Author Archives: Julie Crichton

In memoriam: David Allen Fiske, superintendent of the Virginia Tech Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center

David Allen Fiske, superintendent of the Virginia Tech Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center, died on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.

David Allen Fiske, superintendent of the Virginia Tech Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SVAREC) in Raphine, Virginia, died on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. He was 59.

Fiske was born on Sept. 14, 1959, in Charlottesville. An outdoors lover, he spent his youth on his family’s cattle farm and was a member of the Aldie, Virginia, community. He was a loving son, brother, and uncle. Fiske was also a dedicated agriculturalist, a community volunteer, and a caring friend to many in his community.

“David was a wonderful superintendent and a model employee at Virginia Tech. He was passionate about advancing research and Extension programs on the livestock production systems at the Shenandoah Valley AREC,” said Saied Mostaghimi, director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “In addition to devotion to his work at the AREC, David always found time for his colleagues and friends and interacted well with many organizations and stakeholders. He will be missed greatly, and we are all saddened by his loss, but he will never be forgotten by those who were fortunate enough to have known him.”

After graduating from Loudoun County High School in 1977, Fiske attended the University of Nebraska, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agribusiness and agricultural economics.

Since Feb. 1, 2000, he has served as superintendent of the Virginia Tech SVAREC in the Shenandoah Valley. In this capacity, Fiske has been responsible for all aspects of the center’s operations; providing leadership to the AREC’s staff and Extension specialists and agents; overseeing all research and Extension project, such as the extensive livestock-forage systems project; and managing the center’s more than 900 acres.

“Over last two years, David had become a mentor to me and someone I hold in the highest esteem. He has helped with numerous decisions in the last year and always welcomed my questions and visits,” said Tait Golightly, superintendent of the Virginia Tech Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center. “He has touched thousands and thousands of people’s lives. His way of teaching, without making you feel small or making himself seem bigger, was wonderful, no matter how grand his achievement was.”

Prior to holding this position, he served the commonwealth as a Loudoun County sheriff dispatcher, a Fairfax County firefighter, and a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Nelson and Augusta counties. In 1995, he also began working as operations manager with Rollins Ranches, one of the largest cow-calf ranches in the country.

Fiske was dedicated not only to his family and friends but to many organizations. They included the Aldie Volunteer Fire Department (inactive), the Raphine Volunteer Fire Company, the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, and the Augusta County FFA/4-H Market Animal Show and Sale. He also served as previous president of the Augusta County Fair.

He was preceded in death by his mother, Betty W. Fiske. He is survived by his father, Richard H. Fiske, and by his special and dear friend, Jacqueline “Jackie” Parr and family. Fiske is also survived by three siblings, Ellen Stewart (Bob), Billy “Tiger” Fiske, and Nancy Freeman (Dan). He had six beloved nieces and nephews: Nicole Varn (Nathan), and children Daven, Grady, and Anslee; Alex Stewart; Zach Daly; Will Fiske; Morgan Stewart; and Kara Freeman. Fiske is also survived by step-niece Amanda Dellerba (Chris) and daughter Camden and step-nephew Mark Freeman.

A celebration of life service was held on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, at 11 a.m. at the Old Providence Presbyterian Church, 1005 Spottswood Road, Steeles Tavern, Virginia, followed by reception and fellowship.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be given to the Raphine Volunteer Fire Company, P.O. Box 142, Raphine, Virginia 24472.

— Written by Zeke Barlow

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Virginia Cooperative Extension awarded nearly $1.1M to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Virginia Cooperative Extension nearly $1.1 million to expand prevention training to help tackle to the commonwealth’s rural opioid addiction problem.

The two-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-funded (SAMHSA) Rural Opioids Technical Assistance Through Virginia Cooperative Extension project will build upon two current USDA-funded Cooperative Extension projects to expand training and technical assistance on opioid prevention through the implementation of evidenced-based curricula targeting students in nine additional rural Virginia counties.

Rural communities are disproportionately affected by prescription opioid misuse and abuse. Of 134 counties or independent cities in Virginia, 53 are designated as rural.

Virginia Cooperative Extension, the outreach program for the state’s two land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, is well-positioned to address these technical assistance needs through its network of local offices throughout the state, its focus on bringing evidence-based information to local communities, and strong existing relationships in rural communities. There are at least six rural counties in each of the four Extension districts: Southwest, Central, Northern, and Southeast. Two or three counties per district will participate.

In addition, a project coordinator will be hired and housed in each district. Each will coordinate the project, facilitate community engagement, and implement programs with community partners.

A total of approximately 5,000 seventh-grade students and 1,000 sixth-grade students across nine counties will receive the opioid-prevention training over the two years of the program. In addition, the electronic High-Risk Patient Education Program developed by the Virginia Rural Health Association for the USDA-funded Rural Health and Safety Education project will be disseminated to hospitals and health care facilities in four more rural counties per year.

Extension agents will work closely with staff from community services boards on the implementation of evidence-based prevention programs for middle school students and their families. Additional partnerships will be formed through existing collaboration between the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and a statewide coalition of universities that has developed a menu of options for technical assistance to community service boards related to prevention, treatment, and recovery for opioid misuse and addiction.

Virginia Cooperative Extension has two current USDA-funded projects that address the opioid crisis. In June, Extension received a $1.28 million grant for collaborative opioid work through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to reach four Virginia counties. Awarded by the USDA-NIFA Children, Youth, and Families At-Risk program, the five-year grant supports health education initiatives spearheaded by Extension aimed at preventing opioid abuse among vulnerable communities in Virginia.

That initiative is overseen by co-project directors Crystal Tyler-Mackey, an Extension specialist in community viability, and Virginia State University’s Maurice Smith, a 4-H Extension specialist with the university. This work is a continuation of a $321,638 NIFA Rural Health and Safety Education grant awarded last fall to Virginia Cooperative Extension for work in Henry/Martinsville and Grayson counties. Karen Vines, an Extension specialist and assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, serves as the project director.

The SAMHSA funding will expand Extension’s reach to nine counties in addition to the six already being served by the projects administered by Vines, Tyler-Mackey, and Smith for a total of 15 counties across the three projects.

Kathy Hosig, director for the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research and a specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, will serve as project director.

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Researcher awarded grant to study effect of foster care on shelter dogs and volunteers

Erica Feuerbacher

Each year, over 4 million dogs enter animal shelters in the United States. Less than 20 percent of these dogs are reclaimed by their owners, which leaves millions of shelter dogs in search of a forever home. Erica Feuerbacher is working to change this.

VIDEO: Helping shelter dogs shed their stress

When separated, they’ve been known to travel thousands of miles to reunite with their human families. Their companionship alleviates loneliness and can bestow myriad health benefits. They share our joys, our sorrows, and our sofas, offering abiding support and partnership through all that life offers. Their love is unconditional, and their significance to humans, indisputable.

Much has been written about the benefits that dogs bring to our lives. Erica Feuerbacher’s mission is to help humans make life better for dogs.

That mission is about to take flight.

Feuerbacher, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and a team from Arizona State University received a $1.7 million grant from Maddie’s Fund, an animal welfare organization. The team, which includes ASU’s Lisa Gunter, who is Maddie’s research fellow, and Clive Wynne, professor of psychology, will work with approximately 100 shelters to evaluate three types of fostering: check-outs from shelters, brief sleep-overs, and traditional foster experiences.

The three-and-a-half-year funding opportunity will allow Feuerbacher, aided by a graduate student and a research assistant, to allocate her portion of the grant to work closely with 50 animal shelters along the East Coast. Her goal is to explore how to foster dogs most effectively. This large-scale fostering study builds on previous research, also funded by Maddie’s, showing that just one night away from a shelter decreased dogs’ stress levels. Maddie’s Fund is a national family foundation established by Dave and Cheryl Duffield to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals.

Feuerbacher is an expert in anthrozoology, the study of human-animal bonding. The Department of Poultry and Animal Sciences researcher began working for the college last winter, and is developing a research program that will explore human-dog interactions and training techniques for dogs.

“I really love working with dogs and helping them,” said Feuerbacher, who is also a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist. “My work is applied, and I can help people who want to help dogs. I hope that through this grant, I can have a broader influence.”

“Parent” to a brood that includes Ninja, a pit bull cross; Lorek, a German shepherd; Aegis, a Belgian malinois; two feline leukemia-positive cats; and Magic, an appaloosa/percheron gelding, the life-long animal lover and expert’s work is guided by the question: How can we be better for dogs?

“There used to be a view that fostering meant you took the dog out permanently from the shelter. Not everyone can have a dog for an endless amount of time,” said Feuerbacher. “How do we make this feasible for a shorter time?”

The shelter environment poses challenges to dogs in need of uninterrupted sleep. This is where short-term foster experiences come in. Anecdotal reports show that when shelter dogs are taken to homes overnight, after an initial period of restlessness, they are able to sleep for hours. Feuerbacher outfits them in a device similar to a fitbit that monitors heart rate and other vitals.

“Little tweaks can make such a big difference,” she said. “With the grant, we will be able to recruit shelters. They will receive training support. We want to help them tailor their services to their dogs’ needs.”

Some shelters are beginning Weekend Warrior programs that allow volunteers to take dogs home for a night or two, providing the animals with a break.

“It’s like us having a weekend where we can return to work refreshed,” said Feuerbacher. “For the volunteers, it’s meaningful, but it still fits in within their time limits.”

Best of all, Feuerbacher’s data show animals are not more stressed when they are returned to shelters. Her anecdotal reports suggest that the animals return to the shelter in a more settled state.

“We see some lovely transformations in the dogs. Sometimes you get a dog that is shut down in the shelter, and you get them home and they are goofy and fun. It really helps them get adopted,” said Feuerbacher. “And, the volunteers become invested. They become advocates for dogs in the community.”

Feuerbacher believes that programs focused on the well-being of the dog have greater ramifications for the animal’s adoption prospects. They also serve to raise greater awareness about opportunities for adoption.

“Our view of dogs is morphing a bit. They have a mutation of what in humans is called Williams syndrome,” said Feuerbacher. “The syndrome is partially characterized by hypersociality. They are able to form multiple, close relationships. So, this is good news for fostering. They can have multiple best friends at different times.”

Shelters that join the study will receive foster program training and implementation support from Maddie’s Fund. The researchers from ASU and Virginia Tech will collect data about the impact of fostering on outcomes like adoption and length of stay and how these programs affect staff and volunteers who work in the shelters. Shelters interested in learning more and in signing up may visit goo.gl/forms/hlk0vuM0eg20KaXy1.

To learn more about this project, take a look at this ASU video: youtu.be/AJYBRKmChcY.

— Written by Amy Painter

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2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference to be held Dec. 5 and 6

cornucopia

If you’re interested in local and regional food and agriculture, dealing with farming stressors in healthy ways, practical applications of soil health, value-added products, farm profitability, and other food and agricultural system topics, plan to attend the 2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference on Dec. 5 and 6 at Blue Ridge Community College’s Plecker Workforce Development Center, Weyers Cave, Virginia.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is partnering with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Agua Fund, Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and many other community partners to bring in engaging and inspirational speakers with broad experience and knowledge of food, farming, and the environment.

This year, speakers will offer their perspectives on the theme “Nourishing Farming, Community, and Hope” and will include Mike Rosmann, a clinical psychologist/farmer from Iowa, who helps farmers deal with stress and anxiety related to the unpredictability of farming; Rev. Heber Brown III of the Black Church Food Security Network, who will provide lively discussion on nourishing local communities; Penn State specialists who will take High Tunnels to the next level and discuss managing soil and pests; Rachel Armistead of Sweet Farm, who will discuss how fermentation may add value to your agricultural products and demonstrate how it’s done; and Dave Montgomery and Anne Biklé, renowned authors who will share the importance of microbial soil health and its relationship to human health.

PLEASE NOTE: There is a free community event open to the public on Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the BRCC Plecker Workforce Center. Enjoy an evening talk and conversation with authors David Montgomery and Anne Biklé on the important role that soil ecology plays in restoring land and health. Books will be available for sale and signing.

“We invite everyone interested in food and agriculture to the Virginia Farm to Table Conference,” said Kathy Holm, USDA-NRCS assistant state conservationist for field operations. “People leave this conference feeling inspired by thought-provoking speakers, stimulating panel discussions, networking opportunities, and wonderful locally sourced food from A Bowl of Good.”

Visit the conference website at conference.virginiafarmtotable.org to review the detailed agenda of conference offerings

Participants can select from concurrent session tracks in which producers and practitioners share their local and regional expertise: agroforestry and livestock management, justice and equity in the farming and food system, growing your niche, voices from the field, value-added food production, and practical applications of soil and water health.

Early bird registration pricing is available until Nov. 30, and rates will increase significantly after this date. More details regarding the conference registration are available at: https://tinyurl.com/VAFT2018. For questions, or if you need assistive devices to attend, call (540) 232-6006 or 6010 at least five days prior to the event.

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National Thanksgiving Turkey landing at Virginia Tech Gobblers Rest again

For the third consecutive year, the turkeys “pardoned” by the president are coming to Virginia Tech. A public open house to meet the two newest members of Hokie Nation will be held Nov. 23 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Livestock Judging Pavilion at 445 Plantation Road in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Over the years, Virginia Tech’s research, teaching, and outreach programs have been a driver of the U.S. poultry industry and have helped make turkey a staple of the American diet.

Now the university can add another feather to its cap: It will once again be home to the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate “wingman.”

For the third consecutive year, the famous birds will make the journey from the White House, where the turkeys are “pardoned” by the president in a formal ceremony, to Blacksburg’s Gobblers Rest, where they will live out their days and get to know the HokieBird.

A public open house to meet the two newest members of Hokie Nation will be held Nov. 23 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Livestock Judging Pavilion at 445 Plantation Road in  Blacksburg, Virginia. You can follow the progression of the birds’ journey from the White House to Blacksburg on the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages and post your own photos of the birds using the hashtag #PresidentialTurkeys.

“We love that the birds are coming back to Blacksburg to roost once again,” said Rami Dalloul, a world-renowned poultry immunologist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, who a few years ago sequenced the turkey genome. That discovery opened the door to new levels of understanding of the birds, as well as genetics in general.

“Virginia Tech and the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences have been great partners over the last two years, and we are excited that the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate are again returning to Gobblers Rest,” said National Turkey Federation chairman Jeff Sveen.

This year, the birds are coming from a farm near Huron, South Dakota. After two birds are chosen based on appearance and temperament, they head to Washington, D.C., where they stay at a hotel near the White House as part of a series of media events leading up to the presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey. The college will stream the formal ceremony during a Facebook Live event on Tuesday around 1 p.m. People can participate in a contest to name the birds on the White House’s official social media channels.

The event not only serves as the opening of the holiday season, but also reminds America of the history and role of agriculture, from feeding the world to growing the economy.

Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump have pardoned two groups of birds that came to live in Blacksburg.  Tater and Tot — the presidential turkeys from 2016 — and Drumstick and Wishbone — 2017’s pardoned turkeys — received world-class care and lived happy lives during their time in Blacksburg. They were famous around the world, as people often stopped by their home at Gobblers Rest to say hello and snap a photo. All four birds have died, which is not surprising given the short life expectancy of domestic turkeys.

The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation started in 1947. The National Turkey Federation’s first chairman, Virginian Charlie Wampler Sr., was among the first to present a live turkey to President Harry S. Truman.

Years before, in 1922, Wampler was a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent who sought advice from the head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Poultry Science, A.L. Dean, on how to raise turkeys. In the following years, Wampler went on to create a growing business while Dean advised Wampler on turkey-raising techniques. Wampler is regarded as the father of the modern turkey industry and founded the National Turkey Federation in 1940.

Today, poultry makes up the largest sector of Virginia’s agricultural portfolio with more $1 billion in annual cash receipts. The industry provides a direct economic impact of $5,471,601,400 and overall contributes $13,248,985,000 in economic activity in the commonwealth, according to the Virginia Poultry Federation.

The Virginia Tech Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine help expand the state’s economy by conducting innovative research to benefit industry and educating the next generation of poultry scientists and veterinarians.

— Written by Zeke Barlow

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