Students learn bounty of business experiences by managing campus farm stand
A variety of rainbow-colored vegetables peer from tables under a white tent that stands in front of Lavery Hall each Tuesday afternoon. A line of students trickles in, excited about the chance to purchase fresh, sustainable produce.
The on-campus farm stand is a new initiative of Homefield Farm and a collaboration between Dining Services, the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Operated entirely by students, the stand is open from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. each Tuesday near the main entrance to Turner Place at Lavery Hall. Seven students, all enrolled in the new Farm Market Field Study course, take shifts managing the stand, which sells nearly 30 different types of vegetables.
On Tuesdays, students sell produce out of the stand. They then reconvene on Thursdays to discuss sales, review lessons learned, and plan strategies for the future. Professors from across the university have visited the class to offer guidance on the operations.
The farm stand has been a longtime dream for Dining Services and Alex Hessler, an instructor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and the director of Homefield Farm.
“Homefield Farm has provided produce to campus dining centers since 2009, and students were able to engage with the farm by eating meals prepared with those ingredients,” said Hessler. “But we wanted students to participate more directly and experience the bounty of what southwestern Virginia can produce, all in one place.”
Homefield Farm is a six-acre educational farm located at Kentland Research Farm, just 10 miles from the Blacksburg campus. The land serves as a site for student learning, research, and university partnership. Students enrolled in Hessler’s Sustainable Agriculture Practicum course work and learn at Homefield Farm in the spring and fall semesters. Those students, in addition to others hired during the summer break, are responsible for hauling in more than 50,000 pounds of fresh produce each year to be served in Virginia Tech’s award-winning dining centers.
Now, a portion of that yield stocks the Homefield Farm Stand. Each week, Hessler and his students sell crops, such as root vegetables, zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, and even pumpkins and decorative gourds. Yet, the colorful bounty is more than just a pretty display.
“The outcome that benefits everyone at Virginia Tech is showing people that vegetables can be exciting and delicious when they’re grown well and sold fresh,” said Hessler. “Our university and our region of the state have a tremendous capacity to produce a diversity of wonderful vegetables, and hopefully, learning about the story and the people behind it encourages people to eat more vegetables overall.”
The people behind the Homefield Farm stand include Grunder Singh, a junior finance major and a student in the Farm Market Field Study course. Each week, Singh and six other students operate the stand for an experience outside the typical confines of the classroom.
“I grew up on a farm for 10 to 11 years,” said Singh. “I’ve always been into organic farming and agriculture. I missed living on a farm, so I thought working on a farm would be a great alternative.”
The excitement and support for the farm stand have rapidly taken root on campus. With positive sales and engaged students, Hessler is prepared to continue the project next fall, with seasonal produce and a fresh crop of students eager to participate in this unique and exciting endeavor. As the project expands and grows, Hessler is hopeful about its potential impact.
“This is an initiative that the university is championing, and it will ultimately make the campus a greener and healthier space,” he said.
- Written by Brendan Coffey