The other day, I found myself in a dirt farm. Technically a composting facility run by Cornell Farm Services, the operation housed dozens of piles of soil, each in a different phase of decomposition. Crows circled overhead, occasionally landing on the heaps to eat rotting food scraps.
Now why was I in a dirt farm at 2 p.m. on a Monday? I was on a field trip in PLSCS 2600: Soil Science. As an agricultural science major, my classes expose me to unique places near Cornell, from cider orchards to dairies, and the occasional soil pit. Our transportation varies from rented party bus to eight-seater van, and the long journeys make for interesting conversations with unlikely companions.
Compared to my other courses, the agriculture program offers a very different version of the university that I believe most Cornell students experience. While most Cornell classes are confined to classrooms, agricultural classes emphasize hands-on experience. Although I’m particularly biased by my major, I think every student should take at least one agriculture class with a lab to experience the unique joy of discovering places and experiences you never knew existed. The land-grant system is undeniably problematic, but it sets Cornell apart from other schools of a similar caliber and should be enjoyed to the fullest by students regardless of discipline.
Agriculture classes are also pre-vocational and technical only, two characteristics that can easily be lost in liberal arts education. Last year, I took the ANSC 2500: Dairy Cattle Principles course, to fulfill a requirement in animal science as part of my major. In March, I found myself holding a dead bovine genital tract in one hand and a semen straw in the other. If you had asked me four years ago what I imagined doing in college, performing artificial insemination at 2 p.m. on a Monday afternoon wouldn’t have been on the list. But in many ways, this “skill” is much more relevant to my day-to-day life than I realize — it’s integral to producing my cream cheese bagels and my late-night groceries at Jason’s.
My agriculture classes challenge my view of our food systems, but also our social and cultural approaches to agriculture and farming communities. In my land-grant upbringing, I became increasingly aware of the struggles of rural communities and increasingly respectful of the effort it takes to produce my meals. I struggle to reconcile a sense of great pride in our country with an urgent desire for change and betterment. I find purpose in knowing that I am one of many students participating in the land grant mission to serve the community through agricultural research and development. Although colleges have a reputation for being island bubbles, my agriculture classes exposed me to livelihoods very different from my background and fostered nuance in my view of our country.
I’ve always hated the humanities-STEM dichotomy, and I don’t particularly subscribe to it or believe in it. I don’t even quite understand where agriculture fits into this. However, I believe that every student, from classical majors to computer science majors, should enroll in at least one niche agriculture class. Agriculture is a unique part of Cornell’s identity and history, and it should not be overlooked. Go out on a branch and take a risk – you never know what strange but significant places or skills or people you might encounter along the way.
Julia Poggi is a sophomore at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] The outbox takes place every other Sunday this semester.
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