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
ART TALK – 2 p.m. Zoom presentation ‘Lets Talk Art: Art As Inspiration For Writers’ with Curator of Education Mary Alexander about how writers can use works of art to tell diverse stories. Presented by Arkell Museum. Visit www.arkellmuseum.org/events-calendar for info.
FOREST WALK – 9 – 11 a.m. Trek through John W. Chase Memorial Forest with Forest Technician Joe Sweeney. Learn about sustainable forest management, pests, invasive species, multi-use land management. Free, open to public. Pre-registration preferred. Meet at intersection of Middlefield, Van Cleef and Pearsall Roads, Middlefield. 607-547-4488 or visit occainfo.org/calendar/county-forest-walk/
POETRY SLAM – 8 – 10:30 p.m. Open mic open to 10 students followed by featured slam poet Caroline Harvey, performance poet, punk folk theater artist, educator, social justice advocate and has been featured on HBOs Def Poetry. Free, open to public. Waterfront room, Hunt College Union, SUNY Oneonta. Visit oneonta.campuslabs.com/engage/event/2674906
Otsego County needs a new direction for energy and economic development. An important step to that end was taken last week when the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee endorsed the idea of setting up an energy and economic development task force.
Kudos to them! A county-wide task force would give us two things we don’t have now: long-term economic planning and a wide range of interests and expertise systematically participating in local decision-making.
We’re increasingly recognizing how vulnerable we are. We depend on long supply lines for food, energy and necessities. As climate change accelerates, those supply lines become less reliable.
We read, almost daily, of one disaster after another regionally, nationally, and internationally: mega-hurricanes, severe droughts, enormous wildfires, melting polar ice, mass extinctions, etc.
No place is immune from climate change, not even Otsego County. Nonetheless, our quiet corner of the planet looks more and more like a refuge compared to many in other places, and that may be our greatest asset.
In fact, climate change may have some advantages for us: milder winters, a longer growing season, plenty of water.
We may be more resilient as well – thanks to a lower population density – than overdeveloped areas, including coastal cities in the South and drought-prone regions in the West, which now bear much of the brunt of climate change.
We need an economic plan that builds on sustainable assets, not on unsustainable liabilities.
Our sustainable assets include, above all, an uncrowded, serene, clean, safe, attractive and relatively stable environment – something increasingly rare in a world of accelerating climate change.
We have an underutilized rural base, including agriculture, forestry and the potential of value-added products. Farming has not recovered from the death-blow to the dairy industry, it’s true, but if local boutique and organic farmers had more financial support and better distribution systems, they could be more competitive and develop new local products.
We have a high-quality health care system, and we often forget it is our major industry. Even so, it has yet to realize its full potential as a magnet for medical and nursing care.
Bassett Healthcare, as an integrated medical system, provides a superior level of care that could be coupled with additional facilities for assisted living, similar to those in other locales around the country. An aging population will demand it, and we could supply it.
We have, in Oneonta, institutions of higher learning that could be further developed and better folded into the community. Curriculum innovation and more partnerships between the colleges and local institutions and businesses – after the model of the Hartwick College nursing program – could make it possible for more students to stay on in our communities after graduation, as we see in other college and university towns.
Tourism has become the main interface between Otsego county and the world. Our cultural attractions – events, concerts, festivals, galleries, and museums – could be expanded even further. But tourism works only insofar as the powerful symbiosis between our cultural assets and the historical aura and natural beauty of the area is maintained.
Tourism needs to be kept proportional and diversified, so as not to overwhelm the fabric of local life.
And, perhaps most important of all, we have a steady in-migration of people looking for second homes, or retirement living, or the opportunity to conduct internet-related businesses and raise families in a new setting, away from the urban madness.
These new immigrants are attracted by the natural assets they find here, as well as good schools, good healthcare, a lively cultural scene, and a vibrant civic life worth being a part of.
They want sustainability, which we can offer, in contrast to the increasingly unsustainable systems they’re looking to escape.
If I were to make an optimistic prediction about the future of our communities in response to the growing ecological and economic crises, I would look to a synthesis of high-tech internet with a rural, family-oriented lifestyle.
Such a synthesis would realize participation in the global economy with the virtues of small town and country living.
If this is to be our future, if these are the people we want to attract, then we need universal broadband to sustain the economy, as well as renewable energy to preserve a clean and beautiful local environment.
That’s where our investments ought to be going.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.
Recently, nearly 100 people crowded the Oneonta Town Hall to respond to a report by Otsego Now head, Jody Zakrevsky, about the controversial gas decompression station proposed for Oneonta.
The backlash was overwhelming. A long series of speakers unanimously condemned the project and demanded instead a full-scale effort to transition to renewables as soon as possible.
As the speakers pointed out, a myriad of solutions exist to the problem of inadequate natural-gas supply affecting some institutions and businesses in Oneonta. We heard about retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, replacing gas and oil furnaces with heat exchange systems, and developing local renewable energy sources, including solar and wind.
This isn’t pie in the sky. The Otsego County Conservation Association, for instance, is currently supporting a NYSERDA-funded program, Heat Smart Otsego, to promote the financial and environmental benefits of currently available non-fossil fuel technologies. Check it out.
The speakers also made clear the gravity of this issue.
We’re not just talking about inconvenience, higher costs, or limits to local economic development. We’re talking about a global crisis increasingly affecting us all.
The inability of our local community to do its part in getting us off fossil fuels is symptomatic of a larger political failure which is dangerous to our future. We have mostly relied on someone else to deal with this problem, usually in Albany or Washington.
They haven’t done the job, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to, at least not unless they’re prodded from below.
Yes, our community continues to be divided over energy policy. The editorial in last week’s edition of this paper characterized speakers at the town of Oneonta meeting as “anti-gas true believers.”
There were a couple of strident speakers, as with any large group, but nearly all were thoughtful people pointing out the very real and harmful consequences of using more gas.
Mike Zagata in last week’s paper also misinforms the public by talking about “clean-burning natural gas,” when in fact there’s no such thing. The combustion of natural gas unavoidably produces CO2, a polluting greenhouse gas. Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2.
Even worse, he ignores the seepage of methane from wells, pipes and compressors, which adds another, more potent greenhouse gas to the mix, making natural gas as bad as any other fossil fuel.
By contrast, Zakrevsky, to his credit, bemoaned his fate at the Town of Oneonta meeting, confessing to the crowd his own confusion and lack of expertise. He was hired to promote local economic development, he noted, not to make energy policy. He’s exactly right. He and Otsego Now are not qualified to make energy policy and should not be tasked with that burden.
What was painfully obvious at the meeting was the lack of coordination among capable parties interested in developing a local energy plan. Currently we have groups too often confined to their respective silos – elected officials, economic development people, the local business community, the colleges, the hospitals, the environmentalists, etc.
Each of them is working on their piece of the elephant. What’s lacking is an effective mechanism for combining their resources and talents to develop a plan for all of us.
In my last column I mentioned the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap (Google it!) as a precedent for what should happen here. That initiative began in 2010 as part of a Tompkins County Energy Strategy for 2020. It was first developed as a project by Cornell graduate students.
In 2014, a steering committee was formed composed of individuals “who represent the breadth of experience, interest and perspectives within the community regarding our energy future.” The draft Energy Roadmap was then presented to numerous community groups and has since become the focus of Tompkins county energy policy.
This Energy Roadmap doesn’t rely on hiring expensive outside consultants, who are often ignorant of local circumstances; nor does it narrow options by handing authority to a single, unprepared agency. Instead it utilizes the expertise already found in a variety of existing organizations and individuals.
We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.
Let me suggest, again, that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.
The point is to get key people in the same room and tackle the problem. It’s up to the County Board to make this happen. The time is NOW.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.
DISASTER UNIVERSITY – 4:30-8:30 p.m. The Red Cross holds a training course for disaster relief. House fires to hurricanes, learn how you can aid your community in times of their greatest need. Registration preferred, walk-ins welcome. Alumni Hall, SUNY Oneonta. Info, Taylor Fanelli at (315)733-4666 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLUBHOUSE – 6-8 p.m. Baking night for teens 7-12th grade. Includes free food, give-aways, and, a judgement free zone where teens can relax with their friends. Unadilla Teen Center, 16 Watson St., Unadilla. Info, Blake Stensland @ email@example.com or Jon Ramirez @ firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Family Resource Network @ (607)432-0001