Category Archives: Communications

Q&A: Agents Laura Siegle and Lindy Fimon talk work and life as women in Extension

Extension agent Lindy Fimon. (Photo: Laura Siegle)

It’s hard for Extension agents Laura Siegle and Lindy Fimon to nail down their favorite memory of working together in the field. The two, respectively serving the counties of Amelia and Lunenburg and specializing in agriculture and natural resources, have collaborated on most of their Extension projects in the past six years. They comb through their list of shared experiences. Maybe it’s the time they spent making cattle marketing videos for producers.

“A lot of the time I’d hold the video camera and Lindy would chase the heifers away that wanted to come to me,” said Siegle, with a chuckle from Fimon.

Another good memory: the outreach Siegle watched Fimon conduct with local producer Don Bowman to teach younger producers about sorghum molasses. Another still: their hours of measuring and Shop-Vac’ing soybeans for variety trials at research plots. “It’s fun to get back out and get dirty,” said Fimon of working at the plots.

Virginia Cooperative Extension currently employs 155 female Extension specialists and agents, whose work spans the state. Women lead state Extension programs at the forefront of research around evolving issues like food safety, water quality, and public health. They act as mentors and drive new learning among Virginia youth as 4-H Extension specialists and local 4-H agents. They lend thousands of hours to volunteering as Master Gardeners, Naturalists, and Food Volunteers. And women like Siegle and Fimon work together to serve their communities.

This week, Siegle and Fimon sat down together to talk about work, life, and balancing the two.

How long have you known each other, and when did you start working together?

Laura Siegle: I was hired in September 2012, and I met Lindy the day before I officially started working, actually. I went to Family and Farm Day in Blackstone, an Extension outreach event. Lindy was there, running the corn husk doll and corn education booths. That was the first day I met her as an agent. I believe she’d been hired a couple months before I had. Is that correct?

Lindy Tucker Fimon: Yeah. I started in April. Family and Farm Day. The rest is history.

In what ways do you collaborate? How would you describe your working relationship?

Laura: We’re fortunate that we’re close, both as friends through the job and in localities that are near one another. I’d say there are very few ways that we don’t collaborate, honestly. We’ve done youth programs together, we’ve done cattle programs together, we’ve done crop programs together, we’ve done internal projects for Extension together, communications and social media efforts together. A whole number of things. I would definitely describe ours as one of the most productive working relationships I’ve ever had.

Lindy: How would I describe our working relationship? Pretty darn effective. We get a lot done.

We pretty much collaborate on everything, like Laura said. We’re fortunate that we came in with a bigger hiring and it happened to be a lot of people our age. It made it a little easier because we all could relate, but also, there were a lot of women. Which was kind of unusual. Our district seems to be heavy on female agricultural agents. Before we came on, there were like three agents covering most of the district, which is a quarter of the state. That’s a lot on their plates. They welcomed us with open arms, and that laid the groundwork for us. We were all new, we didn’t know what we were doing, and we relied on each other to figure it out.

What are some of your shared goals for serving your region?

Laura: We want the best for the producers and the residents in our area. And we want to give them our best, which takes a lot of time and energy. We dedicate a lot of it to that. And you can see that from the types of projects we end up pursuing. We focus a lot on the things that need to be done on an annual basis. Certain education, outreach, and certifications that landowners and producers need. But we also – both us and our colleagues – try really hard to be on the edge of some of the emerging agriculture issues in our area. We’ve made that our priority as well, to be responsive to those.

Lindy: I echo all of that. Like Laura said, we have so many needs and there are so many goals. Figuring out the best and most efficient ways to meet as many needs and achieve as many of our goals as possible. That really comes down to teamwork and all of us working together. And not having to reinvent the wheel for everything. We’re not recreating the same program from scratch in every county, but we’re sharing that information or that setup.

Siegle and Fimon often work together in the field.

What have you learned from one another – knowledge, methods, life and work advice?

Laura: We face some of the same challenges with a time-intensive, service-based job like this. We’ve learned from each other as we watch each other work through them. One thing is just learning to prioritize the things that are the most important and to make time to stay creative with your energy, your brain cells, and all the things that get worn out when you’re working hard to solve a myriad of challenges. I know both of us have gone through different phases in life where work has been particularly challenging, or just keeping up with responsibilities at home has been challenging with life changes that come. Watching Lindy has helped me a lot.

Lindy: Laura is probably one of the most dedicated and efficient people doing this job, for sure. Watching how she gets it done and how she prioritizes – I think we all look at each other for that, and we ask these questions of each other all the time: “What are you doing with this?” “How are you handling this?” “How have you met these needs in your county?”

As far as knowledge, we all have a different background and a little bit different emphasis or expertise, so we just rely on each other for those things. We don’t try to all learn everything to the same degree. I’m calling Laura for anything dairy or horse-related. We tag team on cow things. Things like that. Everybody has their specialty. We draw on each other for knowledge.

What’s it like to work as women in Extension right now, especially as young women?

Laura: As an Extension agent, you have a lot of similar challenges, no matter who you are. With time management and prioritization, just a lot of things that come and you can’t always plan for. Being a female in this job – it’s not something I think about on a regular basis. I think everyone’s experience is a little bit different, so I’m always speaking for myself. In this area, things have been pretty good and everyone’s really supportive, because we have a culture where plenty of women are in the agriculture industry. People are used to it and they’ve gotten to know us over the years. I have Lindy next door and a bunch of female agents around me. It’s nothing really too new or different for us in this area, because we’ve all been working together for five, six, seven years. Plus, we have agents that came before us that are still around.

I think being young is a factor – male or female. When you’re younger, sometimes, it takes a lot of time to earn respect. You have to show people what you know – or, to be honest, what you don’t know – and gain that respect, and get them interested and learning about how you can help. That can certainly be challenging.

Lindy: I think the times being different in other ways have been more of a factor. We’re just in a different world today than a lot of our predecessors that we’re compared to, that were there 40 years ago. There was more field time. There was more of a focus on one particular crop or one type of commodity – not everything from the homeowner’s garden to cattle, to whatever’s hot right now, like industrial hemp. It’s wider and it’s broader. There’s also less staff, so there are more broad responsibilities as an agent. Like working more on programs at the state level. Those are the kinds of challenges we face more than being women, as far as work is considered.

I think the challenges women face in this role – and I haven’t faced a lot of this yet – is with work-life balance. There are just some traditional roles that have changed, with more and more women working in jobs that they traditionally hadn’t. That presents some challenges. So it’s been great to look to our colleagues that have taken that on. Really, this generation is the first in this role to figure out how to balance families and raising children with the type of work that they do. It’s exciting to see. It’s kind of a new chapter for this industry right now. It’s been interesting to watch our colleagues figure this out and figure out how it’s going to work for them. For me, it seems like the heaviest challenge I can feel, even though I’m not facing it yet.

Laura: I agree.

Ext agent Lindy Fimon in the field

Fimon has worked on outreach with local sorghum producer Don Bowman.

How can women working in Extension – as well as in agriculture – support each other?

Lindy: Just be real and open. I think our advantage has been that we haven’t faked that we’ve got it all together. That’s the only comfortable setting to learn in, if people are being real and honest about the struggles that they’re facing with balancing work, or balancing work and life. Asking: “I’m having trouble with this – what do you do, how do you handle this?”

Laura: For the most part, whether you’re in Extension or sales or any other facet of the industry, if you’re building relationships with people, they’re understanding and supportive of you. My colleagues will talk to their producers about their families and kids, because producers value that and understand how important it is. Like all things in life, being good with people gets you really far. And genuinely caring about people and listening to people. When you do that, you build trust, and when you build trust, people respect you and care about you, and care about the things that matter to you. So when you’re a woman that has some challenges women have in the field, the producers are going to help you, or at least be understanding of what you have going on.

As far as supporting each other in Extension, building relationships with one another is important. Talking about things that are tough. If you don’t talk about them, it’s rough. And this job can be really stressful. I’ve had days where I was just overwhelmed. Sometimes it was just a matter of venting, so if I vented to the right person, one of the women around me going through something similar, a lot of times it felt better. That was the support I needed at that time.

Lindy: We’ve all been really overwhelmed at some point. We can all relate to that.  Especially when there’s a new agent and they’re like, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” You’re like: “No one did, what do you need help with?” That helps a lot.

Written by Suzanne Irby


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


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


September Is National Preparedness Month

Virginia Cooperative Extension wants you to be prepared.

Emergency Preparedness
VCE Publications and Resources

VCE Disaster Education Network
The Virginia Cooperative Extension Disaster Education Network links Extension educators, specialists, and various disaster agencies together to create fact sheets and resource information, including county Extension contacts, to reduce the impact of a disaster on individuals and families. – Plan Ahead for Disasters
Ready is a national public service campaign launched in February 2003 to educate and empower the American people to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate emergencies, including natural and man-made disasters.