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Agent serves farmers and homebodies, too

Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 10:00 am

By Cesca Waterfield

Ask Stephanie Romelczyk a question, and you’ll get an answer that bears the authority of two Virginia universities.
Stephanie is an agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which serves as an outreach program of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.
“If it’s a disease or insect or something environmental, we can help them figure it out,” she says. “The nice thing is we have the resources of the university to help diagnose problems.”
The Virginia Cooperative Extension began in 1907 with a handful of agents who travelled Virginia to demonstrate various methods of farming and home economics to Virginians. Today there are 107 local offices, 96 of which are located in counties, with 11 in cities.
Many people know that their Westmoreland County Extension office works on agricultural, livestock, crop and forestry issues. But the Extension also has plenty to offer homeowners and landowners.
“Basically anyone in this county is my client,” Stephanie says. “If they have lawn problems or ornamental problems or need advice about picking shrubs or when to prune, they can call the office and work with me. I’m I’m happy to work with anyone.”
“One of the nice things about my job is that you have to have a trusting relationship in order to do that job,” Stephanie says. “You get to know the people, I get to know their families. I think that’s kind of fun.”
Gary and Lois Allensworth have worked with Stephanie since she came onboard. Recently Stephanie has worked with Gary to improve his strawberry yield. “I’ve had a lot of association with Stephanie,” Gary says. “She is a talented person. She’s very good at what she does. I think everyone in the county can say she’s doing an excellent job.”
The oldest of three, Stephanie grew up in an agricultural area of New Jersey known for its peaches and cranberries. “We always had a vegetable garden growing up,” she remembers. “I think I got the interest from [my parents].”
While she was in college, she got a job working at a public garden where she says, “I realized that I really like working with people and getting them information that is unbiased, research-based.”
So she went to graduate school in North Carolina where she studied horticulture and completed advanced studies on the muscadine grape.
She had advisors who were “very good Extension specialists,” Stephanie says. “So I began to understand the Extension system through them.”
She went on to become an extension agent in North Carolina before moving to Westmoreland a year and a half ago.
“Everyday is different,” she says. “It’s a mix of office and field work, being outside a lot. It’s a mix of teaching.” She spends much of her work days outside and says, “I prefer it that way.”
The Westmoreland office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension is at 18849 Kings Highway. in Montross.