The Agricultural Research and Extension Centers are a network of 11 research centers located throughout the state that emphasize the close working relationship between the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Inside the ARECs” highlights the work and accomplishments of these 11 centers and will appear in every Insights.
The Reynolds Homestead was built in 1843 as the Rock Spring Plantation by Hardin Reynolds, a successful farmer, merchant, banker, and tobacco manufacturer. The site is designated a State and National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Registry of American Homes. The more than 800-acre property is comprised of the Forestry Resources Research Center, and also the restored historic home and a Community Enrichment Center, both of which are part of Virginia Tech’s Office of Outreach and International Affairs.
The Reynolds Homestead Forest Resources Research Center (FRRC) in Critz, Virginia was created in 1969 to study forest biology including genetics, physiology and soils. Specific projects include harvesting to increase forest health and productivity, site preparation, forest fertilization, loblolly pine physiology and forest herbicide testing. The Center integrates Extension, research, and outreach programs that impact many of the surrounding communities and the region.
Facilities include 780 acres, two-acre pond, house, apartment, laboratory and office space, greenhouse, field equipment, and an additional seven acres dedicated to the continuing education center and the Reynolds family museum house and cemetery.
Superintendent of the AREC, Kyle Peer, and Lisa Martin, senior program manager at the historic property, collaborate extensively on educational programming offered at the Reynolds Homestead.
“The exposure I get to the public at large by collaborating with the historical programming aspects of the homestead is invaluable,” said Peer. “Instead of having one field day where the community is invited to come and take a tour of the property and field trials, individuals can come any day of the week and hike the trails on the site, take a knitting class, or learn about grafting heirloom apple trees. Those things all get the word out about the center’s outreach activities including the classes and the resources we have available to the public.”
Peer created a trail that is part of the commonwealth’s Link to Education about Forests program that features a combination of outdoor forestry and natural resources education with heritage tourism. The eight stops on the trail are divided between forestry education and historical knowledge about the Reynolds Homestead.
Martin also feels the collaboration between the historical society and Extension is beneficial.
“We get a lot of retirees here and many of those folks become Master Gardeners or Master Naturalists because they are looking for a way to meet people and get involved in the community,” said Martin. “I’ve seen friendships and even romances blossom at classes held at the homestead like heirloom apple grafting and mushroom growing.”
The collaborative relationship also makes the Reynolds Homestead ideal for elementary school student programming.
“We can host a group of 100 school kids and pack in three or four different subject areas,” said Peer. “If I just had forestry programming and not the historical component, it would be difficult to get students in the door. This way their time here is maximized by hitting two or three of the subject areas they study in the classroom.”
The Homestead also hosts a local food, wine, and beer festival called Bushels and Barrels, which was an outgrowth of a foodshed survey conducted with help from community partners including Extension, and has a direct economic impact on the area. The festival occurs the third Saturday in June and features local food and beverage vendors like breweries such as Devil’s Backbone, as well as attractions such as live music and artisanal crafts for sale.
Martin says this sort of symbiotic relationship between Extension programming and heritage education has helped bridge the past and the present.
“We are about more than tobacco here in Patrick County today,” she said. “I want people to say ‘I didn’t know you could buy a buffalo burger here.’ ”
And the potential for future collaborative programming is limited only to what Martin and Peer, along with the faculty located on the campus of Virginia Tech can imagine.
“We never know what we are going to think of next,” said Martin.