So, when we think of Cornell’s campus, most people think of Ithaca. Occasionally, someone also might mention the medical school down in New York City. But in the ag school, asking the right person, might result in an unexpected response – Geneva, New York. Geneva is a small city of about 13,000 located about 50 NNW of Ithaca, on the northern end of Seneca Lake, and although most folks could not care less about the community, it does have some importance for the university thanks to the presence of the Geneva Lab.
The formal name of the Geneva campus is the “New York State Agricultural Experiment Station“, often referred to as the Geneva Lab for short. It also started off as a rival to Cornell, at least when it came to research grants. The Geneva Lab was started in June 1880 thanks to state funding, although Cornell had sought the funding from the state (Bishop 223). The lab started off with a staff of seven scientists. After the Hatch Act provided further funding for agricultural experiment stations in 1887, the competition created between the two created tense relations throughout the turn of the century. To is credit, Cornell had their own experiment station since 1879, but it sorely lacked funding (keep in mind this was during a time when the ag school had an almighty 50 students, give or take a few each year). Thanks to increased state and federal funding with the second Morrill Act, state appropriations, and the Smith-Hughes Bill, money became easier to obtain, and relations had improved enough by WWI that Cornell professors routinely exchanged with researchers at Geneva for various ag-related projects (Bishop 440).
By 1923, the state authorized the Geneva research station to be placed under Cornell’s control. At this point, the two were basically working together on most everything and trying to avoid redundancies in administration, so by 1920 they were already informally affiliated. The Geneva station had a staff of 55 and hundreds of acres would benefit the ag school’s research, while taking advantage of Cornell connection, including the Cooperative Extension program.
More funding started coming Cornell and Geneva’s way with the Purnell Act in 1925, which led to Cornell-owned ag research facilities in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, near Riverhead (Bishop 477). The Geneva facility’s research shifted from helping farmers produce good crops, to making better products, such as making pears disease-resistant, new apple varieties, and working with Birdseye Foods on better quick-freezing techniques for vegetables. By 1940, the researchers at Geneva were made faculty in the ag college.lastly, animal-related research was shifted over to the Ithaca campus at the end of WWII, leaving the Geneva lab to strictly plant-based work.
Today, the Geneva campus comprises 20 buildings (623,000 sq ft), 870 acres, and about 300 faculty, staff and grad students. Most of the work done these days is the development of improved food safety and storage techniques and genetic enhancement of crops to create more productive or tolerant varieties. The four programs shared between the two campuses (which were merged as a post-recession cost-cutting measure last year) are Entomology, Food Science, Horticulture and Plant Pathology.
In summary, Cornell has a large presence in upstate New York, and it’s not just in Ithaca. So, maybe the proposal for the new school on Roosevelt Island in NYC isn’t all that unusual for Ezra’s research university.