I spent my childhood tending a garden in a suburb of Detroit, and learned about vegetable growing from an uncle who was also a WWII veteran. He shared stories of his experiences while we planted, weeded and harvested. As an urban kid, I never thought about where food comes from before these wonderful summer days.
I pursued this love of plants and soil at Michigan State University, majoring in Horticulture and in particular floriculture production. That was followed by a Masters at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, in controlled environment agriculture. A combination of biking, beer on the UW terrace and watching plants grow under different colored lights, launched my research career.
I returned to MSU for my PhD in vegetable production and physiology. During this time I did a fellowship with Winrock Foundation in the Philippines on how they, as a large international organization, could help smaller local organizations to advance sustainable agriculture and natural resource management among small-scale farmers. Looking back, this experience laid a foundation for my work at the Cornell Small Farms Program.
I joined the faculty of Horticulture at Cornell University in 1996, as the Statewide Fresh Market Vegetable Specialist. My research and extension work focused on environmental and economic sustainability of vegetable farms in the Northeast. Currently, my focus is on reduced tillage systems for vegetables to improve soil health while maintaining crop quality and yields.
In 2004, I was appointed director the Cornell Small Farms Program. This happened at the same time that I opened a U-pick strawberry farm in Freeville, NY. The experience of operating a small farm changed my entire approach to research and extension, and deepened my commitment to NY farms and local food systems.