Each summer, Virginia Cooperative Extension offers more than 40 college students and recent graduates the opportunity to work on a team that changes people’s lives and betters communities.
Aldyn Abell, a 2015 Extension intern, spent her summer at the Extension office in Orange County. Among her numerous responsibilities, she helped plan and deliver ocean-themed lessons at 4-H Cloverbud Day Camp.
Through the 10-week program, interns work alongside Extension faculty members gaining experience in youth development, agriculture and natural resources, and family and consumer sciences.
Thomas Vasilopoulos, a 2015 intern, spent his summer with the Extension office in Arlington County. Although he was double majoring in integrated science and technology and Spanish, he found himself doing all sorts of tasks within the office, including helping to design programs and teach children at three different schools.
“They didn’t really hesitate to give me a lot of responsibilities,” Vasilopoulos said. “Extension hired me to make a positive impact in this office, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
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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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