Tag Archives: volunteer

Keeping the commonwealth informed


Today, VCE’s library comprises more than 3,000 publications on everything from growing apples to protecting groundwater. Last year the VCE publication website received more than 4.6 million page views, and more than 1.8 million VCE publications were downloaded.

Gone are the days when residents had to visit their local Virginia Cooperative Extension office to obtain a copy of the latest publication. Today, the entire publication library is available at everyone’s fingertips on the VCE website. Although the mode and distribution method of these materials has evolved, VCE publications remain a popular go-to source for research-based information.

“Many things have changed over the years with Extension, but our publications continue to be very popular,” said Robert Grisso, associate director of agriculture and natural resources for VCE. “They are just one of the many ways that we provide the public with information to help them solve problems.”

Since its humble beginnings in 1914, Extension’s goal has remained consistent — to put knowledge into the hands of the community to better the livelihoods of its residents. Although the pioneer publications were crafted on typewriters, typeset, and printed on a press, their subjects were similar to what one might find today. Topics including improved agriculture practices, nutrition and health tips, food preparation, lawn and garden advice, and 4-H projects are all represented in both early and modern materials.

After moving publications online over a decade ago, VCE saw the need to cater to its newfound broader audience. As a result, VCE has started translating some of its more-popular publications into Spanish. The Spanish library has grown to include materials on food preservation, food safety, landscape maintenance, bedbugs, parenting, nutrition, and animal science.

Another modernization of VCE publications was the addition of e-books in 2010. These publications provide the option for e-reader users to download VCE content digitally to their hand-held devices to read at their leisure or on the go.

MaryAnn Kincaid of Virginia Beach has been referencing VCE publications since she set out to cross “Become a Master Gardener” off her bucket list 13 years ago. Kincaid uses these resources to develop her own skills as well as to improve and inspire others to follow suit.

“Over the years, I have witnessed the transition to greater accessibility of VCE publications. When I first set out to be a Master Gardener, everything was in print. We had no direct access to the archives,” said Kincaid. “Now, it’s much better because people can search for a very specific topic, but their curiosity could be piqued in the process. You can send someone to the website to find one thing, but then they see more options and they might find a new practice or avenue they didn’t know they were interested in. There is value in that.”

Kincaid acknowledges that there are other resources out there, but she finds VCE publications extremely accessible. “By referring someone to VCE publications, you are directing them to a one-stop shop, thus saving them the hassle and time of searching for reliable sources,” Kincaid said. “In fact, the biggest draw for me is the credibility of VCE’s publications. Friends and colleagues can share and post articles all day long, but when it comes from Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension, I know the information is reliable and backed by research.”

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Celebrating a decade of Virginia Master Naturalists

A master naturalist identifies a tree from its leaves.

Virginia Master Naturalists learn tree identification as well as many other skills in their basic training that they apply to service projects to benefit Virginia’s natural resources.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Master Naturalist program. In the decade since the national program started in the commonwealth, the organization has trained several thousand Master Naturalists, who have contributed 526,583 hours of volunteer service — the equivalent of well over 250 years of full-time employment. Its initial 10 chapters have grown to 30, with each making a significant positive impact on Virginia’s natural resources.

Virginia Master Naturalist volunteers provide education, outreach, and service to support Virginia’s natural resources and public lands. Their time is calculated to be worth nearly $12.4 million to date.

“About 3,500 Master Naturalists have been trained since the program began in Virginia,” said Program Coordinator Alycia Crall. “Many of them are still active volunteers, donating at least 40 hours of work each year.”

Master Naturalists have contributed to more than 70 scientific studies, which have advanced knowledge about Virginia’s natural resources. Their study subjects range from frogs to American chestnuts to spring beauty flowers to osprey. The volunteers have also cared for more than 2,500 acres of public lands by removing non-native species, maintaining trails, and planting native flowers.

The Virginia Master Naturalist program is open to anyone who wants to learn more about nature. Participants start out by completing 40 hours of training offered through a local chapter; an additional eight hours of advanced training are required each year. The volunteers learn basic ecology and scientific principles as well as ornithology, geology, botany, and zoology.

“I like marking the seasons by seeing what’s happening out there,” said Brenda Graff, a Master Naturalist in Christiansburg. “I especially like collecting data that can help the environment.”

The Virginia Master Naturalist program is jointly sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia departments of Conservation and Recreation, Environmental Quality, Forestry, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Center for Coastal Resources Management, and Game and Inland Fisheries, as well as the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The program is based in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

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