Farmworker initiatives earn community engagement honor

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has named Cornell University the winner of the 2019 Northeast Region Community Engagement Scholarship Award. Given by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the award recognizes extraordinary community outreach initiatives by its member universities.

Wyoming County law students


Cornell Law students and faculty after obtaining a family court order for a youth farmworker in Wyoming County, New York. From left, Neethu Putta, Sarah Sloane, Briana Beltran, Beth Lyon and Luis Lozada.

Cornell was recognized for its interdisciplinary farmworker research and collaboration initiatives, which collectively benefit thousands of farmworkers in 40 counties across New York state and beyond.

The work began with the Cornell Farmworker Program, established in 1966 to support migrant farmworkers, a vital part of New York’s agriculture economy, through housing improvements, education, health and pesticide training.

Cornell impacting New York State

Today, Cornell’s support of farmworkers and farmworker-focused organizations involves faculty in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell Law School and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business; Cornell Cooperative Extension associates; and 24 community partners. More than 300 students participate each year, through 28 community-engaged learning courses across 11 departments.

Through participatory research, faculty, staff and students identify priorities in collaboration with farmworkers, and work together with community partners to build capacity and address challenges.

Programming at Cornell includes the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic, based in the Law School; the Low-Income Taxpayer Program, a pioneering series of courses in which accounting and law students assist farmworkers and other low-income workers with tax returns; hands-on student-farmworker workshops; and the development of training materials and activities.

Alternative break trip


Business and law students from Cornell help prepare applications for farmworkers during an alternative spring break service-learning trip to California in 2017.

Research has resulted in seven scholarly publications, and dozens of policy papers and practitioner publications. Cornell is regularly consulted on program design and on federal, state, local and international farmworker policy.

“Cornell’s explicit attention to the needs of farmworkers occupies a unique place among the land grant universities because of its longevity, its comprehensive approach, and its deep student engagement,” President Martha E. Pollack wrote in her nomination letter to the APLU.

The faculty group in the application sent to the APLU includes Beth Lyon, clinical professor and assistant director for the Clinical, Advocacy and Skills Program in the Law School; Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, and John McKinley, director of the Low-Income Taxpayer Program.

“We benefit from the deep trust and mutual respect the [Cornell Farmworker Program] has developed with Guatemalan farmworkers, and the program’s extensive familiarity with upstate communities,” Pedro Tzunún of the Guatemalan consulate wrote in his application support letter. “Through our partnership we are able to work together for the well-being of these hard-working individuals that live in rural upstate New York.”

The Kellogg Awards will be presented in October at the Engagement Scholarship Consortium (ESC) Conference in Denver. The regional winners – Cornell, Colorado State University, the University of Louisville and Purdue University – will give presentations at the conference and will compete as finalists for the C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award, to be announced in November at the APLU annual meeting in San Diego.

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