Category Archives: Student Contributions

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.


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.”


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.”


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!”


Eating Locally through the Winter

This post was written by Hayley Billingsley, a student in the Human Nutrition, Foods & Exercise Program and as well as the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems Minor.  

As winter approaches, we look forward to holiday traditions and wonderful food shared with family, but we tend to lose some of the fresh variety that summer offers. No longer are beautiful ripe fruits available locally in abundance, but not to fear! Virginia produce is still available throughout the winter and might offer new flavors and foods you may have not yet experienced.  For example, at a recent Thanksgiving meal with friends, the hostess prepared roasted Brussels Sprouts from her garden in Highland County, Virginia (in season through December in Virginia) and I discovered my dreaded childhood food was actually pretty tasty! More examples of foods available at Virginia markets through December include potatoes, apples, broccoli, onions, winter squash, kale, a variety of lettuces and more!

Did you know that Brussels Sprouts grow on stalks like this?

Did you know that Brussels Sprouts grow on stalks like this?

How can this be?  Some farmers use heated structures (greenhouses) or even just frames (hoophouses) to create a more friendly environment for plants to grow.  By starting with crops that are fairly cold resistant, like brussels sprouts and kales, the plants have a good chance of making it through the winter.  Have space in your backyard, check out this tutorial for building your own cold frame and even you can grow a few things in your backyard!

Cold Frames work even in the snow!

The town of Blacksburg has its own year-round farmer’s market. The hours change slightly as the season gets cooler, but it’s an excellent opportunity to keep an eye on what’s seasonally available. This Friday 12/6, there will be one of several Holiday Craft markets as part of the Winter Lights Festival.

While  you’re home on your winter break, browse your local market if it happens to be year-round and incorporate some local ingredients in your favorite holiday dishes! Not to mention the beautiful handmade items created by local vendors make great gifts for friends and family!

Learn more here about what is typically available in Virginia by season.

Local Roasted Brussels Sprouts - don't mind if I do!

Local Roasted Brussels Sprouts – don’t mind if I do!

Once you find your local Brussels Sprouts, here’s a recipe from Ina Garten to do them justice!

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt and serve immediately.

Dining Services Garden Featured on the VT Daily News Front Page

Read about our two student garden managers’ hard work and how Dining Services is bringing local food to the table here.

Thank you to Theta Tau and Circle K International

Circle K

Theta Tau

Two groups came out this past weekend to lend a hand at the garden. We dug out about half of our sweet potatoes, soon to be enjoyed at Farms & Fields. Service groups Theta Tau (their first visit) and Circle K (a continuing contributor) brought about 20 students to work the ground. It was a great time for all and their service is greatly appreciated! Photos are courtesy Theta Tau and Circle K.

Circle K

Circle K

SGA Launches Eco-Olympics

The Student Government Association has launched the Eco-Olympics effort across campus. Residence halls unite in a friendly competition to save energy–with real rewards. The winning residence hall could win big prizes for all to enjoy such as TVs or foosball tables. Last year, the victory went to West Ambler Johnson. This year is up for grabs.

It works like this: the competition is split by residence hall size and adjusted accordingly. Scores will be based on per capita energy consumption and on various events (the larger the percentage of your residence hall attends the events, the better).

Events start this week, kicking off with a showing of FRESH tonight at 7pm in Squires Colonial.

Let’s work together and save energy, educate ourselves, and win prizes!

Check the leader board at any time here for up-to-date competition stats.

Photo courtesy Virginia Tech SGA.

Community Involvement class volunteers at Kentland: a breath of fresh air

Students in a Virginia Tech Community Involvement class take a breath of fresh air and volunteer at The Dining Services Garden at Kentland Farm.

Blacksburg, Va.– Since mid-October, a subgroup of a Community Involvement class has been getting their hands dirty with farm work. The class’s focus is on public feedback and involvement procedures, as well as on-the-ground theory of community development and improvement. The class split into several groups, all of which were required to choose some form of community service to accompany their coursework. Ten students in all chose to work at The Dining Services Garden at Kentland Farm. One of these students, Brianna Farr, enjoyed the variety the outdoor work provided to her class schedule.

“As we harvested potatoes and sweet potatoes, the student [farm manager] named Chelsea talked with us about her work and how Virginia Tech was continuing to incorporate even more local foods into the dining halls,” she said. “I found I learned even more about how important a local diet is, while being able to contribute to the health of the community and environment around me.” Farr also commented on the striking beauty of the area surrounding the garden, and recommended others should consider sharing the experience. “Everyone enjoyed taking a break from sitting behind a computer or at a desk and actually working with their hands out in the fresh air. It was easy work, and we really enjoyed each other’s company. If you’re looking for an easy way to get involved and give back, volunteering at Kentland Farm is a great way to start.”

Joshua Brooking, a volunteer, carries sweet potatoes from irrigated beds.

Photos courtesy Brianna Farr.

Students Volunteer for the Virginia Harvest Celebration

The Friday before the monumental Virginia Harvest Celebration Meal was a day of preparation.  Students from the Sustainable Food Corps, general volunteers, and passersby lent their time potting herbs into glass jars to serve as sustainable centerpieces for the meal the following Tuesday.  An array of local, organic herbs from Robbins Farm through the Appalachian Harvest growers’ network with Poplar Manor Enterprises compost and  accompanying labels were all assembled by these volunteers, used for the meal, and have now been transferred to the Dining Services Garden at Kentland Farm to later be incorporated into meals at The Farms & Fields Project.

Photos courtesy Mary Span.