Cooperative Extension Offers Virtual Courses

woman-writing-on-her-notebook-3059747Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists have long offered hands-on educational workshops to share agricultural and consumer information with farmers and the public. But in the age of COVID-19, they’ve had to switch to virtual workshops.

“Virginia Cooperative Extension is rooted in a history of helping our communities thrive, no matter what the challenge,” said Dan Goerlich, Extension associate director for economy, community and food at Virginia Tech. “This means not only adapting our programs to meet needs but also doing whatever else in our communities needs to be done. For example, we have agents sewing medical masks, helping in food pantries and setting up online reading rooms for kids.”

“With regard to delivering educational programs, we have adapted to the coronavirus pandemic by rapidly adjusting our programming to an online format so we can continue to reach our clients,” he added.

In just one week, COVID-19 informational webinars, online marketing sales, virtual 4-H club meetings and training sessions were hosted by Extension specialists. Extension agents worked with the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association to move the 41st annual Southwest Virginia Performance Tested Bull Sale from a traditional on-site barn sale to an electronic auction. During that virtual event, 115 bulls were sold at an average premium price of $3,230, Goerlich said.

At Virginia State University, Dr. Reza Rafie conducted a March 26 blueberry workshop at Randolph Farm via Facebook Live. The event that typically is attended by 35 participants has been viewed more than 1,600 times online, according to Michelle Olgers, director of marketing and communications for VSU’s College of Agriculture and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“This was interactive; 154 people have asked questions, and we answered many of them live during the program,” Olgers said. “Others asked questions after the program ended, and Dr. Rafie was still answering questions over the weekend. We couldn’t have done that in a live program. We had a lavalier mic on Rafie, and we had our videographer hold his own phone. And then we had a third person there fielding the questions and posing them to Rafie.”

Goerlich added that VSU is “encouraging our faculty at research stations and on campus to develop virtual field days and hope to have a list of dates in the not too distant future.” VSU usually offers 200 such events a year.

Extension leaders across the state will be notifying the public of upcoming virtual events and webinars. “We are figuring out by the hour which delivery vehicle makes the most sense for which program,” Olgers said.

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