Minimizing the Risk of Home Fires

By Krista Farley Raines, Regional Communications Officer, American Red Cross West Virginia Region

Note: This week, Oct. 9-15, is National Fire Prevention Week, and our friends at the American Red Cross West Virginia Region are here with a guest post about how to minimize the risk of fire in your home and how you can receive a FREE smoke alarm.

Last year in West Virginia, the Red Cross responded to almost 700 home fires. Such fires all too often end in tragedy. Seven times a day, someone in this country dies in a home fire. The Red Cross has been working to reduce that number through the Home Fire Campaign, a multi-year effort to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent. Launched in October 2014, the Red Cross and thousands of campaign partners have helped save numerous lives through the effort, as well as installing more than a quarter million free smoke alarms in homes all across the country.

Everyone should take three steps to help minimize their risk:

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of the home, and check them monthly by pressing the test button.
  • Create a fire escape plan identifying two escape routes from every room of the home and a place a short distance outside of the home where family members can meet after escaping.
  • Practice the escape plan at least twice a year, paying particular attention to children or older adults who may require extra time and care.

The Red Cross wants to help you get prepared. Learn how to help prevent a home fire and what to do if one occurs by downloading the Red Cross Emergency App.

Visit redcross.org/homefires to find out more about how to protect yourself and your beloved home from fire.

To have a free smoke alarm installed in your home, find the location of smoke alarm installation events or to become a volunteer, contact the American Red Cross West Virginia Region at (304) 340-3650 or visit www.redcrosswv.org.


WVSU Yellow Jackets Swarm National Small Farm Conference

By Matt Browning, Director of Communications

patriotguardensWest Virginia State University Yellow Jackets swarmed Virginia Beach as a group of WVSU Extension Service personnel ascended on the 7th National Small Farm Conference Sept. 20-22. Nine staff members hosted eight oral presentations, two poster presentations and an informational exhibit at the event, themed “Creating and Sustaining Small Farmers and Ranchers.”

Staff members presented on a variety of projects, including incorporating technology into agriculture, bolstering youth interest in gardening, urban farming initiatives and others.

“Especially for a school the size of West Virginia State, to have so many of our team presenting their work really speaks to the innovation and scope of our projects,” said Melissa Stewart, assistant program director for Community and Agricultural Resource Development (CARD). “It’s a good reflection of the innovation that is coming out of WVSU.”

West Virginia AgrAbility, a joint WVSU and West Virginia University Extension Service project that seeks to enhance quality of life for farmers with disabilities, was exhibited, as were poster presentations on accessible gardening and providing agriculture education in nontraditional 4-H settings.

jennytabithaOral presentations included the following:

  • The Making of Agriculture: The Intersection of the Maker Movement and Modern Small-Scale Agriculture and How Extension Professionals Can Encourage Both (Extension Agent Jenny Totten with David Francis, Utah State University Extension)
  • Get Off Your Bum and Grow: Encouraging Engagement in Youth Gardening Programs (Extension Agents Jenny Totten and Tabitha Surface)
  • Production and Space Design for the Smallest Farmer: Engaging Children in Agriculture at Any Age (Extension Agent Jenny Totten)
  • Post-Harvest Education for the Small Farmer (Extension Agent Robin Turner)
  • Patriot Guardens (CARD Assistant Program Director Melissa Stewart)
  • Using Smart Phone and Tablet Apps on the Farm (Inetta Fluharty, West Virginia AgrAbility)
  • Growing Small Fruits in Urban West Virginia (Extension Agent Brad Cochran)

agrabilitydisplayHeld every three to four years, the National Small Farm Conference brings together farmers, extension educators and other agricultural enthusiasts to address the needs, challenges and successes of small farmers across the nation and world. The 2016 conference focused on strategies for enhanced farm income and improved quality of life; success stories from small farm activities; and innovative ideas in research, extension and outreach.

“The conference was a great success, both in what we’ve learned and what we’ve been able to share with others by presenting our work,” Stewart said. “The overlap with other extension educators and farmers, especially those here on the East Coast, has been very eye-opening in terms of learning how we can collaborate and expand our efforts.”

The 7th National Small Farm Conference was hosted by Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with support from Virginia Tech.

To learn more about WVSU Extension Service’s presentations and projects from the National Small Farm Conference, contact the presenters above.


Celebrate National Farmers Market Week August 7-13

By Jenny Totten, CARD Extension Agent

August 7-13, 2016, is National Farmers Market Week, where farmers markets all over the country are engaging customers in special events. By the beginning of this year, there were more than 8,500 farmers markets in the U.S. – that is 50% more than just five years ago!

If you aren’t already shopping at your local farmers market, what are you waiting for? A trip to the market is a great way to not only support local farmers and get fresher, healthier foods. It’s also a fun family activity for you and your kids. Here are some fun ways to engage the children in your community and your entire family in being a part of the local food system.

The first one is simple: Find your local farmers market. Research where your community’s markets are and what time they are open. The West Virginia Farmers Market Association maintains a list of member markets for the state. Children love seeing all of the fresh products, and farmers love talking to potential new, young customers. A word of caution: famers do not appreciate having their produce handled constantly. Remember that, in most cases, this is their livelihood, so handle with care only the items you intend to purchase, as best you can.

farmersmarketweek2Educate yourself on where your food is coming from. Produce bought at the local supermarket and big box stores is most likely not West Virginia grown. For example, most tomatoes come from Florida, grapes from California, apples from Washington, potatoes from Idaho, and onions from as far away as Peru! When you buy from the local farmers market, you can be guaranteed that your foods are coming fresh from the farm down the street, down the road or in a nearby town. By knowing how far your food has traveled, you’ll better understand the benefits of buying local – the food is fresher for you and you’re helping your community farmers! Share this information with your children, even showing them the distances of common food travel on a map or globe. It’s a great visual for the youngsters to learn the importance of buying local and supporting small farmers.

Play the “local food hula hoop game” with your children. This is a fun way to show how far food actually has to travel, work on food recognition for the younger crew and get some exercise in, too! Here’s how you do it.

Local Food Hula Hoop Game

Materials: 10-12 hula hoops or sidewalk chalk; fake plastic fruits and vegetables or laminated pictures, some for West Virginia (apples, lettuce, tomato, pepper, peas, beans grapes) and some for Mexico (pepper, tomato, beans, mango, banana, grapes)

Optional, but fun: pictures of the maps of countries and states that you travel through to get from Mexico to West Virginia (Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky); picture of a grocery store; pictures of two farms


  • Draw one giant circle or lay down one hula hoop for the grocery store
  • Pick the “Local Food” side of the playing area and draw a circle or lay down a hula hoop for the WV Farm
  • On the other side, draw or lay down one hula hoop for each state/country that the food must travel through, then add one more circle for the Mexico farm
  • Place WV foods in the WV farm, place Mexico foods in the Mexico farm

Playing the Game:

  • One person is the grocery store manager and must make food orders. The other players each pick West Virginia or Mexico to represent.
  • The grocery store manager calls out fruits and vegetables and one farmer from each side must choose their vegetable or fruit and hop from circle to circle to get the order to the store.
  • SOME foods will not be available at all farm locations.

Questions to ask:

  • Which food do you think is fresher?
  • What happens when there is a food recall out of a Mexican farm?
  • What about if there is bad weather along the truck route?

These are just a couple ideas – and a fun game – to introduce farmers markets into your family life. To learn more about farmers markets and National Farmers Market Week, visit the Farmers Market Coalition website!


The Impact of 4-H: A True Leader Looks Back

By Brad Cochran, WVSU Extension Agent for Community and Agricultural Resource Development

Cherokee Tribal Song 2008 Putnam County 4-H CampHead, Heart, Hands, Health, and Holy Cow – This Program Changed My Life!

I pledge my head to clearer thought, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world. When I was a kid in 4-H, I would recite that pledge during each club meeting, each flag-raising ceremony at 4-H camp and during other 4-H interactions throughout the year. To be honest, I never put much thought into what those words truly meant. The older I get (maybe wiser, too?), the more I understand what Otis Hall, the state leader in Kansas, was meaning when he wrote the pledge that was adopted in 1927.

I pledge my head to clearer thought. When I went through the 4-H Charting project in 2006, I learned so much more about myself and others in my Charting group than I could have ever imagined. I learned my fears – not just that I’m scared of heights but what I truly feared in life. Granted, the specifics of what I feared then and now have changed, but I learned to recognize those fears and how to hit them head-on and push through them. I learned to care for the others in my Charting group. Whether it was giving advice on how to handle a situation, learning to clear my head and overcome a fear of heights when we did our trust fall, or just generally taking a step back and thinking each and every situation through, the 4-H Charting program, and earning my 4-H Charting pin, was one of the most impactful times of my 4-H membership.

I pledge my heart to greater loyalty. I thought I had always been a loyal person, but then I joined 4-H. I learned a great deal about loyalty through this program. Whether it was loyalty toward my tribe at 4-H camp (How How, Cherokees!), loyalty to my friends for a lifetime that I met through 4-H or just general loyalty to this youth development program, I truly learned what it meant to be loyal to something. Through 4-H, I learned that being loyal to something is more than just showing up to meetings every month or completing a 4-H project book. It was about opening up my heart to the message of 4-H and becoming a better person because of it. When you stand back and think of the four Hs, it takes all of them to become a well-rounded person. I won’t say that any one H is more important than the next, but, from my perspective, the Heart is where it all begins.

I pledge my hands to larger service. I have always been engaged in community service, and perhaps this is why I am in Extension today, doing what I love. Having the opportunity to work directly in my community and in my county truly made an impact in my life. Whether it was making Halloween treat bags to take to kids in the local hospital, litter sweeps at 4-H camp and in my community, or doing fundraisers to help kids come to 4-H camp, they all gave me a perspective into community service.

Chief Year_Putnam County 4-H Camp 2009I pledge my health to better living. In the beginning of my time as a 4-Her, this H always seemed to be the outlier. It wasn’t until a few years in that I truly realized why this H was included. Without our health, we have nothing. 4-H was developed as a way to keep young people active and engaged in the community, state and country. For me, 4-H did just that. I’ve had the opportunity to exhibit market hogs at the county fair, where I won Senior Division Showmanship three years in a row; I’ve had some of my 4-H projects move on to the state fair for judging; and I’ve attended State 4-H camps. But my favorite week of the year was that annual county 4-H camp. It was the place where I made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Whether it was running around at the “field swim meet” after the pool was closed, dancing until my legs hurt to “Amos Moses” or just having a great time with great friends, it was always the healthiest week of my summer, from physical activity to friendship-building to mental health.

To thank everyone who changed my life through 4-H would take the length of a novel, but to anyone who has ever crossed my path, from my first club meeting until I aged out of the program, or while I received my West Virginia 4-H All-Star pin, I say “Thank You!” It is because of you that I am who I am today. To sum up my experience in 4-H in just a few words would be very difficult, as this program has truly “Made the Best Better” and helped me become a True Leader.

For my best attempt at summing up my 4-H experience into just two words, here goes: HOW HOW!

River Expeditions photo

Wild, Wonderful (and Cheap!) WV Outdoor Adventures

By Chris Zeto, Extension Agent

West Virginia is widely known for its many “Wild, Wonderful” outdoor adventures. Since spring has officially sprung, it’s time to get outside and have some fun. Whether you are interested in taking a leisurely stroll through one of the many state parks or hitting some challenging off-road ATV trails, West Virginia has something for everyone. Listed below are some free or inexpensive outdoor adventures that are a must for 2016:

For more information on these and other outdoor adventures, please visit GoToWV.com or call 1-800-CALL-WVA. Go outside and play in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

SCRATCH feature image

Huntington Students Reap Benefits of School Garden

IMG_3529Students at Spring Hill Elementary School in Huntington have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables thanks to a school garden developed through WVSU Extension Service’s SCRATCH Project. SCRATCH, or Sustainable Community Revitalization in Appalachia Through Children’s Hands, teaches youth about agriculture and entrepreneurship through hands-on instruction in gardening and business management, leading to the creation of young “agri-preneurs.”

“SCRATCH has made a significant impact at Spring Hill Elementary, highlighting the positive outcome that gardening has on our students,” says Sara Barraclough, technology integration specialist at Spring Hill Elementary School. “Our SCRATCH partners have been diligent in their efforts to assist Spring Hill Elementary as we work to provide students with the unique opportunities that school gardening has to offer.”

Those opportunities have proven fruitful at the school. Using the innovative Junior Master Gardener curriculum, students have gained hands-on experience in garden management that is also impacting staff, who are not only recognizing the effects gardening has on changing students’ relationships with food but are also incorporating sustainable practices into school operations.

“Many students that have been working with SCRATCH for several years are leaders in the school-wide gardening project that we are developing,” Barraclough says. “One of our third-graders was inspired to create a compost for the garden so that we can reduce food waste in the cafeteria.”

IMG_3549Through donations and community support, organizers have expanded existing garden beds; built a terraced garden with space for each Spring Hill classroom; and purchased seeds, student-friendly garden tools, and equipment for food preparation and storage.

Now, thanks to a $10,000 grant from Seeds of Change, Spring Hill Elementary School’s garden will become an even stronger sustainable resource of fresh fruits and vegetables for students in the food desert community of Huntington.

“We look forward to continuing the work that SCRATCH has upstarted here and to fostering our relationship with the amazing individuals that have supported and encouraged us along the way,” Barraclough says.

To learn how you can support the SCRATCH Project, visit scratchproject.org.

(Photos by Sara Barraclough)


Program Spotlight: Cold Chain Initiative

By Matt Browning, Director of Communications

Grocery shopping has become quite a chore for Robin Turner. The WVSU extension agent spent the better part of 2015 learning about the proper handling and storage of fresh produce for the University’s new cold chain initiative, which educates farmers on how to keep their crops fresher longer during the post-harvest process.

“Shopping can be difficult,” Turner says with a laugh. “I’ll sometimes walk into a market and cringe at how things are being stored and showcased.”

Now armed with a wealth of knowledge of proper food handling and storage, Turner is on a mission to impart the same education onto the state’s farmers, with the ultimate goal of providing the consumer with better fruits and vegetables. Thanks to a grant from the USDA’s 1890 Capacity-Building Grants Program, she’s well on her way.

Turner spent the fall and winter providing training to a series of 20 farms during the first pilot phase of the program. Through a series of four workshops, participants learned about all aspects of care before harvest, after harvest, all the way to the consumer, using proper cold storage techniques.

Cold storage, or cold chain, technology refers to the proper refrigeration and storage of crops during the time between harvest by the farmer and end purchase by the consumer to help ensure peak freshness. But, it’s more than simply temperature control – it’s a scientific process with multiple facets of instruction.

One facet, for example, is educating farmers on information they can share with the buyer to prolong the life of the fresh produce. It’s all meant to create a healthier system of locally grown produce in the Mountain State.

“The local foods movement is being embraced all over, which is great,” she says. “But we’ve learned that many small-scale farmers lack the resources necessary to maximize the life of the crops they’re growing. The old adage that one bad apple destroys the bunch, for instance, is true, and that surprises some people.”

Arming the state’s small farmers with knowledge about post-harvest, cold storage technologies will help fill the gap that currently exists in farmer education. The resources that do exist, Turner says, tend to target large-scale producers, not necessarily the family farmer peddling wares at the local farmers market.

“Lots of small farms are participating in farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs, and so on,” Turner says, “but the crops aren’t maintaining long-term freshness because of improper cold storage practices during post-harvest.”

Part of the problem is not only a lack of education but also a lack of affordable resources. WVSU’s project is not only providing the needed education but also looks to provide the same high-level resources available to large-scale producers at a more affordable price.

“We’re hoping to show them, ‘here’s what the big guys can do, and here’s how you can implement the same practices on a smaller, more affordable scale,’” Turner says.

Teaming with the West Virginia National Guard, WVSU Extension Service is helping repurpose many of the state’s former armory sites into agricultural education and resource centers, complete with cold storage equipment and technology that will be readily available to small farmers. Turner has been providing workshops through the project at armory sites already, and demand is increasing.

ColdChain2“The first series of trainings has gone very well, and interest is growing,” Turner says. “We’re excited to see what’s next.”

The pilot phase targeted 20 farms in a regional cluster, and organizers plan to expand into new regions of the state soon. In the meantime, Turner will continue working with the pilot participants to ensure they are correctly implementing what they learned during winter training into the farms during the growing season. She’ll be performing site visits this spring and summer, providing farmers with technologies such as CoolBot thermostatic controllers and cooler systems to incorporate into their practices.

The cold chain initiative is supported by the USDA 1890 Capacity Building Grants Program Award No. 2014-38821-22397 and the 1890 Center for Excellence Award No. CSF-1609-W.


Program Spotlight: Healthy Grandfamilies

Did you know West Virginia currently ranks fourth in the nation for grandparents raising grandchildren?

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, more than 40,000 children under the age of 18 in West Virginia are living in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives. To help meet the needs of this unique family dynamic, we’re partnering with the WVSU Department of Social Work to launch the new Healthy Grandfamilies initiative. The project is a series of free workshops and follow-up support targeting grandparents who are raising one or more of their grandchildren.

The program consists of nine workshops on the following topics:

  • Parenting in the 21st Century
  • Family Relationships: A new dynamic
  • Communication: When no one talks and everyone texts
  • Technology & Social Media: The dangers, pitfalls & plusses
  • Nutrition: Balancing diets when everyone is “on the go”
  • Legal Issues & Documents: Getting past all the legal issues to learn “who is really in charge”
  • Health Literacy & Self-Care: How to take care of your own health issues in this new family dynamic
  • Healthy Lifestyles & Stress Management: Learn how to manage your stress – and the stress of your grandchildren
  • Negotiating the Public School System: Learn about Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) and how to help your grandchildren with homework

Participants are provided three months of free follow-up services with a Licensed Social Worker. Such services include assistance with locating community resources, confidential help in meeting unique family needs and advocacy services.

Workshops are slated to begin this spring in the St. Albans area. The initiative will kick off with a meet-and-greet style Open House on Tuesday, April 26, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church of St. Albans.

Learn more about the WVSU Healthy Grandfamilies project on our website and Facebook page.

Healthy Grandfamilies is funded by the USDA’s Capacity Building Grants Program, Award No. 2015-38821-24374.


4-H Grow True Leaders Campaign

By Kelli Batch, Assistant Program Director, Resilient Youth & Families

Youth are faced with many obstacles in today’s world. Luckily, there are many youth out there who are doing their part to make their communities, their world, a better place. That’s what being a member of 4-H is all about. Youth who participate in 4-H are:

  • Four times more likely to make contributions to their communities (Grades 7-12);
  • Two times more likely to be civically active (Grades 8-12);
  • Two times more likely to make healthier choices (Grade 7);
  • Two times more likely to participate in Science, Engineering and Computer Technology programs during out-of-school time (Grades 10 – 12); and
  • 4-H girls are two times  more likely (Grade 10) and nearly three times more likely (Grade 12) to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities.

Through programs that focus on health, science, citizenship and mentoring, 4-H youth are given the resources and skills to grow into true leaders in their communities. So, as a community, we should do our part to encourage and recognize these dynamic youth, these “true leaders.” During the months of April through June, we at 4-H are honoring youth who are making impacts in their own lives and the lives of others through the 4-H Grow True Leaders Shout Campaign. We want to recognize the hard work and dedication of our 4-H members by giving them shout outs on social media using the hashtag #TrueLeaders. You’ll find our shout outs in places like:

Let’s show our 4-H’ers that their efforts are noticed, appreciated and impactful. Join us at 4-H as we continue to “Grow True Leaders”!



NYT Best-selling Author Forrest Pritchard to Headline WV Urban Agriculture Conference


By Matt Browning, Director of Communications

“Gorgeous, delectable and fascinating.” “…the book that will inspire farmers, chefs, and consumers to do the right thing.”

These are some of the words used to describe the work of New York Times best-selling author and organic farmer Forrest Pritchard.

Pritchard will headline the third annual West Virginia Urban Agriculture Conference, happening on the WVSU campus Saturday, April 30. The event will feature workshops on topics such as horticulture, homesteading, conservation, marketing, adaptive gardening and livestock. Pritchard will provide the keynote address.

“I think it is wonderful that Mr. Pritchard is able to come to the conference and share his story of realizing his farm dream,” said West Virginia University Extension Agent and Conference Coordinator John Porter.  “I think it is important for people to realize that it is possible not only to save money by growing your own food, but it could be a full-time job and provide for economic stability for you and your family. It’s a message we haven’t heard enough during the economic crisis – that farming is a business and you can become an entrepreneur by doing something that you love.”

WVSU Extension Service is partnering with WVU Extension Service and the Capitol Conservation District to host the event, which stemmed from an increasing interest in urban agriculture planners were seeing in their workshops and trainings.

“This conference is the result of many people coming together to support the agricultural community, both urban and rural, in West Virginia,” Porter said. “Not only are we providing much-needed information and education, we are also helping to build a network here in the Mountain State centered on people producing food for themselves and their neighbors.”

In addition to workshops, the event includes a post-conference local foods reception and vendor exhibits. Beginning gardeners to expert agriculturalists are invited to attend.

Registration is available through April 15 at a rate of $45. A full schedule and online registration is available at urbanagwv.com.

Additional conference partners include the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).

Register for the conference by Friday, April 8, for a chance to win a free copy of Forrest’s book “Growing Tomorrow.” Five lucky winners will be randomly chosen among all conference registrants. Forrest will be signing copies of his books during the post-conference reception.