Celebrating a decade of Virginia Master Naturalists

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Master Naturalist program. In the decade since the national program started in the commonwealth, the organization has trained several thousand Master Naturalists, who have contributed 526,583 hours of volunteer service — the equivalent of well over 250 years of full-time employment. Its initial 10 chapters have grown to 30, with each making a significant positive impact on Virginia’s natural resources.

Virginia Master Naturalist volunteers provide education, outreach, and service to support Virginia’s natural resources and public lands. Their time is calculated to be worth nearly $12.4 million to date.

“About 3,500 Master Naturalists have been trained since the program began in Virginia,” said Program Coordinator Alycia Crall. “Many of them are still active volunteers, donating at least 40 hours of work each year.”



Store holiday leftovers properly to avoid food-borne illness

Holiday meal leftovers have almost as many traditions as the meals themselves. From turkey salad sandwiches to turkey tetrazzini, cooks want the leftovers for their traditional holiday meals to be as good, and as safe, as the feast itself.

Renee Boyer, consumer food-safety specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension, recommends putting leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer soon after a holiday meal to avoid temperatures that promote bacteria growth and turn food stale. As a general rule, plan to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of when the food is put on the table.

“The sooner you store leftovers, the better,” Boyer said. While the turkey is at room temperature, approximately 72 degrees F, it is in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees F. This is the temperature range in which bacteria can grow. The cooler temperature of the refrigerator, 35 to 40 degrees F, slows down metabolic processes and therefore slows the growth of harmful bacteria.


Obey food-safety guidelines when preparing a holiday turkey

As the winter holidays approach, families should know the proper way to roast a turkey. Virginia Cooperative Extension offers advice on safely preparing this holiday meal.

Safely thawing a frozen turkey is the first step. “One of the biggest food-safety recommendations when preparing a turkey is to defrost at cool temperatures,” said Renee Boyer, consumer food-safety specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and as assistant professor of food science and technology at Virginia Tech.

Place the turkey in a shallow pan with the original wrapper, sliding the bird into the refrigerator and leaving it there until completely thawed. This keeps it below 40 degrees F. Defrosting will take approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey.


Agritourism study finds on-farm activities are good business for farmers

Tourism is the second-highest revenue-generating industry in the commonwealth, contributing $21.2 billion to the state’s economy.

From pick-your-own strawberry operations and winery tasting rooms to pumpkin patch fields and cut-your-own Christmas tree farms, agritourism is growing in the commonwealth and across the country. A recent statewide study by Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension found that visiting farms is not just a pleasant way for consumers to leisurely spend a Sunday — it’s also a viable way for farmers to supplement their income.

The study defines agritourism as a value-added activity that generates additional net farm income and creates a loyal consumer base for branded farm products.


Northern Shenandoah Valley selected for Stronger Economies Together initiative

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and Virginia Cooperative Extension announced today that the Northern Shenandoah Valley region has been selected for the 2015-16 Stronger Economies Together (SET) initiative.

The region, which includes Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties and the city of Winchester, will benefit from a focused initiative to explore regional economic advantages and to formulate economic blueprints for the region.

“The blueprints we help the region to construct will strategically build on the current and emerging economic strengths in the region,” said Basil Gooden, Ph.D., state director of USDA Rural Development for Virginia. “The Northern Shenandoah Valley has tremendous potential for economic growth, and through the SET process we will facilitate key discussions that lead to a high-quality economic plan that is mutually beneficial for all the counties and the city involved.”