Laura Hunsberger’s primary goal as the new executive director of the Allegany-Cattaraugus office of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service is to build partnerships and raise funds to strengthen its programs and services.
Hunsberger is well qualified for the task. In her most recent position as executive director of the Nassau County, N.Y., extension service, she was faced with many of the same challenges she sees here.
“Nassau County is a fiscally challenged county in the Cornell extension service system, where funding had been completely eliminated from the county budget. I spent a lot of time writing grants and seeking other sources of funding in order to keep things going,” she said.
While Allegany County still provides funding for the extension service, funding for agricultural programs in Cattaraugus County was recently eliminated for all but its 4-H program support.
Hunsberger said, “I’ll be working on building visibility for the extension service here to demonstrate the value of our programs and services and to generate support.”
As part of this effort, she plans to work on building local, private, county and regional partnerships to advance the extension service’s primary programmatic goals, which include youth agricultural education through 4-H and other avenues, agricultural development, and advancing programs related to building local food hubs.
In addition, about a quarter of her time will be spent working in her horticultural fields of organic gardening and vegetable production as it relates to those goals.
“Traditional farming areas have so many challenges. It’s a difficult business and it’s hard to make a living. Generally speaking, farmers don’t get paid for the real value of their food unless they can sell locally. Local and regional food hubs can make a big difference,” she said, by reducing the number of miles food has to travel before it can be sold. “We’ll be spending a lot of time educating people about the importance of this concept.”
Before joining the Nassau County extension service, Hunsberger worked for two years as a research specialist in plant pathology at Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center. Her academic interests extend to organic weed management and sustainable vegetable production as it relates to solving global food security issues.
From 2001-2010, Hunsberger worked for the University of Maryland’s Worcester County Office, first as extension educator for agriculture and natural resources, and then as that office’s director. She also has served as a research specialist for Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. and as a teaching and research assistant at the University of Massachusetts, where she received her master’s degree in plant and soil sciences.
Hunsberger grew up in the Rochester area. Her mother, a professional cellist, and father, a conductor, “didn’t pass on their musical genes to me,” she laughed. “I play the radio.”
She’s happy to be back in the western part of the state and plans to take advantage of everything the Southern Tier has to offer, especially cross-country skiing. She and her husband, who was a law professor at Pace University and is starting a law practice near their new home in Wellsville, plan to participate in the Pain in the Alleganies triathlon this year. They also hope to take in all the cultural, entertainment and outdoor activities that abound in the region.
“It’s a beautiful area, and there is a lot of need for the extension service’s programs,” said Hunsberger. “I look forward to meeting people, hearing their concerns and helping them find solutions to their problems.”
Hunsberger will be working in both the Ellicottville and Allegany Extension Service offices. To get in touch, call (716) 699-2377.