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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 06 

Dining Services garners sustainability recognition for outreach and education

June 8, 2015

Alex Hessler, sustainable food systems production director, works with his Horticulture students on the Dining Services Farm at Kentland.
Alex Hessler, sustainable food systems production director, works with his Horticulture students on the Dining Services Farm at Kentland.

The National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) selected Virginia Tech Dining Services as the 2015 Sustainability Awards silver award winner in the Outreach and Education category.

“This award validates the hard work of the staff and campus members in our initiatives of promoting sustainable practices,” said Ted Faulkner, director of Dining Services. “It also supports our belief in serving as a resource for education and outreach for Virginia Tech and the surrounding communities.”

NACUFS, an organization that supports and promotes excellence in collegiate dining, has a membership of approximately 550 institutions. The Outreach and Education award recognizes a member organization that “provides useful information to students, faculty, staff, and visitors regarding sustainability and the sustainable business practices of the dining services department.”

“Dining Services is a leader in campus dining, and our sustainability program is no different,” said Rial Carver, sustainability coordinator for Dining Services. “We want our sustainability initiatives to be recognized nationally just as our overall dining program is. This award is a huge step in that direction.”

One of Dining Services’ guiding principles is to promote a sustainable dining and food system at Virginia Tech and therefore in the greater community. As a land-grant institution, Virginia Tech has many resources that play an important role in Dining Services’ ability to enhance and promote local and sustainable dining. 

Virginia Tech's application for the NACUFS award cited Dining Services' partnership with the Department of Horticulture to fund and hire a Sustainable Food Systems production director who is responsible for managing the Dining Services Farm, which is located at Kentland Farm and is also used by the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences’ for research.

Alex Hessler was named Sustainable Food Systems Production Director in January 2014, and the 2014 season at the farm brought in 40,856 pounds of produce, which was valued at $22,687.

“By creating a joint-funded position with Horticulture, success in our farm program has followed suit in the form of experiential farming classes at Kentland, increased production and harvests brought into the dining units, and continuing infrastructure improvements,” said Carver.

“Since we began local food purchasing, Dining Services has always thought, ‘Let’s start right here at Virginia Tech,’” said Carver. “This award highlights the collaborations that have formed between Dining Services and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, specifically the partnership with the Department of Horticulture.”

One goal for the Dining Services project is to achieve organic and Good Agriculture Practices certification in 2015, as it will increase the market value of what is grown.

Beginning as a quarter-acre plot, the Dining Services Farm at Kentland was originally planted for use by the Farms & Fields Project in Owens Food Court. It now occupies six acres, in addition to a newly built high tunnel at the Urban Horticulture Center.

Outreach and education have been integral in Dining Services’ sustainability success. Hessler manages a farm crew of ten to twelve Dining Services staff from May through August. During the 2014 season, 3,336 hours of labor were contributed by the farm crew at Kentland Farm, and an additional 700 hours of work were contributed by student volunteers.

Hessler also teaches the Sustainable Agriculture Practicum, an experiential course in which students are responsible for — and essential to — the success of the Dining Services Farm. Their work resulted in nearly 800 hours of fieldwork for the farm. Along with the Organic Vegetable Production course, these two classes have served as an important entry point for new students to interact with the Horticulture Department, while also satisfying a need for labor at the farm. In addition, the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems program partners with Dining Services to provide opportunities for students to complete their required hours at the Dining Services Farm.

“The partnership between the Department of Horticulture and Dining Services is an avenue for direct student participation in sustainability at Virginia Tech,” said Hessler. “Students can participate in sustainable agriculture and food systems as farmers in the Sustainable Agriculture Practicum, and as mindful eaters in dining centers on campus.”

In the 2012-13 academic year, Dining Services purchased 12.9 percent of food from local sources, with a goal to increase that number to 20 percent by 2020.

Written by Holly Paulette.

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