Diverse communities connect through community gardens in Arlington

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Arlington County may just be one locality in the heavily populated area of Northern Virginia, but this relatively small spot of land that borders the District of Columbia is home to a population that hails from all regions of the globe including Asia, Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East.

In addition, many residents of Arlington County are classified as having low English proficiency, so unifying this diverse population through Extension programming can be challenging.



Energy Masters Program energizes Arlington County

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There are more than 125 trained volunteers in the program.

Written by Emily Halstead, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and a communications intern for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The Energy Masters program, funded by the Arlington County Community Development Fund, has made strides in improving energy efficiency for residents in affordable housing units within Arlington County neighborhoods. The program is a collaboration between Virginia Cooperative Extension in Arlington County, and two county non-profits: Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment and Arlington Thrive.

“Training teams of volunteers to go into low-income apartments and do energy and water saving improvements helps both lower the utility bills of the residents and the property managers, ultimately improving the environment by eliminating the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere,” said Arlington County VCE Senior Extension Agent, Jennifer Abel. “Since starting the program in 2011, we’ve trained 126 volunteers and we’ve done the improvements in 474 apartments.”

The initiative for the program began when Abel received a phone call from a board member of Arlington Thrive, a non-profit organization that provides emergency assistance to low-income people who are struggling to pay their rents or utility bills, regarding the costly utility bills of residents in affordable housing units. The non-profit then collaborated with the Arlington County office and Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment to submit a grant for the energy efficiency improvement program.

The improvements include:

-       Sealing any gaps and holes around the windows and door frames.

-       Inserting foam gaskets behind light switch plate covers and outlets to prevent air leakage.

-       Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs.

-       Installing low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads.

-       Mounting “toilet tummies” in toilet tanks, reducing the amount of water used.

-       Cleaning the coils underneath the refrigerators to help improve cooling efficiency.

-       Providing power strips to help save electricity from indicator lights.

“The sense that I get from the volunteers is that they see the real tangible results of the work that they’re doing,” Abel said. “After they see this huge gap in a wall and seal it up they can immediately feel that they’ve stopped the air leakage that was occurring and therefore have improved the overall comfort of the home for the residents. That’s definitely the most exciting thing, and that’s what keeps the volunteers coming back.”

In addition to the retrofits in the apartments, the program now includes one-on-one home visits with people in low-income apartments to provide residents with more education on steps that they can take to improve their energy efficiency. Many of the volunteers are also providing education in local elementary, middle, and high schools to teach students about energy efficiency and the importance of energy conservation.

The program leaders recently submitted a request to the City of Alexandria for a neighborhood strategy grant in hopes to expand the program there as well.

“We’re working hard now to expand the program to Alexandria and it’s looking good that that’s going to happen,” Abel said. “Hopefully this program can expand to other parts of the state and ideally other parts of the country as well.”

For more information visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

Virginia Household Water Quality Program has helped improve private water systems for 25 years

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Water quality analysis for the Virginia Household Water Quality Program takes place in the Biological Systems Engineering Water Quality lab on campus.

 Written by Emily Halstead, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and a communications intern for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Since 1989, the Virginia Household Water Quality Program has been educating homeowners about their responsibility for and maintenance of private water systems. A collaborative effort among Virginia Cooperative Extension’s family and consumer science agents, agricultural and natural resource agents, and 4-H agents, the program is offered annually in more than 50 counties throughout the state.

“We find that a lot of people don’t really know what type of [private water system] they have or how to take care of it,” said Senior Extension Associate Erin Ling, coordinator of the program.

According to Ling, one-fifth of Virginia homeowners rely on wells, springs, or other private water systems for their household water supply.

“Private water isn’t regulated, so the homeowner is responsible for understanding the water quality, the routine testing, and treatment to address with any contaminants that are a problem, as well as routine care and maintenance of the water systems,” Ling said.

Homeowners participating in this program are trained to collect testing samples, which are transported to Virginia Tech’s campus for analysis. The samples are analyzed for 14 parameters, including bacteria, nitrate, and lead.

“Our biggest concern is really making the program as available as possible to as many people as possible,” Ling said. “In most counties there are thousands of people that are on wells or springs and so, as many of them as we can reach, the better. We’re just trying to find the balance between how many samples we can handle and how many people we can reach.”

After the samples have been analyzed, the homeowner receives the results during a meeting explaining the results and information about how to maintain their water system properly.

“We’ve gotten really positive feedback from people who have participated,” Ling said. “We did a follow-up survey in 2013 checking with people who had participated in the last two years and we found that about 65 percent of people that we talked with said they had taken at least one action that was recommended. It was good to check back in and we’ll do that again with future participants.”

According to Ling, the data collected has also served as a powerful and useful tool in research. Brian Benham and Leigh-Anne Krometis, both faculty members in Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), and Kelsey Pieper, a doctoral student in BSE, have built on the data generated for a research project focusing on lead levels in private water systems.

“I like this program because of the very real connections for people. It’s not like a natural resource over there or the environment in general, it’s their own drinking water,” Ling said. “I find it’s a really good way to get their attention and get them to start thinking about the natural world.”

For more information about the program and upcoming water clinics, visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

A step back in time


Extension’s popular annual bus tour series, which began in 1977, is the longest running program of its type in Virginia.

Extension’s popular annual bus tour series, which began in 1977, is the longest running program of its type in Virginia.

Feb 15, 2015 – In honor of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s centennial in 2014, we present this brief history of Extension forestry, as drawn from a 1980 publication titled “College of the Fields.” Read the complete history, which references a number of former college faculty members, at www.ext.vt.edu/about/extension-resources-history.pdf.

Virginia’s Extension forestry legacy began at the University of Virginia in 1919 with the appointment of Wilbur O’Bryne from Yale. O’Bryne taught and served from Charlottesville for at least six years before he became a forestry professor and Extension forester at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, now known as Virginia Tech. His forest management work focused on timber harvesting and erosion control.


4-H members’ visit with lawmakers in Richmond moved to Feb. 24

 Several hundred 4-H'ers gather on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol during the 2014 visit.

Several hundred 4-H’ers gather on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol during the 2014 visit.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 17, 2015 – Editor’s note: 4-H Day at the State Capitol has been rescheduled for Feb. 24. It was postponed Feb. 17 due to the winter weather that is affecting much of Virginia.

Hundreds of 4-H members to visit lawmakers Tuesday

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 16, 2015 – More than 900 4-H members and volunteers will visit Richmond Tuesday to meet with their legislators and learn about Virginia’s legislative branch of government for the annual 4-H Day at the State Capitol.

Virginia 4-H has sponsored the annual trip to Richmond for more than 20 years. It’s a chance for students to learn about the legislative process and to express their gratitude to state delegates and senators who support the 4-H youth development programs.