Community & Agricultural Resource Development

Beckley Rings in the Holidays with Pop-Up Shops

By Christine Kinder, WVSU Extension Agent

Downtown Beckley is ringing in the holiday season with a variety of special events relating to Shop Small Saturday, the annual event to encourage shopping at local small businesses.

The Downtown Beckley Business Association (DBBA) is thrilled to once again host the Small Business Saturday Pop-Up Shops Nov. 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Shop Small Saturday.

The event will strengthen the economic base of our local community by supporting small, independent businesses and property owners by creating pop-up shops in The Grant building on Neville St. and promoting retail businesses along Main St. and Neville St. downtown. This event allows business owners the opportunity to be exposed to hundreds of new customers and is also an opportunity for pop-up vendors to explore the possibilities of a downtown location.

Small Business Saturday, an annual national event sponsored by American Express, provides communities an opportunity to advertise their local businesses through “swag” containing promotional materials such as balloons, banners, stickers and the very popular Shop Small tote bag to entice customers to come out and shop.

To help promote our event this year, we partnered with Beckley Rocks! to plan a painted rock scavenger hunt throughout downtown. Beckley Rocks! and DBBA recently held a rock painting party, which provided the community a fun space to create painted rocks to use for the hunt. The rocks will be hidden around downtown and inside of participating retail shops to encourage people to get out and explore downtown Beckley.

Participating shops include: Dragon’s Den Comics and Games, On Point Acupuncture, Roma’s Pizza, Tickety Boo Mercantile, Melody’s, Grand Food Bazaar, Kilted Barber, Matt’s Main Street Barber Shop and Shave, Brown Dog Bottom, and The Consignment Company on Main. We hope this will attract even more customers and that they will discover new shops and spend money locally to support our independent businesses.

The holiday spirit will be flowing through the streets, as businesses will have decorated windows thanks to the Holiday Window Decorating Contest sponsored by the DBBA. We are encouraging businesses downtown to decorate their windows before the Nov. 25 event by holding a contest where the community will vote for their favorite window. The winning window will be awarded a trophy, and all participants will earn appreciation for helping to brighten up our downtown.

Check out the Small Business Saturday Pop-Up Shops flier here.

To learn more, contact WVSU Extension Agent Christine Kinder.

Alternative Vegetable Growing System Helps Feed McDowell County Residents

An alternative growing method for fresh vegetables is helping feed the citizens of Welch, W.Va., thanks to an initiative led by West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service. The University’s aquaponics system, installed at the Welch Armory, recently produced 150 pounds of fresh lettuce that was donated to residents of a local housing community.

Aquaponics refers to a system in which fish waste supplies nutrients for plant growth. The armory’s system, consisting of three 1,200-gallon tanks filled with tilapia inside a high tunnel structure, is connected to a recirculating hydroponic growing system, which allows plants to grow in the absence of soil in a raised-bed environment. Part of a research project led by WVSU Biology Professor Dr. Jonathan Eya, waste from the fish is used to feed the plants through the recirculating water system. Varying levels of nutrients are provided to the fish in each tank to study the effects of differing feed levels on both fish and plant growth, which, in the initial pilot phase, consisted of lettuce and kale varieties. The project’s first lettuce harvest was donated to residents at Elkhorn Terrace in Welch.

Such aquaponics systems could provide a more sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative growing method for West Virginia farmers on land that isn’t well suited to traditional agriculture.

“Systems such as this give us a way to move onto a piece of land that perhaps has been developed and abandoned, is formerly mined, or vacant lots with soils not suitable for vegetable production,” said WVSU Extension Agent John Bombardiere. “The raised-bed construction also helps in areas prone to high waters from flooding. These systems can be put just about anywhere.”

The Welch Armory is located at 600 Stewart St. in Welch.

What Do I Pack for an Off-Road Trail Ride?

By Chris Zeto, WVSU Extension Agent

In my last post, I talked a little about the many off-road trail options that exist in West Virginia. This time, we’ll discuss the items you’ll need to bring along on your next adventure. Before you venture out, even if you are an experienced rider, be sure you have the necessary equipment and gear you need to hit the trails.

For starters, remember to always wear an approved helmet and protective eyewear. Over-the-ankle footwear and gloves are also strongly encouraged for ATV riding. These basic items, along with a jersey and riding pants or water-resistant pants, not only offer greater protection than ‘everyday’ clothes, but also make riding much more comfortable. After all, what you wear on the trail is as important as what you wear off the trail!

Riding gear is encouraged because it protects you from the elements—including branches, bugs, mud and dust that may come your way. And should you crash your ATV, you’ll be glad your head, eyes and body are protected.

Below is a checklist of everything you need to make your next off-road trip a success.

On-The-Trail Checklist

  • Helmet
  • Protective eyewear – Goggles are preferred, but sunglasses or safety glasses are acceptable.
  • Over-the-ankle footwear – Boots are preferred, but high-top sneakers are acceptable.
  • Long, water-resistant pants are suggested – Shorts are accepted, but not encouraged.
  • Earplugs
  • Snacks
  • Water (and plenty of it)
  • Bug spray
  • Cell phone
  • Maps, because you cannot always count on GPS along the trails.

Off-the-Trail Checklist

  • Fresh T-shirt
  • Dry, clean pants
  • Change of shoes and socks
  • Toiletry bag to freshen up
  • Towel

Having these items along with you will ensure you’re ready to conquer any off-road trails that you encounter. Have fun but be safe!

Happy trails!

Chris Zeto is a WVSU Extension Agent for Community Resource and Economic Development in Logan County, working with Hatfield-McCoy Trails. Photo courtesy of Hatfield-McCoy Trails.

Off-Road Options for a West Virginia Summer Vacation

By Chris Zeto, WVSU Extension Agent

It’s summertime!

Are you still considering vacation destination options? Perhaps the beach? The zoo? An amusement park? Off-road trails?

Wait…off-road trails? What?

Yes, off-road trails can be one of the best family vacations you’ll find, especially right here in the Mountain State. Take time to explore the options in southern West Virginia by visiting the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. This off-road park offers more than 600 miles of thrill-seeking ATV, UTV, dirt bike and Jeep trails that will keep you coming back for more.

While traveling along these exciting trails, you will learn about West Virginia’s history by visiting the different ATV-friendly towns. Visit the town of Matewan to learn about the Hatfield-McCoy Feud and the infamous Matewan Massacre. Visit the town of Gilbert to learn how moonshine is made. Visit the town of Bramwell to tour some magnificent mansions. Visit the city of Logan and take a trip down the river in a kayak or canoe. While you are in town, don’t forget to stop by one or two of the wonderful local restaurants for some down-home southern cooking. With over 600 miles of trails, you won’t see the same spot twice and will fill your day with some lovely, scenic views. After a day full of exploring the trails and history, relax by the campfire while nibbling on a hot “s’more” and listening to some local bluegrass music.

Exciting vacation destinations are available all over West Virginia, even closer to home than you might think. It’s time to make your reservations and make memories that will last a lifetime. Next week on the blog, look for my checklist of items to ensure you’ve got everything you’ll need on your next trail adventure!

Happy trails!

Chris Zeto is a WVSU Extension Agent for Community Resource and Economic Development in Logan County, working with Hatfield-McCoy Trails. Photo courtesy of Hatfield-McCoy Trails.

Nov. 17: Annual Take a Hike Day

By Ray Moeller, CARD Extension Agent

This Thursday, Nov. 17, marks national “Take a Hike” Day. Below are two not-so-well-known hikes that I often enjoy in southern West Virginia.

Long Point on Summersville Lake
This trail meanders through mature forest growth, leading to a rock outcropping that is 40 feet high at a sharp bend in the Gauley River, which becomes part of Summersville Lake during the summer months. The hike is between one and one-half miles and two miles one-way and there are several off trail options. There is little chance of becoming turned around as the hike traverses a point which is defined on both sides by Summersville Lake itself. To find the trail, drive on U.S. Route 19 south of Summersville and turn west onto Airport Road, which leads to the marina and Mountain Lake Campground. Drive on Airport Road past the marina road, the campground store and the airport. When you come to a gate, park along the roadway and follow the two tracks to the trail signs. The view from the point is terrific, just be aware that children will require careful oversight as there are no hand rails or fencing.

The Falls of Hills Creek
This trail is a hidden gem in the Gauley District of the Monongahela National Forest. Travel east out of Richwood on Highway 55/39 for approximately 20 miles to the marked parking area at the Falls of Hills Creek. The trail leads alongside three falls that are increasing in height. Be warned that the trail is downhill to the last of the falls with many stairs to negotiate. Thus the hiker will be required to return uphill along the same stairs and incline. The falls are particularly beautiful in times of more significant rainfall, especially in the spring of the year, when flowers brighten the landscape and the new growth allows for enhanced sight lines. The total distance is approximately three-quarters of a mile one way, of which the first 1,700 feet paved, with the remainder of the trail more strenuous.

 

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

Layout:

  • 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!

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:

groupride
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.

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.