The pandemic has made us all re-think how we do things, and outreach for TACF is no exception. In normal times, staff and volunteers give in-person talks or participate in educational programs to share the story of the American chestnut. It’s a great way to get the word out, and attract new members or active volunteers. With the pandemic still lingering, virtual tools for connecting have become the standard, and many of us have become experts at video conferencing, video calls, and streaming webinars. Most outreach opportunities to connect with the public and promote our work have moved into this digital space. While there is no real substitute for in-person interaction, there are some benefits to virtual programing.
As an example, on October 3, 2020, I had the opportunity to share our work through The White Memorial Conservation Center’s virtual education program. Beginning in March, this Litchfield, CT-based conservation and education center has offered regular programs through Zoom, as well as Facebook Live, in order to reach a wide audience. The chestnut program, developed in collaboration with the CT-TACF Chapter, focused on our current science program, the work taking place within that program, and wild tree identification and reporting. Timed right around harvest, fall is the perfect season to find chestnuts in the woods, especially any that happen to be fruiting.
Even though the program took place on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, we still pulled in an audience of over 40 viewers across both Zoom and Facebook live. For those who couldn’t participate in the live offering, the program was recorded and is available on The White Memorial Conservation Center’s Facebook video page, and has garnered 469 views as of this writing. Audiences of this size for an in-person outreach talk wouldn’t come close to fitting in the venues of which we typically speak! In addition, I only had to travel to my lab for a more reliable Wi-Fi connection, rather than spending a long day on the road. While nothing can replace face-to-face meetings; reaching a wide audience, saving TACF money on travel expenses, burning less fossil fuels, and having more weekend time with family, are some silver linings of virtual programming.
There is no question that we’re all looking forward to the return of “normal” life. But, in the meantime, TACF is effectively using new tools to connect, allowing us to stay focused and continue our journey toward American chestnut restoration!