From farming, to food processing, to restaurant businesses and catering services, Virginia’s food industry comprises a considerable portion of the state’s agriculture economy — an economy Virginia Tech students can learn more about this summer at the Smithsonian.

Agricultural and applied economics Professor Mike Ellerbrock is teaming up with educators from around the state to offer a month-long food systems and leadership course this June, which will take place at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation campus. 

Applications are currently being accepted and Virginia Tech students are encouraged to apply before March 26.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this institute,” said Ellerbrock. “Not only is the format and content going to be unique and interesting, but the concepts we will cover will be useful both now and far into the future.”

The course is part of the Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute, a consortium of educators from four public Virginia universities, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Virginia Sustainable Food Coalition, and can be taken for graduate or undergraduate-level credit. Professionals looking to increase their skills may also take the course to receive continuing education units.

The institute will consist of three parts — an intensive two-week coursework section, a two-week research portion, and a daylong reconvening session. Students will complete the coursework section on-site with field trips to farms, food hubs, and professional kitchens. The project portion will involve faculty-supervised teams and may be completed remotely. During the final reconvening session students will have the option of participating in-person or remotely.

“The institute has the potential to really open many students’ — and faculty’s — eyes,” said Ellerbrock. “Anytime you bring people from different backgrounds, whether that’s the school you attend or where you’re from, for collaborative discovery, the opportunities for growth are immense.”

The institute will cover topics from procurement to food safety, composting, and food tracking. Teams will also learn about university dining operations and the broader Virginia food system industry.

Each university is limited to enrolling six students and the selection committee will begin reviewing applications on March 26. To learn more about the program and submit an application, visit the Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute site.

    - Written by Jillian Broadwell

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