Author Archives: Julie Crichton

Four industry leaders inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame

The 2018 Livestock Hall of Fame inductees were (from left) Eileen Beckman, Gary Hornbaker, Charles Moyer, and Lynda Schmidt Stuart.

The 2018 Livestock Hall of Fame inductees were (from left) Eileen Beckman, Gary Hornbaker, Charles Moyer, and Lynda Schmidt Stuart.

Four people were recently inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame for their outstanding and uncommon contributions to the state’s livestock industry.

The ceremony was held at the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena on Virginia Tech’s campus during an unveiling of portraits of the 2018 honorees.

Established in 2009, the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame bestows honor and recognition on outstanding Virginians who have made significant contributions to the state’s livestock industry and its people. The Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Pork Industry Association, Virginia Sheep Producers Association, Virginia State Dairymen’s Association, and Virginia Horse Council can nominate living or deceased individuals to the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame. This year’s honorees are listed below.

Eileen Beckmam founded and operated Otteridge Farm in Bedford County, where she bred and developed superior hunter ponies. Her ponies were exhibited and shown very successfully, but her greatest contribution was her teaching children and adults to ride with proper horsemanship and sportsmanlike conduct. She was also a well-respected judge. Recognitions include being inducted into the Virginia Horse Shows and the National Show Hunters halls of Fame. Beckman passed away in 2010.

Gary Hornbaker is a recognized agricultural innovator and leader in Loudoun County and the greater Northern Virginia area. His career in Virginia Cooperative Extension and county services is dedicated to the livestock industry and economic development. He is a cattle and sheep producer specializing in producing animals for research. Recognitions include citations from the Virginia Cattlemen’s and the Virginia Sheep Producers associations and national and state agricultural Extension groups.

Charles Moyer, of Amelia County, has been a lifelong dairyman and breeder of Oakmulgee registered Holsteins. He is a distinguished and respected agricultural and civic leader and promoter of agricultural cooperatives. He has served on numerous state and national industry boards and committees. Recognitions include FFA’s American Farmer Degree, Virginia Holstein Association’s Distinguished Service Award, and Virginia’s Outstanding Farm Family.

Lynda Schmidt Stuart is an accomplished farm manager and leader with a background in both the beef and dairy industries. She grew up on a registered Holstein farm in California and with her father developed Genetics Inc., an artificial insemination firm. She came to Virginia in 1975 and has served as president, CEO and manager of Stuart Land and Cattle Co. since 2008.

— Written by Zeke Barlow


Hokie Bugfest spreads its wings on Oct. 20

Don’t miss the eighth annual Hokie BugFest on Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Virginia Tech’s Squires Student Center and at locations in downtown Blacksburg!

The free event has something for everyone, including a host of new exhibits and competitions for 2018. Hokie BugFest is a STEAM-inspired (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) community festival that celebrates the joy and excitement of entomology.

In cooperation with the Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, Hokie BugFest is a S.A.F.E., or Supporting Autism-Friendly Environments, event. Quiet hour and activities begin at 9 a.m. for children with autism or other disabilities.

Visitors can creep and crawl their way through three floors of bug-inspired activities in Squires Student Center as well as walk through a beautiful butterfly tent or the spooky Spiders’ Lair. In the Colonial Hall Auditorium, attendees can watch the Bug Whisperer, Tony Gustin, with shows throughout the day or cheer on the adventurous eaters of the Bug Eating Contest at 1:30 p.m. They can also check out bird-eating tarantulas, whip scorpions, death-feigning beetles, and more than 200 arthropods in Virginia Tech’s own bug zoo.

Other attractions include a pollination station that has a working beehive where live bees are making honey and visitors can observe the dance language of bees and see if they can spot the queen. Attendees can also play the nectar gathering bean-bag toss and learn about the many products of the hive, such as beeswax and royal jelly.

New to Hokie BugFest is the Buggy Art Contest where visitors can view bug-themed paintings, photography, and sculptures entered by local youth and adults. Throughout the day, visitors can also play festival favorites like Bug Jeopardy, Bug Bingo, or attempt the Bee Waggle Dance to win a prize.

In Old Dominion Ball Room on the first floor of Squires Student Center, visitors can learn about forensic entomology, pests of your pets, and the latest insect-related research at Virginia Tech. Hokie BugFest wouldn’t be complete without endless arts and crafts, a peek through a pair of insect goggles, and the chance to earn a Junior Entomologist certificate.

On College Avenue in Downtown Blacksburg, the first Humans Dressed as Dung Beetles Race will take place at 3 p.m., where individuals and teams will compete to see who can roll their dung ball the fastest.  Interested racers can preregister online or sign up at the festival.

Also new to Hokie BugFest is the Buggin’-Out Costume Contest and Parade – where the two buggiest costumes will be crowned the festival’s King and Queen. Costume entries should check in at the Lyric Theatre no later than 10:45 a.m.  Judging will begin at 11:00 a.m.

The Lyric Theatre is hosting Storytime with Joelle at 10 a.m., Alberti’s Flea Circus throughout the day, and a free showing of the movie “Microcosmos” at 4 p.m. Visitors can take home a bug-inspired balloon creation from Brandon the Balloon Guy.

No matter how you spend your day, Hokie BugFest is guaranteed to leave you bug-crazed!

For festival maps, a complete schedule of events, and contest information including online entry forms, please visit the Hokie Bugfest website or Facebook page.

This event highlights an ongoing youth education program hosted by the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program, and the department’s student-run professional organization, the W. B. Alwood Entomological Society.

If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services, or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Mike Weaver at 540-231-6543 during business hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations at least five days prior to the event.

— Written by Zeke Barlow


Children fighting cancer get ray of hope through 4-H, Camp Fantastic partnership

Camp Fantastic campers

Camp Fantastic, which is run by the nonprofit Special Love, allows kids to be kids, to forget for a time that they are battling cancer.

Abby Snider was 15 years old when she had a long string of illnesses that she couldn’t seem to shake.

At first, she had a cough, then an ear infection, then strep throat. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong until they found a mass in her chest. They told her she had cancer.

“It was scary, I thought I was going to die,” she remembers. “All I knew was that cancer was something people’s grandparents died from.”

Six months after her diagnosis, she packed her bags for Camp Fantastic, a summer camp for children who have cancer or have recovered from it. At first, she was scared to go and didn’t want to meet kids who she thought were going to die or were losing their hair. But what she found was more than just a community of children going through similar struggles – she found hope.

Over the course of the week at camp, Snider was still getting chemotherapy, but she was also taking cooking classes, going to campfire, making jokes about cancer, and sharing her story with others who understood her struggles better than anyone else.

“It inspired me to keep fighting,” said Snider, now a cancer-free 19-year-old who is a counselor at the camp and is studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse. “I always tell everyone that Camp Fantastic helped me find my fight, because I was ready to give up before I came here.”

Twenty-five years after it started, Camp Fantastic continues to give kids the drive to keep fighting.

The camp was founded in 1983 when Tom and Sheila Baker, who lost their daughter, Julie, to lymphoma, were inspired to start a camp for children with cancer or who were three years past treatment. They approached John Dooley, the then-head of the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Front Royal, Virginia, about holding the camp at the center. Doctors and nurses from the National Institutes of Health who treated Julie volunteered to oversee medical needs of the first cadre of 29 campers. Camp Fantastic was born.

Over the years, the organization has expanded its offerings to include camps for siblings of cancer patients, outings for cancer patients, and parent get-away weekends, but it still has the same original vision: give children battling cancer a place where they can just be kids.

One of the things that makes it so successful is the long-running partnership between the NIH, the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, and Special Love, the nonprofit the Bakers started that oversees the camp.

Campers at Camp Fantastic

“It inspired me to keep fighting,” one cancer survivor said of her time at Camp Fantastic. Held at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, the camp has hosted more than 3,500 children over the past 36 years.

“Camp Fantastic was modeled after a traditional 4-H camping program and was intended to be a normal camping experience with medical support added to ensure that even children on active cancer treatment could participate,” said Dave Smith, the senior director of outreach and programs for Special Love. “We’re very proud of our 4-H roots and happy to be able to partner with the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, as well as Airfield 4-H Center in Wakefield, which hosts a spring family camp and a weekend for young adults.”

Clarke Construction is also helping to keep the camp thriving. It recently donated materials and labor to make a number of improvements to the camp’s facilities.

“Partnerships like this go to the heart of 4-H’s mission – to provide opportunities that help youth flourish,” said Jeremy Johnson, director of Virginia 4-H.

“I always love attending Camp Fantastic and seeing the smiles on the kid’s faces” said Tobin Smith, president of the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center. “The center takes great pride in being able to host this camp each year and to provide an authentic camping experience to this group of kids.”

At first glance, the camp does look like any other 4-H camp. There are boys cannonballing off the diving board, girls scrambling up rock climbing walls, and counselors leading groups to fishing tournaments and trying out Capital One’s virtual reality games.

But there is also a room full of medicine that that NIH stocks every day from its Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters. In another room, kids receive chemotherapy treatment between crafting classes. A small army of doctors and nurses are on hand, though they don’t wear scrubs and instead don goofy hats in the shape of lobsters or sharks. This year, as the campers were putting on a production of Sleeping Beauty, a handful of kids were in the back of the room getting medical treatment while watching the show.

Though there are many camps designed specifically for children with cancer, Camp Fantastic is unique because it accepts some of the sickest kids in the nation.

“The opportunity for kids to interact with their nurses and doctors in a fun environment is one of the many healing aspects of our joint programs with the Northern Virginia 4-H Education Center and Virginia Tech’s Virginia Cooperative Extension,” said Kathy Russell, Camp Fantastic medical administrator.

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands recently visited Camp Fantastic, where he met many of the kids who are battling cancer. The camp is run through a partnership with the National Institutes of Health, the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, and Special Love, the nonprofit that oversees the camp.

Unlike when the children are at school and their friends are uncomfortable asking questions about their treatment, when they see someone at camp who is bald or has a feeding tube, it makes the campers feel more like everyday kids.

“At school, kids don’t know what a g-tube is, they aren’t familiar with medical stuff, and they haven’t been through what I’ve been through,” said Henry G., a 7-year-old with a raspy voice who at one moment can speak about complex medical issues and the next sing his favorite camp song about burritos.

“It’s nice to be around people who understand,” said Colton K., who first met Henry at a local hospital when they were both going through chemotherapy. Colton and Henry used to run around the halls of the hospital, but this summer they got to spend time together splashing in the camp’s pool.

Over the course of the camp’s 36 years, more than 3,500 children have attended Camp Fantastic, and there are countless stories that have made a lasting impression on their fellow campers and counselors.

There is the child who just had his leg amputated and came to camp asking to learn how to ride a bike. By the end of the week, John Dooley, now the CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, was running alongside him, holding the boy up as he began pedaling on his own. There is the story of a girl on the verge of death who came to camp in a wheelchair but was dancing with her fellow campers by the end of the week. There are kids who have told the counselors that they are fighting cancer with all they’ve got just so they can get back to camp that summer.

“I had a kid tell me that he feels sorry for kids who don’t have cancer because they don’t get to come to camp,” said Jeremy Webb, who like many of the counselors, is a former camper and cancer survivor. “That’s how much it means to people.”

Jay Robinson came to camp as a 19-year-old fighting a brain tumor. He beat the cancer that year and came back as a counselor the following year – and hasn’t missed a year of camp since.

Like so many other counselors, Robinson said being around the kids fighting so hard buoys his spirits. The week of camp is long and exhausting for volunteers, but they are inspired by how determined the children are.

“They may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have them,” said Robinson, who is on the board for both Special Love and 4-H.

Though the counselors give good advice, some of the best wisdom campers receive comes from fellow campers.

“I tell them to keep going because if you stop fighting, everyone else will stop fighting, too,” said Ellie W., a 9-year-old who, like so many of the children, seemed to be wise beyond her years.

She had more to say about her own cancer fight, but the campers were taking off their helmets and harnesses from the climbing wall exercise and headed to the swimming pool. She didn’t want to miss a minute of fun.

It was time to go be a kid.

Written by Zeke Barlow


Chainsaw Safety – before and after the storm

Someone once said the only difference between a Colt 45 pistol and a chainsaw is that anyone can buy and operate a chainsaw. No license is required; there is no test to take, class to complete, or competency to demonstrate. The similarity is that both can kill or injury in a split second. This is particularly evident after a storm.

When looking at chainsaw accident reports, a definite spike follows storms. This isn’t so much because of the difficult timber salvage or yard-tree cleanup situations loggers or tree-workers have to work in after a storm, but because of ill-equipped and untrained occasional users doing their own clean-up.

If you own a chain saw, chances are you’ve never received training on safe chainsaw use. Maybe you’ve read the safety manual that is supposed to come with a new saw purchase, maybe you haven’t. Additionally, you probably didn’t purchase the appropriate personal protective equipment, which, frankly, should be part and parcel with a saw purchase.

Using a saw is like anything else: get dressed for the job. I cringe watching the news after a storm has toppled trees. I have yet to see a do-it-yourselfer appropriately dressed. Often it seems they’ve made a special effort to dress dangerously, like in shorts and flip-flops.


Head, eye, and ear protection is essential. You might be surprised to know that a significant portion of chainsaw-related accidents don’t actually involve direct saw injury. It doesn’t take much of a branch from overhead to kill someone. Hard hats have prevented many deaths and would have prevented many more if everyone put one on before they pick up a saw.

Eye protection should be obvious. An interruption to your work is the best-case scenario, worst case, you lose your sight. It’s not just sawdust, either. Branches of fallen trees are often under tremendous stress that, when released, can hit you in your face or other areas with tremendous force.

Ear protection is often neglected, but not until regretted years later. Ear loss is cumulative in nature and permanent. If you’ve ever experienced a ringing in your ears after a day of working around something loud, that’s a symptom of permanent hearing loss. With a chainsaw, it’s not only what you hear in the engine, but what you don’t hear. The metal on metal as chain moves around bar produces a high-pitch that human ears cannot hear, but still does damage.

Next is to protect the mostly likely place to be in direct contact with the chainsaw, your legs. Chaps or chainsaw-resistant pants are made with ballistic nylon or Kevlar, and they are as effective at stopping a moving chain as they are at stopping bullets. People complain about chaps being too hot … I guess the choice is yours, sweat or blood. If you get off with just needing stitches, consider yourself lucky. If you cut the femoral artery running on the inside of your leg straight to your heart, chose your steps carefully because you only have about 15 of them left.

The next item is proper footwear. At a minimum, good, sturdy boots should be worn. Even better is to wear steel-toed or chainsaw-resistant boots. Absolutely no tennis shoes, flip-flops, sandals, or running shoes!

The most important piece of safety equipment is your brain. Accidents are much more likely to happen when you are hurried, fatigued, or otherwise not thinking clearly. Make sure you are well rested, clear-minded, and not rushed when using a power saw. A good mind and the personal protective equipment outlined above will give you every advantage should an accident happen.


Today’s saws are more powerful, lighter, faster, safer, and more ergonomic than saws of yesteryear. Anti-vibration, brakes, and guards are some of the newer features vastly improved upon in the past decade. Less vibration results in less fatigue, and less fatigue means fewer accidents.

Halfway decent saws have a chain-brake built into them that is activated by a sudden change in motion or by the wrist coming into contact with the brake lever, such as might happen with kickback. This brake is meant to be used. Anytime you take more than two steps, engage the brake to avoid accidental chain acceleration.

The guards on a saw are to stop the chain from whipping you in the event it breaks. That’s a good thing considering there is no getting out of the way of something just a few feet from you that’s moving at 200 mph and lined with razor-sharp teeth.

Speaking of razor-sharp teeth, a sharp and well-running saw is safer than something you have to fight with to get the same amount of work done. Keep your saw in good running order and know how to sharpen your chain or keep an extra one on hand in the event you run the saw into the dirt or otherwise dull the teeth. A dull chain is exhausting.


Once you’ve got on the right garb, and the saw is in tip-top shape, it’s time to get to work. Most people start their saws in an unsafe and tiresome way that can also be hard on the saw. The “drop-start” is an old favorite, but a good way to break the rope, wear out your upper body, and get hurt by a live machine you only have one hand on. Proper starting sets the saw on the ground, with one foot on the hand guard and one hand on the upper grip, and pulls on the rope.

Secondly, don’t work from a ladder and don’t saw overhead. If you have stuff to cut that is higher than your shoulders, consider getting a professional involved. Ladders and saws just don’t work together, and trying to use a saw over your head is asking for trouble.

The first power saws required two men to operate because of their weight, and you would never have lifted them over your shoulder. Even though today’s saws don’t require two operators and they are easily lifted overhead, it’s a good idea to have a buddy around. If something happens, you might not be able to get the help you need by yourself. If nothing happens, you’ll get the job done more quickly anyway.

Chainsaw are extremely useful and powerful tools. They need to be respected every time they are used. Proper attire and intelligent operation goes a long way toward safe and enjoyable use. Again, use your brain. A big part of this is to know and respect your limits. There is something macho about using a saw which can be an impediment to good judgment. It’s more macho to be in one piece at the end of the day rather than a hospital bed or worse. Be careful; be smart.

Written by Adam K. Downing
Extension Agent, Forestry & Natural Resources
Virginia Cooperative Extension


Storm Damage: Forests and Trees

High winds and saturated soils can result in damage to forest and yard trees. With Hurricane Florence approaching Virginia and the Carolina’s, you may be wondering what to do.

Let’s talk about trees in a forest first. Natural disasters such as hurricanes are a natural part of the environment. In many cases, if the forest is otherwise healthy and vigorous, damage may be limited to isolated pockets. In some cases, however, extensive damage may result in financial loss, hazardous situations, and heartache at seeing your forest dramatically changed.

If, after the storm, you feel you have significant damage to your forest, your first call should be to your local Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) office. They can provide preliminary assessments of loss and advise you on clean-up and/or salvage operations. These numbers may be useful when tax season rolls around to be able to claim casualty loss.

Timber salvage may be appropriate if you have high value timber on the ground or significantly damage standing timber. This option can help minimize financial loss and make the woods safer after the storm has passed. A storm damaged woodlot is very dangerous and should only be entered with extreme caution, proper protection gear, and with experience. Even within the first year, hazards from fallen trees can make your forest a dangerous place.

If you have damage to trees in your yard, some of the same principals apply, such as the need to determine the amount of damage and put a dollar value on it. The best way to determine the decrease in the fair market value of the property is with a complete appraisal. The fees for this are deductible under expenses incurred to determine tax liability. In some cases, clean-up, repair, and replacement costs on the damaged landscape may also be used. You should also review a copy of your homeowners insurance to know what your coverage is.

In terms of repairing the damage to your landscape, safety is again of utmost importance. The first thing many people do is grab the chain saw. If you only have small branches (4” or less), use lopping shears and hand saws instead. An injury is the last thing you need after a disaster has hit, and most chain saw injuries happen to fatigued homeowners.

If you decide to use a power saw, wear proper protective equipment (eye protection, ear protection, hardhat, non-slip gloves, chain saw pants or chaps, heavy-duty boots, and trim- fitting clothes). Before starting the saw, make sure the chain is sharp (less tiring to use), and the saw is properly fueled and oiled. To start the saw, place it firmly on the ground with chain break engaged, one foot in the handle (if possible), one hand on the top of the handle, and pull the starter cord firmly with the other hand. “Drop starting” is the most dangerous way to start your saw. Do not do it!

While cutting, make sure you have firm footing, don’t reach above your shoulder to cut, saw with the lower part of the bar close to the bumper, not on the top near the nose, and avoid kickback by keeping the tip (upper ¼) of the blade free from twigs, branches and other debris.

Damage to small trees can often be easily corrected. Newly planted trees or shrubs, which are tilted, may be reset and staked. You may trim partially damaged trees or shrubs with proper pruning equipment and practices (go to for information on pruning and other landscape practices). If some plants are beyond repair, complete removal may be necessary. Deciduous trees and shrubs, however, will often sprout back in the spring if a clean cut is made close to the ground. Otherwise, you may want to use the opportunity to replace the plant with something different.

Lastly, extensive landscape damage sometimes necessitates the use of heavy equipment. As much as possible, don’t allow heavy equipment to move close to the trunks of remaining shrubs or trees, for the resulting root damage will cause loss in the coming years.

No matter if your trees are part of a forest or your landscape, it is very important to keep records! Inventories that might be part of a forest management plan can be very useful in determining base values of forestland. Recent pictures of your mature landscaping might be important to verify “before damage” value. Keep receipts and copies of newspaper articles as evidence of the causality.

In closing, count your blessing if the only thing damaged in this year’s storms can be tallied with dollar signs. Trees and shrubs can be replanted, a forest will regenerate, and houses can be rebuilt, but a life lost cannot be recovered. Be safe and help others.

Written by Adam K. Downing
Extension Agent, Forestry & Natural Resources
Virginia Cooperative Extension