Cooperstown resident Liz Callahan will bring her more than 25 years of experience in leading non-profit organizations in the region when she steps in as Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie and Otsego Counties (CCE SO) on April 12.
“Cornell Cooperative Extension is all about community resilience,” Ms. Callahan said in a conversation with The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta. “The entire staff has a deep commitment to help families, farms, and individuals find answers that will work for them. The healthier our smaller units – our families, for instance – the healthier the communities will be.”
CCE SO, affiliated with Cornell University as part of the national land grant university system, is a non-profit community education agency. CCE helps preserve the region’s agricultural heritage, protect ecological infrastructure, support families, and provide youth opportunities for community service and research-based education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Ms. Callahan grew up in Western New York, where she participated in 4-H, served as a VISTA volunteer, and moved to Cooperstown in 1991 to pursue her Master’s in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program.
“Cooperative Extension is so much bigger than its visible role in 4-H,” she said. “The resources we have aren’t solidly defined with sharp corners. We’re focused on figuring out what communities need; that’s something that will be different in the rural and less rural parts of our counties.”
“Using the talents of the professional staff we have on hand and the resources of the Extension system, I know we can provide practical and constructive responses,” she said.
CCE SO’s remit spans a spectrum addressing the needs of long-established family farms to start-up agricultural endeavors, from professional gardeners to home hobbyists, from families needing access for healthy food options to the producers who can provide them.
“We’re all aware of the high cost of food, particularly fresh options,” Ms. Callahan said. “There are people in our region who feel like they can’t afford healthy choices. We can show them how to find and buy nutritious food, even on a tight budget.”
“Cooperative Extension serves the entire food continuum,” she said. “Healthy farms, healthy production, healthy consumption.”
Those with green and not-so-green thumbs know to turn to CCE SO with their questions, and Ms. Callahan is enthusiastic about those opportunities as the spring approaches.
“We just had a successful seed-swap day,” she said. “We get questions about everything from how to start a garden to more advanced questions about growing and cultivating. Our Master Gardener program is so strong, nurturing peoples’ skills to fit their level of expertise.”
While connecting farms, gardeners, and consumers to food safety stands as a high priority, CCE SO also takes on energy efficiency strategies and protection of the region’s natural resources.
“Cooperative Extension can show people how to keep their homes more energy efficient,” she said. “It’s a big issue for farms, too, as they continuously look for better ways to minimize cost and maximize efficiencies.”
Ms. Callahan joins Cooperative Extension after some 20 years as Executive Director of Hanford Mills Museum in East Merideth, where she developed the resources to expand the interpretation and preservation of the rural industrial complex and historic site. She served, too, as director of the Delaware County Historical Association in Delhi, and as the Program Coordinator for the Regional Council of Historical Agencies.
“It’s bittersweet to leave Hanford Mills,” she said. “I loved my two-plus decades there. I find so much in terms of community values and commitment at Cooperative Extension that parallels what we do at Hanford Mills that I saw this as an obvious next step.”
“This area is really blessed with so many community organizations,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a lot of partnership building collaborations to make the process of finding and connecting resources that much more seamless.”
“I’m not reinventing the wheel here,” Ms. Callahan said. “I want to build on what’s already great about Cornell Cooperative Extension. I hope people will feel like they can call us when they have questions or see a need that we can fulfill.”
Liz Callahan lives in Cooperstown with her husband, Bill Francis (Senior Researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum) and their son Daniel Francis (Gallery Manager, Cooperstown Art Association). Their daughter, Matilda Francis, will graduate from St. John’s University in Queens in May 2022.