Tell us about yourself, Tara. What makes you uniquely you? Can you tell me a bit about your background, your hobbies, your human experience?
I had a humble upbringing in the Hudson Valley region of New York, where I lived on a small horse farm raising goats and riding our horses through the apple orchards. I was raised in a single-parent household most of my life, with my Dad and sister. When I graduated high-school I wanted to explore the country so I picked up and moved out to Colorado. Since then, I’ve built a passion for travel and photography and now reside back in the Hudson Valley.
We also know that you are an incredible drone pilot, have a significant draw to the great outdoors, focus personally and professionally on eco sustainability and impactful change as well as an activist in multiple facets. Tell us a bit about your balance.
Being drawn to the outdoors IS my balance. John Burroughs wrote, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” When you grow a deep appreciation for nature, you can’t help but want to have a positive impact. In all of my work, I want to feel that connection. It’s something my mom instilled in me at an early age. My drone is fun for me and I’m thrilled to be able to share my passion with others. It allows us to capture perspectives we don’t usually get to witness. I’ve always had a fascination with flying and it certainly gives me a special feeling when I’m zooming through the air!
Tell us a bit about your craft. How has existing technology and the exploration of new technology allowed you and your team at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County to explore and reach new heights?
I’m a firm believer that technology can solve a lot of issues. Working for a non-profit, your resources are limited but technology doesn’t always have to be expensive either! Our (CCE’s) culture is changing. We are becoming more open to technology like adopting CRM databases to better understand and serve our stakeholders, we’re creating more digital content, and engaging much more in the social media environment to provide education and outreach.
During the pandemic you did quite an interesting project with CCE around local farms. Tell us about the problem you identified and how you and your team helped solve it?
When the pandemic hit, our food supply chains broke and unemployment rates rose. I used a simple Google mapping tool to locate local farms and pantries in Ulster County so that we could connect our community with food sources. Before I knew it, people were calling asking if they could add their farm business, update their hours and offerings, and if I could expand the map to the surrounding counties. Now, it has data points mapped across six counties in the Hudson Valley and is becoming a state-wide project. The map has over 30,000 views one year later.
This type of technology, a simple map, has so much potential to aid our work in food systems. The data has the potential to promote local agribusinesses, provide better food access and resources to our communities, stimulate entrepreneurial projects, promote a more equitable food system, and provide a foundation for further research and development. We’ll be able to see where gaps in food access and where bottlenecks in processors exist. If we can collect information about where food is travelling, we can begin to understand how our food moves throughout the state -- the entire lifecycle from seed to waste. This is really important information to further our research and better understand our food systems.
Sometimes it feels like technology is swallowing up the little folks out there like these local farmers. What do you think needs to happen to make it more appealing for people to build tools that are more focused on the local community and grassroots issues?
This is a great question and something we took into consideration with the mapping project. Our farmers are so busy that learning and using digital platforms usually falls to the bottom of their list of priorities. What we’re seeing happening in the Hudson Valley is this more “regionalized” approach. It’s not just “this organization in this town” and “that one in the other town”, it’s a more unified and collaborative approach which is so exciting! If we can work together to create a single touch-point for users, it will make the whole process more simplified and really amplify the work being done.
We would venture to say that both personally and professionally, you are mission driven. How do you see the future of business and consumer trends adopting a greater environmental or social mission with software and technology?
I think there’s this new recognition that sustainability is profitable, it doesn’t have to be either-or. I already see consumer culture shifting to more reusable and recyclable products, and those that have been made out of recycled products. This is really exciting to see! As far as big-data, we’ve really only just scratched the surface. As more and more businesses begin to incorporate data analysis into their operations, we will be able to see the big-picture from start to finish. We can continue to ask questions like how was this product sourced and what is it’s life-cycle? What do we know about our partners, suppliers, and distributors and how can we hold everyone accountable? Moving forward I think we’ll see a lot more businesses with sustainability as a core component of their mission.
Where can people find you or get in touch? How can people get involved in ultimately giving back to things you truly care about? What are some projects, productions and adventures you're really proud of and would like others to know about?
To get involved, find your local Cooperative Extension (we’re in every county of every state!) and see what’s going on in your community. Consider serving on the Board of Directors or volunteer to mentor youth in the 4-H program. Of course, I highly recommend checking in to see what Cause of a Kind is working on. I’m super fortunate to be able to participate in some of their projects! My drone work can be found @hvdronegirl on Instagram and hvdronegirl.com and check out @CCE_Ulster on Instagram to see the fun stuff we’re doing.
Drone Footage Captured By Tara Kleinhans of HV Drone Girl