Community & Agricultural Resource Development

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.

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

UrbanAgPoster

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.

 

 

 

 

Post Harvest Techniques for the Consumer

by Robin Turner, Extension Agent

Purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market or grocery store is a great way to ensure a healthy diet. But, do you ever wish you could keep those items fresh longer? Let’s look at some post-harvest storage tips to maintain a longer life for your fresh produce.

“Post-harvest” is defined as the handling of fresh produce from the point of harvest to when the product reaches the end user. Quality of fresh produce can never be regained after it is lost. Every fruit and vegetable has its own set of storage conditions that is temperature and moisture (humidity) dependent. With proper harvesting, pre-cooling and storage techniques, fresh produce can be stored to its maximum time. Following proven post-harvest techniques will slow softening (over-ripening), wilting, decay and odors.

The following chart, adapted from Storing Fresh Vegetables for Better Taste, lists appropriate storage temperatures for a variety of fruits and vegetables.

ColdStorageChart

It is important to remember to refrigerate your fresh produce once it is cut or peeled for safety reasons. Produce should be stored in a moisture-resistant bag with air holes; this will prevent condensation, allow airflow and retain humidity. Remember to wash produce with clean running water before consuming, even when peeling. This will ensure that dirt from the outside does not transfer to the inside.

Fruit Tree Pruning and Maintenance

by Brad Cochran, WVSU Extension Agent

For those of us with fruit trees like apples, peaches, plums, cherries, pears and others, March can seemingly be the most labor intensive month of the year. However, March is also the most important month of the year when it comes to the fruit production that will occur on your trees during the coming growing season. This time of year, when the cabin fever is at a level you just can’t stand, is the time to get outside and prune your fruit trees to encourage new growth and also to help our fruit grow larger and become much better tasting. Don’t worry… pruning isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds and this guide can help you feel more comfortable with it in just a few short minutes.

Tips for better fruit tree pruning

  1. First, remove any limbs or branches that are broken, dead, dying or showing signs of disease or insect damage from the previous year. These branches will not be producing quality fruit if they are still living, and generally will be a great place for insects and diseases to enter the tree and wreak havoc, potentially killing the entire tree. Simply take your hand pruners or loppers and cut the branches out at a minimum to the next major fork in the branch. If you are removing insect or disease infested branches then it is recommended to remove at least an additional 6”, but to be safe you should remove more than that. Sometimes this requires the removal of the entire limb all the way back to the main trunk. If this is the case then you want to prune using the following removal method, which includes 3 different cuts with a handsaw.FruitTreePruning

    This cutting method will allow you to prune the limb without damaging the rest of the tree.

  2. Next, remove branches that are crossing others, those that are too vertical or those that are too horizontal. When branches cross and touch other branches the wind can cause the branches to rub against each other and remove the bark creating a place for insects and disease to enter the tree. In this case, just choose one branch and remove the other. Typically, you want to choose the thickest, strongest branch that is near at 45 degree angle, but all things being equal just choose one and remove the other. If branches are too vertical (i.e. straight up and down) these branches are called watersprouts and should be removed. These branches will only be vegetative and will not produce fruit. If branches are horizontal or even going downward then they should be removed as well for the same reasons that they will not produce fruit and if they do it is likely that the weight of the fruit will break the branches off.
  3. Finally, remove branches that are growing inward toward the middle of the tree. The number 1 goal of pruning is to keep the tree healthy and productive. To help do this, we need to be sure that there is plenty of airflow getting into the middle of the tree to help dry off the leaves and branches to reduce the likelihood of mildews, blights and other diseases that can harbor in water. By keeping the middle of the tree as open as possible we can decrease the likelihood of these issues arising during the season.

These three steps are a great start to getting your trees pruned in a proper manner that will keep the tree strong and productive in the growing season. If you have an older tree that hasn’t been pruned in many years, then it is recommended to do these same steps but over the course of about 3–4 years to avoid reverting the tree into a juvenile state creating lots of vertical growth and poor looking trees.

If you’re in the Charleston, W.Va., area on March 16, consider attending our Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop on campus. Details, including registration information, can be found here.

Happy pruning!

Gardening Season Extension Techniques

by John Bombardiere, Extension Agent

March is perhaps the most unpredictable weather month of the year. Temperatures can be near 70 degrees one day and in the 30s the next, so it’s hard to believe any plants outside of a greenhouse could still be growing given the fluctuating climate. The kale and chard in our raised beds gave up in January and February after hanging on throughout a mild early winter, and we have several months to wait before we can plant peppers and tomatoes in the garden again. But there are a few places in the state that still are producing lettuce and greens. High tunnels have been installed on hundreds of West Virginia farms over the past few years. These structures consist of a metal frame, wooden baseboards and plastic covering. They can keep frost off plants in the fall and early spring, and in combination with row covers, can keep lettuce and greens alive and well during even the coldest nights.

For early spring planting outdoors, a few options exist. For frost-sensitive plants, row covers can be used to get fruiting vegetable transplants off to an early start without suffering the consequences of an unexpected frost. These are often called “floating” row covers because they can lay over the plants without harming the leaves like plastic covering will do. For individual rows, hoops made of wire can support the covers. This is called a low tunnel. This saves material and allows for better access to and monitoring of plants. Brands of row covers include AgriBon and Remay. These can be ordered from seed and garden suppliers. Locally, feed and hardware stores sell tobacco cloth that serves the same purpose.

Soil temperature is important for early seed starts outdoors. In order to start seeds in late April and early May, clear plastic mulches are used. The clear mulches transmit solar radiation into the seedbed, warming the soil to proper temperature to allow seed germination. This is a common practice for early direct seeded crops such as green beans and sweet corn.

For more information about high tunnels, ground cover and plastic mulches see the following links:

Finally, always remember to check your city’s ordinances pertaining to the erection of such structures before beginning construction.

5 Steps for Spring Garden Planning

By Valerie Bandell, SCRATCH Project Production Coordinator

January and early February is the time to start thinking about your garden and planning your upcoming growing season. Perusing the new seed catalogs is one of my favorite activities, but can also become overwhelming as I flip through hundreds of pages of seeds. Following these five simple steps can help ease your mind during the process and prepare for a bountiful harvest all year long.

Step 1: Catalog existing and leftover seed stocks from previous years.

Most of us will have leftover seed from the previous years or may have unearthed old packets that got lodged in the back of the cabinet. The best way to decide what seeds you need for the next season is to figure out what you already have. Go through your old seed packets and make a list of the varieties and numbers of seeds you already have in your possession. While inventorying, be conscious and take note of the dates and germination rates posted on the packets. Seeds will lose viability over the years, especially if not stored properly from season to season. To get the most out of your growing season, you want to make sure you start with healthy, viable seeds!

SCRATCHProjectSeedsStep 2: Conduct a seed germination test.

A simple at-home seed germination test can help you determine which older or leftover seeds to plant, and which are probably best thrown out so that you can maximize yields and returns on your efforts. For a germination test you will want to test at least 10 seeds; however, the more you test the more accurate your results will be. Seedsavers.org has a good step-by-step guide. Once the test is completed, you will have a better idea of which seeds from previous years you can reuse, better ensuring your efforts won’t be fruitless.

Step 3: Map out your garden.

The next important step is to map out your garden and plan your entire growing season. In doing so, you can ensure you have enough seeds for the entire season, while also ensuring you are maximizing bed space so that when one crop comes out another goes in. This process will also give you a sense of your anticipated harvest. I prefer to do my garden mapping with paper and pencil; however, there are online apps and programs available, if you prefer. I recommend the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner.

Step 4: Determine which seeds you need.

You should now have a list of viable seeds from previous years and a garden plan with total square footage of growing space broken down for each type of plant. From this, you can consult seed packets and catalogs to determine how many seeds you will need to purchase for the year. I recommend looking at a variety of seed catalogs to compare available varieties and pricing.

Step 5: Select and order the correct seeds.

While flipping through the seed catalogs, look for seeds that were developed or originated in regions with similar climates as the one in which you will be growing. If you have a small space you may want to consider varieties that are compact and high yielding to maximize your growing space. If you live somewhere with a short growing season you will want to look for varieties that mature quickly. Besides climate you will also want to look at size, yield, sun requirements and disease resistance. Seed orders can be placed online or through catalog, phone and mail orders. Some of my favorites are Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Saver’s Exchange.

What are some of your favorite places to browse for seeds? Let us know in the comments below!