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Dan Hust | Democrat

Joe Walsh stands alongside the sign on Ferndale-Loomis Road marking the location of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s offices in Liberty. He’s retiring at the end of this month after more than 22 years in the Extension system’s employ – and many more years of involvement in the world of upstate New York agriculture.

Extension's well-known director retiring soon

By Dan Hust
LIBERTY — April 6, 2010 — Throughout his 49-year career, Joe Walsh has been a people person.
He’s helped dairy farmers find new ways to innovate and keep the family business alive.
He’s overseen the creation of programs designed to teach young 4-Hers the value of hard work and, likewise, to bring some relief to caregivers who long ago learned that lesson.
He’s enchanted young and old with his knowledge of plants and animals, passing that wisdom on to people who have helped keep Sullivan County full of green and beautiful spaces.
And along the way, he’s learned a few things himself – including the drive, determination and persistence his 23 staff members and more than 1,000 volunteers bring every day to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County.
“They are extremely resourceful and dedicated,” he said with pride.
Many of them are also his friends, and they are what he’ll miss most after he steps down as the local Extension’s executive director on April 30.
“I’ve met so many people,” he explained, eyes glazing as he recalls the best of them. “You get reinvigorated with each contact you make.”
That’s why, as he remembered yesterday his nearly quarter-century of service with various Extension offices, Walsh would never solely take credit for his success.
“It’s not just me,” he pointed out. “It’s a cast of thousands.”
Born in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Walsh started working at age 11, soon making his way upstate to work a variety of farms during school breaks.
He fell in love with the area, settling with wife Jeanne in Delaware County’s Treadwell and raising a family of six (the youngest of whom, he proudly acknowledged, is now employed part-time with Cornell Cooperative Extension).
While he did take up hog farming, Walsh liked the idea of teaching as much as doing, and for 15 years he did just that at SUNY Delhi.
That’s where he became casually acquainted with the Extension’s mission to improve people’s lives and communities “through partnerships that put experience and research knowledge to work.”
When Delhi began moving away from its agricultural education roots, Walsh found work with the Oneida County Extension Office as its agriculture program director.
But nine years of a one-way 76-mile commute took their toll, and in 1999, Walsh applied to replace Gerry Skoda as Sullivan County Extension’s executive director.
The board opted instead for someone else, but a month later, the ag program director’s position was freed up, and Walsh began a “shorter” commute of 56 miles.
In 2006, he was tabbed by the board to replace the outgoing executive director – ostensibly on a temporary basis.
Just over three years later, the word “interim” still begins his job title, but he’s as much a fixture at the Extension’s Liberty office these days as Skoda before him.
He’s seen it through particularly tough times, returning it to some stability after previous leadership issues and resignations.
Today, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County provides technical advice and training to farmers of all stripes, family caregivers, 4-H youth and leaders, amateur and professional gardeners, and entrepreneurs.
Locals can call in with consumer fraud and healthy eating questions, and the Extension’s meeting space has been the setting for important natural gas forums.
Walsh and his crew have been active outside the office as well. Indeed, he misses walking the fields with farmers, which he used to do as the ag program’s director but now has had to hand off to others.
The county’s Farmland Protection Plan bears his stamp of influence, as does the livestock auction at the Little World’s Fair in Grahamsville, and he’s a regular face at County Legislature meetings, reporting on Extension’s activities and ensuring politicians don’t forget that agriculture is the county’s #1 industry.
“The county takes agriculture very seriously,” he affirmed, crediting legislators and the three county managers with whom he’s worked.
He’s been saddened to see the slow decline of dairy farms in the area, though the Extension has worked with those farmers to diversify or replace their operations.
“And I’m still disappointed the red meat facility hasn’t come online,” he said of a slaughterhouse in Liberty that’s awaiting an $800,000 grant to begin construction. “It’s not dead, but it should have been up and running long since this.”
Funding continues to be a challenge, as the county has cut Cornell Cooperative Extension’s budget by 10 percent over the last two years, and he expects the state to follow suit shortly. (The state pays 40 percent of the local Extension’s $1.4 million annual budget, and the county pays 30 percent. Less than five percent comes from the federal government, and the rest is from grants and contracts.)
Fundraisers like a summer golf tournament have had to take the place of public monies, though a few years back when funding was threatened to be slashed in half, the public outcry was deafening.
Walsh credited that to the Extension’s wide breadth of offerings and a competent, talented staff and volunteer base eager to advance agriculture and health in Sullivan County.
He hopes that will continue with whomever replaces him. Two finalists are currently under consideration by the board.
“I’d like to see strong leadership,” Walsh said, “... an expansion of program offerings, and an organization on sound financial footing.”
Indeed, farming activities are on the increase in the county, much of it part-time livestock-oriented efforts, and Extension continues to provide valuable assistance in that regard.
“People are looking for that country life,” he explained.
So is he – at least, a slower version of it.
Spending more time with family, travelling and tending to his 6.5 acres in Delaware County have become quite appealing at age 60, but Walsh is not ready to call it “retiring.”
More like “exploring international opportunities with Cornell,” or “serving as interim director at another Extension office,” or “some consulting with Farmnet” (an online network).
He might even return to formal college-level teaching – likely along the lines of the business and animal management classes he now gives at the Extension.
“I think it was an accident I was born in the city,” Walsh remarked with a chuckle. “I’m a country boy!”

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