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Grad program

SoHo art opening February 22, Big Red Barn

From Hannah Swegarden:

The Society of Horticulture Grad Students (SoHo) is proud to present their horticultural research through an artistic lens at the Big Red Barn.

From the flowers above ground to the mycorrhizae systems deep below ground, the beauty of horticulture is everywhere. This collection of pieces showcases the diversity of horticultural research at Cornell University and seeks to highlight SoHo’s deep appreciation for the intricate connection between people and plants. We hope you’re able to join us for the show’s opening at the Big Red Barn, opening February 22, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM!

Free wine and cheese will be served.


Student team works with Colombian coffee growers


From Juana Muñoz Ucros and Marie Zwetsloot, Graduate Field of Horticulture, Bauerle Lab

Tucked away in the western arm of the mighty Colombian Andes lies the Cauca coffee-growing region. A stunning mixture of Afrocolombians, indigenous people and Spanish descendants fuses together around the culture of artisanal coffee growing.

Without machinery and with very few inputs — but enormous amounts of creativity — these farmers optimize yield in plots usually less than 2 acres. And even in the face of unpredictable weather, they manage to put children through college, pay off their loans, and experiment with organic farming.

In January, we led a student learning and research trip to Cauca as part of the Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) program of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD). We made use of a previously established relationship with a cooperative of coffee farmers, Federación Campesina de Cauca (FCC), by Miguel Gomez and his graduate students in Applied Economics and Management.

Our group consisted of students from different disciplines and included Shanti Kumar and Jenny Lee from International Agriculture and Rural Development, Sam Bosco from Horticulture, Lizzy Sweitzer Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, and Whit Knickerbocker from Agronomy and Agribusiness Management.

During our visit, the team visited both organic and conventional coffee farms with the aim to better understand the economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities that households from these different food production systems face. We interviewed the farmers about their management practices and took soil samples to evaluate pH and active carbon content of the soil. As an outcome, we left the FCC with a low-cost alternative to expensive lab soil tests that can inform them of soil health status and better direct their limited resources.

Full of pride and also of knowledge, the coffee producers showed the team around their farms and explained their philosophy and techniques. Even though communicating in Spanish wasn’t always easy, the producers were very patient in explaining their perspectives and sharing their experiences. Coffee farming is a tough living; stories of fluctuating coffee prices, health issues due to pesticide exposure and climate change were part of almost every conversation. The prospect of a peace deal finally put into action brings a smile to the farmer’s faces, but their reality is still one of political turmoil, government neglect, and ever present coffee leaf rust.

Besides the remarkable views of the endless mountains, one of the things that stood out was the hospitality and openness of the farmers. We were not allowed to leave the farm without having had at least one cup of sugary coffee, and a sampler of the tropical fruits grown by the family.

Seeing all of this with your own eyes makes you think hard about the coffee we drink every day.

To visit the project’s blog, follow this link:

Dreer blog: Raquel Kallas pursues viticulture in Oz

Kallas measuring midday water potential during a 40-degree C (104 F) heatwave last week.

Kallas measuring midday water potential during a 40-degree C (104 F) heatwave last week.

2016 Dreer Award recipient Raquel Kallas (MS Horticulture ’16) is pursuing her interest in viticulture in Australia with the help of a familiar face to many: Vinay Pagay (PhD Horticulture ’14), now viticulture researcher and educator based at the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide.

“His lab is on the cutting-edge of vineyard technologies that will allow us to better understand and manage the effects of climate change on vines and wine quality,” says Kallas. While a student at Cornell, Pagay helped develop a microfluidic water sensor within a fingertip-sized silicon chip that is a hundred times more sensitive than current devices.

Kallas’s collaborations with Pagay are funded through the Frederick Dreer Award. The Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science offers this wonderful opportunity once a year that allows one or more students to spend 4 months to up to a year abroad pursuing horticulture interests. Deadline for application this cycle is March 6, 2017.

If you’d like to keep up with Kallas’s travels, visit her Dreer blog, Grapes of Raq.

What I did on break

Many in the Cornell horticulture community embarked on expeditions of note over the break:

Mark Bridgen and Betsy Lamb led students in Special Topics in Horticulture: Plant Biodiversity (PLHRT 4940) on a trip to Chile for hands-on study and exploration of wild and native plants, commercial breeding programs, and botanical gardens and arboreta to supplement their classroom experiences last fall. See more pictures from the trip on their class blog.

Exploring native plants in Valle Nevado.

Exploring native plants in Valle Nevado.

Bryan Duff
and 13 undergraduates traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they spent all day every day for a week embedded in an elementary school that is turning to project-based learning to boost student motivation and performance. Bryan and the students taught the children to use video-making equipment and then guided them in making music videos for songs celebrating Black History Month.

Students try their hand at video (left). Duff interviews students waiting for class (right).

Students try their hand at video (left). Duff interviews students waiting for class (right).

Marvin Pritts
traveled to Myanmar with other faculty and students in IARD 6020 – International Agriculture in Developing Nations.

Temple-studded landscape.

Temple-studded landscape.

Click on thumbnails below to see more scenes from Myanmar:

New course teaches cutting-edge food production

To better prepare Cornell students to thrive in the growing  hydroponic industry, associate professor Neil Mattson initiated a course last fall, Hydroponic Food Crop Production and Management, to teach the principles and practices of commercial food crop production in controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Read more in the Cornell Chronicle [2017-01-19].

Class travels to Chile to study biodiversity

Alstroemeria in Valle Nevado, Chile

Alstroemeria in Valle Nevado, Chile

Today, students in Special Topics in Horticulture: Plant Biodiversity (PLHRT 4940) arrive in Chile. For the next 10 days, they will follow-up on their classroom experiences last semester learning about how biodiversity is perceived, valued, measured, monitored, and protected with hands-on study and exploration of wild and native plants, commercial breeding programs, and botanical gardens and arboreta.

“The biodiversity of Chile is rich and precious, and its plants are valued highly throughout the world,” notes Mark Bridgen, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, who is leading the trip. “Of the 5,100 species of flora and fauna found in Chile, more than 2,500 are endemic – that is, found nowhere else on Earth.”

In fact, Bridgen has developed two ornamental cultivars of the native Chilean Inca Lily (Alstroemeria): ‘Tangerine Tango’ and ‘Mauve Majesty’.

If you’d like to follow the class’s adventures, visit and/or subscribe to the class blog, Biodiversity in Chile. The site is already populated with profiles of fascinating plants — including the alien-looking Yareta (Azorella compacta) from the high desert and the national tree of Chile Araucaria araucanabetter known as the Monkey Puzzle Tree — and posts on other biodiversity topics.

View additional pictures from Chile on Mark Bridgen’s Facebook page.

Swegarden takes top honors at rutabaga curling competition


Photo courtesy Edna Brown Photography

It’s only fitting that kale aficionado Hannah Swegarden, PhD student in the Graduate Field of Horticulture, took top honors in the Almost 20th Anniversary Ithaca Farmers Market  Rutabaga (a related Brassica) Curl December 17.

Swegarden faced stiff competition from runner-up ‘God’ (left, aka Michael Glos, technician in the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section representing Kingbird Farm).

More curling event images at Edna Brown Photography.

January graduates celebrated at recognition ceremony

Justin France waves to family and friends after receiving recognition for earning his master's degree in horticulture. (Photo: Jason Koski/University Photography)

Justin France waves to family and friends after receiving recognition for earning his master’s degree in horticulture. (Photo: Jason Koski/University Photography)

Cornell Chronicle [2016-12-19]:

Dressed in their academic regalia, Alice Beban France and her husband, Justin France, appeared relaxed at the reception following Cornell’s 14th January graduation recognition ceremony at Bartels Hall Dec. 17.

That relaxation was well-deserved for a couple juggling education with parenthood – they have two daughters, ages 4 and 6. Fortuitously, Justin earned his master’s in horticulture at the same time Alice completed her doctorate in development sociology.

“We prioritized family over school,” squeezing in coursework late at night and early in the morning, Justin said. It helped to live in graduate student housing at Hasbrouck Apartments, where there was a good support network and child care for families juggling school and children, Alice said.

The family plans to move to New Zealand, Alice’s home country, where she will work as a lecturer and he will manage a vineyard.

Read the whole article.

Kale Is About To Have An Identity Crisis

Photos: Hannah Swegarden

Photos: Hannah Swegarden

NPR’s The Salt [2016-11-28]:

Kale is getting a makeover, and the very essence of kaliness may hang in the balance.

To develop a new variety of kale tailored to American palates, horticulture professor Philip Griffiths of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science and graduate student Hannah Swegarden are soliciting consumers’ kale reflections — the good, the bad, and the ugly. The scientists face a philosophic question for the ages. Asks Swegarden:

“How far can you push a consumer’s concept of what kale is, before it’s not kale anymore?”

Kale, like many other vegetables, has been bred with agricultural practicality in mind, selected for virtues like drought- and disease-resistance. But Swegarden says those traits don’t necessarily translate into a better taste and appearance, qualities that matter more to consumers. Griffiths has been working with kale for years, so he and Swegarden decided to see if they could develop strains to seduce farmers and consumers alike.

Read the whole post.


Dreer Award offers opportunities to pursue horticultural interests abroad

From Nina Bassuk:

The Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science offers a wonderful opportunity once a year, the Frederick Dreer Award, that allows one or more students to spend 4 months to up to a year abroad pursuing his or her interests related to horticulture.

See the application and instructions that spell out the procedure for applying. Basically it is quite simple. Submit a written proposal to the Dreer Committee by the deadline (March 6, 2017 in this cycle), which is followed by an informal interview, generally in a week or two. The faculty receives the recommendation of the Dreer Committee and votes on the nominee.

The only obligation of the Dreer award winner is to write to the Dreer Committee monthly while overseas, and upon return to the United States, give a presentation about their time abroad to students and faculty.

Please look into this opportunity seriously. It can be taken as a summer and a semester’s leave or a year’s leave of absence during school or upon graduation. If you would like to talk over a potential idea for the Dreer with a member of the Committee (and we encourage you to do so), please contact Nina Bassuk (Horticulture) Josh Cerra (Landscape Architecture) or Marvin Pritts (Horticulture).

2015 Dreer Award winner Adam Karl, now a PhD student in the Graduate Field of Horticulture, traveled to Spain to study dryland viticulture.

2015 Dreer Award winner Adam Karl, now a PhD student in the Graduate Field of Horticulture, traveled to Spain to study dryland viticulture.

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