The first fieldwork experience students encounter in the class ALS 2204: Introduction to Civic Agriculture involves engagement in civic agriculture. The community partners help to foster a scholarship of engagement through developing meaningful and mutually beneficial service-learning experiences. Each project developed through collaboration on the part of student, community partner, community partner liaison, and faculty member is specific to the needs of both the student and community.
Glade Road Growing: A sustainable farm in Blacksburg, Va., Glade Road Growing is embedded in the community building relationships through the local farmers market, a small community supported agriculture program, and involvement in the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems minor. As a principal CAFS partner, the owners of Glade Road Growing, Jason Pall and Sally Walker, work closely with faculty, students, and community partners involved in the minor. Glade Road Growing is located on Glade Road across from the Heritage Park in Blacksburg. They specialize in annual vegetables but also have several colonies of honeybees and a small apple orchard; the 15 apple varieties are still a few years away from producing. The farming methods are based on building and maintaining the health of the soil, and the owners serve as caretakers of the land by using organic matter-based mulches and cover crops. Their intensive cultivation area occupies about four acres, and they manage the remaining 44 acres on the property, with part of the land in rotational pasture for a local beef cattle farmer and part in a native-species forest and riparian area for a tributary of Toms Creek.
The Hale Y Community Gardens, housed on land donated by Arlene Hale and managed by the YMCA at Virginia Tech, is an integral part of the minor's fieldwork experience. Jenny Schwanke, Hale Y Community Gardens coordinator and the CAFS minor community partner liaison, collaborates with all of the community partners, students, and faculty overseeing the progress of students in their fieldwork and maintaining relationships between the community and university. Schwanke also plans service-learning experiences at the Hale Y Garden site for students interested in community gardens who want to experience a unique venue for civic agriculture and education.
The Hale-Y Community Garden is not just a place to grow food — it is a place to grow community. The garden includes a large organic garden with rental space, permaculture design, and food crop rotation, and plots that encourage children to garden. Hale-Y also offers educational programming to the community through the Y's Open University.
Homefield Farm is a collaborative partnership between Dining Services and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The six-acre farm grows fruits, vegetables and herbs specifically for Virginia Tech Dining Services, and serves as a site of experiential student learning, interdisciplinary research, and community outreach. Through collaboration between faculty, dining services staff, student workers, and the CAFS minor, a working relationship has been established to allow students to gain fieldwork experience through research and production. As the minor has grown, so has Homefield Farm. Though it stated as an small herb garden in 2009, it now produces a wide variety of produce that is served on campus.
Heifer International: Drawing upon Heifer International’s model, the minor is designed to promote academic enhancement, personal growth, and civic engagement while strengthening students’ capacity to learn about civic agriculture and food systems through reflection and experiential practice to solve real-world problems. Heifer International influenced the cornerstones of the CAFS minor:
- Food sovereignty
- Civic engagement and democratic participation
- Strong local economies
- Ecological stewardship
- Healthy people and communities
- Collaborative teaching and experiential learning
Alternative spring break service-learning opportunities are made possible through Heifer International’s education programs.