Ag Tech students dig into Catawba Sustainability Center

Agricultural technology students gain hands-on experience at the Catawba Sustainability Center.

by Lois Caliri

Located on 377 acres of pastureland, the Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center is an outdoor learning laboratory where students gain first-hand experience with land management practices that lead to better environmental stewardship.

The center, situated in the Upper James River Basin, was once a dairy supplier to the Catawba Sanitarium, now known as Catawba Hospital. In 1988, the hospital transferred its former dairy farm to Virginia Tech.

Students in the two-year Agricultural Technology Program use the center while they earn an associate degree in either applied agricultural management or landscape and turf management. Their projects vary; some students have done soil testing, while others developed architectural landscaping designs using plants that require little-to-no fertilizer or
other chemicals.

Agricultural technology student William “Rooster” Watson loved going the center, where he used a handheld GPS and a measuring wheel to survey the land and calculate how many posts, gates, and other supplies he needed to build fences.

“I loved doing things with my hands rather than sitting in a classroom being told how it should be done,” Watson said.

Josh Nease, the director of the center, said, “Hands-on projects allow students to gain actual experience during the learning process, and the center benefits from their hard work and recommendations.”

Watson was so inspired by his agricultural technology classes and his hands-on work at the center, he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences at Virginia Tech.

“Before coming to Virginia Tech, I was not planning on going to college. I wanted to stay on the family farm,” Watson said. “But enrolling in agricultural technology was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”