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Head of Ag and Markets hailed as Friend of Extension

Whether he’s leading a statewide food safety initiative, lending his voice to an advisory council or simply showing up to support a county fair, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball has long been an enthusiastic supporter of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and Cornell’s land-grant mission.

From left, Chris Watkins, Cornell Cooperative Extension director; Richard Ball, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets commissioner; and CALS Dean Kathryn Boor ’80 at the award ceremony for Ball, Sept. 26 at the Statler Hotel. Photo by R.J. Anderson/Cornell University

Hailing Ball’s “tireless passion” and “ubiquitous presence” in support of agriculture and extension work around the state, CCE Director Chris Watkins and Arlene Wilson, president of the New York chapter of Epsilon Sigma Phi, the national extension professionals’ organization, presented Ball with the 2019 Friend of Extension Award at a ceremony Sept. 26 at Cornell’s Statler Hotel.

“Commissioner Ball has worked closely with numerous extension county associations to promote food and agricultural initiatives, including projects such as the state’s Grown and Certified Program, Taste NY and On Farm Readiness Reviews to help farmers meet federal food safety requirements,” said Wilson, who also is executive director of CCE of Yates County.

“He has supported Cornell University’s land-grant mission through his service on the advisory councils for the Cornell Institute for Food Safety, Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,” Wilson said. “And he is a fixture at ribbon-cuttings, county fairs, 4-H events and Extension Association annual meetings.”

Watkins lauded Ball’s ability to personalize his messaging to varied audiences.

“The way Commissioner Ball is able to speak from the heart and connect with diverse stakeholders is a skill that sets him apart,” Watkins said, “and one I am very much trying to emulate.”

A farmer who grew up milking cows on his grandparents’ dairy farm, Ball has deep ties to agriculture and community organizations at local, state and national levels. In 1993, he became the owner and operator of Schoharie Valley Farms in Schoharie, New York, a 200-acre farm growing vegetables, small fruits and greenhouse crops. In 2014, Ball was appointed to his current position as commissioner of NYS Ag and Markets.

“There are few people in public service who have the combination of practical wisdom about the challenges and opportunities in farming, and the vision to, in his own favorite phrase, ‘connect the dots’ between farmers and the food system,” Julie Suarez, associate dean of CALS, wrote in support of Ball. “No matter what role Richard is in – as a farmer, community volunteer or as commissioner – he understands the vital role of extension writ large as the great ‘connectors of dots’ between science-based solutions and implementation strategies for all New Yorkers in the communities we all seek to serve.”

“I am a little blown away by this,” Ball said during his acceptance remarks. “When you get an award like this from peers you admire, it really makes you reflect. I am grateful every day that I get to work with the best people in the world: the farm community. And I get to work with [CCE] – and there isn’t a better group of people to work with.”

R.J. Anderson is a writer and communications team leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.