Dining Services Farm at Kentland Farm: Fall 2016 Recap

Now that spring semester is finally underway we wanted to take a moment to recap the amazing work that was done on the Dining Services Farm at Kentland Farm during the fall of 2016! The Dining Services Farm is run by Alex Hessler, who acts as both the farm manager and as an instructor in the Department of Horticulture. One of the courses offered by the Department of Horticulture is the Sustainable Agriculture Practicum, which takes place at the Dining Services Farm and provides students with hands-on experience in sustainable vegetable production. Daisy Sturgill, a student in the Sustainable Agriculture Practicum class, agreed to let us share some of her experiences while working on the farm during the fall.

You can click on the images below to see larger photos and captions.

September

In early September, we harvested a huge amount of cilantro. “We hacked it down with harvesting knives, washed it, and packed it. There was a bountiful surplus that was enjoyed thoroughly.” Later in the month we harvested broccoli, lettuce, power greens, and vegetation for flower arrangements.

The class was also in charge of preparing the Urban Horticulture Center’s high tunnel. High tunnels are similar to greenhouses, and they allow farmers to extend the growing season for different crops (which is why you sometimes have local lettuce in the middle of winter). On September 16th we “began to prepare the seedbeds in the high tunnel at the UHC by fluffing the compressed soil on the edges of the beds.”

October

Once October hit, “winter squash harvesting began! We started by cutting the fruits off the vine to later be harvested via conveyor and teamwork.” Throughout the month we harvested different plants from the cucurbit family, including Easter egg gourds, pepos, maximas, and moschatas. By late October the potato harvest at the Dining Services Farm was also in full swing. The farm crew was able to do a squash and potato tasting, and on October 27th the class visited the orchard, where we “tasted the finest of fruits, gazed upon primo views, and gathered apples from the trees.”

November

In our last month at the Dining Services Farm at Kentland Farm we picked apples and helped to clear out some of the fields. “We ripped plastic mulch and drip tape from the sweet potato fields and planted garlic.” On our last day at the farm on November 10th we took a trip down to the nearby river, learned survival skills, and took care of a stray cat.

“Thanks for a wild wagon ride, Kentland Farm!”

A New Year, and Some Exciting Updates!

Happy 2017, Hokies! It’s a new year, and a new semester here at Virginia Tech. As we gear up for spring classes, I want to introduce myself. My name is Gwyneth Manser, and I’m the new Sustainability Manager for Virginia Tech’s Dining Services (and Housing and Residence Life, too!).

A little about me: I recently completed my Master’s in Science in Geography at Portland State University, where my research and classes focused on food justice, urban agriculture, and sustainability. I also hold degrees in Anthropology and Environmental Studies from Emory University. I’ve done everything from working on an organic farm to working as a park ranger, and in my spare time I enjoy cooking, gardening, and exploring the outdoors. I’m excited to learn more about Blacksburg, and to contribute to the ever-growing conversation about sustainability on campus.

Virginia Tech Dining Services has a long history of sustainability efforts, and many of those initiatives were spearheaded by previous Sustainability Coordinators and Interns working with Dining Services. My predecessors, Andy Sarjahani, Rachael Budowle, Elena Dulys – Nusbaum, and Rial Tombes, led the way by implementing and expanding a composting program, bringing reusable to-go containers to VT, and helping to expand the Dining Services Farm at Kentland Farm, to name but a few projects. From supporting zero waste events on campus to helping VT go “(styro)foam free” we’ve come a long way, but we still have further to go. I’m thrilled to be a part of that progress.

Have ideas about what we can do to help VT’s Dining Services “go green?” Have any feedback on our previous efforts? Feel free to leave a comment below, or tweet us at @VTGreenDining. You can also send me an email at gmanser@vt.edu. Don’t be a stranger!

Best,

Gwyneth Manser

Sustainability Manager
Dining Services and Housing and Residence Life
gmanser@vt.edu

VT Green Graduates, Class of 2016

Hard to believe that another year is gone, and that we’ll soon be sending some of our brightest Hokies off into life beyond Virginia Tech.

A lot can change in four years! When many of these green students first stepped on campus, Sustainable Dining Services had only just started composting in all the dining halls, was sourcing less than half the amount of the local food that is currently used, and hadn’t even began the reusable to-go program.

Many of this year’s graduates participated in activities during their time as students that made VT a more sustainable place. Even more have decided to take the pledge to live an earth-friendly lifestyle beyond college as a part of the Office of Energy & Sustainability’s Green Graduates of Virginia Tech program. To participate, graduating students post a picture and personalized pledge to the Facebook page, detailing how they will dedicate their careers and lives to sustainability. Some students cite specific actions they will take to reduce their environmental impact, while others explain how they plan to integrate sustainability into future jobs. Needless to say, the pledges are quite inspiring – read on to find some featured posts below.

We asked the curator of the Green Graduates page, Katy Shepard, to tell us a bit more about her favorite parts of the program. Katy (a grad herself!) mentioned that the heartfelt posts serve as more than just personal declarations – together, they make up a community of students who care about the future of the environment, who inspire and motivate others to elicit positive change. Katy also said that publicly posting the pictures and pledges allows for accountability – the more people can see the pledge a grad makes, the more likely they are to live up to their promise. Her favorite insight from the posts is that they help “folks to realize that in order to care about sustainability you don’t have to change every single thing you do – you do the things that you can to make a difference.” Outside of graduation season, Katy updates graduation throwbacks, and her ultimate goal is to create a supportive forum in which former green grads can share stories, advice, and even job openings with current participants.

Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for – our featured posts:

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Makes us feel a bit nostalgic! These students have learned, grown, and made some pretty important changes over their years at Virginia Tech. We are thankful for all they’ve done to make our campus a better place, and excited to see what they do for the world.

Congratulations to the Class of 2016 – may you invent a healthy, bright, and green future!

Earth Week is Here!

HAPPY EARTH WEEK, VIRGINIA TECH!

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It’s a beautiful week to celebrate the planet we call home. Buckle up for exciting, earth-loving events from Monday morning through Friday evening and beyond!

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If you’re interested in checking out Earth Week events with VT Sustainable Dining, just walk into Turner Place, Owens, or D2 any day this week to enjoy our Lexicon of Sustainability Pop-Up Show. The entire collection will be available for viewing on Wednesday in the Squires Atrium, courtesy of the Environmental Coalition at VT.

The Sustainable Food Corps will also be tabling all day on Wednesday, so stop by their display outside Squires to learn more about their upcoming local food events! Then swing by the Blacksburg Farmers Market for some community mingling and an afternoon snack.

Interested in finding out about the other incredible events going on this week? Take a look at the full events listing on the EC website and like the Virginia Tech Earth Week Facebook page to get daily updates.

While this is a special opportunity to celebrate the Earth, we at VT Dining Services hope you live every week like it’s Earth Week! Let us know what your favorite events are, and please celebrate sustainably and responsibly!

Partner Spotlight: The Campus Kitchen at VT

This week, we sat down with Joanne Amposta, VT Engage Americorps VISTA member, about her work on the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech. While most people have heard about the Campus Kitchen, few can explain all of the work that the group actually does – this post will hopefully provide a taste of the operation and give due credit to the fabulous work that CKVT volunteers and employees do on a daily basis.

The Campus Kitchen project was started by DC Central Kitchen, a non-profit focused on food recovery, meal preparation, and diversion. The group was so successful in our nation’s capital that it sought to expand its work, but lacked the resources to build sustainable models in other communities. Instead of a centralized operation, DC Central Kitchen built the Campus Kitchen project, with the idea to outsource facilities and volunteers and help existing institutions function as food recovery hubs within their own communities. Virginia Tech’s chapter has been three years in the making, with three different VISTA volunteers brought on to plan, pilot, and implement the project. The VT chapter was the  48th Campus Kitchen to open, and since its official launch in Fall 2015, three more chapters have joined the growing national movement.

Since its launch last September, the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech has quickly filled its plate with activities, opportunities, and tons of volunteer power. Once a week, the group uses a kitchen space in Wallace Hall (through a partnership agreement with HNFE) to prepare 40-60 meals with food they collect from VT Dining Halls, and every day, volunteers collect and package leftover food from D2, West End Market, and (as of last week!) Owens. All meals and recovered food are hand-delivered daily to the Radford-Fairlawn Our Daily Bread. So far, the dedicated volunteers involved with the CKVT have successfully diverted over 10,000 pounds of campus food waste from the landfill and delivered it to community members in need!

What items are being diverted from dining centers, you ask?  VT Dining strives to minimize food waste by monitoring daily amounts being diverted and in turn, adjusting our production quantities.  Sometimes, items will no longer comply with Dining Services’ quality standards (for example: number of times food can be reheated, amount of time item should be held at certain temperatures), but are still edible.  These items are what get diverted to the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech and other area food banks.

There are so many Hokies who want to get involved with CKVT that the waiting list stretches over 80 names just to become a regular volunteer. If you are one of those names, do not despair: new opportunities to engage are always popping up, and the Campus Kitchen regularly sends volunteers to help at other hunger relief organizations and nearby food banks, such as Micah’s Backpack and the Giving Tree Food Pantry.

Joanne was excited to announce upcoming projects, such as a senior backpack program that uses dry ingredients only (quite the challenge!) and building a community garden at 3 Birds Berry Farm later this spring. Additionally, we hope to expand diversion efforts to Squires next! The Campus Kitchen’s appetite for activity only continues to grow, it seems.

The CKVT would not be the successful program it is today if not for its partnerships with Dining Services, VT Engage, and so many more. Although Joanne’s position with the Campus Kitchen is coming to a close, she is confident that student energy and leadership  will sustain the program into the future. If there’s anything to learn from the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech, it’s that hard-working Hokies and community collaboration can truly change the world.

 

#Freeusable Day Success!

Hokies made history last month!

On February 17-18th, VT Dining Services offered a free trial of the Reusable To-Go program in all participating dining halls. Almost two weeks’ worth of containers were handed out over those two days, and since the promo, there has been a marked increase of Reusable To-Go use campus-wide!

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For those of you who participated: thank you and welcome to the Reusable To-Go program!  You can keep ordering your food in those snazzy green containers as long as you keep returning them and hold on to your token. If you need a refresher on how to use the program, watch this short video.

Virginia Tech Dining Services staff wash and sanitize each individual container after they are returned to the OZZI machines, but don’t forget to make sure to empty excess food before returning your containers (if you’re keeping them overnight, kindly give them a rinse)! This makes for a faster and easier cleaning process.

Hokies have proven our commitment to sustainability – let’s keep making history!

Reduce Food Waste and Beat UVA!

If you’ve been feeling both sustainable and competitive lately, we have a challenge for you!Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 11.35.12 AM

The VT Office of Energy and Sustainability is going up against its counterpart at the University of Virginia for a semester-long competition called the RiVAlry Cup. The kick-off to the Cup will be a food waste competition on Wednesday, February 24th in D2 from 11-2 (during lunch). Our goal is to generate as little food waste as possible – all you have to do is make sure you take only what you can eat and be ready to sort your waste before you return your dishes! Volunteers will be there to explain and help if you need it.

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If you want an idea of how much food waste VT students might generate on a normal day, we did a baseline waste audit last week and found that, on average, one Hokie at D2 throws away 0.22 pounds of food waste (the equivalent of two chocolate bars). Of this, 0.08 pounds are unavoidable and 0.14 pounds can be avoided. With over 500 lunch-eaters at D2 every day, this quickly adds up!

What’s the difference between avoidable and unavoidable waste? Glad you asked! We are categorizing avoidable food waste as the extra stuff that goes unfinished on your plate – like uneaten rice or veggies, that slice of cake you couldn’t finish, unused napkins, etc. Unavoidable waste includes banana peels, bones, used napkins, and other items that can’t be consumed but occur naturally through the eating process. Liquids do not count.

Don’t be embarrassed if you have a lot of plates to return (we’ve all been there…), and don’t feel like you have to stuff yourself to clean your plate. We hope that, on Wednesday and every day, you take only what you know you can eat and minimize food waste whenever possible!

Have fun and let’s beat UVA!