Founded by SUNY Cobleskill president Marion Terenzio in March of 2017 as a presidential initiative, the Institute for Rural Vitality’s mission is straightforward: to apply the College’s many resources to collaborations with people, organizations and businesses located throughout our region. From that simple charge has grown a constantly lengthening list of significant projects and activities.
“We act as an umbrella group encompassing five distinct centers that together address a large number of issues and needs that exist in our broadly defined community,” says Jason Evans, Associate Professor of Agricultural Business Management and the Institute’s director. “In each case our students have the opportunity to become actively involved in making substantial, concrete contributions to the region’s well-being.”
Ultimately, the guiding ethic behind each center is the same: to give SUNY Cobleskill students and faculty the chance to dedicate their energies, interests and talents to the cause of improving peoples’ lives while helping strengthen their communities.“ There’s no doubt that the Institute’s activities will expand as the years go by,” Jason observes, “because there will always be a need for people to help each other.”
The Institute’s five centers are:
The Center for Community Advancement
This center operates our College in High School program, which allows students from area schools to get a head start on earning the college degrees they will eventually complete at SUNY Cobleskill. Other efforts undertaken by the Center include coordination with agencies across the Capital Region to address the needs of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, as well as those of the elderly generally, the physically challenged and others of our fellow citizens who require special services.
The Center for Business Development
“At this center we help existing area businesses access the state’s START-UP NY program in order to enjoy certain tax advantages,” Jason says. “We also help new businesses develop the sort of sound marketing strategies that will improve their chances for successful growth.” In addition, the Center partners with the Chamber of Commerce to sponsor “Grant Writing and Business Planning” workshops for local companies.
The Center for Farm and Food Entrepreneurship
Home of the recently created Mohawk Valley Farm & Food Business Incubator, the Center is also the driving force behind SUNY Cobleskill’s student-run “online farmers’ market.” Found at www.schohariefresh.com, the site allows consumers to order local food products online from our approximately 35 local producers through Wednesday of each week, then pick up their orders on Friday at any one of several pick-up locations.
What’s more, beginning in August, both our college community and the general public will be able to purchase locally sourced foods in our new Carriage House Café & General Store. Not only will local producers now enjoy a new retail venue, it will help them assess and refine the ways in which they market their products to a general audience.
The Center for Art and Culture
This center fosters collaboration between SUNY Cobleskill’s Arts and Humanities faculty and various regional organizations to spur economic development through art and culture. One such project is a partnership of the Farmer’s Museum with other arts and agricultural entities in Otsego County aimed at obtaining a National Endowment for the Arts grant to support public art galleries and other installations throughout the region.
The Center for Rural Legal and Policy Services
In concert with Albany Law School, the Center addresses legal issues confronting farmers and others in this area’s rural communities. “We help these individuals receive free legal consultations,” explains Jason. “We also avail ourselves of the Law School’s resources in researching legal subjects and issues that impact rural communities but don’t often garner much professional attention.” The Center also seeks to encourage newly minted lawyers from our area to return and establish their practices here.
Feature photo of aerial view of Frisbie Hall and campus taken by Mohamed Baligh ’12, Communications & Marketing New Media Specialist