LeadNY Develops Leaders in New York Food and Agriculture Sector

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH

Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: LeadNY

What They Do: Lead New York (LeadNY), an initiative of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University (Cornell CALS), is a training program for leaders in the agricultural and food sectors who want to make an impact in their communities. The program is aimed at enhancing skills related to leadership, self-awareness, issues analysis, critical thinking, and civic engagement in order to help individuals maximize their professional potential in the food industry.  

How They Do It: LeadNY offers one- and two-year programs to fit applicants’ needs and lifestyles. Applicants must be at least 25 years old and have a professional affiliation with food, agriculture, and/or natural resources industries, and it is recommended that applicants have a college degree, although it is not required. 

The first year of the program, “Leadership Fundamentals,” focuses on skill-building and discussions about New York state food systems. Participants attend monthly seminars from October through April in various locations throughout New York State. The length of the seminars ranges from one day to five days for a total of 25 days of training. Participants are required to complete homework assignments, including reading, preparing oral presentations, completing self-assessments, and fundraising. Topics covered in the Leadership Fundamentals seminars include personality, conflict style, emotional intelligence, and multi-rater assessments; leadership skill training, including persuasive speaking, debates, and meeting management; food production, including processing, distribution and retail; legislative processes and civic engagement at the local and statewide levels; and other topics such as technology in agriculture, land preservation, urban agriculture, and more.

After completing Leadership Fundamentals, participants have the option of applying for a second year of training called “LeadNY Fellows.” This program requires 30 days of training through monthly seminars from October through April, with most of the seminars held outside of New York (e.g. in Canada and Washington, DC, plus an international study tour). The mandatory study tour is considered the capstone of LeadNY and allows participants to experience a different culture and compare it to New York State and the US as a whole, examine food and agricultural issues through an international lens, and use skills developed throughout the LeadNY program in a different setting. Previous cohorts have traveled to the Netherlands, England, Scotland, the Philippines, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Turkey, South Africa, Vietnam, Kenya, and Puerto Rico. The current 2023-2024 cohort will complete their study tour in Colombia. 

Applications and tuition are required for both years of the program. Tuition is $2,400 for Leadership Fundamentals and $3,500 for LeadNY Fellows, but many participants receive financial assistance from their employer, and LeadNY also has a scholarship program that pays up to 50 percent. LeadNY covers most expenses including most meals, lodging, travel to and from out-of-state seminar locations, and travel at the seminar sites, while participants are responsible for the travel costs to and from in-state seminar locations.

Mission: To inspire, develop, support, and connect leaders in the food, agriculture and natural resource sectors of the Northeast.

Major Funding: Cornell University, Farm Credit East, American Agriculturist Foundation, DFA Charitable Foundation, Northeast Ag Education Foundation, The Lowell Smith Circle of Courage Fund, George and Diane K. Conneman, Friends of ProFac Fund, and many other business and alumni contributions. 

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: Approximately $400,000

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: Since its inception in 1985, more than 500 people  have completed the LeadNY training and become leaders of prominent programs, including the organic certification organization NOFA-NY, NY Farm Bureau, American Farmland Trust, and local governments. 

According to a recent study conducted by Dr. Kevin Lamm (published in a white paper shared with LeadNY), more than 90 percent of LeadNY alumni report serving in at least one community leadership role, with most reporting that they serve in three to five such roles. Most alumni attribute their inspiration for leadership service at least in part to their LeadNY experience.

275B Warren Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853

Core Programs: Professional training program

Number of staff: 2

Number of volunteers: 15 on Advisory Board, plus nearly 200 speakers, tour hosts, workshop facilitators and other volunteers who assist with the two-year learning experience

Areas served: Northeastern US

Year Started: 1985

Executive Director: Larry Van De Valk, PhD

Contact Information: Phone: 607-255-7907 | Email: leadnewyork@cornell.edu 

Website: https://cals.cornell.edu/global-development/our-work/our-initiatives/leadny 

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