The Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech leverages institutional resources and expertise to cultivate innovation, economic growth and robust job creation in New York’s food and farming sector. The center accelerates business development by connecting startups and existing businesses with the research and commercialization support, mentorship and strategic partnerships that they need to grow and thrive.

Cathy Young, the newly appointed director, has an ambitious vision for the center and believes the climate is ripe for food and agriculture entrepreneurs in New York state. Young recently shared this vision with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

How do you envision the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture integrating with research and services offered by Cornell AgriTech, CALS and Cornell University?

The amazing research, technology and innovation being generated through Cornell researchers and programs are groundbreaking and cutting edge, with the capacity to change people’s lives around the world. The Center of Excellence’s goal is to serve as an economic development hub to connect this incredible Cornell excellence to job providers, resulting in increased growth and opportunities from western New York to the tip of Long Island. Entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses can benefit from interaction with the Center of Excellence. New endeavors in food and agriculture will be pushed towards success, existing companies will be grown and businesses from other states and countries will be pulled into New York. The magnet for this expansion of opportunities is the exciting expertise and breakthroughs that are the hallmark of Cornell research and services.

What challenges can be overcome for food and agriculture businesses by interacting with the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture?

The Center of Excellence strives to put people in touch with assets that can help them be successful in their endeavors. New and existing businesses in food and agriculture may have one or many needs: advice about how to expand their business; food safety evaluation and validation; techniques to increase their productivity or yields; access to capital funding through government, traditional lending, venture capital or other investors so that they can grow their operations; and connections to suppliers, food co-packers or sales outlets, just to name a few. 

What kinds of new and existing food and agriculture companies are you working with?

It is an incredibly wide variety of endeavors, ranging from high-tech solutions that address complex problems facing agriculture to innovative products that satisfy consumer demand. More and more, people are moving away from highly processed foods and desire foods that are natural, organic and have a health benefit. Many of the food innovators we are working with are developing inventive products that meet this demand. Also, the beverage industry is taking off statewide, with more wineries, craft breweries, cideries and distilleries being established. Different types of foods and recipes that are popular with cultures around the world are being brought to New York, and new agriculture techniques are being advanced. Urban agriculture on rooftops or in storage containers is trending, and hemp is the hot new food ingredient and fiber to make fabric. It’s an exciting time for food and agricultural innovation, and the Center of Excellence will be at the forefront of these developments.

What excites you most about your new role?

There are so many things that are gratifying and electrifying. I grew up on a dairy and row crop farm, so agriculture is part of my personal story. My dad graduated from Cornell in 1953, and he instilled a deep admiration and respect for Cornell in me and my siblings. Over the years, a passion of mine has been boosting New York state agriculture and economic development by developing meaningful policy and new projects as a state legislator. The Center of Excellence is a capstone on those life experiences. To have a direct affiliation with Cornell excellence and to link it with economic growth in food and agriculture is extraordinarily energizing and rewarding.

If you could give an elevator pitch to companies around the world about why New York state is the best place to have an agriculture or food business, what would it be?

New York always has been the Empire State, leading the country and the world in innovation and expertise, and Cornell has been an integral part of that strength since its founding in 1865. We have incredible assets in New York – a huge supply of fresh water, fertile land, an industrious and highly-skilled workforce, ingenuity in technological advances, a strong pipeline of venture capital, and many of the best colleges and universities in the world.

Cornell research and advancements are a world-class resource for food and agriculture, and co-locating near that can help your business grow and thrive.

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