Alex Hessler, Instructor, Organic and Sustainable Vegetable Production
Director, Dining Services Farm
M.S. University of Kentucky, 2013
B.S. University of Montana, 2010
Organic and sustainable vegetable production
Ecological weed management
Small farm mechanization
Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) food safety standards
Experiential education in agriculture
Community food systems
Dining Services Farm
About the Dining Services Farm
The Dining Services Farm at Kentland Farm (DSF) is an educational farm-to-campus program at Virginia Tech managed collaboratively by the Department of Horticulture, Dining Services, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The DSF began in 2009 as a small garden at Kentland Research Farm to provide experiential learning opportunities for students in the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems Minor and grow fresh produce for Dining Services. The DSF now produces vegetables on approximately 5.5 acres of land at Kentland Farm and in a high tunnel at the Urban Horticulture Center. The DSF provides more than 40,000 pounds of vegetables, fruits, and herbs annually to dining halls across campus.
The DSF strives to use sustainable farming practices that enhance biodiversity and biological cycles, increase the farm’s efficiency and economic viability, and promote the well-being of the Virginia Tech community. Cover crops, compost, and crop rotation improve soil health and reduce the need for off-farm inputs. Beneficial insect habitat, trap cropping, and protective covers help to control insect pests and diseases. An array of tools and equipment for planting, irrigation, and weeding designed specifically for vegetable production make tasks more efficient and productive. Nearly all crops are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
Students participate in the DSF every day when they eat DSF produce in Virginia Tech’s dining halls. Since 2009, the DSF has provided approximately 180,000 pounds of sustainably grown vegetables, fruit, and herbs to Dining Halls. Chefs at each dining hall are committed to utilizing unique varieties of vegetables grown at the DSF to showcase the flavor and beauty of fresh local food. The DSF aims to help students recognize the interconnectedness of sustainable food and farming with the wellbeing of the Virginia Tech community.
The Sustainable Agriculture Practicum (HORT 2834) is a 3–credit hands–on field course in organic and sustainable agriculture offered by the Horticulture Department at the DSF. Participants in the course have the important and exciting responsibility of growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs that are served to VT students, staff, and faculty on campus. Students are involved in all aspects of running the farm, including planting, pest control, irrigation, and post-harvest handling. The course builds practical skills and insight into sustainable food and farming systems that students carry into their professional and personal lives.
The DSF is a unique field laboratory for interdisciplinary research in sustainable farming and agroecology. As a working, diversified horticulture farm, the DSF is a model agricultural system for conducting applied research in a real-world setting. Students and faculty in multiple departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are encouraged to integrate experiments into production fields, and may receive technical support from DSF personnel.
The DSF strives to demonstrate agricultural practices that are environmentally sound, socially just, and economically viable. The DSF actively builds relationships with local farmers, master gardeners, extension agents, and school groups through tours and presentations. The dissemination of knowledge generated by the DSF supports the advancement the sustainability and profitability of small-scale agriculture in Virginia. The DSF is a model for institutional sourcing of campus-grown food nationwide.
How can I get involved?
Enrollment in the Sustainable Agriculture Practicum is open to students from all majors and has no pre-requisites. The course is offered in both spring and fall semesters. If you are involved in a student organization and wish to schedule a volunteer activity at the DSF, please contact the farm manager, Alex Hessler, at firstname.lastname@example.org.