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Mattson featured in Gastropod podcast, Dig for Victory

Neil Mattson

Neil Mattson

Neil Mattson, assoociate professor in School of Integrative Plant Science’s Horticulture Section, was featured with other food activists in the June 16 edition of the Gastropod podcast, Dig for Victory. Gastropod looks at food through the lens of science and history. Each episode looks at the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic, from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec.

Dig for Victory podcast description:

You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.”

But what war is your pot of basil fighting? This episode, historian Anastasia Day helps us explore the history of urban gardening movements—and shatter some of the nostalgic myths about those original World War II-era Victory Gardens.

One thing is true: in 1943, more than 43 percent of the fresh produce eaten by all Americans came from Victory Gardens. So, can a combination of vegetable patches, community gardens, and urban farms help feed cities today? Or is growing food in the city just a feel-good distraction from the bigger problems in our food system? And does the hype about high-tech vertical farms live up to environmental and economic reality? Listen in as farmers and activists Leah Penniman and Tepfirah Rushdan, food writer Tamar Haspel, and researchers Neil Mattson and Raychel Santo help us dig in to the science on urban agriculture, and harvest some answers—as well as a tomato or two.


Online garden design course start July 9

garden_designx300Registration is now open for Introduction to Garden Design a distance learning course offered by the Horticulture Section in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

The course will help you apply basic garden design techniques to your own garden. We teach an approach to gardening that is based on the principle of right plant, right place. In other words, we will consider the needs of the plant in addition to the needs of the gardener.

You’ll learn garden site analysis and apply the concepts to your personal space, gain proficiency in garden design principles and lay out a rough site plan overview of your garden design.

You will write and reflect on the process as you learn with the instructor taking an active role in this creative endeavor by providing feedback on your assignments and journal entries.

View more information and full course syllabus for Introduction to Garden Design.

Questions about the course? View FAQ or contact Chrys Gardener:

Public Garden Leadership students engage local audiences

To wrap up the semester, two MPS students in Cornell’s Public Garden Leadership Program led virtual educational programs engaging local audiences.

Screen capture of Zoom webinar showing season-extending bed covers.Kim Ellis led a workshop on Growing Winter Vegetables with your Classes for teachers from the Ithaca City School District and BOCES. She shared lessons she learned testing a variety of cold frames and row covers to protect 12 different cold-tolerant crops over winter in the Pounder Vegetable Garden at Cornell Botanic Gardens.

True to its name, ‘Dwarf Blue Siberian’ kale was the best performer, Ellis found. “But the big surprise was the delicious ‘Joan’ rutabaga greens, and the fact that a double fabric row cover was ample protection for these hardy vegetables,” she notes. “A cold frame is still better, because the fabric row cover freezes to the ground and you have to wait for a thaw to harvest.”

Ellis talked about performance of the other greens and vegetables she grew and discussed how to build a cold frame. In breakout sessions, teachers discussed how they might use winter vegetables in their school gardens.  “Our goal was to provide an opportunity for kids to get outside in the winter and for teachers to better align vegetable production with the school year,” says Ellis.  “I also developed classroom curricular activities to coincide with winter growing, such as how to determine soil texture and how to take crop, soil, and weather measurements for kids to graph.”

Screen capture of LGBTQ+ talkIn partnership with the Botanic Gardens’ Student & Public Engagement Coordinator Kevin Moss, Trey Ramsey offered a Virtual Tour of Cornell Botanic Gardens for members of the Cornell LGBTQ+ community. “Originally we were planning to work with several partnering units, including the Cornell University LGBT Resource Center, to hold an in-person tour and reception in April,” says Ramsey. “But the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.  We recognized that there was still a need both for community and access to nature, so we decided to shorten the tour and move it online.”

This was the first of what will be many more collaborations between the LGBTQ+ community and the Botanic Gardens, adds Ramsey. “I planned the event because it is important to represent and reach all forms of diversity within our work in public gardens, and I wanted to bridge my work between the LGBTQ+ community and the public gardens field.”

Moss led the tour, a slideshow depicting information about the Botanic Gardens and some information specific to the LGBTQ+ community. He discussed Iris, the goddess of rainbows, and shared the story of Sir Cedric Morris, an artist and iris breeder who fell in love with Arthur Lett-Haines. “At the end, we had about 15 minutes for people to chat,” says Ramsey. “The discussion centered around peoples’ experience during quarantine and their interactions with the Botanic Gardens.

“I will use lessons from planning this event, including pre- and post- quarantine, in my action project, where I will be creating a toolkit for public gardens to better include LGBTQ+ folks, particulary transgender folks, in their diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

Research and teaching efforts lauded in CALS Magazine

multicolored chili pepper tomatoes

Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture, has been developing chili pepper tomatoes that come in seven different colors. His other edible inventions include a Galaxy Suite of heirloom tomatoes and new varieties of cabbage, kale and radishes. Photo: Isabel Branstrom.

In case you missed it, the Spring 2020 issue of CALS Magazine (.pdf version) is loaded with articles featuring innovative and impactful research and teaching efforts by faculty in the Horticulture Section and other faculty in the School of Integrative Plant Science:

Genetic ingenuity: What does it take to put produce on your plate? details how Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture, has been developing chili pepper tomatoes that come in seven different colors. His other edible inventions include a Galaxy Suite of heirloom tomatoes and new varieties of cabbage, kale and radishes. The story also tells how associate professor of plant breeding Michael Mazourek broke through the anonymity barrier to forge a new model for how unique vegetable varieties can gain more visibility by partnering with Manhattan chef Dan Barber and grower Matthew Goldfarb to co-found Row 7 Seed Company. Mazourek’s specialties include squash, peppers, cucumbers and snow peas. It also describes the successful releases of SnapDragon and RubyFrost apples from the breeding program of  Susan Brown through Crunch Time Apple Growers, a cooperative open to all growers in New York state.

‘Just Food’ course broadens students’ perspectives of food systems tells how Rachel Bezner Kerr, professor in the Department of Global Development, and Frank Rossi, associate professor of horticulture teamed up to create a course designed to challenge students’ perspectives of controversial and nuanced issues, such as meat production, genetically modified crops and prevailing malnutrition. The class regularly takes students to spaces where they can witness parts of the food production pipeline first-hand. “The excursions provided a tangible example of the global food system in diversity and scale,” says Rossi.

CALS strengthens NYC connections with new grant projects describes how Jenny Kao-Kniffin, associate professor of horticulture and Jonathan Russell-Anelli, senior lecturer and senior extension associate in the Soil and Crop Sciences Section built a team to create applied solutions to current challenges in urban agriculture, including food availability, individual and community health, environmental contamination and economic opportunity.

New specializations accelerate growth of MPS programs tells how Charles Gagne, MPS ’19 decided to switch career paths and found the CALS Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program to be the perfect catalyst. He graduated with a degree in horticulture and a specialization in controlled environment agriculture and recently landed an apprentice grower position at BrightFarms, a company based in the Hudson Valley.

Researchers develop market for East Coast broccoli updates the effort started in 2010 with the goal of growing a $100 million broccoli industry in the eastern United States in 10 years. Currently valued at around $90 million, researchers say they are on schedule to make their mission happen. One of the challenges stems from the fact that broccoli was originally cultivated for Mediterranean climates, so growing it in the Eastern U.S. confuses the plant’s developmental cues.  But over the years, Thomas Björkman, professor of horticulture and project director and his collaborators identified the genetic markers needed to grow a more uniform-looking plant in the Eastern climate.

Digital agriculture workshop highlights radical collaborations tells how associate professor of horticulture, Justine Vanden Heuvel and collaborators are developing soft robots armed with high-resolution sensors that perform ultrasounds on the growing grapes that can detect things like differences in sugar content, berry firmness and fungal spores of such dreaded pathogens downy mildew and powdery mildew.

Among the many answers to the question How can we protect New York state’s berry industry?,  professor of horticulture Marvin Pritts has been researching how to grow strawberries under low tunnels with stunning results, including extending the harvest season through November. He has also developed systems for growing delicate raspberries and blackberries in high tunnels. Associate professor of horticulture Courtney Weber  is working to develop varieties with the best combination of traits for New York and Northeast growers. “Cornell’s varieties are grown all over the world,” says Pritts. “The work we’re able to do for New York is significant, but it’s only part of the picture. People from all over come to us for information. The impact we’re able to have is really broad and wide and deep. ”


Students display botanical illustrations in virtual gallery

composite of student works from botanical illustration intensive course

Students in the course Intensive Study in Botanical Illustration (PLHRT 3250) finished up their portfolios last week and selected three of their favorites for display in an online gallery. The course provides an opportunity for students to take a deep dive into advanced botanical illustration techniques, exploring diverse media such as pen and ink, watercolor, graphite and more, says course instructor Marcia Eames-Sheavly.

Although students in the course this semester encountered the same struggles coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of campus as other students, they made a surprising and exciting discovery, she adds: Immersion in drawing and painting could offer solace, stress relief, and an antidote to the challenges of scattered concentration, as well as a break from the intensive time spent on Zoom.

The spirit of one student, Laura Kramer, is a great example: “It’s weird to be wrapping up my first year at Cornell in my roommate’s basement, especially without access to the art supplies I was supposed to pick up from home over Spring Break,” she writes. “On the bright side, though, the plant life upstate is beautiful and I’m learning to adapt to the lack of fancy art supplies. My pieces featured here were done with a semi-broken fountain pen, some half-dried markers I found in my pencil case from middle school, and a set of kids’ Crayola markers that my roommate found.”

May we all be so resilient.

Eames-Sheavly recognized for teaching excellence

Marcia Eames-Sheavly in Belize leading students in the course Tropical Plants Extravaganza.

Marcia Eames-Sheavly in Belize leading students in the course Tropical Plants Extravaganza.

This spring, Marcia Eames-Sheavly (’83, MPS ’99), Senior Lecturer and Senior Extension Associate in the SIPS Horticulture Section, received the 2020 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Professor of Merit award. Since 1947, this award has recognized excellence in undergraduate teaching, and is considered particularly prestigious because the senior class chooses the recipient.

“Marcia goes out of her way to form deep relationships with her students,” wrote one of the seniors who nominated her for the honor. “She genuinely cares very much for student well-being above all else. Her instruction methods teach students how to reflect deeply on experiences to allow for maximum personal growth and development.

“In all my years at Cornell, I have not witnessed any other professor that had the same positive impact on their students as she does,” the nominator added.

Marcia has created and taught numerous courses, primarily focusing on the intersections between art and horticulture, garden-based learning, and plants and human well-being. They include The Art of Horticulture, the Seed to Supper two-semester course sequence, and several courses with travel experiences to Belize, including Healing Plants and the People Who Use Them. She recently developed Leadership through Peer Mentoring in the Plant Sciences which has served as one of the models for the new peer mentoring model in CALS.

“What those areas all have in common is that they are fundamentally about people’s engagement with our discipline, something students are longing for,” notes Marcia.  She was surprised to discover that during her last five-year appointment period that nearly 700 students had enrolled in her courses, many in smaller courses requiring lots of personal attention.

In spring 2003, she created and began teaching her signature course, The Art of Horticulture, which she handed off to Emily Detrick, horticulturist at Cornell Botanic Gardens, in 2018. She developed three online continuing education courses in botanical illustration, and later started using them as the backbone for the for-credit course Intensive Study in Botanical Illustration.

Other courses Marcia has led include Let Your Life Speak, Hortus Forum Officer Leadership Development, Undergraduate Individual Study in Horticulture, Community Facilitation Practicum, Tropical Plants Extravaganza, Experiential Garden-Based Learning in Belize, Food, Fiber and Fulfillment: Plants and Human Well-Being and Collaboration, Leadership, and Career Skills in the Plant Sciences (developed with Marvin Pritts).

“Marcia has fostered the most welcoming and genuine atmosphere I’ve ever experienced in a classroom or any setting on campus,” another senior nominator observed. “Her reflective and thoughtful approach to teaching emphasizes that learning rarely happens in one direction and is a lifelong endeavor of continual self-improvement. Her philosophies have shaped my personal and professional life in ways that will stay with me forever.”

“She teaches more than just subjects,” writes another student. “She teaches students about ways of knowing and being that will last a lifetime. Marcia is preparing students to not only be mindful and motivated in the classroom, but is also encouraging us to take our knowledge and go out into our communities to create change and reflect on our impacts.”

An inside look at LIHREC’s impatiens breeding program

CALS spotlight [2020-05-15]:

Horticulture Professor Mark Bridgen serves as the director of the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, NY. There, the 68-acre facility is dedicated to providing research and extension services that support Long Island’s horticulture industries. In this video, Bridgen talks about his breeding work with the popular garden plant, impatiens, and discusses how plant tissue culture helps him develop new varieties—including ones resistant to downy mildew disease.

Crossing boundaries: Cornell’s thriving research ecosystem

This story originally appeared in the online-only spring 2020 issue of Ezra magazine.

spiral- shapped robotic moisture samplers in hands

Taryn Bauerle, associate professor of horticulture, holds three of the earthworm-shaped robots that she and a multidisciplinary team developed using a biomimicry approach. The robots, which will have attached water sensors to gather information from soil, can burrow into the ground, similar to earthworms, in a more natural manner and with less disruption than shoveling. (Photo: Lindsay France / Cornell University)

Taryn Bauerle had a problem.

Bauerle, associate professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS), studies how root systems respond to thirst. It’s a critical area of research: Better understanding roots will help breed new drought-resistant crops, which are sorely needed to meet the global challenges of climate change, food shortages and population growth.

But digging into the ground to observe roots inevitably disrupts their environment, disturbing microorganisms and fungi, and even risks cutting into the roots themselves.

For years, Bauerle tried to work around the limitations of existing tools. Last year, while brainstorming with Johannes Lehmann, professor of soil sciences in SIPS, she had a different idea. “We quickly realized we needed a new approach,” she says, “and then we thought: Why not use biomimicry to develop some new tools?”

Bauerle and Shepherd

Bauerle, right, with Robert Shepherd, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, in Upson Hall.

The team, which now includes researchers in SIPS and the College of Engineering, is developing earthworm-shaped robots that can burrow into the soil with minimal disturbance. The project received a grant from the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture, which supports radical collaborations aimed at solving agri-food challenges. “Nature has been trying to solve problems for a long time, so we’re copying what nature is already improving,” Bauerle says.

The robots, designed by Robert Shepherd, associate professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will be equipped with water-detecting sensors designed by Abraham Stroock ’95, the Gordon L. Dibble Professor and William C. Hooey Director of the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Lehmann will explore new ways to measure soil carbon forms, and Michael Gore, Ph.D. ’09, associate professor of molecular breeding and genetics for plant quality, a Liberty Hyde Bailey professor and international professor of plant breeding and genetics, will work on initial phenotyping characterizations, to help measure plants’ properties in real time.

“It couldn’t be a better team,” says Bauerle, who brings her own expertise in root systems and below-ground plant growth. “Cornell makes it so easy to just go knock on other faculty’s doors, and everybody is always very welcoming. The innate culture that we have on this campus is that people look forward to crossing boundaries and trying new things. And I think that’s why we succeed.”

Read the whole article.

Mann Library virtual exhibit celebrates campus trees

students outside mann library with fall foliage in the backgroundIn honor of Arbor Day and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this week, Mann Library launched an online exhibit celebrating Cornell’s trees.

It’s a family-friendly virtual tour that includes tree descriptions, an interactive map, information from Nina Bassuk about the specific benefits that individual trees provide to campus (from carbon sequestration to reduced expenses for air conditioning), and coloring sheets drawn from the special collections illustrations for each featured tree.

Our campus trees stand always ready to greet–students new and old, faculty and staff, returning alumni, and visitors from all corners of the world. This spring many of us are unable to visit our favorite campus trees, rest beneath their canopies, or relish the sweet delight of their blossoms. Cornell’s trees are at the core of the beauty of this university’s campus, but of course they are also so much more.

As we observe Earth Day and Arbor Day from home this year, visit the exhibition to enjoy the Library’s rare and distinctive collections in the historical life sciences and bring something of Cornell’s trees to you, wherever you may find yourself.



Lab instructors adapt to remote teaching

Cornell Chronicle [2020-04-23]:zoom screen

In labs for the class Mushrooms, Molds and More, students are discovering fungi in their areas and sharing photos of them via Instagram and using online resources to identify mushrooms.

And in the class Hands-On Horticulture for Gardeners, Professor Marvin Pritts has asked students to design their own experiments, such as determining whether music helps plants grow, or what the best method might be for propagating Pothos, an ivy, or how to make natural plant dyes.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced Cornell instructors to rethink how they teach lab classes, as remote learning has created special challenges for courses considered more hands-on, collaborative and experiential.

Read the whole article.

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