Extension launches survey to better understand area needs

To better understand the needs of people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, the Virginia Cooperative Extension is gathering feedback in a novel way: through an online survey.

“We have not really undertaken a survey like this, as extensively as we’re trying to do this year, in quite some time,” said Mark Sutphin, horticulture extension agent with the VCE. “We’re trying to better understand the community, so that we can ultimately better serve the local community.”

The survey is open to residents of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties, as well as Winchester.

The goal, Sutphin said, is “to make sure that we are looking at the local communities in a current light, and trying to understand what the greatest needs of the community are, and that way we can serve them appropriately.”

The VCE conducts situational analyses to understand local communities every five years. Typically, extension agents will meet with key officials in the community or hold focus groups to garner feedback, a practice that Sutphin said will continue in addition to the survey.

He added that this is the first time the extension is using a digital survey to gather community input.

“The idea is that this information that will help us, as extension agents in the area, to drive the programming that we offer, and that way we can tailor our programming to better meet the needs identified locally,” Sutphin said.

After past situation analyses, Sutphin said the VCE identified water quality as a thematic concern for the area. Knowing this, the extension prioritized education on well water testing, discussions of private water sources, programming relating to nutrient management for agricultural producers, and more.

“I think our area continues to recognize that as a high need, certainly we all depend on safe, clean water,” Sutphin said, emphasizing that these issues don’t only impact the farming industry. “It’s not solely for the farmer or the ag community, it’s really for the entire community in these five counties.”

Other times, residents identify issues outside of VCE’s control, like congestion on Interstate 81. But the extension is still able to pass along that feedback to relevant nonprofits and government agencies.

So far, the survey has garnered 250 responses, and Sutphin said he hopes to see that number climb to 1,000. The survey will remain open until March 15.

On the net

Take the survey: https://tinyurl.com/ybwhpocu