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Weeks Eight/Nine: Call me on the line, Call me call me anytime!

These past two weeks I have been doing all of my interviews over the phone. It is much more challenging. First just getting people on the phone is very hard. I am making calls in the morning, afternoon, and evenings, and some times of day are better for some farmers than others. Some people I have not gotten through to at all yet over the phone! I have a well rehearsed message about the survey that I can leave on a machine. Another challenge is the actual surveying process over the phone. Many people never opened the letters we sent out, so most people do not have the survey in front of them as we go through. Going through the more complicated questions is hard because they cannot see the tables and actual questions, I can only do my best to describe them. Sometimes I wish I could do skpye interviews too so that I could see the people I am talking to and show them the survey. The first page has general questions about the farm operation and also asks for some indicators of farm size. The next three pages are much more complicated with two part table questions asking very specific things about their marking channels, products, and operating expenses and additionally assessing the areas where these inputs and outputs are going to and from, this is where things get complicated. It has definitely taken longer to do surveys over the phone in general, instead of 15 or 20 minutes, its more like 20 to 25 minutes or so to get it all done. I have also started calling people who were not on our mailing list, and have not heard about the survey at all. Surprisingly, a good number of people have been receptive to the cold call approach. Another approach that has been working well is the online version of the survey. Many people have requested to get the survey done this way, so they can work on it on their own time. I have gotten a good 13 responses to the survey in this way. There are an additional 10 people who started the online survey, but left it incomplete so we must unfortunately discount those responses. I have learned a lot in these past weeks of surveying about interviewing people, about farming, about the challenges many of these people are facing, about the growth and wonderful new endevours that many farmers are undertaking, and also that this is really most definitely the worst time of year to be doing this sort of work. I have also been surprised at the high percentages of products people are selling with in the Capital District Region! It was much more than I anticipated. One more week left, and I need 17 more surveys done to get to that goal of 100! Oh goodness!

Weeks Six/Seven: Homemade Butter, Pickles and Jam, Oh My!

Week Six was wonderful, and I had another exciting week of farm visits. I was mostly in Schoharie County and it is one of the most gorgeous places I have driven though.  I have included highlights from my visits this week.

I visited Buck Hill Farm in Schoharie County which was such a lovely place. They have a whole farm store and a dining area where they have breakfasts a few times a week. The store was stocked full of homemade goods, jams, candies, pickles, and of course Maple Syrup. I had a really wonderful visit there and I highly recommend the Raspberry Jam. I wish that I had more time to chat with some of the farmers. It was really a wonderful visit and I feel like I totally could have stayed for hours.

Inside the farm store!

Inside the farm store!

This week I also visited Sand Flats Orchard and had a really wonderful time doing my interview there. They have a beautiful operation, and two very sweet dogs who greeted me happily. It made me very excited for the apple season in the fall and I can just smell the cider doughnuts and cider already!



I also visited Cowbella Fine Farmstead Dairy which is also Danforth Jersey Farm. They have gorgeous Jersey’s there and the little ones were so cute! I got to meet most of the family, and see them making butter and packaging it. It is seriously the best butter I have ever had. It is very similar to Irish butter that I remember having at my family’s houses in Ireland. So rich and delicious! They sent me home with some of the fresh batch of butter and even a whole quart of their homemade yogurt! They also have a wonderful logo.


Cowbella logo jpg

My seventh week of work was not the best. I was in a car accident (I am totally fine) and now I am figuring out how to work without a car.  I am back on track and trying to get as much as I can done from home. I have transitioned to doing phone interviews, and I am still making good headway. I made it to 50 surveys which feels like a great accomplishment. There are a lot of people who have also done the online version of the survey on Survey Monkey which adds more to my total number! I am still hoping to get 100 by the end of the internship, so wish me good luck!

Week Five: 4,000 Miles Down, 30 Surveys Done and 5 Weeks to Go


Round bales on the drive out in Washington County.

My task for the rest of this internship this summer is to get as many surveys done as possible, ideally around 150. It is really nice to just have one main thing to focus on and just do it! So far I have gotten 30 surveys done, and it feels like a great accomplishment! Though it has been a ton of driving (over 4,000 miles so far) I am getting to see so many new places in NY state, and I get to listen to Harry Potter on tape which helps the driving time go by. Despite all the driving, it has been really wonderful to meet so many farmers, I think talking to people has been my favorite part so far, besides seeing so many diverse farms. I have had some very interesting and exciting conversations with people about the weather, about having more people grow their own food, about soil science, and more. I talked with a farmer about the idea of a farm family for a while, they felt that it was important to look not only at the owners, but the whole farm family. The idea that the owners and their family, all the workers, and consultants, and everyone involved in the operation was a part of a big family. This farm is trying to support the local population and provide them an opportunity to participate in agriculture. It has also been neat to hear about how people started farming, how they got involved, or just how long some farms have been in the family for!


This Orchard had a fabulous farm store, with delicious baked goods (I highly reccomend the sugar cookies with raspberry in the middle) and they even had a small ice cream shop!

I have gotten to see orchards, beef operations, a Christmas tree farm, a maple syrup operation, greenhouses and nurseries, dairy farms, vegetable and fruit farms, of all different sizes! I am trying to focus week by week on a few different Counties, so I have blocked out times to be in each area. So I once I block out a few days in one county, then a few days in another for the week, I then go ahead and try to fill in each day with interviews. I have found that calling a week in advance is too far ahead, and calling a day before is too late, 2-3 days before seems to be best so people can try to anticipate their schedules. This week I got to see a small grass-fed beef farm, with gorgeous red barns and very happy looking animals. They also had some pretty awesome chickens.


Very cute and friendly Polish chicken


Some lovely Dexer lady cows.

The most challenging part of this internship so far has been setting up the interviews. I am calling people during the busiest time of year, so its key to get right to the point and be respectfully persistent. A few people have been very much against doing the survey, and they were appalled that we were even trying to do something like this during the summer. This is certainly the worst time to be asking farmers to do a survey, but it is what it is, and I gotta keep on trying!  Some people have been very happy to participate, and about three people even opened up the letter and filled out the survey on their own! Generally, most people are so busy, that they have not gotten to glance at the letters we sent out, but with some persuasion, most people are happy to set up an interview. I have certainly learned good phone etiquette during this past week; making cold calls is hard! It is important to introduce yourself, explain very briefly what you are doing and the purpose, enough so they know whats up. The key is not taking up too much of their time, and then politely asking if they have about thirty minutes free on so and so days when I will be in so and so county to go through the survey. I learned the hard way no to schedule the interviews too close to each other. First there is just the variety in the amount of time it takes to go through the survey, then the time just  chatting, then there is the distance from farm to farm I have to think about, plus because it is summer there is a lot of construction with unexpected delays.  It seems that so far the right amount of interviews is 4 or 5 per day.

Beautiful flowers in a greenhouse in Washington County

Beautiful flowers in a greenhouse in Washington County

This very cute garden gnome exemplifies how I have been trying to spend my weekends after my sometimes crazy weeks.

This very cute garden gnome exemplifies how I have been trying to spend my weekends after my sometimes crazy weeks.

Week Four: From Barbers to Bohringers and Back to the Berkshires

This weekend there was a music festival in my hometown of North Adams, MA and there just so happened to be an Organic Valley tent there! They were giving out free cheese and had demonstrations and tastings of homemade butter, plus temporary tattoos! It was very exciting, and the people working there happened to know my fellow blogger and friend Casey Knapp!

This week I finalized the online version of the survey, so that now it is available for people to complete that way. I have also started calling farmers and setting up interviews. It has been hard to figure out exactly the best way to get participants because this is not the best time to be surveying in the busiest time of year. I have found that I have to be right to the point and be very friendly. I was able to set up a good amount of farm visits for the week, and it has been such an adventure traveling around and seeing so many different places.


This is Mandy's Spring Nursery, it was a gorgeous place with lovely plants and a really cute dog!

I even got to meet an Amish farmer who showed me around his farm and did the survey.


I think my favorite farm visit was to Barber’s Farm, and I ended up staying there for quite some time! I meet with Cindi Barber who showed me the farm from up on top of a hill, gave me a delicious cupcake, brought me down to the greenhouses, over the farm store, and all around the fields.



Overall, I completed 14 surveys this week, and bought some delicious produce along the way as I met with many awesome farmers in Schoharie county. We shall see how these next few weeks go, I hope I can get a good amount of surveys done!

Week Three: Garlic Scapes and Farm Auctions and “Wait a Minute Mr. Postman!”

This past week has been the most busy so far. Monday I was in the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Washington County, and I found out that they were given a grant to work at the local prison creating a garden with the inmates. I was able to help plant the garden with seeds and various plants like basil, tomatoes, onions, rosemary, cucumbers, and even flowers with four of the inmates. It was hard to believe that they do not get to go outside. The people who were participating in the garden program were all very kind, and one man took leadership in the group, telling us how the layout of the garden should be and the best ways to plant things. It is a great opportunity for the inmates to learn about growing their own food and supplement their kitchen.

Then on Tuesday I met up with another CCE intern and a CCE employee to go to a Farm Auction. The plants and produce and hay being auctioned off looked great. There were a lot of Amish farmers there. The horses they use all seemed so strong and beautiful.  It was neat to see how the auction worked, and just incredible how fast the auctioneer talked! I had to remember not to raise my hand accidentally, or else I would be bidding on something! It must be hard to be there and see your product up on the table and have your profit, break-even or loss, be decided upon by others.

Gorgeous flowers being sold at the auction

Gorgeous flowers being sold at the auction

Later that day we visited a beautiful garlic farm that used to be a dairy farm. They now used one of the barns for drying the garlic out, and the farmer was looking into putting together a ventilation system for the garlic with fans. It was cool to learn about garlic raising and be a part of the process of figuring out the ventilation system. We even got a taste of some of the most potent garlic scapes I have ever tried!

Super delicious garlic scape! So garlicky!

Super delicious garlic scape! So garlicky!

That day we had lunch in a beautiful park and it was great to be outside and enjoy the sunshine.


Lovely park

The rest of the week was just as exciting. Wednesday I spent most of the day finalizing mailing list, the survey and cover letter. It was quite a process going through the final population list that has been randomly selected  and making sure I had all the right names, addresses, zip codes, numbers, etc. for all of them. On Thursday everything was printed and I got to see how everything worked in the office. There is a great machine that folds the paper to go into the letters, an automatic stapler, and even this goo to help you turn pages instead of licking your fingers! It was awesome! But we also soon found out that the mailman was leaving at 3:00, and it was 2:30 and we had not printed the labels out, or finished stuffing the envelopes! With three of us working like a well oiled machine, we were able to each focus on one task and get the folding, stuffing, and labeling all done. We got the final stack of letters done at 3:04 and literally ran down the hallway after the postman to get them in on time. It was so nice to be done with that portion of the project. There were high-fives all around.

Thursday I did my first survey! It was exciting to see real numbers in the tables and blanks all filled in on the pages, and commenting on the process. I also sat in on a meeting about a great new program called Schoharie Fresh. It is still a work in progress, but the idea is to have a website store where farmers update their products weekly and you can see pictures and read detailed descriptions of each one. Then early in the week customers can order whatever they would like. The order will then be filled in the middle of the week and ready for pick it up at one main location at the end of the week. It was cool to sit in on the meeting and hear about the process of making it all happen.

Week Two: Putting Together a Population for the Local Agriculture Study

The second week of my internship was quite intensive! On Monday I ran my first polycom, which is sort of like skype for businesses, so you can do a video conference call between a few different locations. It was an experience figuring out how to plan the agenda and run the meeting, and it all felt very futuristic. We got some great input on the survey and cover letter and it was really nice to know that people are interested in the project and willing to help. My goal for the week was to put together the population for the survey we are doing and to finalize the survey and cover letter so that I can mail them out as soon as possible. It has been really awesome to drive around the Capital District and see gorgeous landscapes and so many farms. The clouds and mountains were lovely on the drive to Troy on Monday.


The hardest part of this week was gathering all the information about farms from all 11 counties.  We are surveying farms of all sizes, with all types of products from dairy to meat to vegetables to maple syrup, and all types of farming practices as well. Cornell Cooperative Extension employees were instrumental in helping me get a population together for the survey. I am so grateful for the time many people spent organizing and emailing me lists of farms and addresses and various other contact information. From this final list, a random sample will be taken from the population, around 200 farms, and I will mail them the survey. It will then be my job to call each farm and set up interviews to get the data. The survey is intense, and it will definitely take some time to get all the information we need. Despite how hard it may be to get the responses we need in the busiest time of year for farmers,  I am excited to start the surveying process and to get to meet so many farmers.

I think that the organization of interviews will be the most challenging part of the the rest of the summer. With such a large area to cover, and only a few days in each county, it will be quite a process! I have a total of around 35 days to get all of the surveying done, and friends to stay with along the way when I am hours from home. With luck I will get the survey process rolling smoothly and mailings out promptly!

Week One of Cornell Cooperative Extension Internship: Local Agriculture Study

We are surveying in the blue region in the Capital District, a total of 11 counties including: Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectaday, Schoharie, Warren, and Washington

We are surveying in the blue region in the Capital District, a total of 11 counties including: Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectaday, Schoharie, Warren, and Washington

Hello! I am Rosy, a soon to be senior and this is my first blog post about my summer internship with Cornell Cooperative Extension as their Ag and Natural Resources Intern. I have been hired to work on a project with the obective of identifying the impact and contribution of local agriculture production on the greater Capital District economy. The study will be conducted in 11 counties in the Capital District (see map above) and I will be driving all around the region surveying farmers with at least some of their products going locally. Since I live in Western Massachusetts in the Berkshires, it will be a lot of driving, but I just have to make sure to keep finding good new music to jam to!

The first week was a little overwhelming, but also very exciting. I got a general introduction to the project at the CCE office in Troy, and started organizing, emailing, and learning more the entire week. I got to meet Dr. Schmit who is in charge of the study, and Laura McDermott who is my main advisor who works for Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) mostly on the Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Program, and she is wonderful! It was a little hard to get through everything the first day because I was still getting over jet lag from coming back from studying abroad in New Zealand for the semester.

My main job this summer is to organize and do the surveying in all 11 counties. We have been working on creating a final draft of the survey, and just gathering lists of all the farmers in the district so that we can then create our population. We have already gotten a lot of feedback on the survey from farmers and extension agents from all around and its been quite a process figuring out how to get the results we need in the busiest time of year for farmers. I may need to do some bribery baking this summer!

The Hawthorne Valley Farm Store!

The Hawthorne Valley Farm Store!

On Thursday I was able to head down to Columbia County and visited Hawthorne Valley Farm which does biodynamic farming and also outreach and educational programs! It was a gorgeous farm, and it has a wonderful farm store where I ate a delicious fresh lunch! That same day I also got to visit with people from the Farmscape Ecology Program which is an educational non-profit with a primary goal to stimulate, facilitate, and inform exploration of Columbia County. The entire first week it was awesome to meet so many people and hear about what they do and get feedback on our project as well. I think my favorite part of the project will be meeting farmers and getting to see so many different types of farms.

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