Having Fun with Outreach at the Vermont Flower Show

Guest blog by Meredith Whitney, Forest Pest Outreach Coordinator with University of Vermont Extension

Thousands of Vermonters come out of the woodwork every other year to witness the colors, smells, and excitement of the Vermont Flower Show. Upon arrival to the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, Vermont visitors first walk through the main garden display. As the Forest Pest Outreach Coordinator with the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program, I have the opportunity to attend events such as the Flower Show, where I can reach large numbers of highly engaged members of the public.

This year, we paid for a 10 x 10 booth in the exhibition hall and displayed large images of the emerald ash borer (EAB) and Asian longhorned beetle (ALB). The Flower Show was a terrific opportunity to use one of the two interactive “face-in-hole” banners that we recently designed. The banners are a fun way to spread the message about not moving firewood and work perfectly for social media posts. Having interactive components to our displays has doubled the number of people who stop by. The banners appeal to young children, their parents, and to many millennials- and each person that takes a photo creates a permanent and shareable reminder about these forest pests, right inside their smartphone!

The Flower Show was bustling this year. All three days were busy and our booth was always full of people asking questions about invasive insects. We recorded 719 people that came and looked at the display. I was surprised at how much people already knew. Nearly everyone who stopped by had heard of at least one of the two pests. The most common response I heard was, “I’ve seen those!” Since neither EAB or ALB have been detected in Vermont yet, I would walk people over to the insect samples, showing them how small the EAB really is, or how similar ALB is to the native six-spotted tiger beetle.

In many cases people felt hopeless at first, and they ask if there is anything they can do about the emerald ash borer. Much like me, they are stunned that it hasn’t shown up in Vermont yet. Last year, Vermont passed a law banning the importation of untreated firewood into the state. We tell them that the simplest and easiest way to slow the spread of invasive species is to buy firewood where you burn it. It is my hope that exhibits like ours at the Flower Show will inspire people to do their part and make a difference.

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