Author Archives: maryev8

It’s National Volunteer Week! THANK YOU! And How to Get Involved…

This week we celebrate National Volunteer Week.
It is time to say THANK YOU to all our volunteers.
Cooperative Extension relies on volunteers, and we believe that active citizen involvement in our programs ensures success.  The work of volunteers at state and local levels helps leverage our paid faculty and staff resources into a much greater impact and benefit for the people of Virginia.

For Extension Volunteer Stories see

Get Involved
There are many ways you can get involved as a volunteer with Cooperative Extension to bring your talents and skills to benefit the community.  Some of them are listed below. If you are interested in volunteering, but not sure in what way, contact our offices: Arlington 703 228 6400 and Alexandria 703 746 5546.  Staff will be happy to help you find a way to share your time and talents.

Here’s how to get involved volunteering locally with Cooperative Extension programs:

Arlington and Alexandria Extension Leadership Council (ELC)
The Arlington and Alexandria Extension Leadership Council is composed of interested residents, Cooperative Extension staff, and county and city liaisons who identify community issues and help ensure programs are responsive to real needs. Also, the ELC advocates in support of local programs and staff, and promotes greater awareness of the work of the Extension staff and volunteers.  The ELC meets every two months. If you are interested in joining, please contact the Arlington or Alexandria Extension Office and come to an ELC meeting. ELC 2014 Brochure

.4-H Youth Development
4-H stands for head, heart, hands and health.

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Every 4-H program benefits from this integrated approach to civic engagement and hands-on learning – and the dedication and service of caring volunteers.  If you are interested in contributing your time to help further the development of youth in our community, please contact Reggie Morris, 4-H agent for Alexandria or Emily Reiersgaard, 4-H agent for Arlington,

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Master Gardeners
Master Gardeners encourage and promote environmentally sound horticultural practices through sustainable landscape management education and training.
Kirsten picking greens

Here serving Arlington and Alexandria we have the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.  Master Gardeners training will be offered in the fall. For details contact: Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Kirsten Buhls or Arlington’s Interim Master Gardener Coordinator, Jocelyn Yee

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists
The Arlington Regional Master Naturalist program is part of a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. If you’re interested in becoming an Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, go to


Master Food Volunteers
Master Food Volunteers help support Extension’s family and consumer sciences (FCS) agents through education and outreach programs related to food preparation, nutrition, food safety, and physical activity. Contact FCS agent Katie Strong for information about programs and trainings in the Arlington and Fairfax area.


Arlington Energy Masters
Arlington’s  innovative Energy Masters program promotes a more energy efficient and sustainable Arlington community. We engage professionally trained volunteers in retrofitting, weatherization, and water conservation techniques serving low-income apartment residents. If you are interested in applying for the 2014-2015 program later this summer, please complete the volunteer interest form.


Master Financial  Educators
Financial volunteers receive a comprehensive training on budgeting, retirement planning, home buying, and many other finance topics, instruction in counseling techniques. Volunteers can choose to help individuals or community groups with financial education programs – including learning to reconcile debts, set goals, budget spending, and organization to improve money management skills. Please contact Jennifer Abel for details of the next training.


Volunteering Counts!
Here is how volunteering counts in Arlington and Alexandria.
In 2012: the Arlington and Alexandria staff and volunteers of Virginia Cooperative Extension reached over 50,000 people with 650+ education programs.  850+ active volunteers contributed over 32, 000 hours. That outreach was conducted with a local office staff of about a dozen people. That’s the power of volunteers!

Interested in volunteering statewide or at national level for Virginia Cooperative Extension? See:




Considering Your Retirement Finances? Join Us for Savvy Social Security Planning on April 23

Please join us for a Savvy Social Security Planning workshop on
Wednesday, April 23, 6:30-8:30 PM

At Arlington Central Library 2nd Floor Meeting Room
1015 N Quincy St., Arlington

Certified Financial Planner and Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteer Mike May will give a free workshop on social security considerations for your retirement planning.

In this workshop you will learn:

• 5 factors to consider when deciding to apply for benefits

• When it makes sense to delay benefits—and when it does not

• Why you should always check your earnings record for accuracy

• How to estimate your benefits

• Two innovative strategies for coordinating benefits with your spouse

• How to minimize taxes on Social Security benefits

• How to coordinate Social Security with your other forms of retirement income

Pre-registration not required, but does help us know how many copies of handouts to bring. To register or for more information contact

Event sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and Arlington County Libraries.

Plant NOVA Natives! Why are native plants important? How do I select native plants? Where can I buy native plants?

Marketing Native Plants – a statewide campaign
“Plant NoVA Natives is a new campaign that brings together the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, local chapters of the Virginia Native Plant Society, nurseries, and other groups, creating a website, guidebook, workshop series and plant tags to be used in local garden stores.”

The Plant NoVA Natives campaign aims to get the word out more consistently on the benefits of native plants and also will help you identify them.
Watch out for their trumpet honeysuckle and sphinx moth logo on plant tags in the marketplace!


The goals of the plant NoVA Natives campaign are:

  • to raise awareness on the issues surrounding native plants
  • to establish a social norm to increase the use of native plants

Native plants and habitats in our Chesapeake area

  • sustain biodiversity
  • provide habitat for wildlife including pollinators
  • help achieve Chesapeake stormwater goals

For information on VA native plants
And the previous blog:

The March 27, Plant NoVA Natives campaign event at Fairlington Community Center was well- attended by over seventy people, many of whom are Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, and members of Audubon, Virginia Native Plant Society and other conservation groups. 

The Plant NoVA Natives campaign was introduced by Corey Miles (Planner at Northern Virginia Regional Commission), followed by excellent presentations by Jim McGlone (Urban Forest Conservationist, VA Dept of Forestry), Alan Ford (Potowmack Chapter President, Virginia Native Plant Society), and Judy Fraser (Program Developer, George Mason University Sustainability Institute).

Margaret Hawkins gave an overview of the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia  (MGNV) Sustainable Landscapes program and team led by Carol Rosen and Kirsten Buhls (Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Arlington office).

Landscape for Life: Making Your Yard Sustainable
In 2013 and 2014, Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (MGNV) hosted Making Your Yard Sustainable 6-week workshops based on the national US Botanic Garden’s  Landscape for Life program.  Over 50 home and condo owners in Arlington and Alexandria have participated in these MGNV workshops that teach the principles of sustainable landscape design and how to use native plantings.  These are participants main questions:

  • What are the native plants that grow well here in our suburban and urban environment?
  • What native plants go well together?
  • Where can I buy native plants?

Tried and True – Native Plant Factsheets
In response to residents asking for more information on native plants, Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia have now assembled over 100 factsheets of Tried and True natives that thrive in this area.  Find the Tried and True online
The factsheets also list where the native plants can be found in the Arlington County and Alexandria City Demonstration Gardens.

Best Bets  Native Plant selections and groupings
In response to further demand from residents, MGNV are producing Best Bets factsheets that show how to select and group native plants to thrive in different conditions such as shade, sun, wet or dry.

Demonstration Gardens in Arlington and Alexandria
Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia maintain several demonstration gardens in Arlington and Alexandria. These demonstration gardens are in the process of being labeled using QR Codes linked to the Tried and True and Best Bet factsheets. The QR Code labeling is a work in progress.  Check back frequently as you visit these gardens over the next year or two to get inspiration for your own garden or another community or school garden.

Where can I buy Native Plants this Spring 2014?
Here’s a selection of upcoming plant sales and nurseries to in our local area:

April 10 – 12, check various times and location online,  River Farm
American Horticultural Society Plant Sale

Saturday, April 26, 1- 5 PM
Native Plant sale at Arlington County’s Long Branch Nature Center
order and buy yours online by April 4 – for pick up on the day…

Saturday, April 26, 9 AM to 2 PM
Park Fairfax Native Plant Spring Sale
3601 Valley Drive
Alexandria, Virginia 22302

Sunday, May 4, 10 AM TO 2 PM
Earth Sangha – local ecotype plant nursery
Spring Open House and Plant Sale

Saturday, May 17, 9 AM – 3 PM
Green Spring Gardens Spring Garden Day
The Big Plant Sale
Don’t miss this exciting annual event with over 40 vendors
Master Gardeners will have stall there…

Nurseries and Plant Shops
The Green Spring Garden Gate Plant Shop
Opens regularly beginning April 5:
Monday-Saturday, 9 AM -4 PM
Sunday, noon – 4 PM

Nature by Design

Herring Run Nursery
If you’re near Baltimore, Herring Run Nursery stocks Chesapeake-area hard to find shrubs, vines and trees as well as perennials

Additional Native Plant Sale Listings for Spring 2014:

You create the market for natives!
Ask for native plants at your local nurseries and other suppliers.
We have plenty of large and small nurseries in the area and all stock some natives.
Remember to thank nurseries for stocking their ever-expanding selection of native plants.
By asking for native plants at the nurseries you will help influence the market for them – and retailers will sell more native plant, and growers will be able to grow more of them.
The market will shift. Plant the seed now, grow and ask for natives! 

Plant NoVA Natives! They are naturally beautiful!


The Flora of Virginia – What Are Our Native Plants?

This week native plants and flowers are the theme of two excellent programs hosted at the Fairlington Community Center.

The Flora of Virginia Project
Our first program is a workshop presented by Professor Marion Lobstein as Continuing Education/Advanced Training for Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists on the theme of The Flora of Virginia – the native flowering plants of Virginia.

As if I am in undergrad Botany Class, I listen and take notes as Marion Lobstein, Professor Emeritus at Northern Virginia Community College and Vice President of the Foundation of The Flora of Virginia Project sets the stage for her presentation of the latest research and recording of the wealth of flowering plants currently native or naturalized in Virginia.

First question: What is a “native plant”?
A “native plant” can be defined in several different ways.  It is a fuzzy and messy definition. Generally a “native plant” in Virginia is defined as being a plant that was here in the “New World” prior to Columbus’s arrival.  But before Columbus arrived native americans and wildlife moved around the land changing their habitat, and so inevitably did seeds and plants. These native plants co-evolved with other species, as other factors such as climate and geology also played their parts. So there is no static compilation of what comprised the “native plant” flora prior to Columbus. “Naturalized” plants are plants that come from other places that thrive being part of our local plant community, this is as opposed to “exotic invasive plants” that threaten to “takeover” or reduce a community’s  biodiversity

Marion continues “Did you all know: Virginia has the greatest diversity of native flowering plants compared to its size in the 50 US states?”  No, I had no idea.  But why does Virginia have so many kinds of native plants compared to other states?  Virginia has a very diverse geology and was situated at the intersection of glacial retreats and flows. Virginia is now the “mixing bowl” of “northern” and “southern” types of plant species with over 3200+ species in 198 families. Marion then shares the highlights of her research team and colleagues.  Their work and scholarship during the 11-year Flora of Virginia Project has recently culminated in the published handbook The Flora of Virginia. No wonder this comprehensive Flora of Virginia book weighs in at over three pounds!

Joanne Hutton introduces Professor Marion Lobstein

Marion challenges us, “But how to use this enormous book?”  I thumb through an introduction to plant classification and sections on the geology and ecology of Virginia.  There’s a history of plant discoverers.  And an appealing section for the armchair tourist or the active plant seeker on the hotspots for Virginia flora: the 50 best spots for field botany. Marion tells us about recent taxonomic or classification changes reflected in the book, that have been brought about by research on DNA genetic analysis.  For example, milkweeds are now classified with dogbanes and both families have partially-fused ovaries. We laugh.  And I learn that the native wild ginger is a very ancient plant.  Our native magnolias are also ancient flowering plants on the evolutionary path in the fossil record and do not quite fit the “monocot or dicot” dichotomy of later flowering plants. 

Then we learn the skills to use the Flora of Virginia to “key out” and identify native and naturalized plants. We “key out” Queen Anne’s Lace and Daffodils (both naturalized wild flowers in parts of Virginia).

Looking up Daffodil in the Flora of Virginia

I leave the workshop grateful to Marion for bringing the Flora to life with enthusiasm and humor  – and appreciative of the diversity of Virginia’s native and naturalized flowering plants.

Flora of Virginia exhibition at the Library of Virginia in Richmond
If you are interested in finding out more about Virginia’s rich floral heritage, the stories of early exploration and discovery and recent science, make time this spring or summer for a trip to visit the The Flora of Virginia exhibition at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.  The exhibition is on now through September 13 and

Digital Atlas of Native Virginia Plants
To identify native and naturalized plants in your locality check out the online digital atlas of VA

The Flora of Virginia – the book
You can buy the book of  The Flora of Virginia at Amazon or elsewhere for $80+ or ask for it at your local library.

Next blog
I will continue with the evening’s discussion on the importance of native plants,  and FAQs “How can I select native plants?” and “Where can I buy native plants?”

Spring Break? Register now for the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit

If you’re interested in conversations about urban agriculture, and would like to meet growers, sellers, consumers, health professionals, planners and others investing in growing your food closer to your city: consider registering for the mid-April Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit:

Register Now for the
Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, Nourishing Our Cities’ Future
in Lynchburg, Virginia
on Tuesday April 15 & Wednesday April 16, 2014

For agenda, registration and lodging info go to

Highlights  of the Urban Ag Summit will include:

  • First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe to give keynote
  • Screening of Dan Susman’s documentary film Growing Cities-A Film About Urban Farming in America for early birds on the evening of Monday April, 14, 2014
  • Tour of Lynchburg Grows

For further background on the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit check out Virginia Tech’s News:

And on the note of celebrating Agriculture  – rural and urban – March 25th is National Agriculture Day:
“On this National Agriculture Day, we thank the farmers, ranchers, and others at the heart of American agriculture, an industry that provides for our food and fiber needs, supports one in twelve jobs, and drives our nation’s economy.”

~ Secretary Tom Vilsack
Read his full statement:


19 April – join us for a Family FUN RUN, WALK or JOG at the beautiful NOVA 4-H Center and benefit 4-H Camp Scholarships!

Feeling like a spring day out and a fun run, walk or jog in a beautiful setting in the foothills of the Shenadoah near Front Royal?


Bring the whole family out to the NOVA 4-H Center on Saturday April 19th morning and run, walk or jog to raise money for your County’s 4-H Camp Scholarships.

On Saturday, April 19th, at 9:00 AM, the NOVA 4-H Center will be hosting a kids 1 mile fun run, a 4-K (about 2.4 miles) and a 4-mile run/walk, to raise money for 4-H Camp scholarships. Every cent raised by your county will go to your county!

Click here: if you would like to register on-line

T-shirts and medals for the first 75 folks to register and treats for all at the finish line.

As an added bonus, the NOVA 4-H Center will match the amount raised by the County who raises the most money, up to the cost of one full scholarship.

Look forward to seeing you on the day, bring your shoes and dress for the weather. You might also take time to visit the extensive grounds of the NOVA 4-H Center and hike up to the Appalachian Trail!
Any questions?  Please contact the NOVA 4-H Center
or call 540 635 7171


What’s Cooking at Virginia Cooperative Extension – Master Food Volunteers Training


Photo by Ginger Geoffrey

What’s cooking? A new class of 32  Master Food Volunteer trainees  are preparing and cooking their lunch in the Fairlington Community Center kitchen led by Agent Katie Strong and mentored by a team of Master Food Volunteers (MFV).

IMG_7227The lunch is delicious, simple, cheap and nutritious and one part of the interactive training that includes topics such as Food Safety, Basic Nutrition, and Meal Planning.
After 30 hours of  training these Master Food Volunteers expect to give back 30 hours of volunteer service to the community in their first year.

Master Food Volunteers provide a range of community programs including:

  • nutrition and cooking classes for seniors, adults and families
  • food preservation
  • farmers’ market displays
  • education at food assistance centers
  • in-school and after-school programs
  • working with community gardeners

Examples of some of the recipes that Master Food Volunteers and clients use are online at Cooking Matters from Share Our Strength.


After tasting the Master Food Volunteers’ smoky paprika sweet potato and black bean soup and the delicious salsa filled pita pockets, I decided to have a go and make these at home. So can you!

And look out for Master Food Volunteers at events in the community!

If you are interested in becoming a Master Food Volunteer or would like to host an event with Master Food Volunteers’ participation please contact agent Katie Strong,