By Allison Steele, Summer Intern, Warren County Extension Office

I’m sure that many of you have never heard of Virginia Cooperative Extension or VCE. I know I hadn’t until I started working with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Warren County office; and the thought is either you know everything about extension…or you don’t have a clue what extension is. I’m hoping that in reading this article, you will receive a firmer grasp of what Extension really is, and how they help Virginian’s on a daily basis.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s mission states that they enable people to improve their lives through an educational process that uses scientific knowledge focused on issues and needs. VCE says “Building on the strength of our agriculture, natural resource, family and consumer heritage, we enable people to shape their futures through research based educational programs. Recognizing that knowledge is power, we serve people where they live and work. Audiences are involved in designing, implementing and evaluating needs-driven programs. We are a dynamic organization which stimulates positive personal and societal change leading to more productive lives, families, farms, and forests, as well as a better environment in urban and rural communities.”

Virginia Cooperative Extension has chosen to operate in a certain way. To give you some examples…They respond to the needs of not only individuals, but to groups and organizations as well. They try and minimize administrative costs and direct their resources to educational programming. VCE has also vowed to have an open and positive administrative environment. This environment was set up based on keeping a type of leadership that maintains organizational integrity; yet still providing many opportunities for all their staff members to fully reach their potential. Virginia Cooperative Extension always strives to help Virginian’s.

Extension is composed of four different program areas. They are as follows: Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), 4-H Youth Development (4-H), and Community Viability (CV). Each subject is composed of its’ own individual tasks and responsibilities.

Let’s start off with Agriculture and Natural Resources or ANR. ANR mainly focuses on eight different initiatives, the first being Agricultural Business, Finance, & Marketing which is basically described as a series of educational programs whose goal is to enhance the economic viability of Virginia’s farm and rural areas. The second initiative of ANR is Agricultural Systems. These help to maintain the profitability of agriculture and forestry production. Their main goal it to not only prolong but enhance the quality of Virginia’s land and water resources as well. Extension wants to help Virginian’s learn the correct ways to take care of the resources that influence their daily lives.

The third initiative is Animal Agriculture which is generally focused on the raising of animals – beef and dairy cattle, poultry, horses, fish, hogs and many more. They are not limited to only these animals. Did you know that animal agriculture today accounts for approximately 70% of the states’ total farm cash receipts? This is an important segment of Virginia’s agricultural industry, and VCE is committed to helping Virginian’s learn how to properly improve their farm profits and how to properly manage their animals in environmentally safe ways.

The fourth initiative would be Crops & Soil. Crops & Soil is pretty straight forward. VCE helps people learn how to grow and maintain the seven major field crops (soybeans, corn, forages, tobacco, cotton, peanuts, and small grains) and the soil they live in. Next is the Environment and Natural Resources initiative. This consists of VCE creating creative new ideas, products, and services to stay updated with the ever growing demand for natural resources. The sixth (Lawn & Garden) and the seventh (Nursery, Greenhouse, & Turf) seem to tie into each other in a way. VCE is committed to helping Virginian’s learn how to properly grow and maintain gardens & landscapes. Finally comes Specialty Agriculture which basically provides support to those who want to grow and sell crops in unique markets. They get this support from places like the local government, small business owners and agricultural organizations.

The Warren County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension regularly conducts programs under the guidance of their Animal Science Extension Agent, Crystal Smith. Crystal’s programs focus on the health and welfare of the horse and the sustainability of the horse industry in a five-county area (Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Page and Warren) and beyond.  Programs on equine nutrition, pasture management, manure management, and equine business management are just a few of the educational opportunities that have been offered locally.  Crystal regularly consults with horse owners on their farms to help troubleshoot production issues and answer their questions one-on-one.

Mary Vrtis, who is actively involved in VCE programs, attended a course on record keeping for horse businesses which helped her plan to open a Therapeutic Riding Center in Warren County. She said “My experience with the extension service has been great! I attended 5 programs: Fall Forage, Horse Identification, Keeping horses happy, healthy & whole, Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, & Record Keeping. The Speakers have been highly prepared professionals with excellent credentials. The courses were top notch and a bargain!”

Don’t have horses? That’s okay! Animal Science Extension Agent Jake Grove, in neighboring Clarke County serves this area and provides educational opportunities and answers to traditional livestock owners. Bobby Clark, Shenandoah County Crop & Soil Science Extension Agent and Bill Whittle, Farm Business Management Extension Agent can also help depending on your needs.   

Another program area that VCE covers is 4-H Youth Development. This is an organization where young people are paired with adults and volunteers to enhance 4-H’s “Learning by doing” philosophy. 4-H stands for Head, Heart, Hands, & Health. Their goal is to produce strong, confident leaders. They work through school-based & after school programs, community clubs & camp settings; & with age ranges 5-19. Stacy Hartman, Extension Technician, plans and implements these hands-on experiential learning opportunities for Warren County youth. 

 Stacy runs an after school program in conjunction with the Warren County School Aged Care Program (WCSAC). She travels to three different elementary schools: Hilda J. Barbour, Leslie Fox Kiser, and A.S. Rhodes, once a week for an hour where she presents fun and educational activities and crafts for those enrolled. Each school receives the same craft or activity for that week. Stacy says “When I have to cancel a session or the school was closed, I do reschedule the activity for that school.” Her first session consisted of 75 enrolled children and her second session consisted of 65 enrolled children. Those kids who participated will be enrolled in 4-H through a group member enrollment as an after school program member.

Stacy stated “Every time I walk into a school for my program I immediately hear “Miss Stacy is here” followed by lots of cheering. I also often hear “I love 4-H after school!” To hear these two sayings from the kids week after week is so rewarding. I love every minute of my programs, they are lots of fun but at the same time relaxing. I am grateful to have a program where I can incorporate my passions and hobbies with my job; not everyone is as lucky as I am to get paid to have fun while at work.”

Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS) is the third program area of VCE. FCS exists to improve the general, overall well-being of families by incorporating new knowledge into their every day lives. It gives these families the skills to perform tasks such as: manage finances & credit successfully/wisely, prepare for & cope with disasters, and to make good parenting decisions. Brittany Wilkins, FCS Extension Agent and Beth Quist, FNP Program Assistant provide programs like these.

Brittany Wilkins, FCS Extension Agent, provides many opportunities to any age group on various issues. She promotes these opportunities by working health fairs, guest speaking for meetings & events, providing nutrition programming in different schools and much more. Brittany commented “Warren County’s demographics illustrate that 52.5% of students are enrolled in Elementary or Middle School. By reaching this age group across the county, we are able to influence those adults who are a large part of children’s lives and make an impact on the students within these schools. 

E. Wilson Morrison’s Physical Education class and I teamed up, bringing nutrition education in the form of fun and interactive games and lessons. Within three school days at E. Wilson Morrison, a total of 143 students in the third, fourth and fifth grades were reached and provided with nutrition lessons in 2008! This program has been brought back into the PE program at E. Wilson Morrison in May of the 2009 school year where I provided a total of 208 students in kindergarten through fifth grade with nutritional information like last year’s students received through the Physical Education classroom. I have also been very fortunate to work with the Warren County Middle School, offering lessons on smart drink choices and eating fruits and vegetables everyday to approximately 730 students through the PE and Science classes.  

When a child is overweight, they are at a higher risk of being overweight as an adult; this leaves them with the chance of having chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It is very important to me to reach this age group and discuss making healthy choices everyday before unhealthy habits become part of their lifestyle.”

The final program area of VCE is Community Viability. Community Viability Specialists help communities develop local sustainable economic opportunities. Recent successes include the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign and farm-to-school programs. 

For a list of Extension Agents that serve Warren County and other resources, visit the office website at http://warren.ext.vt.edu or call the office at 540-635-4549. Become an extended member of the Extension family!