Cornell Cooperative Extension-Yates County: Putting knowledge to work

CCE of Yates County

“The county agent’s work begins with earthy and genetic things. But his sights are raised always upward and onward. He works for better farms through better men, women, and children on farms...He knows that they, like the rest of mankind, come into the world with possibilities. They need, he hopes, only the stimulus of his sympathetic and magic touch to bring out, from their hearts, the permanent and satisfying rural civilization of which he dreams.” ~ Kenneth D. Scott A Tribute To The County Agricultural Agent

The Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension team.

PENN YAN — Last month, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County presented their annual report to the Yates County Legislature as an in-person presentation and luncheon, to show the important work CCE-Yates does for the community, economy, and environment of Yates County.

According to their Mission Statement, "Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County puts knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. We bring local experience and research based solutions together, helping local Yates County families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world."

Finger Lakes Grape Program

The Finger Lakes Grape Program is a partnership between Cornell University and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations in Ontario, Seneca, Schuyler, Steuben, Wayne, and Yates counties.

One of the lessons that we took from 2020 is that there can be benefits to virtual meetings, such as less driving and not worrying about weather. However, not all of our clientele are able to attend virtual meetings or simply prefer not to do so. In order to address the needs of both groups this year, the FLGP arranged for a “hybrid’” approach to this year’s meeting season.

For the second consecutive year, our Spring IPM meeting was held virtually over Zoom, with over 100 growers participating in the meeting. Two weeks later, we were able to hold an in-person version of the IPM meeting at a farm in Yates County, which was attended by about 15 growers, most of whom could not attend the virtual meeting earlier.

Our Tailgate Meetings were also split between virtual and in-person meetings, with four virtual meetings, and three in-person meetings. Growers were still eligible to earn pesticide credits at every meeting. Feedback from growers in both settings was very positive.

The growers at the in-person meetings were appreciative of having the option of not using technology, but still receiving the information that they need, while growers who have attended the virtual meetings appreciate the time savings and convenience of being able to attend a meeting from their home or office. It is highly likely that we will continue with this combination of in-person and virtual Tailgate Meetings.

Natural Resources & Invasive Species

Starry Stonewort DASH harvesting

Starry Stonewort at Branchport.

In August 2021, Keuka Lake was treated to a new measure to address starry stonewort and prevent its spread. This year, the Starry Stonewort Collaborative team implemented the use of diver assisted suction harvesting (DASH) for removal. DASH is a special harvesting system can remove up to 95% of the biomass of SSW. Divers pull the “plants” from the sediments including the attached rhizomes and bulbils and feed them into a suction hose. The biomass is deposited on a boat fitted with filter trays to capture all fragments and tiny bulbils. It is then transferred to the shore for drying and disposal.

Mapping Tree-Of-Heaven In Yates County Using iMapInvasives

Tree of Heaven survey along the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail.

Tree-of-heaven is a widespread invasive tree. In addition to being an invasive species, it is also the preferred host tree of spotted lanternfly (SLF). Despite vigilant efforts to prevent its introduction, there is a concern that SLF will spread into the FLX region and Yates County. Since tree-of-heaven is their preferred tree species (especially during certain stages of the SLF’s life cycle), knowing where tree-of-heaven clusters are located throughout the county is important for early detection of SLF infestations and for rapid control response. Following detection of a live adult SLF in Yates County, the DEC and Dept. of Ag & Markets conducted surveys for signs of infestations and mapped tree-of-heaven around Keuka Lake. However, other areas of high activity (ie. Hotels, boat launches, college campuses, and the Keuka Outlet trail) were not covered. To ensure coverage of these areas, CCE-Yates County partnered with Kamren Record (Keuka College Student Experience Program). This semester-long program gave him an opportunity to have an impact in the area while attending college by helping to prevent and control the spread of an invasive species. For a more in-depth look at this project, visit

Cornell Vegetable Program

Yates County continues to be the home of the 
largest concentration of high tunnel greenhouse 
operations in the state, and is the center of  the CCE 
research and outreach program.

The Cornell Vegetable Program is a Cornell Cooperative Extension partnership between Cornell University and CCE Associations in 14 counties: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Oswego, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, and Yates in 2021.

This region accounts for more than half of all vegetable acres in the state with 1,229 farms, and a farm gate value exceeding $200 million. Last year, the CVP specialists made 3,588 farm visits and crop consultations.

The team conducted 83 educational meetings and presentations with 3,025 people increased their knowledge. Over 90 farms and businesses support our work by allowing us to conduct on farm research and education events. The team has over 30 active grant projects.

Yates County continues to be the home of the largest concentration of high tunnel greenhouse operations in the state, and is the center of our research and outreach program. The Cornell Vegetable Program continues to make impacts on the growers and agri-business professionals of the vegetable industry of New York.

By the Numbers:

  • Counties Served: 14
  • Total Vegetable Farms: 1,229
  • Average Farm Value: $200 million
  • Total Farm Visits: 3,588
  • Total Educational Meetings: 83
  • Total Participants: 3,025
  • Farm Research Support: 90
  • Active Grant Projects: 30

Agriculture Programming

Food Safety

As FSMA eligibility expands to cover many of the smaller farms, CCE Yates continues to pair with organizations across the region to provide food safety education and support to farms covered by FSMA.

Our office collaborated with Cornell Vegetable Program and CCE Broome to facilitate and present at three online food safety trainings including GAPs training-writing a food safety plan and Assess and Prevent Food Safety Risks through the Lens of Leafy Greens webinar. In addition, we collaborated with CCE Seneca and the Cornell Vegetable Program to hold an in-person FSMA training this summer at the Seneca Produce Auction.

We have continued to collaborate with New York Agriculture and Markets to provide On-Farm-Readiness-Reviews to farms in Yates, Ontario, Schuyler and Monroe Counties. These walk-through visits are a way for farms to evaluate where their current practices align the Food Safety Modernization Act and what changes they could make to reduce risks of microbial contamination on the farm.

Pesticide Safety and Trainings

In November of 2020, New York Department of Environmental Conversation ended its period of enforcement discretion on certain private pesticide applicator requirements including re-certification. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, in-person classes were largely not available for farmers to make up the credit opportunities lost in the spring, summer and fall.

CCE-Yates balanced the needs of farmers for credits with the importance of preventing the spread of Covid-19. In-person classes were held throughout the winter in early spring with limited numbers of attendees and ample social distancing to keep everyone as safe as possible. We offered two in-person private pesticide applicator license trainings to reduce numbers. We also developed a paper copy “at-home training” when Covid numbers peaked in January and an in-person training wasn’t possible.

We also worked with NYS DEC to host three exams in the County Building throughout the winter. Over February and March, along with Judson Reid from the Cornell Vegetable Program, CCE Yates provided five workshops for pesticide credits at no charge to participants to provide farmers with ample opportunities for recertification classes. Subjects covered included Integrated Pest Management, balancing pollinator health with pest management, potato leafhopper and management of common greenhouse and high tunnel pests.

Customer Service & Workshops

  • Answered over 90 Ag-related queries in the past year.
  • Total Workshop Participants– 82
  • Finger Lakes Graziers- provided tech support and equipment for workshop
  • Active Field Inspection for Wannamaker Seeds
  • Other workshops:  Apple grafting,  Covid-19 and Agritourism (multi-county workshop) 

Farmland Protection Programming

Prime agricultural land in Yates County.

Also in 2021, our association created a subcommittee of the Farmland Protection Board to research and discuss how best to educate and support farms and communities during the rapid expansion of solar array installations throughout New York. The financial pressures farms are facing and need for increased renewable energy need to be balanced by the fact that farmland is a non-renewable resource which will become increasingly valuable in our changing world.

Additionally, CCE-Yates County put together materials for town boards to evaluate how best to help farms make these decisions (ex. Yates County Solar Suitability map, as pictured above), which Arlene Wilson presented at town board meetings across the county over the summer.

Community-Based Horticulture

In addition to the produce harvested from the trials, the Master Gardeners grew, harvested and donated over 600 lbs. of fresh vegetables and herbs to local food pantries.

The Master Gardener Program is a national program of trained volunteers who work in partnership with their county Cooperative Extension Office to share information throughout the community.

Beginning Gardeners

Seed to Supper is a beginning gardening course to provide gardeners at any level of experience or budget. Utilizing a mini grant we received for the program in 2019, we provided the free five-week course in Penn Yan. In addition to instruction, we provided participants with seeds, transplants and a manual which covered all subject matter discussed in the course for future reference. We hope to offer this program annually in different parts of the county.

Container Gardening Kits 

CCE Yates County has distributed 400 container garden kits within Yates County since March of 2021, thanks to the generosity of Penn Yan Elks Lodge #1722 and an Ag and Markets multi-county grant. These kits contained pots, soil and seeds along with complete growing instructions and follow-up support as needed.

Penn Yan Community Garden & the Vegetable Variety Trials

The Master Gardeners took part in the annual Cornell Vegetable Variety Trials where we evaluate seed varieties for their attributes in our county. The data collected is then compiled with other counties on a statewide website which gardeners can use to evaluate how a variety will do in their own growing regions. In addition to the produce harvested from the trials, the Master Gardeners grew, harvested and donated over 600 lbs. of fresh vegetables and herbs to the Hope Center Keuka Food Pantry.

Yates County 4-H Program

Yates County 4-H Youth Development programs promote healthy lifestyles, citizenship, leadership, and increased self-esteem in youth within our county through their participation in public presentations, community service opportunities, project work ranging from animal science to food and nutrition, horticulture, outdoor education, and more, as well as various club activities.

4-H Boredom Buster Kits help kids use their time creatively during school vacations.

Project Kits

  • January – Cup Weaving – 12 youth
  • February - Winter Boredom Buster Kit – Marshmallow Architecture, Bird Feeders, Felt Bookmark, Hot Chocolate Sticks, Family Winter Activity Bucket List – 19 youth
  • March/April - Spring Break Boredom Buster Kit – Wildlife Tracks, Rice Shake Egg Decorating, Homemade Pretzel Bites, Friendship Bracelets, DIY Card Making – 22 youth
  • May - Mosaic Steppingstones – 20 youth
  • Summer - Boredom Buster Kit – Freezer Jam, Bottle Rocket, Insect Hotel, Needlepoint, Finger Lakes Summer Bucket List, and a variety of CCE Summer Resources (Hike and Bike Guide, recipes cards, Taste of Yates Guide) – 29 youth
  • September - Sunflower Cork Wreath – 21 youth, one adult 

4-H Virtual Programming

  • 4-H Family Cooking Experience – 11 youth, six adults
The Yates County 4-H Spectacular's had 50 Exhibit Hall Projects and 35 Animal Science Shows.

Yates County 4-H Spectacular

  • Exhibit Hall Projects – 50 projects, 11 youth
  • Animal Science Shows - 35 Animals, 10 youth, four new exhibitors; Poultry (6), Dog (3), Dairy (3), Rabbit (5), and Goat (18) Shows • Horse Show in October

4 -H In -Person Programming

In Yates County, over 1,000 young people are reached each year by 4 -H programming efforts. Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension provides in school, afterschool, and summer youth programming opportunities with our local school districts, libraries, and additional youth serving community partners.

Our traditional 4 -H program consists of enrolled 4 -H members (5 -19 years old) learning citizenship, leadership, and life skills that will be carried with them into adulthood. In Yates County, our most popular program areas include animal science, food and nutrition, fine arts and crafts, public presentations, community service.

Geocaching was one of the popular outdoor programs in 4-H.

As Covid-19 continues to impact our lives, Yates County 4 -H continues to work with our families, as well as our local health department to provide program opportunities in a variety of safe and welcoming settings. In 2021, we offered in person programming, following social distancing practices, utilizing outdoor spaces, and limiting group size if needed. We were also able to accommodate hybrid options for families.

Dog Obedience was a 6-week program with eight youth participants.
  • Geo -Caching Group – Met throughout the spring and summer at the Outlet Trail, Glenwood Cemetery in Watkins Glen, and the Ontario Pathways Trail – 8 youth members
  • Public Presentations – Combination of in person, with 1 virtual presenter - 10 youth total
  • Dog Obedience – 6 -week program, with 8 youth participants
  • Rabbit Clinic – 9 youth, 8 adults
  • Poultry Clinic – 8 youth, 5 adults

Community Service Projects

  • Card Drives (Started by one of our Teen Group members), who wanted to distribute cards to senior living centers. Cards were collected and distributed between 3 Yates County Senior Living Centers and YC Meals on Wheels recipients
  • Valentine’s Day – 104 cards collected, 49 youth participants
  • Spring Flower Pot Cards – 40 cards, 17 youth participants
  • Fleece Blankets for the Humane Society. 12 blankets delivered in the Fall (2020) and an additional 13 blankets ready for donation in 2021. Spearheaded by the 4- H Teen Group and made via group members, 4-H project kits and programs at libraries and with Rainbow Junction.
  • Can and Bottle Drive for YC Hope Walk – Raised $60.75 (project of the 4-H Teen Group)

Youth Community Outreach

  • Libraries
  • Penn Yan – Ice Cream in a Bag, Rabbit Care, Animal Senses
  • Dundee – Fleece to Fiber, Tied Fleece, Ice Cream in a Bag, Rabbit Care
  • Branchport – Rabbit Care
  • Rainbow Junction - Provided programming via mostly project kits and 1 in person program. 18 youth reached. Birdfeeders, felt bookmark, Dairy, Community Service, Earth Day Totes, Tied Fleece, Stepping Stones
  • Penn Yan Elementary - Gardening and Ag Careers – 7 youth
  • Dundee TRAILS - Excited to be working with TRAILS this fall, providing project kits for afterschool club use
  • Ag Literacy Week - With the help of the PYA FFA Chapter, CCE-Yates was able to provide a virtual reading and activity to 26 classrooms, reaching 355 students, plus additional programming with Rainbow Junction and Penn Yan and Dundee Libraries.
  • St. Michael School - Composting education- 70 youth

Family, Budget, & Life Skills Programming

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County offers the TANF ( Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ) Life Skills 1:1 program to eligible, qualifying Yates County residents. This is a number limited (20 per year) as well as specific eligibility requirements due to the program funding. While it is specific in terms of participant eligibility, the program is rich with information, education, tips, and tools which are provided to family participants.

It has been important to assist individuals and families to help address their additional needs during these difficult and changing times. Efforts included the following: drop offs of program material at their home, the garden seed kits, blankets, clothing, bath towels, and household items. Encouragement/ assistance with connecting to local community resources (Keuka Housing Council, Inc./ ESG, The Well, the Keuka Pantry, and DSS) for possible funding assistance and food security. Sometimes an individual just needed the physical accompaniment and encouragement of the CCE Life Skills educator when reaching out to a local resource. Some past program participants have requested to have monthly check ins (a text, email, or phone call and to be notified of any new updates and community resource information). CCE partners with Workforce Development to offer Self Sufficiency workshops.

Introducing HeatSmart FLX South

A new program, HeatSmart FLX South, is helping families, small businesses and non-profits choose clean heating and cooling solutions and reduce their energy costs. Through consultations with residents and business owners, free energy audits, weatherization, and energy efficiency upgrades tailored to each person. The goal is for more residents to adopt heat pump heating and cooling equipment to lower energy use for consumers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal of Heat FLX South is for more residents to adopt heat pump heating and cooling equipment to lower energy use for consumers and  reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

HeatSmart FLX South serves Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, and Yates counties, in cooperation with the Cooperative Extension associations of those counties. Based at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County, this program is funded by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA). Additional information can be found on their website

Participating contractors are local, independent professionals that meet NYS Clean Heat Contractor requirements and have been competitively selected to participate in the HeatSmart FLX South program.

Trenches for converting to a ground source heat pump heating and cooling system.

• Dailey Electric, Inc.: Home grown in the backyard of Penn Yan, NY, Ryan took over the family business in 2007. He and his team of 20 employees passionately install ground and air source heat pumps. Dedicated to reasonable prices, the environment, and excellent service, they are ready to work on your next project.

  • Halco: Rooted in NYS for over 37 years, they are no spring chicken when it comes to their extensive knowledge and work on the building blocks of your home or business … weatherization and insulation. Their passionate and experienced staff proudly install air source heat pumps to meet your clean heating and cooling needs.
  • Lake Country Geothermal: They believe that the key to a happy client is listening first, asking questions, educating, and finally solution collaboration. They treat your project as if it were their own home! High heating costs? System dying? Want green points? Chat with them about converting to a ground source heat pump heating and cooling system.
  • VanHee Mechanical: An established ground and air source heat pump installing company for over 40 years! Uniting technology, geology, and capability together to bring you a cutting-edge opportunity in how you heat and cool your home. They are “pumped” to join the HeatSmart Team and earn your referral.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has awarded over $9 million to support over 20 HeatSmart Community Campaigns throughout the state which conduct community outreach and education efforts to inform residents about the benefits of heat pump heating & cooling equipment to lower energy cost burdens for consumers and greenhouse gas emissions in our communities.