Back Where I Began

Today was my last day on the internship, I can’t believe it! These 10 weeks have flown by. We spent the day visiting teachers, creating Elizabeth’s 4-H schedule for the new school year. As a welcome back gift we also handed out goody bags of that office-made salsa and Doritos to all the teachers and faculty Elizabeth works with. It is too bad my internship did not cover any of the school year! It would have been fun to work with kids in the classroom.

It’s funny that on my last day we visited Bland K-12 because that’s what we did on my first day! On the first day though we were wrapping up things from last school year. A very circular experience and such a BLAST. I had no idea what Bland VA was until I was offered the job and did not know what to expect. Coming out here to Bland County was possibly the best thing to happen to me after graduating college. I have learned SO much, had all the adventures I hoped for, and more. It is nearly impossible to summarize it. Being in a new place and culture on my own has positively influenced every aspect of my life. I have an even sharper sense of who I am and what I want to do now that I have entered the “real” world.

My next step is to go back home and continue applying for jobs. Be it with the extension, conservation districts, or a consulting agency my goal is to get a job that mixes environmental policy, science, and education. With my stronger sense of direction I am very excited and confident that I will find my way.

Home for me is the tidewater area of Virginia, and I have no clue where I will end up, but southwestern Virginia will always be near to my heart. Of course, I plan on visiting when I can, catching up with the new friends I have made and enjoying the beautiful trails and rivers. I will forever be thankful for my surrogate mothers and father, Kathryn Dunn and Elizabeth and Randy Johnson, for bringing me out here and looking after me. My time with the Virginia Cooperative Extension in Bland has been wonderful and I hope many more interns get to experience it!


I can can.

We have been cooking up a storm in the office this past week and a half!

As gifts for teachers and members of the Bland community we canned salsa and strawberry preserves, baked whoopie pies, blueberry pound cake, cheddar-garlic biscuits, and a four layer chocolate dessert, AND made spaghetti. I enjoy cooking, so I am excited to have learned these new recipes. I had never canned before and the process was a lot simpler than expected. We just made the salsa and preserves, poured them in the jars, and let the topped jars sit in boiling water for 15 minutes to seal them. My co-workers have inspired me to start canning too! It is so much cheaper to can than to buy salsa, preserves, or pickles in the store.

My stomach has been on sugar overload the past few days, but all our goodies were so delicious!



I have officially been indoctrinated to the country life now that I have spent a day working on a dairy farm and herding cattle. Though it was a stinky day, I had a blast and learned lots about farming.

My supervisor Elizabeth and her husband Randy took me to the Morehead Dairy Farm in Bland, where Randy works on occasion when he’s not tending to his own farm. At this farm Holstein cows are bred and milked, since that species yields more milk than any other. The first task was to feed the babies. We filled plastic bottles with a milk substitute, a powder mixed with water, packed with more nutrients than that of their mothers. A bottle was given to each of the 15 calves. Calves are taken from their mothers as soon as they are born and kept separated in small pens for the first few weeks of their lives. I was surprised at how big they were! They were super cute and would suckle your fingers if you stuck your hand in the pen. Most had milk dribbled on their faces, and they would suck on each other to get all the last drops, which was pretty funny.

I got a little tour of the farm, only seeing a few of the hundreds of acres. It was interesting to see the machinery used to milk the cows. The cows are milked twice a day with suction tubes that ensure the milk never touches the outside world. The milk is sent to a giant tub that holds hundreds of gallons. Each cow has an electronic collar that is recognized by the machinery to keep track of how much milk each cow is producing. Another new sight were the piles of feed kept in a long structure of conjoined sheds. There were piles filling each shed including different minerals, cotton seed, and cracked corn. I purposefully fell into the soft cotton seed, it was so comfy! We ended our tour in the large open air building where the cows were bred. This building had four lines of metal “traps” and food. The cows, when roused from lazing around, stuck their heads in between poles to get to the food, and these poles would shift to keep the cow from getting out. That way the workers could safely breed them. I was invited to help, but I declined. Somehow the need for a long glove going up to your shoulder for artificial insemination was not appealing.

Three of their cows had stopped breeding and producing milk, so it was time for us to take them to market. The market is where people can purchase all sorts of livestock. The cows we sent most likely went to feed lots out west, where cows are fattened up before being butchered. On the way back we stopped at a feed store to pick up a ton of salt blocks.

After the dairy farm Randy brought me to his farm where we drove around on a four-wheeler to check on the fencing and his cows. He raises cows for beef. I drove for most of the trip and at one point we found cows in a field that was supposed to be blocked off. We discovered an area of fencing that had been trampled. Being behind the “wheel” I got to herd the 15 cows back to the correct field, something I have never pictured myself doing!


I Could Never Be A Hermit

I have made the discovery that I do not like spending a lot of time alone. Ironically when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in May all I wanted was space, and I certainly got what I asked for! Going from my hectic college lifestyle to the slow country pace, living by myself for the first time, has been a HUGE change. Suddenly my overbooked calendar is now practically blank. It is not bad, I needed to more time to smell the flowers, but I do miss my college friends and having more to do.

I have collectively spent at least 10 days manning the extension office by myself, which is dull. I much prefer having Kathryn and Elizabeth around to converse with. On the days with no plans besides work I feel bored and antsy, sometimes even stir crazy. The place I have for the summer lacks TV and internet, which is probably a factor in this. I don’t think I would feel quite so lonely if I had a TV to put on or the internet to distract me. I bet I would actually enjoy coming home to a quiet, empty house if I was back to the crazy schedule of my undergrad days.

Over all, the message I am taking away is that I get energy from being around people. I now understand that I prefer spending more time with others and only every once in a while sticking to myself. I probably should also get a hobby, now that I actually have time to nurture one!



I can now see why there is such a craze over our 4-H baked potatoes! I had one the other day and it was delicious- loaded with chili, cheese, butter, sour cream, and bacon bits. The Bland County Fair lasted from Wednesday til Saturday. Each day 4-H Interstate members served baked potatoes, french fries, cheese sticks, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hotdogs to raise money for their next trip. This is the same group that my coworkers took to Hawaii a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately the fair was very slow, apparently the slowest fair my coworkers have ever seen. Normally they raise around $3,500 but this week only about $2,900 was raised. This fundraising is so important, because it is what funds the Interstate trips. The Hawaii trip cost was lowered from $2,250 to $75 per person thanks to fundraising. There of course will be many fundraisers to come so the small revenue this week will not be a deal breaker.

Due to the slow pace I ended up only working a couple hours during the week and half the day Saturday, because otherwise my help was not needed. In between taking orders and making food I performed my runoff and erosion presentation for a handful of groups. As mentioned in a previous post, I had two containers filled with soil. One was left uncovered while the other was covered with hay. I had an audience member pour water into each container. The water drained into cups via spouts on the side of the containers. The runoff of the uncovered soil contained more erosion than the covered one, showing how important it is to always keep something planted in your yard, garden or farm. Since the fair was so small, my “audiences” averaged about three people. They were all pretty surprised at the huge difference in runoff soil content. One farmer I presented to commented that the presentation really brought to light how much topsoil can be lost.

All of the eight display boards I ended up making, seven for 4-H activities and one for my soil presentation, were in the back of the 4-H building. This building is located at the back of the fairgrounds. The people who came into our building were either family members of 4-H members or stopping by for a quick bite to eat. If I were to do another presentation at a fair I would find a more central location with more traffic, that way I could reach more people.

Alphabet Soup


Got that? Good. Knew you would. All those letter groupings, except one and I’ll let you guess which, were acronyms thrown at me yesterday during cost-share training. I wanted to go to this training because it is something I must understand if I am to land a job with the extension or a government agency. The Virginia Agricultural Cost Share Program (VACS) for best management practices (BMPs) is a way to encourage farmers to help improve water quality. When a farmer performs a BMP, a technique that protects the environment, they are eligible to receive cost share money, a loan, and/or tax credits from the government depending on which practice is used. There are approximately 70 practices that may be supported by VACS, including cover crops and fencing off cattle from waterways. The complexity of the program is enough to make your head spin. And to make matters even more mind boggling this BMP program is just one of the many policies protecting the environment.

The environment is a complex system, so I do understand that the answers to cleaning it up are not simple either. However, I can’t help but wonder how much of the complexity may be unnecessary and if there are any contradictions in all these environmental policies. It’s fascinating how important language and its interpretations are. There are also many levels of communication these complex processes must be transmitted across- from researchers to scientists, to policy writers, the department of taxation, technicians, and farmers etc. This is actually, partly what draws me to environmental work; the fact that the answers are so elusive and it requires rigorous teamwork.

Officially Published

It may not really be a big deal, but I am excited that my newspaper article on 4-H Day Camp was published the other week in the local paper! I have never submitted an article before.

After going through two rounds of staples I have finished ALL of the seven display boards for the County Fair, which starts tomorrow. This includes my soil display. All that is left is to practice my runoff presentation, which I will give periodically when I’m not working the food booth. I will not be making it very long, just enough time to engage a few people in an activity showing how some type of ground cover conserves topsoil. It will be interesting to see how many people I will be able to lure in. I think soil science is interesting but let’s face it, soil is not the most exciting topic to discuss. When people are at a fair their focus is on fun. So I will do my best to be quick and interesting.

Meanwhile my coworkers have been running around cleaning, getting materials, and organizing volunteers for the food booth 4-H will be running at the fair. Apparently people go nuts over the loaded baked potatoes we’ll be selling, so I will definitely have to try one in between making them!

Learning More Every Day

I’ve learned a lot this week! I got to do a variety of things including help out at the Wytheville Wool Pool, attend the Southwestern 4-H district director’s meeting, and shadow Big Walker Soil and Water Conservation workers. Aside from those new activities, I continued building display boards and preparing for Bland’s County Fair next week.

The Wool Pool was held at Farmer’s Milling, a feed store in Wytheville. At the Wool Pool farmers bring sheared wool in large plastic bags, which are weighed and loaded into a truck for shipping to a distributor in Ohio. Wool Pools are held at various locations in VA and this one had been arranged by the Wythe Extension Agricultural Agent. My role was to help write the receipts, which recorded the farmer’s name and address, bag numbers, bag weights, and how many empty bags were taken back by the farmer. Once the distributor processes the wool, the farmer receives a check in the mail for all the wool taken. The wool goes for around $0.75 per pound. Some people came with only one or two bags while others had up to 15. The lightest bag had only 5 pounds while the heaviest was filled with roughly 240 pounds! It turns out the 5-pounder even had a rock in it to make it heavier…. so it will be surprising if that farmer gets any money back. There were less farmers to come this time than last year’s Wool Pool, and three farmers said this would be their last Wool Pool because they are selling their sheep. It would seem that raising sheep is a dying business in this area.

Image On the same day as the Wool Pool a meeting was held in Abingdon at the 4-H center between 4-H directors and agents of the Southwest counties. Agents were updated on any changes in the district, given news from the VCE VA Tech office, and introduced to new faculty. The two main points of the meeting were that each district needs to raise more money for camp’s boys cabins and agents are needed to help choose the next Camp Director of the Abingdon Educational Center. I heard during our camp week that the boys cabins are in bad shape and have been for years.

I returned to the agricultural side of things yesterday spending the day with the Big Walker folks. I am enjoying the Extension and would love to work for the Extension, but I am also interested in the work soil and water conservation districts do. I went on two farm visits with two technicians. On each farm the owner was planning to install water troughs fed by nearby streams. Along with that, they are following best management practice requirements and will soon be planting fencing and trees alongside the streams, which will protect the water from animal waste and erosion. By following this practice the farmers will get tax credits from the government. Farmers apply for these credits through their soil and water conservation district. The soil and water workers ensured the proper placement of the troughs and fencing. Nothing had been built yet; at both places we set stakes to mark where troughs and fencing should be located. Before putting the stakes in, we measured the slope of the ground to see how well gravity will aid the water in flowing from the streams to the troughs. I enjoyed being outside and seeing how to use the tools. I’ve always wondered how surveyors used those tripods, rods, marking paint, and leveling stations.


Domesticity in the Workplace

I have come to the full realization that some things have to be done in the workplace not included in the job description. Many of these tasks are domestic. For example, yesterday our office received a new refrigerator and much of our day was spent installing it. The last thing I expected to do during my internship was clean out a fridge! In my time here so far we’ve also had to get a toilet fixed and problems with water in the basement. It seems these responsibilities come up in any job, I’d just never thought about it before.

Very few calls or visitors came through this week. I am no longer alone in the office because Elizabeth and Kathryn have returned from Hawaii, which is nice. Yesterday I attended the monthly Big Walker Soil and Water Conservation District meeting. I felt official because they included me in the minutes as a VCE representative. Unfortunately there were not enough members present to get a quorum to approve the budget, minutes, or other paperwork. So, they went over the most important items on the agenda and scheduled a phone conference to reach quorum. It was interesting to see the changes going on with district budgeting. From my understanding when a conservation district does not spend all its money for the cost-share program, the left over funds will be allocated to districts in need of more funding. There are so many little details that go into running conservation districts and even the smallest changes in language of a policy can have major affects.

Honolulu Dreamin’

Another week down on the time sheets. I have had the office to myself, aside from the voter registration worker I share the building with. Not much has happened extension wise because most people who would have been calling and visiting already know that my co-workers are off on the 4-H Interstate trip to Hawaii. I have made hundreds of copies of forms Elizabeth will need when the school year rolls around, answered a couple of calls, and worked on displays (some pictured below). My article on June’s Day Camp was sent in to the newspaper at the beginning of the week, so hopefully it will be published soon. All that I need to do now is finish my soil display for the county fair, which is definitely taking time to plan. I am hoping to show fair goers how ground cover helps reduce topsoil loss with a quick interactive experiment which I have rigged up myself. I found a model online, and have built two contraptions made up of two-liter soda bottles and milk jug handles. Further explanation will come later. I have mostly finished my research and will start putting together the tri-fold board come Monday.