Kentland Farm feeds hungry students and intellectual curiosity
By Amy Loeffler
What started out as a small herb garden in 2009 has grown exponentially — the 2014 season yielded 40,856 pounds of produce valued at $22,687.
“Agricultural landscapes have great cultural and aesthetic value. They beautify our communities, foster wildlife, provide opportunities for recreation, and, when managed sustainably, protect our natural resources.” — Alex Hessler
“Production of local food is an avenue for direct participation in agriculture,” said Alex Hessler, the sustainable food systems director who manages the farm. “Agricultural landscapes have great cultural and aesthetic value. They beautify our communities, foster wildlife, provide opportunities for recreation, and, when managed sustainably, protect our natural resources.”
Hessler, who joined the college in 2014, is a faculty member in the Department of Horticulture and in Dining Services. He teaches the Sustainable Agriculture Practicum, an experiential course offered by the Department of Horticulture that gives students the opportunity to manage cultivation and harvesting at the farm.
“The most rewarding experience as the director of the Dining Services Farm has been working and learning alongside the student farmers,” he said. “The students gain enormous joy and satisfaction from growing fresh vegetables that are served to students, staff, and faculty at Virginia Tech. Facilitating that experience for them is why I do what I do.”
The Dining Services Farm has been using organic growing practices for nearly five years, and Hessler is applying for organic certification for the farm. Organic farming incorporates techniques such as using compost and cover crops, biological pesticides, and beneficial insect habitat.
The farm is also partnering with Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Fresh Produce Food Safety Team to implement Good Agricultural Practices — procedures that maintain food safety throughout the production and harvest process.