Lee Telega loves farming. Respects science-based knowledge. Cares deeply for the environment. Navigates the halls of New York’s legislature as comfortably as he once navigated a tractor.
These attributes were a perfect match for Telega’s steadfast advocacy for the NYS IPM Program, because advocate he did. As a member of Cornell’s Government Affairs office, Telega knocked on thousands of doors — of lawmakers, agency officials, and stakeholder groups — to spread the word about the benefits of IPM. For this and more, Telega has received an Excellence in IPM award.
“Lee wasn’t just our guide in Albany,” says former NYSIPM Director Don Rutz. “He was perceptive, intuitive, and gifted with getting IPM’s message across quickly with no loss in clarity.”
Telega did more than schedule appointments and shake hands. A born networker, he went floor to floor, door to door in Albany’s Legislative Office Building, says Jennifer Grant, director of NYS IPM, who accompanied him on some of those jaunts. “Did you know the toll that ticks and Lyme disease are taking on your constituents — and what IPM is doing about it?” “School IPM is critical for providing healthy places for children to learn.” “Senator, I understand you like to play golf. So you might be interested in IPM’s groundbreaking research at Bethpage.” “Did you know the organic sector in your district is booming and how IPM helps?”
Telega didn’t grow up on a farm. His dad was a steelworker in Pittsburgh. But though he went to Penn State to study engineering, he left with a degree in animal science, followed by a masters in dairy nutrition at the University of Tennessee. He used it farming in West Virginia, then managing the University of Missouri’s dairy research and teaching operation.
Telega came to Cornell University in 1988 as a senior extension associate with the Pro-Dairy Program and was based in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Albany office, where he shared space with NYS IPM. Among his mandates? Crafting environmental policies that benefit both farms and the communities growing up around them.
After a six-month appointment in Senator Hillary Clinton’s office in 2001, bringing her up to speed on ag issues in New York, Telega returned to Cornell and in 2004 became the agriculture and natural resource specialist for Cornell’s Government Relations Office in Albany. During these twelve years of state budget ups and downs, Lee was invaluable to IPM in securing and expanding its funding, says Charles Kruzansky, Cornell’s associate vice president for state government relations.
“Lee has both feet in both worlds — the farmers’ world and the urban world,” Kruzansky says. Telega knew how important IPM was to communities everywhere, because everyone must deal with pests — some of them daunting. “Plus he understands the care that goes into bridge-building policy work,” Kruzansky says. “IPM couldn’t have a better friend than Lee.”
Most recently, Telega’s appointment as New York’s state director for USDA Rural Development in 2013 brought together everything Lee most loved doing, says NYS IPM’s Jennifer Grant. “Lee did a world of good for growers and communities all across New York. We can’t thank him enough.”
Telega received his award on March 28 at the Statewide IPM Grower Advisory Committee meeting in Albany, held at the Department of Agriculture and Markets. Learn more about IPM at nysipm.cornell.edu.