week, new Cornell Cooperative Extension Director Chris Watkins led a group of extension volunteers, CCE executive directors, and 4-H and agricultural issue leaders on a trip to Washington, D.C. Taking a break from a national extension conference, the group met with various Congressional leaders to explain the importance of federal Smith-Lever dollars in fostering strong partnerships between county, state, and federal governments.

Smith-Lever funds are the foundation of the U.S. cooperative extension system. Passed in 1914, the Smith-Lever Act provides federal dollars to the states for extension activities, with the proviso that the states must fully match these funds from non-federal sources. The money is then used to support the cooperative extension networks in each state, which are administered through the state’s Land-grant institution. Without these resources, numerous CCE-sponsored programs in New York would not exist.

In this photo, Watkins (far left) visits with Congressman Bill Owens, D-NY 21st District (center), along with several members of the CCE delegation. Throughout his tenure in Congress, Owens (who recently announced he will not seek re-election) has been an advocate for the important contributions higher education and research make to the economic development of New York’s agricultural and rural communities.

(Photo and text provided by Julie Suarez. Pictured L-R: Watkins; Kevin Acres, St. Lawrence County legislator; Patrick Ames, CCE Director of St. Lawrence County; Congressman Owens; Rick LeVitre, CCE Director of Franklin County; Julie Suarez, CALS Assistant Dean for Government and Community Relations; and Anita Deming, Natural Resource and Agriculture Team Leader from CCE of Essex County)

Inspired to inspire

"The best chief is not the one who persuades people to his point of view. It is instead the one in whose presence most people find it easiest to arrive at the truth."

- Nia:wen, Te honie ien

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Solomon “Sol” Cook ’38, M.S. ’42, Ph.D. ’50, the first Native American to receive a doctorate degree from Cornell, has been remembered as a lifelong learner, educator and leader who was often called upon for sage and wise counsel regarding farming, life and business. The Akwesasne native died on April 1, at the age of 94.

The proud Mohawk elder – and St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief from 1977-1980 - grew up on a farm with seven siblings, and paid his own way through Cornell by doing housework and chores for the family that provided him board.

His maternal grandfather, a self-taught scholar, suggested his biblical name.

“I don’t know if it was my name that did it or not, but I made up my mind early on that I was going to get a first-rate education,” Cook once told an historian. “Later, I had an inspiring high school teacher who told me I could do anything I put my mind to.”

Cook, in turn, inspired countless other native and non-native students, as a teacher and guidance counselor for 30 years, at Barker High School and Salmon River Central School. He also taught briefly as an assistant professor at South Dakota State University, and served in the U.S. Navy as an instrument technician on the USS Vulcan in 1944; he saw duty in the Pacific Theater, entering Hiroshima shortly after VJ Day.

Not satisfied with simply teaching agriculture, Cook was an active farmer and researcher, pursuing improvements in cash crop farming and helping other growers in the region improve their farming techniques. In 1954, he established Marian Farms in Akwesanse, where he lived and prospered until his death.

As a tribal leader, Cook played a crucial role in helping his community recover from a serious period of unrest, despite threats to his own life. He also donated land to the reservation for the construction of a library.

Cook was an active member of the Farm Bureau and a popular judge for 4-H competitions. He also loved to tell a tale, and was well respected for his intellect, generosity, detailed memory of names, events, plant horticulture, tribal culture and lore, and curiosity.

He was a fervent proponent of education as a transformative process, and backed it up with financial and moral support throughout his life, including the establishment of the Solomon Cook Award for Engaged Research and Scholarship at Cornell, and the Dr. Solomon Cook Scholarship at SUNY Canton, where he served on the College Council from 1978 to 1989.

Among many distinctions, Cook received a Kateri Tekakwitha Award and an Outstanding Alumni Award from CALS in 1992.

What does it mean to be “rooted” in life and at Cornell? That is the question posed by a new botanical display scheduled to be installed on Library Slope later this week. Entitled "Rooted at Cornell," this “living community art installation” is the brainchild of student artist Justin Kondrat and faculty advisor Marcia Eames-Sheavly, senior extension associate and senior lecturer of horticulture.

As this video illustrates, volunteers planted 13,000 flower bulbs in 350 pots in December that are now in full bloom and ready to be moved to the slope. There they will be arranged by volunteers to spell out the word “rooted” in 10-foot-tall letters. Sponsored in collaboration with Gannett Health Services, the installation is intended to recognize the power of plants and people to cultivate a healthy college campus and to celebrate the diversity of ways people stay rooted in their lives and in the Cornell community.

Eames-Sheavly, who coordinates CALS’ new minor in Horticulture with a Focus in the Botanical Arts, was also recently honored with a 2014 Great American Gardeners Teaching Award by the American Horticultural Society (AHS) for her work with numerous educational landscape art projects at Cornell and for developing the course Experiential Garden-Based Learning in Belize

This year knocks you for a loop.

Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture extension specialist with the Cornell Finger Lakes Grape Program, lamenting the damage done to this year’s crop of Riesling grapes, the signature wine variety of the Finger Lakes region, due to the exceptionally cold winter of 2013-14. 

In Bangladesh with Bt brinjal farmers

Via Btbrinjal:

image9 April 2014 - While visiting Bangladesh to conduct environmental safety assessments for Bt brinjal and help farmers develop resistant management programs to ensure the long-term durability of Bt eggplant, I visited Haidul Islam’s Bt brinjal fields on April 9. Mr. Islam was the same farmer whose crop the Financial Express on April 7 alleged was ridden with insects that Mr. Islam was spraying with insecticides. 

I found the exact opposite to be true. Mr. Islam and his associate proudly showed me his field of Bt brinjal. It was free of pest damage, and they were very pleased with the crop. Normally, they would have already sprayed insecticides on the plants to control the brinjal fruit and shoot borer, but did not have to since the plants resisted their attack. They were pleased to see no borer injury — as were the rest of us who were there inspecting the crop.

Bt brinjal resists the brinjal fruit and shoot borer — by far the most destructive pest of brinjal. Females lay their eggs on young vegetative shoots, and the emerging larvae bore into the plant and kill the shoots. Larvae from eggs laid on the fruit also bore into the fruit, making it unmarketable. Neither conventional nor organic sprays provide good control because the young caterpillars burrow into the plant as soon as they hatch. To build up sufficient residues for the larvae to be exposed to the insecticide, all the eggplant tissue must be soaked with insecticide.

Because of the usual intense use of insecticide sprays to control fruit and shoot borers, some consumers refer to harvested eggplants from South Asia as “pesticide bombs.” Bt brinjal is a far safer and healthier way for farmers to control the pest and market their fruit.

imageBt brinjal also allows farmers to use “integrated pest management,” or IPM, to control minor brinjal pests like aphids, thrips, leafhoppers, and whiteflies. Some of these pests can be controlled by other insects — biological control agents like ladybird beetles and lacewings. These beneficial insects are harmed by conventional and organic insecticide sprays. In using resistant plants instead of pesticides to control the borers, farmers allow beneficial insect populations to flourish.

Coupling insect-resistant plants with integrated pest management is a long-term sustainable strategy that is better for the environment, better for farmers, and better for consumer health.

Tony Shelton, Cornell University professor of entomology and a world expert on Bt plants.

Ithaca is GORGES! Lower Cascadilla Gorge Trail opens

Via CornellPlantations

Cornell Plantations has announced that the lower section of the Cascadilla Gorge Trail was opened to pedestrians on Friday, April 11, 2014. 

The Cascadilla Gorge Trail, between Linn Street and Stewart Avenue, is now reopened after being closed for the winter. The trail weathered the winter relatively well, having only minor railing damage upon initial inspection. Major repair work on upstream sections of the trail will commence this spring, with contractors starting where they left off last year, rebuilding the large staircase sections below the College Avenue Bridge. The current plan will have the trail fully restored and reopened this summer.

“We know the community is eagerly awaiting the reopening of the entire trail,” said Todd Bittner, director of Natural Areas at Cornell Plantations. “We think everyone will be pleased with the results, and will agree it was worth the wait!”

About The Cascadilla Gorge Trail:
The lower section of Cascadilla Gorge is truly a “gorges” display of rock, water and trees. Cascadilla Creek drops 400 feet from campus to downtown Ithaca, carving through bedrock - shales, siltstone and sandstone - exposing sedimentary rocks that were deposited 400 million years ago. Look for ripple marks on the rock surface, which once was the muddy floor of an ancient ocean. Here also is a tremendous variety of forest and creek habitats packed into a small area. Cascadilla Gorge was originally preserved and donated to Cornell University by Robert H. Treman in 1909 to support public use, education, and enjoyment. The Cascadilla Gorge Trail system, initially constructed during the Civilian Conservation Corp. era, ascends 400 feet in elevation between Linn Street and Hoy Road, and currently totals 7,800 feet in length. Cornell Plantations manages Cascadilla Gorge, and is committed to protecting the natural area, providing ongoing educational use, and supporting safe public recreation and enjoyment of the gorge.

*The weather forecast for this weekend calls for warm temperatures and sunshine. If your plans include enjoying the natural beauty of our area gorges, please do so safely—obey all trail closures and posted regulations, and review our gorge safety information before you head out.

*Information taken from Chief Zoner’s Weekly Blue Light E-Mail

Student Spotlight: Graham Montgomery

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If there is one theme that guides the pursuits of CALS junior and entomology and biological sciences double-major Graham Montgomery, it’s observation. Whether it’s crawling through the brush to identify rare specimens of insects, birding in exotic locales, or capturing the beauty of nature through the lens of his camera, Graham’s passions are characterized by his drive to gather unique and wondrous glimpses of the natural world.

“I like seeing as much as I can,” said the Houston-native, whose interest in nature, and insects in particular, began at an early age and was inspired by someone special in his family.

“My grandmother was really into birding, insects, gardening and nature, and I guess she just instilled that in me,” he said. “I think most kids go through that phase where they really enjoy exploring and looking at bugs. I guess I just never grew out of it.”

Although he considered several different schools during his college search, he was ultimately drawn to CALS because of its strong reputation in entomology. “There really aren’t that many entomology programs in the U.S. or the world for that matter, and Cornell has one of the oldest and most respected.”

It turned out to be the right decision.

“The faculty in the Entomology Department are absolutely awesome,” he said. “Every professor is kind and goes out of their way to get to know you. It’s a fun environment, and there are lots of opportunities to get involved in research.”

Graham has taken advantage of those opportunities by becoming involved in bee research in the lab of Bryan Danforth, professor of entomology. A previous research project involved assisting with a study of the pathogens in mason bees, an important apple pollinator. Currently, Graham is helping to build a phylogeny (or evolutionary family tree) of the genus Rediviva of South African bees, which contains approximately 30 different species.

“It’s been a great introduction to phylogenetic methods, which investigate the relationships between species,” Graham said. “We’re trying to figure out which species are most closely related to each other to try to determine how traits unique to each evolved over time.”

But Graham’s exploration of the insect world is hardly confined to the lab. For one thing, he’s discovered two previously undescribed species of insects.

“I will say that discovering new insects happens all the time in entomology, but it’s still always been a dream of mine to find one,” he said. “There’s a species of weevil I found in a suburban neighborhood in Houston. I sent it off to an expert who confirmed it had never before been identified. It’s now in the collection and will eventually be described and named.

“When I was in Arizona this past summer doing an internship at the Southwestern Research Station, I also found an undescribed species of leafhopper, one of my favorite groups of insects.”

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(Photo of the leafhopper Graphocephala coccinea by Graham Montgomery)

Graham is also an active member of the Snodgrass and Wigglesworth Undergraduate Entomology Club, which organizes student insect collecting trips, camping expeditions and helps to put on Cornell’s popular Insectapalooza event each fall. He also volunteers as an editor for the website Bug Guide, which enables the general public to upload photographs of insects and have them identified by entomologists.

“The site has identified something like 30,000 insect species via photographs,” he said. “It’s kind of like the Lab of Ornithology’s eBird site, only for bugs.”

Because of its ease and efficiency, Graham himself prefers to identify insects via photography rather than use the traditional method of collecting. In fact, taking pictures plays an important role in Graham’s life, both in his academic pursuits and as a hobby.

“I’ve been interested in photography since I was around 12. My parents had an old Canon Rebel, which is a great camera to learn on. I’ve been pretty much hooked ever since then.”

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(Photo of the jumping spider in the family Salticidae by Graham Montgomery)

Graham’s exceptional skill in macro, telephoto and scenic photography is widely recognized, and his photographs have appeared online and in print in many entomology publications, as well as in the upcoming issue of periodiCALS.

“It helps that I take pictures of things most other people don’t. There’s not a ton of insect photographers, so I have a few images out there that are one of or the only ones available of particular species.

With a friend, he’s also putting together a documentary on Arizona wildlife from footage gathered while doing his internship at the Southwestern Research Station.

“Right now, we’re archiving some of our videos at the Macaulay Library,” he said. “And then we’re going to reach out to the American Museum of Natural History to see if they would like to produce the film with us.”

When not focused on the micro world of insects, Graham’s love of nature and the outdoors drives more expansive pursuits, such as camping, hiking and kayaking. An avid birder, he recently joined several friends on a birding expedition to Panama where they spotted over 450 species. And in May, he’ll be participating in the World Series of Birding as a member of the Lab of Ornithology’s Team Redhead.

Graham also recently traveled to the tip of South America as part of the BIOPL 2300 Global Plant Biodiversity and Vegetation class, where he studied biodiversity and the relationship between plants and insects.

“Being in Patagonia was incredible. We learned a lot about the flora and how to identify this species versus that species, and why one is dominant in a particular habitat. We visited a wide variety of habits, from desert to steppe to alpine to rainforest to coast. And of course, I’m really interested in pollination, and so the class was also a really great introduction to learn more about the plant side of the plant/insect relationship.” 

After graduation, Graham plans to earn a Masters degree, though he hasn’t yet decided which career path he will follow.

“I’d love to teach, though I’m not sure yet if I’ll pursue a Ph.D. and enter academia. But there are many options in private industry, and state and federal government, especially when it comes to invasive species.”

When asked to offer advice to prospective entomology students, Graham emphasized Cornell’s size and high academic standards. 

“The best thing about Cornell is that you can always find other people here that are interested in the same things you are. There was nobody at my high school interested in insects, birds or even nature. But Cornell is big enough to have that critical mass of people that really makes it easy to get involved in ways that are fun, exciting and rewarding.

 “You can’t go wrong with Cornell. The university has very high standards and being in an environment of excellence really pushes you to be the best you can be.”

Guest Post: A true spectacle of nature

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Once a year, about this time, Ithaca’s mole salamanders make their move. Spotted and Jefferson salamanders emerge from underground forest lairs and journey long distances to spring pools. There they do their mating thing in great numbers, with lots of sexy writhing. No direct contact though: the boys dance their dance and present their sperm on stalked spermatophores that spangle the leafy bottoms of the pools like white stars. The girls choose their favorite from among the dancers. Within a few days they depart, leaving only eggs-in-jelly behind. We will seldom see these striking salamanders any other time of year. 

All this makes the first warmish, wettish night of Spring a perfect night for an expedition with friends. On Cornell’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, we found hosts of eager salamanders heading toward the pools, and an eclectic variety of human salamander fans. My 10-year old friend Sophia, my son Cole and his buddy Zach, Cornell herpetology club members, and local fans of nature’s spectacles. Also Lang Elliott, a champion of salamander conservation, and a fine recordist of natural scenes (see what you missed on his blog). A thunderstorm later that night surely only enhanced the excitement. We got our boots stuck in the muck. We got turned around in the dark. We met new friends. We were giddy with the joy of it all.

Ithaca is replete with secret natural spectacles like these. They are worth finding. Our waterfalls, firefly shows, mushroom booms, smelt runs (fish!), snowy owl irruptions, the flight of the woodcock (a bird that says PEENT), and more. 

Kathie Hodge, associate professor of mycology, director of the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium, and avid blogger. 

(You can keep track of Professor Hodge’s mycological adventures on the Cornell Mushroom Blog, which was recently selected by the Library of Congress to be added to the national historical science blog collection.)

Via Cornell Plantations:

Phil Syphrit, curator of the conifer collection, has been doing more and more with growing his own conifers at work. He started some from seed, some from cuttings, and some from generous contributions of small seedlings form nurseries in West Virginia and Idaho. Take a look at these photos he posted to Facebook!

Where Are They Now: Alfonso Doucette

In the Spring 2012 issue of periodiCALS, we featured portraits of 12 outstanding seniors. Student writer Andrea Alfano ‘14 has been checking in with these young alumni to see what they’ve been up to, and we will be posting some of their stories over the next several weeks as part of a special Where Are They Now feature.

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When we last checked in with plant science major Alfonso Doucette ‘12, he was a total orchid fanatic, with a particular zeal for orchids of the genus Dracula. His dedication to learning about orchids so impressed orchid expert and taxonomist Eric Christensen that he named the Maxillaria × doucetteana in Alfonso’s honor.

Now, Alfonso has taken his orchid obsession to the next level as a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ever enthralled by Dracula orchids, Alfonso is expanding upon the research he started at Cornell. He hopes that his research on the taxonomy of these elegant plants will uncover the mechanisms that generate diversity with the genus.

“At Cornell, I had a lot of help from professors with figuring out what my Ph.D. was going to be,” said Alfonso. “I also got to learn some of the skills that I needed for the type of research that I wanted to do.”

As a budding (pardon the plant pun) orchid taxonomist, one of the most exciting experiences for Alfonso was being a part of his first race to publish a scientific name for an orchid species.

“It’s sort of a rite of passage for orchid taxonomists,” said Alfonso.

In addition to working on his dissertation, Alfonso works to connect undergraduates with graduate students and the resources available in the botany department at UW-Madison as a member of the student chapter of the Botanical Society of America. From his experiences at Cornell, Alfonso realizes how important it is to learn from mentors and to take advantage of academic resources as an undergraduate, and he hopes to pay it forward through his work with the organization.

Check out Alfonso’s original portrait here.

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