New faculty settled in at Va. Eastern Shore station

AFP Correspondent

PAINTER, Va. (April 14, 2015) — Two new faculty members at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center are well-into their first full growing season with the university.
Dr. Ramon Arancibia and Dr. Laura Strawn joined the center’s staff late last year. Arancibia is an assistant professor of horticulture and Strawn is an assistant professor of food sciences.
Dr. Ed Jones, director of the Virginia Cooperative Extension said a third faculty member is expected to be hired soon.
“We currently have about 243 agent positions,” Jones said. “We are working on an effort that will transition some current employees paid on a grant into agent-like positions, but still focused on the grant. When that is all said and done we should have about 253 field faculty.”
This is a busy season for the faculty at the ESAREC and both researchers have been out in the fields working with the farmers as the growing season begins.
Each of them spoke of finding little things that can help producers do a better job within their current production practices.
Arancibia’s work is not limited to the Eastern Shore and Tidewater areas of Virginia as he is one of two Extension horticulturists available to Virginia vegetable growers.
He joins Allen Straw, an Extension horticulturist stationed at the Southwest Virginia research center.
The native of Chile has a rich background of working across the United States after having earned his bachelors degree in agriculture engineering with an emphasis on fruit trees in his native land.
His career in the United States began in California where he worked with table grapes. His search for graduate schools took him to the  Louisiana State University where he earned his Master’s degree and Ph.D and met his wife.
His next job was in the Virgin Islands where he worked with vegetables for three years. Prior to coming to Virginia Tech he was employed at Mississippi State Univeristy as a sweet potato researcher.
He is a big fan of sweet potatoes, noting that they are one of the most nutritious natural foods because they are rich in Vitamin A and other vitamins. Potatoes, snap beans and tomatoes will be Arancibia’s focus at the Eastern Shore facility, he said. However, he will be working with small farmers who grow a wide variety of vegetables. He arrived at his new job in August and since has been getting to know the people across the state and work on writing grants for his research.
While his position is not a teaching one, he will be working with university students to mentor them and provide them with tools to go out and work in the industry.
His job description assigns him to working 50 percent of his time in research and 50 percent in Extension.
Strawn is an assistant professor and Extension specialist in Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology.
She holds three degrees in Food Science with food microbiology emphasis, a PhD from Cornell University under Dr. Martin Wiedmann, a Master’s from the University of Florida, under Dr. Michelle Danyluk, and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis.
Her research program at Virginia Tech focuses on the microbial safety of fresh fruits and vegetables; specifically the ecology, evolution, and transmission of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes in the farm to fork continuum.
She said she is currently working with farmers on the Eastern Shore to prevent salmonella outbreaks in cucumbers and has been working with producers to develop Best Management Practices with cucumbers and other cucurbiccs such as squash and cantaloupes.
Strawn said some farmers may be intimidated by the word “researchers” but as a young researcher, she wants to break down this idea and is striving to be “really grower friendly.”
Like Arancibia, she is working to get to know the folks she is working to serve and find little things that can be done to make a big difference in their production. She has been on the job since October 2014.
She will be working directly with produce stakeholders on current produce safety issues, as well as teaching GAPs and HACCP courses throughout the state of Virginia.
Dr. Strawn has received awards from the American Society for Microbiology, International Association for Food Protection, and Institute of Food Technologists.