By: Gabrielle Sanderson
Last fall, people from around Virginia flocked to the Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia to attend the 2018 State Fair. Once there they were met with carnival rides, funnel cakes, and multiple educational exhibits that offered learning opportunities for all ages; these informative attractions are why people call the State Fair “Virginia’s Largest Classroom.” Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs) were able to come to life this year for 14,000 youth at the State Fair, and Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) were able to take part in the process.
Hanover County Extension Master Gardeners and other EMG units undertook the booth for the State Fair Education Expo this year, and the theme was Water Conservation and methods to protect water quality. There were multiple educational demonstrations that included a water conservation house, types of composting, firewise landscaping, an edible rainbow, and a Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) Model House. The Virginia Conservation Assistance Program exhibit was called “Soak It UP” and it allowed EMG’s to demonstrate how homeowners can work with the VCAP to assist in the restoration and cleaning of waterways. They discussed numerous Best Management Practices that can be used to help the stormwater soak into the ground, such as: rain gardens, bio-retention basins, conservation landscaping, and turf to native plants. The volunteers mentioned the benefits of permeable pavement to help stormwater soak into the ground, and how homeowners can participate in rainwater harvesting with dry wells and cisterns. Ironically, the most popular topic was the rain fall levels in Virginia and how hard it was to have a successful vegetable garden.
Angelette Pryor, Hanover EMG volunteer coordinator, stated that, “Extension Master Gardeners are viewed as very helpful people with vast resources.” The EMGs were sought out by the State Fair attendees to answer many questions about their lawns, well-water testing, how to conduct a soil test, and specifically about their vegetables and how to grow a Hanover tomato.
According to Christy Brennan, Hanover Extension Master Gardener volunteer, “The Virginia Master Gardener Association (VMGA) supplies the funding for the Extension Master Gardener Booth at the State Fair and Extension Master Gardeners supply the muscle and demonstrations used for education purposes during the Fair.” The 4,000 contacts reached were able to receive a VCE publication list and Healthy Virginia Lawns notepads, grass cutting height rulers, and rain gauges. Also, lesson plans were distributed to the school teachers that attended with the visit students; they got to take home night pollinator posters from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), pollinator worksheets, and a link to the USDA for information on pollinators and native plants information. The Extension Master Gardeners that volunteered mention that all of the kids, parents, and teachers really appreciate the resources that were provided this year.
Whether it was a hands-on demonstration about stormwater runoff, handing out pollinator worksheets, or describing how to grow a tomato, the Extension Master Gardeners were involved with the public every step of the way.
“Extension Master Gardeners set up, staff the EMG booth during all 10 days of the Fair, and take down the booth,” states Brennan. “Extension Master Gardeners are the faces of Virginia Cooperative Extension displaying the VCE logo, answering questions with the most current scientific information, and distributing VCE approved information and freebies donated by the VCE State Master Gardener Coordinator’s Office.”
Not only were the EMG volunteers able to spread the word and promote Extension, but they were able to share the knowledge that they have gained with people attending the State Fair of Virginia.