5 Questions with a Regional Navigator
Farmland for a New Generation New York Regional Navigators provide training and on-the-ground customized support for farmers and landowners in regions throughout New York.
Featured Regional Navigator: Bonnie Collins, Senior Ag Program Team Leader, Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County
1.Where in New York State do you work?
I work in Oneida County, which is in Central New York and the Mohawk Valley.
2. What brought you to this work? What is your connection to agriculture?
I came to this work because of my background in business and my interest the sustainability of the food system. I connected to Cornell Cooperative Extension through training to become a Master Garden Volunteer. The organization knew of my financial background and hired me to coordinate a financial literacy project. I then moved to the agriculture department in 2007 which led me to my current position that I started 3 years ago.
When I began as an educator for extension, I used to say that I did not come from an agricultural background – meaning I did not grow up on a farm. However, the more I thought about it, my Dad was a butcher and I helped in a ½ acre home garden each year until I went to college. My Dad taught us to search for wild berries, to fish, to tap our maple trees, and to pick princess pine to make Christmas wreaths to sell. So I consider my life well connected to agriculture.
3. What is your area of expertise? In what ways do you typically work with farmers and farmland owners?
My area of expertise is business and management. I typically offer technical assistance to farmers and farmland owners in risk management, with a concentration on the financial side. That means everything from beginning a farm enterprise to transitioning out. I am always looking for the profitability of an enterprise for sustainability, which includes labor, legal, production, and marketing management. I hold an MBA and a Bachelor’s in Accounting. I figured when I was very young, this is a field of study that I could use to work in any industry. Agriculture has been the most rewarding, because the individuals I work with display the most dedication, hard work, and ability to adapt I have ever experienced.
4. Can you give an example of one farmer or farmland owner you are currently working with, the challenges they are facing, and how you are helping them work through those challenges?
One of the most rewarding experiences I can share is working with the Somali Bantu community in Utica, New York who needed land to farm. The community faced challenges building a relationship with the landowner while working across cultural, growing style, and communication differences. Through perseverance they were successful and are now farming on land in Oneida County. For me as a Regional Navigator, I learned lessons that I share with others and this experience contributed to personal growth in my own learning about social justice, food security, and advocacy through storytelling.
5. What is one piece of advice you have for farmers seeking land or farmland owners hoping to keep their land in farming?
One piece of advice I would offer to farmland owners is to really understand the value your land brings to a community, the environment, and the economy. To farmland seekers I would advise that you share your story with a landowner considering a rental relationship and be true to that story, and never give up on finding land!
Published in February 2021