In the City of Richmond, Virginia, 40,020 residents are food insecure and lack access to enough food for an active healthy lifestyle — roughly 20 percent of the total city population.
In July 2011, Richmond’s mayor established The Food Policy Task Force to “ensure all residents have access to healthy foods and an understanding of the impact this has on both an individual’s health and the health of the community at large.”
Virginia Cooperative Extension agents served on the task force and found that 20 to 60 percent of Richmond’s population – or between 40,000 to more than 120,000 of total residents – are going hungry or are at risk of food insecurity due to lack of healthy food access or consumption.
In 2014, the Richmond Extension office hosted the Urban Food Desert Symposium at Fifth Street Baptist Church, a church located in one of the 25 food deserts across the City. The First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, gave opening remarks.
At the W. W. Moore Juvenile Detention facility in Danville, detained youths are being offered the chance at a green thumb, sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension. It’s an opportunity that, for some, can change the course of their future.
Jane Clardy, a former teacher and founder of the facility’s 10-week horticulture program, ran into a former detainee and student, who landed a recurring construction job but had hopes of a future in landscaping.
“He told me he always shows his horticulture certificate when he applies and is interviewed,” Clardy said of the encounter. “He told me his goal is to one day be his own boss and have a landscaping company. I smiled for two straight hours after seeing him.”
The program focuses on basic knowledge related to how plants grow, effective plant care strategies, and the importance of proper plant management practices. Holding these basic skills helps make the youth more attractive to an employer in plant nurseries, lawn care companies, and various grounds maintenance careers.
A 2013 study in Scott County showed a lack of awareness and support of local growers throughout the county. In response, the Virginia Cooperative Extension planned two outreach programs, with support from the Extension Leadership Council, Master Gardeners, and Natural Tunnel State Park to help demonstrate the importance of agriculture for growers and consumers alike.
The first program was an heirloom seed swap. The event showcased two educational programs on seed saving and growing vegetables in home gardens and highlighted Seed Savers Exchange, Community Supported Agriculture opportunities, and support industries.
The second program was the Clinch River Food Festival, which highlighted local agricultural foods and products, such as the heirloom tomato. At the end of the festival, attendees were treated to a dinner highlighting local foods such as butternut squash, goat cheese, lamb, poultry, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, sorghum, honey, and berries.
Agriculture is an evolving industry that is becoming more scientific and technical. These changes mean exciting new career opportunities, but students must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to meet employers’ ever-changing needs.
Holston High School students played an important role in finishing the inside of the barn that was built using the grant funds. Once the structure was up, they constructed walls and sides to keep the animals safe.
In an effort to help teachers prepare students for these jobs, Virginia Tech has provided six Virginia high school programs with Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation grants. This funding is made possible through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with matching funds from the Virginia Tech Foundation Fund for Community Viability.
“We are excited to work with agriculture teachers who are pushing traditional boundaries to broaden students’ education and career opportunities,” said Donna Westfall-Rudd, associate professor of agricultural, leadership, and community education and project leader for Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation.
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When a local landscape business owner was looking to train someone to work and assist in her business, she tapped into Virginia Cooperative Extension’s expertise for help.
Franklin County Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent Carol Haynes helped a local high school student find a job — which helped the student as well as a local business.
Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent Carol Haynes in Franklin County knew exactly where to turn to accommodate the request. Haynes drew on Extension’s close relationship with the school system and contacted Diana Cannaday, the FFA and horticulture teacher in the county.
Cannaday recommended one of her students who was looking for an opportunity to learn and grow. She facilitated the connection between the student and the business owner.
“This had a very real impact for the business owner and my student’s employment,” said Haynes. “Virginia Cooperative extension has a good working relationship with Franklin County high school students and teachers. This was a great opportunity to foster our relationship with the county school system and provided added value to a thriving horticulture program within the school system.”
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