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Research

The Catawba Sustainability Center provides a living laboratory for Virginia Tech researchers to conduct interdisciplinary research and share knowledge with the community.

Projects

Students, community volunteers, and multidisciplinary researchers are working toward the day when American chestnuts can once again grow to maturity. The team of scientists and volunteers has planted an orchard of American chestnut trees. The students gain hands-on experience with sustainable farming and forest ecology techniques. 

Biochar was applied on a field of native warm-season grasses for researchers and graduate students to study how it breaks down in the soil to aid in building soil health and sequestering carbon.

The sustainable production of medicinal herbs can provide additional or supplemental income for many farmers and is an efficient way to use steep or marginal agricultural land and maturing woodlots.

With grant funding from the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development and Roanoke County, Catawba Sustainability Center established and maintains a propagation center for goldenseal, ramps, and black cohosh.

This project, supported by John Munsell, professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension forest management specialist in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, works to create a regional network of smaller producer plots that will include farmers, herbalists, manufacturers, and retailers.

The Catawba Sustainability Center provides technical support, training for growers, plant stock, workshops and demonstrations, processing facilities, and help with marketing.

Research by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Plant and Environmental Sciences on this Appalachian wild leek puts forgotten land to use. The ramps are grown on land that farmers wouldn’t otherwise use — hill slopes covered in dense foliage. Here the impact of Endomycorrhizal fungi is examined on the growth rate of ramps, which Appalachian lore says could take as long as seven years. 

A small, half-acre plot of sorghum was planted to study whether the labor required to grow, harvest, and process the sweet Southern staple into syrup could be profitable for local farmers. The small plot yielded about 5 gallons of syrup, which then could sell for up to $18 per quart.

A weathered concrete bridge crosses a creek. White pipes descend from the bridge into the water.

The StREAM project brings together scientists and educators in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the greater Virginia Tech community to develop a nationally recognized research facility that can be used to attract major competitive funding, improve undergraduate and graduate teaching, and enhance outreach opportunities. It also includes partnerships with  Biological Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering, the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, and the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.

Thomas Kuhar, professor of entomology, is testing various genetically modified sweet corn varieties to determine their resistance to the corn earworm. Another study examines the effects of stink bugs on sweet corn and how implementing traps in the field can help. 

The restoration of once native wetlands enhances water quality for the Chesapeake Bay, as well as provides habitat for various species of insects, reptile, amphibians, and water fowl. The installation of wetlands improves the way water drains on the farm landscape, and provides education and enhanced scenery for visitors.