Honors Summer Adventures: REUing at Cornell

Blog post by Savannah Putnam

Well, we have a reason to celebrate today: it is the one-week anniversary of me becoming a FARMER!

Before I explain how I became a farmer, I’ll tell you a little about what I’ve been up to this summer. I am currently at a Research Experience for Undergraduates (or, REU for short) at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. It’s located in the small lakeside town of Geneva, right in the middle of New York’s beautiful wine-country.

If you were like me and have no idea what goes on in an REU, I’ll give you a sneak peek into the life of an intern. I’m working for a lab in the Entomology department researching different agricultural pests and their behaviors and environmental impacts. On rainy days, I work on organizing and analyzing a twenty-year dataset on the European Corn Borer, a common pest of sweet corn. I also take care of my adorable colony of about 100 Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (an invasive species, pictured below), which I was instructed to “get as big as possible” by the time I leave. I feed and separate the eggs, immature insects, and adults.

Putnam stink bugsStink bugs

On days when the sun is out and the ground is dry, I head outside. Much of the day is spent out on Cornell’s farms, where I set up experimental trials with various crops. I have hoed fields, set up protective insect cloths around plants, and used pheromone traps to measure population levels. We are often looking to see how different pesticides affect insect populations. Most days I come back a little sunburnt, a little muddy, and a lot sweaty. Of course, I love it.

Which brings me back to becoming a farmer. Last week, I went out with two people from my lab and planted over 3,500 cabbages and sweet corn plants almost all BY HAND! It’s an amazing feeling to know you planted that much food.

Putnam farmingSavannah planting at a Cornell research farm

After I get back from the day’s work, I get to hang out with all the other summer interns that live next to me. We often relax by jumping in the lake, going on hikes, watching movies, baking various desserts, biking around the lake, watching our favorite TV shows, telling terrible jokes (what do you call a bunch of rabbits going backwards holding hands? A receding hare-line!), and doing puzzles.

So far this summer, I have gotten to see a close-up look at the complexities of the agricultural business and the science behind it. I have also gained an appreciation for all farmers, who, as we like to say, have to be “businessmen, scientists, and, most importantly, fortune-tellers.” Lastly, I have gained a larger appreciation for Iowa State. I have already met five graduates of ISU working at the station, and almost all the faculty I have met at Cornell regard Iowa State as a “great school.” Although I’m gaining so much valuable experience at this REU, I’m already excited about getting back to school. See you in August!

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