Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit

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Reducing Food Waste in Baltimore City, MD through Cross-Sector Partnerships

Anne Draddy and Ava Richardson 

The Baltimore Office of Sustainability (BOS) 

Abstract: In Baltimore, 25% of all waste generated is food waste; overall 1/3 of the materials sent to our landfill and incinerator are compostable. Concomitantly, 138,150 people (22.2%) in Baltimore are food insecure – equating to an annual meal gap of 24 million – all while an estimated 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is never eaten. Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability - in partnership with the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and The Rockefeller Foundation - is advancing food waste reduction, food rescue and food scrap recycling citywide through its Food Matters Program. Since the implementation of the program, BOS has committed the city to reduce half of all food waste generated in the city by 2030. To reach this goal, BOS is implementing community-led solutions and programs, creating stronger linkages between food rescue stakeholders and food insecure residents and providing capacity building funds to current food waste reduction efforts in the city. Our current projects include: (1) the implementation of a decentralized community composting program with multiple drop-off locations in the city (2) the Save The Food Campaign designed to educate consumers about practices which prevent edible food from going to waste and (3) a food waste education series.


Lettuce Break the Cycle: A Green Collar Revolution to Fight Recidivism

Ajit Mathew George

Second Chances Farm LLC

Abstract: In 2017, Ajit George founded an LLC with the purpose of battling recidivism. According to the Bureau of Justice, 76.6% of individuals released from state prisons in the U.S. are re-arrested within five years of release. Due to multiple barriers when re-entering society, they are often handed a “life sentence of unemployment” after already serving their time. Second Chances was founded with the intent to train entrepreneurs in the emerging indoor agriculture industry, exclusively hiring individuals who have served time in prison. The goal is to teach them the skills needed to run indoor, vertical farms of their own. After leaving prison, individuals will be required to complete a re-assimilation training after which they will then spend the next six to twelve months as an “entrepreneur in residence” for $15/hour, learning all the expertise required to run a hydroponic farm. After this period of training, they will be given the option of becoming a farm owner on a turn-key basis, without credit or capital, in exchange for equity in each farm. All farms will be indoor and hydroponic in nature, located within Opportunity Zones.

Create a Hentopia for Food Justice: Making Backyard Chicken-Keeping Doable for the Busy and the Budget-Constrained

Frank Hyman


Abstract: Everyone knows about the trend for keeping backyard chickens. But the media has not yet picked up on the counter-trend: many people give away their chickens when they discover the standard practices are costly and troublesome. Experts believe about 20% of people give away their chickens after a year. Fortunately, backyard chicken keeping can be simpler and cheaper for people who don’t have Martha Stewart’s resources. Designer, carpenter and former organic farmer Frank Hyman has employed 21 DIY projects that create hassle-free habitat—a coop made from pallets, waterers that refill during every rain, feeders made from buckets and more. Using techniques suitable for non-carpenters, these low-tech and low-cost options allow busy families to leave their Hentopia on auto-pilot or go on vacation for two weeks without worries. A Hentopia-based project, whether in a backyard, a community garden or a commercial urban ag project, makes more fresh food available to more people with less time and cost. 


Water Use Efficiency of Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) Cultivars Grown in Greenhouse Using Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

Daniel Leskovar1 and Vasile Cerven2

Texas A&M University1 and Virginia State University2

Abstract: Lettuce cultivar trials were conducted to evaluate water use efficiency (WUE) and incidence of leaf tipburn injury of leafy vegetables aim to provide recommendations on the best lettuce cultivars that are most suitable for hydroponic culture system. A completely randomized design trial replicated four times was conducted at the Research and Extension Center Uvalde, Texas A&M University, TX.  Lettuce types included bib, romaine and loose-leaf. Within the Bibb types lettuce, greatest fresh weight and WUE [0.22-0.58 L.g-1 dry weight (DW)] were recorded for Buttercrunch, within the Romaine types, greatest fresh weight, and WUE (0.28-0.70 L.g-1 DW) were recorded for Sunbelt and within the Loose-leaf types, highest growth and WUE (0.66, 0.75, 0.72 and 0.59 L.g-1 DW) were recorded for ‘Ezatrix’, ‘Caipira’, ‘Kremlin Red’ and ‘Pearl Gem’, respectively. Furthermore, although, many cultivars performed well in WUE and yield, however several cultivars expressed leaf tipburn injury, which were calcium-related physiological disorder. So, increased calcium concentration from 187 to 280 and 373 mg.L-1 significantly reduced tipburn injury in ‘Paris Island’, ‘Bibb’ and ‘Fenberg’ cultivars. The results revealed the best leafy greens cultivars for production in greenhouse using NFT culture.


Impact of Organic and Inorganic Fertilizer on Plant Growth and Soil Health: Implications for Urban Agriculture Settings

E. Washington, H. Gao, J. Andrews and L. K. Rutto

Agricultural Research Station, Virginia State University

Abstract: A greenhouse experiment was conducted to compare Bok Choy (Brassica rapa var. chinensis), basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) and Tatsoi mustard (Brassica rapa var. rosularis) growth and soil biology in response to organic and inorganic fertilizer. Seedlings transplanted into 4L pots were fertilized with 50g of Be-1organic fertilizer (Be Organics, Corvallis, OR) or 9.4g NO3, 6.7g triple superphosphate and 4.2g K2O of Hi-Yield® fertilizer (VPG, Bonham, TX). Three replicates were established per treatment including an unfertilized control. The experiment was harvested 52 days after transplanting and shoot fresh and dry (72oC for 48hrs) weights recorded. Dried samples were used for mineral analysis while freeze-dried soil samples were submitted to MIDI Labs (Newark, DE) for analysis of soil microbe population and diversity. Dry matter yield was no affected by fertilizer type in Bok Choy and basil, while mustard had significantly higher yield in response to organic fertilization. While luxury N consumption was observed in plants receiving inorganic fertilizer, organic fertilizer contributed to balanced nutrient uptake in all three species tested. Improved soil microbial activity was also observed in response to the organic treatment and we recommended it for use in small-scale vegetable production including in urban agriculture settings.


Assessment of Exceptional Quality Biosolids Products for Urban Agriculture

Odiney Alvarez-Campos and Gregory K. Evanylo

Virginia Tech University

Abstract: Exceptional Quality (EQ) biosolids may be developed into products that can restore disturbed urban soils for the production of vegetables in urban gardens. The objectives of this study were to investigate the effects of EQ biosolids on urban soil properties, vegetable yields, and potential nitrogen (N) loss. We conducted a two-year field study with four growing seasons (fall 2016-2017 and summer 2017-2018) in an urban disturbed subsoil in Virginia where EQ biosolids were applied seasonally at agronomic N rates, and yearly at reclamation rates (5x agronomic N) to grow vegetable crops. Cabbage yields were greater with reclamation rates (~3.0 kg m-2) than with an inorganic fertilizer (1.0 kg m-2) during second year growing season (fall 2017). Soil properties (total organic N, carbon, and phosphorus) improved over time with EQ biosolids application. Nitrogen loss in water samples increased after EQ biosolids and inorganic fertilizer application; however, overall N loss from reclamation rates was not greater than the inorganic fertilizer. Despite limiting soil conditions, biosolids amendment at reclamation rates showed the greatest potential to increase vegetable yield and improve soil properties after two years of application, while not impairing water quality.  


Important Considerations for the Use of Orchard Bees in Urban Agriculture

Lisa Horth

Old Dominion University

Abstract: Urban agriculture often operates at unique and varied scales that typically differ from rural agriculture and conventional orchards. In smaller spaces, there are several options for pollination, though there is also less pollen and nectar available for pollinator use. Options available include growing only self-pollinating crops, including native pollinators, commercial bees, and/or some combination thereof. Although the science of honey bee use is well documented, there is little information on other commercial and native bees, such as the blue orchard bees. Thus, there are many questions that remain unanswered, such as, are they valuable in small landscapes, and is commercial use a good idea or is it best to just let nature provide pollinators? The benefits of orchard bees are becoming better understood each day for farm and greenhouse yield. For this presentation, quantitative data addressing berry growth rate and crop yield resulting from the use of orchard bees will be presented. Further questions to be addressed include: are there costs that we need to address? What about bee housing? Parasites? Further discussion will focus on several relevant factors to consider when you support the use of orchard bees in an urban landscape.


Invasive Plants and Urban Agriculture

Joel Koci

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: Urban Agriculture is a worldwide growing activity. Urban Ag deals with growing of vegetables, animals, and agroforestry in an urban area as opposed to a rural setting. It is an intercal aspect of the urban ecosystem which is initiated by residences not by migrating farmers. City dwellers initiate the gardens because they want more control over their food sources and to reduce food deserts. Urban spaces are available in the urban areas, but normally the land is vacant, undeveloped and overgrown with undesirable plant species. Many of the sites need eradication of these undesirable plants and many may be invasive that will be constant problem plants if not recognized and eliminated. By learning how to recognize these invasive plants the urban Ag farmer will benefit the environment by reducing the invasive population and benefiting the pollinator population which will benefit the planted areas. Urban Ag has many ecological benefits: carbon sequestering, storm water infiltration, social benefits, improving land values, etc. By learning how to identify common invasive plants the urban gardener save themselves time, money and effort.


Networking Indoor Farms by Leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain Technology to Eliminate the Supply Chain for Fresh Produce 

Alexander Olesen and Bevin Etienne

University of Virginia 

Abstract: Indoor farming has the potential to increase agricultural productivity in the face of climate uncertainty. Hydroponics and other indoor growing methods make it possible to bring year-round production of almost every major crop variety to all corners of the globe regardless of the native climate. This has the potential to eliminate unsustainable supply chains that underpin the industrialized food system. However, as things stand this highly productive and sustainable means of growing crops is highly complex and capital intensive. Thus, indoor farming remains inaccessible to the majority of the population and unable to impact communities that need it the most. In May 2017 we conducted preliminary research on the potential for low-cost hydroponic food production methods to impact food security in Kenyan refugee camps that are reliant on food donations that are imported from around the world. The results of this research demonstrated the potential for indoor farming to create localized, equitable, and nutritious food production systems that would eliminate the inefficient supply chain. However, it also highlighted the exceedingly high costs associated with productive indoor farming systems that require extensive technology, infrastructure, and horticultural expertise. At the time it was clear that the implementation of technologies like low-cost sensors, machine learning, and blockchain within indoor farming systems could lead to a convergence of transformational potential for this means of food production.


Pamunkey’s Heritage Farming Project: Educational Tools to Foster Native American Community into Conserving Cultural Values, History, and the Environment

Warner Orozco

Extension Educator Pamunkey Indian Reservation

Abstract: Sustainability is an interdisciplinary field that promotes environmental health and restoration, social equity, and economic vitality aiming to meet the needs of the present as well as those of future generations. Here in Virginia, several Native American groups honor their rural roots by preserving a cultural connection with the landscape and the values of their ancestors. However, several of these rural communities are being affected by poverty, environmental degradation, and the decline of primary land-based activities such as agriculture and fishing.  Thus, we must implement strategies that support rural development and the creation of new farmers interested in protecting the environment and rescuing the traditions, knowledge of their local cultures.  These strategies help on building life-long learning in individuals; develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes in people; and contributes to the general development of the community.  Currently, in collaborative partnership with the Pamunkey Tribe, The Cooperative Extension is developing an educational program to encourage food sovereignty by using an experiential learning model. We are increasing agricultural literacy in the community by teaching how to produce food using sustainable methods. The program is also collecting cultural ethno-botanical knowledge from the elders and the information gathered is being documented.  The final product of this project will be an educational resource that will provide the natural history of the plant. 


Assisting Berry Crops Production in an Urban Environment

Jayesh B. Samtani

Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Virginia Tech

Abstract: Virginia Tech’s Small Fruit Program at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) in Virginia Beach was initiated in 2013. This program has been catering to the needs of commercial berry growers, master gardeners, home gardeners and community gardens. An overview of the berry activities at the Hampton Roads AREC, findings from the various research studies including soil disinfestation strategies in urban and peri-urban settings, berry varieties to consider, gardening by engaging students in local elementary schools and communities, and other outreach efforts will be presented.


Aquaponics – Overview and Plant Production Systems

Chris Mullins

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: Aquaponics is the integration of a hydroponic plant production system with a recirculating aquaculture system.  A hydroponic system (closed or open) involves growing plants without soil i.e. in only nutrient solution or in some type of artificial media.  A recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) is most often the production of fish in a closed system where water quality is maintained through a filter system.  Independently, hydroponic systems and RAS can be productive and commercially viable.  However, there have been concerns surrounding the sustainability of modern hydroponics and aquaculture.  To that end, growers and producers have been looking for a potentially more sustainable system in aquaponics.  In this session, participants will learn generally about aquaponics and more specifically the plant production systems associated with it. 


Recirculating Aquaculture Systems

Michael Schwarz1, Reza Ovissi1, Jonathan van Senten1, David Kuhn2, Chris Bentley3 and Steve Urick1

1Virginia Seafood AREC, Virginia Tech, Hampton, VA, 2Food Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

3Eastern Shore Lab, VIMS, Wachapreague, VA

Abstract: Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) are systems utilized for the production of aquatic species, which recycle in excess of 90% of the system water on a daily basis. Among the myriad of aquaculture production systems available to the producer today, RAS represent the fastest growing sector; in part due to their inherent high production and marketing control, enhanced biological and stock security, and inherently low dependency on natural resources. RAS also play a central role in aquaponics. Whether as coupled or de-coupled production units, RAS provide and maintain critical water quality parameters as required by the crop in production. This presentation will review basic RAS components, operational and design considerations, and current trends in the US.


Aquaponics Marketing and Economics

Jonathan van Senten

Virginia Seafood AREC

Abstract: There is no one recipe for success in aquaponics, just like any other aquaculture or agriculture business. Profitable businesses are the product of a series of important decisions that all have compounding effects on the business. Few aquaponics businesses have survived long enough to truly understand the economics of this type of venture. As such, there is limited information available on the profitability and economics of aquaponics. Research is starting to reveal several trends and fundamentals that need to be considered when designing and developing an aquaponics business. These include accounting for the increased costs of fish production in tanks, the profitability of plants compared to fish, the prevalence of additional revenue streams, and the advantages of decoupling to maximize production efficiency of both crops. Aquaponics is a highly complex venture and having a good business plan as a foundation is essential in order to achieve success. 


Aquaponics: Fish Health and Water Quality 

David Crosby 

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: No matter what production system is in use, fish health and water quality will be a concern for the producer. Aquaponics systems will have fish mortalities and water quality issues. Water quality is the linchpin for maintaining fish health. Poor water quality will degrade the aquatic environment that results in a disease outbreak. When using mechanical means (biofilter system) to maintain good water quality in aquaponics, it can fail or be overwhelmed resulting in a degraded aquatic environment. When this occurs, fish health issues become a problem.  Aquaponics systems must be monitored daily for water quality issues. Water parameters that are analyzed each day should include hardness, alkalinity, nitrite, TAN, and pH. The practice of good animal husbandry in aquaponics is a must for reducing the risk of fish disease outbreaks. Good animal husbandry means having good feed management, the appropriate stocking rates, and handling practices. Regardless of what fish is being raised in the aquaponics tanks, they can get sick. Even tilapia, the super fish of tank systems, can be infected with a pathogen resulting in an epizootic. Tilapia can tolerate poor water quality but can still be affected by it. High TAN levels are associated with tilapia disease outbreaks. To keep the bugs (pathogens) out of the system, a biosecurity plan is essential for maintaining good fish health and preventing fish disease outbreaks. All facilities should have a biosecurity plan in place and posted for all to see. Just the simple act of using one fish net for all tanks for fish handling would transfer and spread pathogens in the facility. A producer using an aquaponics system should have a contingency plan if a disease outbreak occurs. A contingency plan outlines how to handle the disease situation and bring it under control.


Aquaponics – Outreach and Youth Engagement

Brian Nerrie

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University 

Abstract: Aquaponics is the integration of a hydroponic plant production system with a recirculating aquaculture system.  A hydroponic system (closed or open) involves growing plants without soil i.e. in only nutrient solution or in some type of artificial media.  A recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) is most often the production of fish in a closed system where water quality is maintained through a filter system.  Independently, hydroponic systems and RAS can be productive and commercially viable.  Additionally, aquaponic systems can be a valuable teaching tool for youth education.  Several school systems have adopted aquaponic system for teaching a variety of topics.  Participants in this session will learn about the outreach opportunities and collaborations that have happened in Virginia.


Grant Funding Opportunities for Urban Agriculture

Leonard Githinji

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: According to Forbes, 80% of new businesses fail in the first 18 months operation, and it turns out that the main cause of failure is lack of capital. Urban agriculture projects are not an exception, and considering the significant start-up costs involved, it calls for operators to have access to loans, grants, and investments just to get the project off the ground. The questions that linger in most aspiring urban farmers are: How can I get funding opportunities for my urban farming venture? Where are these opportunities? How can I prepare for these opportunities when they come calling? These questions will be answered during this presentation. There will be a broad discussion of grant opportunities that are available for urban farmers. The outcome of this presentation is to prepare current and aspiring urban farmers for future grant opportunities.


Understanding & Maintaining Your Financial Health in Urban Agriculture

Larry A. Connatser

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: This workshop is designed to help reduce your financial risk, thereby, increasing your financial security and your peace of mind.  The knowledge in this program will help you grow and sustain a successful urban farm business. The program will address: What goes on a balance sheet? How different transactions affect the balance sheet? Basic principles of a Cash Flow Statement, or income/expense statement; Liquidity; How to calculate a debt-to-income ratio, and how it can help determine your “financial health”


The Ecosystem Services of Urban Agriculture and its role in Urban Planning

Marcus Comer

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: Urban Agriculture (UA) is currently practiced by 800 million people world-wide (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2019).  The benefits of urban agriculture are numerous. Urban ag provides readily available fresh produce to city dwellers.  Sourcing goods from urban farmers reduces our ecological footprint through reduced transportation cost, the use of sustainable practices, increased greenspace, improve food insecurity and many other social issues.  Ecosystem services is an un-estimated benefit that provide a wide variety of economically valuable services that should be accounted for in urban decision-making and planning. The valuation of ecosystem services can support urban decision-making and budgeting as well as contribute to reducing costs and improving the community’s quality of life.  This presentation will explain Ecosystem Services, the value of Urban Agriculture and how these values can be utilized by city planners to bridge science and policy in planning and policy decisions. “The benefits of urban agriculture are numerous, not only does it provide readily available fresh produce to city dwellers; sourcing goods from urban farmers reduces our ecological footprint through reduced transportation cost, the use of sustainable practices, increased greenspace, improve food insecurity and many other social issues.”


Food Safety Plan Development for Aquaponics

Reza Ovissi and Setareh Shiroodi

Seafood AREC/Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech University

Abstract: Aquaponics is a growing area for urban gardening and intensive agricultural systems in suburban and rural communities.  These systems have the potential to reduce food insecurity, particularly in urban food deserts in conjunction with community supported agriculture efforts by providing a source of fresh vegetables, primarily leafy greens as well as fresh fish. Similar to other fresh food production systems there is a risk of foodborne illness with aquaponics. However, there have been few studies on risk assessment and preventive controls that may be specific for aquaponics operation from a human food safety standpoint. Aquaponics provides a new twist for aquaculture producers who have limited understanding of the food safety risks of fresh produce, likewise hydroponics operators generally have limited understanding of how to incorporate fish into their operating system and how to manage a system to optimize production of the produce and fish while at the same time maintaining fish health. Different designs of aquaponics systems could present different food contamination risks and this issue has received little study. Hence, developing food safety plan is necessary for aquaponics industry. The key factors for developing food safety plan and good manufacturing practices will be discussed.


Aquaponics and Food Safety Modernization Act

Laura Strawn

Virginia Tech Eastern Shore AREC, Virginia Tech University 

Abstract: The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is comprised of seven rules aimed at shifting the focus from responding to contamination events to preventing contamination events. One of the seven rules is the Produce Safety Rule (PSR) sets science-based minimum standards for the safe, growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce. Compliance with FMSA’s PSR begins May 1, 2019 for operations >500K, and in subsequent years based on operation size. Aquaponics operations are not exempt from the PSR unless the operation is exempt by size of operation and product sales. While aquaponics is not addressed much throughout the PSR, there are three subparts where there are aquaponics specific comments including agricultural water, biological soil amendments of animal origin and human waste, and domesticated and wild animals. This presentation will assist aquaponics producers in understanding more about FSMA’s PSR, if they are covered by the rule, and how the PSR may impact their operation. Additionally, general information about food safety best practices for aquaponics.


What Am I doing and is Worth it?  Optimizing Your Urban Farm Business & Marketing with Awesome Computer Spreadsheet Templates 

Theresa Nartea

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Urban market farmers in Virginia may sell in different market outlets but may not be able to determine which of their markets is most profitable for their operation.  Although many software programs are available to assist farmers in determining their most profitable market outlets, the majority are not free or have not been developed specifically for the unique record keeping challenges of small market farmers. To address this issue, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers at the Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems have developed the two profit management tools: Veggie Compass and Livestock Compass.  In order to manage risk and improve the economic viability of your urban market farm, participants will become familiar with how to use Veggie and Livestock Compass to assess market profitability of specific crops sold across different market outlets.  Dr. Theresa Nartea, VSU Agribusiness & Marketing Extension specialist, will lead this hands-on training to show small farmers how they may benefit from understanding the types of recordkeeping necessary for profitable farm business operations. Participants will also learn what records are important to keep in order to increase business profitability and mitigate risk in market outlet selection.


Turn Your Website into a Marketing Power Tool

Resi Connell

Independence FUNie Farm, LLC

Abstract: In this session, I will cover the 4 biggest mistakes that most folks make with their websites that drive customers away and how to easily fix them. I will also provide an easy, 4 step process that anyone can do to create their own marketing power tool for today’s consumers whether you are starting from scratch or revamping your existing site. I will show you methods and free tools to create a professional look and to make your farm, products or services discoverable as well as increase your sales using your website, social media and the power of search engines. No expertise is necessary. Anyone can do this!


Testing Genotypes of Edible Hibiscus for Use in Urban Agriculture: Advantages of Mass Selection Breeding

Caitlin Arlotta1, Ramesh Marupaka2, Raghavendhar R. Kotha2, Devanand Luthria2, James Harnly2, and Matthew L. Richardson1

University of the District of Columbia 1; United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Services 2

Abstract: In the era of rapid climate change, urban farmers may turn to heat-tolerant tropical crops, such as Hibiscus sabdariffa L. The market demand hasn’t been fully quantified in the United States, but there is demand for the leaves, flowers, and calyces, particularly from immigrant communities and chefs. These are ingredients in a variety of foods worldwide from gongura pacchadi in India to sorrel drink in Jamaica. To our knowledge, no previous studies of H. sabdariffa compared genotypes, determined nutrient profiles, or determined urban production suitability. We grew seven genotypes of H. sabdariffa in three production systems (green roof, field row, and high tunnel) in and near Washington, DC to assess suitability based on yield, nutrient content, and susceptibility to pests. We grew five genotypes of Hibiscus sabdariffa from the USDA germplasm repository, a commercial Thai red variety, and a green variety (cultivated through a local decade-long breeding program). Results show clear high performers in each growing system. The green variety proved a top performer in all three growing systems, along with having the fewest Japanese beetles in the field. We are evaluating simple spectroscopic methods for differentiating genotypes.  Upcoming analyses include proximate analysis, sugar and phenolic profile and analysis.


The Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation:  A Land-Grant Initiative for Community Food Work

Kim Niewolny, Joyce Latimer, and Eric Bendfeldt,

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech

Abstract: From a historical lens, food systems work takes on a number of issues, politics, and priorities. Now more than ever we need a diversity of perspectives, strategies, and actors to create resiliency and equity in our food systems and communities. We also need to develop better ways to connect and build our efforts in solidarity with other movements for social change. The purpose of the newly launched Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation at Virginia Tech is to address this complexity in catalyzing new possibilities for food systems and community change with the goal of promoting the values of diversity and inclusion across the tripartite land grant mission. In this poster, we emphasize the formation of this Center, our long-term goal, and subsequent aims to build capacity across the rural-urban community divide for more viable, socially just food and farming systems in Virginia and beyond. We further articulate the role of network development, story circles, community-based dialogue, and community-university partnerships as Center strategies to cultivate food systems that nourish healthy people, empower communities, revitalize local economies, preserve natural ecosystems, and foster human dignity as core values.


Livestock Rearing in Urban Areas: Benefits and Issues for Consideration

Eunice Ndegwa

Agricultural Research Station, Virginia State University

Poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, fish and bee keeping are examples of options for those urban dwellers interested in livestock rearing. While the choice of the animal depends on individual preferences, many factors need consideration before deciding on which animals are best for the urban farm. Having livestock in urban farms can offer a fresh supply of animal products, manure for vegetable production, income, attraction points for social interactions, education on agri-food sources, companionship and also agri-tourism. However, issues like local city regulations and ordinances on what animals and the number of animals allowed are paramount. Additionally, the size of lot/land, feed availability, neighborhood/homeowners association rules, availability of livestock health services, knowledge or availability of management information and marketing information are also among other important factors that need to be considered before a final decision is made. Pertinent information will be shared focusing on benefits of each choice of livestock and key issues that need to be considered before bringing livestock.


Evaluation of the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Certification Program at Virginia State University

L. Githinji1, S. Chohan1, L. Connatser1, T. Nartea1, L. Rutto2, Z. Mersha2, D. O’Brien1, E. Ndegwa2, T. Porter1, R. Rafie1, C. Mullins1, B. Nerrie1, D. Pfeiffer3, P. Johnson4, G. Dommert5 

1 Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University;  2Agricultural Research Station, Virginia State University; 3Virginia Tech University; 4Nanih Farm Inc.; 5Prince George Master Gardener

Abstract: In 2017, Virginia State University launched a Sustainable Urban Agriculture Certification Program for urban farmers, gardeners, extension educators, and other community members. The program includes a variety of subjects including Principles of Urban Agriculture; Plant Propagation; Sustainable Soil Management; Permaculture; Business and Entrepreneurship; Pest Management; Hydroponics and Aquaponics systems; and Backyard Rearing, among other topics. The program includes 12-weeks of classroom lectures, hands-on experiential learning, the completion of an 80 hours of internship at various urban agriculture sites, and a presentation of a final seminar. A certificate is then awarded upon successful completion. The first cohort began in spring 2017, with 25 participants enrolled. The second cohort enrolled in fall 2017 had 14 participants, while the third cohort that started in spring 2018 had 25 participants. A survey of 27 participants drawn from the three cohorts revealed that 57.9% either agreed or strongly agreed that the program met their expectations; 66.7%  that the instructors communicated clearly; 63.1% that the program provided quality hands-on experiences; 63.2% liked the classes being held on Saturdays; and 68.4% liked the program meeting location at Virginia State University. A dual module was introduced this spring that includes both 22 face-to-face participants 15 distance learners.


Microbiological Assessment of Fresh Produce Acquired from Farmers’ Markets in Central Virginia

C. Kim1, R. Almuqati2, A. Fatani2, A. Rahemi1, and T. Nartea3;

1Agricultural Research Station, 2Department of Biology; 3Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: The aim of this study was to assess microbiological quality of fresh produce procured from farmers’ markets in Central Virginia. Samples were collected and bacterial isolates tested for their susceptibility to 12 antimicrobials. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) profiles of the isolated E. coli were further explored for genomic diversity and environmental association to identify potential pathways of the bacterial transmission with regard to the routes of contamination. Aerobic mesophilic and psychrotrophic bacterial counts ranged from 1.7 to 9.4 log CFU/g, with the lowest and the highest counts recorded for crimini mushroom and kale, respectively. The highest level of coliforms was found in cilantro with 5.8 log MPN/g. Pathogens with 10.1% E. coli, 8.7% Campylobacter, and 8.0% Listeria of total samples were detected. Ampicillin showed the highest frequency of resistance among E. coli (47.8%) and Campylobacter (100%) isolates while nalidixic acid showed the highest resistance in Listeria isolates (72.7%). Approximately 17.4% of E. coli, 54.5% of Listeria, and 91.7% of Campylobacter isolates exhibited resistance to three or more categories of antimicrobials, meeting criteria for multidrug resistance. This study clearly demonstrates a potential health hazard arising from farmers’ market-acquired fresh produce and emphasizes the importance of good agricultural and handling practices to prevent foodborne illness.


Establishing an Urban Orchard

Joel Koci

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: Urban orchards are a beneficial component of Urban Agriculture. The success of the orchard depends on proper preparation and planning. The soil factors to consider include the bulk density, water permeability, texture, fertility, and any presence of contaminants. Once the soil is sampled it may be necessary to apply amendments which may be organic matter, nutrients, or inorganic materials to encourage porosity. Another consideration is the cultivar considering some fruit trees can only be cross-pollinated. Many fruit trees have been bred of resistance to diseases, and these are the preferred cultivars. Healthy trees are those with a strong tan / whitish root system. If the trees are grafted, make sure it’s symmetrical. Be sure to select defect free trees. Proper installation of the trees should ensure they are in full sun and installed at least 20 feet apart and in an east-west orientation. The tree needs to be installed in hole no deeper than the root system and watered in to fill the soil around the roots. When these guidelines are followed the success of the urban orchard will be enhanced and the orchard will require less pesticide use, save money and effort and produce better yields.


Where’s the Water? Using Ollas as a Viable Water Management Systems for Urban Agriculture

S.  Agolini and J. Hicks

Marymount University

The increased interest and demand for a more sustainable food network requires the efficient use of urban spaces for agriculture to provide for the world’s expanding urban populations. To meet this need, urban gardeners are converting non-traditional growing spaces into productive agricultural areas. Often, however, these urban sites are not ideal in terms of space, sunlight, and accessibility compared to rural agricultural sites.  At Marymount University, we have developed an on-campus urban garden for growing produce for donation to a local food pantry. With limited campus space, our garden is located more than 50 meters from the closest water source. We are investigating the use of traditional subterranean clay ollas, that slowly release water from their porous walls to the roots of the plants, to provide a more efficient and constant supply of water in our raised bed gardens. We will be testing various ollas, crafted using a range of firing temperatures and clay compositions, to determine the ideal olla for use in our gardens. Initial investigations will take place in the laboratory and will measure soil hydration, as well as plant growth using varying ollas. This research will provide new information into potential alternative watering systems for a variety of urban agricultural settings.


Developing a Pathway Model to Guide the Work of the VCE Community, Local, and Regional Program Team

Joyce Latimer1, Tom Archibald1, Kim Niewolny1, Eric Bendfeldt1 , Kelli Scott2

1Virginia Tech University; 2Montgomery County VCE, Christiansburg, VA

Abstract: Members of the Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems (CLRFS) Program Team came together in March 2019 to create a pathway model diagram for the Program Team. The training was led by Dr. Tom Archibald (ALCE-VT). A pathway model is a diagram depicting a program’s theory of change. It is like a logic model, but instead of having the elements (e.g., activities, outputs, and outcomes) in columns in a table, they are shown with arrows showing linkages between those elements (hypothesized causal relationships). Our training and the creation of a pathway model started with a collaborative brainstorming process which was designed get use all on the same page about our purpose and value. The process, under Dr. Archibald’s leadership, allowed us to think and talk about our work in a new, more evaluative way so that we could better articulate the connection between our program activities and our intended outcomes. These intended outcomes mirrored those identified in 2016 in the CLRFS Model, i.e., healthy people, food security, viable communities, sustainable farmland and natural resources, agricultural profitability, economic development and innovation for all, and safe and nutrition food and water for all. There is still much to do in refining the draft pathway model and then “harvesting” the model to identify programming and evaluation opportunities for our team. We would love to identify others who would like to be involved with these efforts.


Raising Livestock on the Urban Homestead

Dahlia O’Brien 

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: When considering having a few animals in your backyard for self-sufficiency or even to market their products for additional income, the urban farmer must consider if livestock are allowed in their backyard, how the animals will be processed, and to whom the products will be marketed. It is important to think about these questions prior to raising any livestock.  Raising animals, such as goats, rabbits and/or poultry, in the backyard comes with advantages. Goat’s milk is a lot easier to digest than cow’s milk making it ideal for individuals who suffer from lactose intolerance. Goat and rabbit meat are healthier red meat choices providing similar protein, lower fat, total calories and cholesterol than beef.  Increased demand for healthy, low-fat, novel and locally produced foods, such as goat and rabbit meat, could be potentially profitable, especially in untapped organic markets. Also satisfying and potentially profitable is raising poultry in the backyard.  Poultry can be raised for meat, eggs or both.  Even a small farm, could potentially support a few animals if careful consideration is given to space, time, and revenue to start-up.   


Outcomes and Impacts of the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Program at Virginia State University 

Leonard Githinji 

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

Abstract: A sizeable proportion of Virginians living in urban areas are impacted by food deserts, or areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. Hence, it is imperative to mitigate the situation by investing in urban food production. Implementing extension education that involves hands-on training is the key to increasing urban food production, leading to enhanced food security. The Sustainable Urban Agriculture Program at Virginia State University, in conjunction with other partners, has provided comprehensive urban agriculture education across the state to increase knowledge and hands-on skills of gardeners, farmers, and extension educators, among others. The program has conducted workshops, field days, and hands-on training on various urban agriculture topics. In addition, the program has established demonstration sites to display appropriate techniques and developed and disseminated various educational resources. The short-term outcomes include reaching 879 individuals through 26 urban agrication training events. The medium-term outcomes include at least 170 participants changing behavior towards sustainable urban agriculture; at least 50 participants making decisions to start or expand their urban agriculture projects; and three urban gardens established in predominantly African American communities within Virginia. The impact include production of over 7 tons of pesticide-free produce valued at over $49,000.  A combined total of 65 low-income individuals received harvested produce saving them an average of over $700 on grocery bill which could be applied to other needs, such as establishing an emergency savings account.

We look forward to seeing you in Virginia Beach!

For questions, contact Dr. Leonard Githinji, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Sustainable and Urban Agriculture, Virginia State University, at (804) 524-5962 or or visit


If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Mollie Klein ( or call (804) 524-5960 / TDD (800) 828-1120 during business hours of 8 am. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations five days prior to the event.

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