This summer, international agriculture and rural development major Jensen Njagi ’25 interned for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Conservation Biocontrol on Urban Farms in New York City project. This three-year project is designed to help urban NYC growers improve their management of arthropod pests by attracting and retaining natural enemies. Jensen and the project team worked with local farms around Brooklyn, New York, to scout their crops for pest damage and set up traps to catch and observe what beneficial insect species are present in NYC gardens. Below, Jensen shares highlights from the eight-week New York experience, with more details available on his blog.
NYC field research
Pink Houses Community Farm, Brooklyn
It doesn’t get any better working on urban farms in NYC! One week, we visited Pink Houses Community Farm in Brooklyn, a community farm founded in 2015 to produce fresh food for distribution to Pink House residents. The farm grows crops like brassicas (kales and spinach), tomatoes, beetroots and green onions, in addition to giving workshops on topics like how to make herbal cough syrup and beekeeping 101.
While there, we set traps to catch and observe the beneficial insect species present at the farm, scouted the crops for pest damage, and evaluated and mapped out the beneficial flowery habitat installed last spring.
Forty-eight hours after setting the traps, we returned for collection and discovered ground beetles, an insect species beneficial to flowery habitats, which proved that planting flowery habitats alongside farms can attract insects that are beneficial to both the flowers and crops!
Oko Farms, Brooklyn
Another week, my colleague Aziza and I visited Oko Farms in Brooklyn, which uses aquaponics, a kind of controlled environment agriculture that combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics, to grow their crops. The waste from fish (ammonium and urea) delivers all the required nutrients to the brassicas and onions being grown hydroponically. After this, the water is recycled back into the fish. Each species nurtures the other, no need for chemical fertilizers. Isn’t that interesting?
While at the farm, we set up various types of traps to again observe the possible advantages of planting flowers that attract insects that are beneficial to both the flowers and the crops. We also created a map of the beneficial insect habitat, assessed leaf damage and scouted the brassicas and tomatoes to identify the pests present.
City highlights and personal growth
Looking back, I’m overwhelmed with memories of my time in NYC. I spent my first few days in the city crisscrossing the streets wondering if I could handle all the big city energy, not to mention my first day of my internship was also my first day on a subway train! But ultimately, the urban farms became my second home and the urban growers became my family as we worked together to provide New Yorkers with access to fresh and healthy food. I felt so emotional when it came time to say goodbye.
From the first week to the last, our team’s research skills improved immensely! We learned that by maintaining a habitat that attracts insects that are beneficial to crops, the number and diversity of naturally occurring beneficial insects will increase. While pests like leafhoppers also increased, the positive effects of the beneficial insects outweighed the negative effects of the pest increase.
In conclusion, our CCE summer research internship could be concluded with two I’s and two E’s, meaning: impactful, insightful, experiential and engaging!
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