Mapping the Campus Food System: Assessing Consumer Awareness of VT Dining Services Garden at Kentland Farm
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Student farms and gardens are part of a movement concerning local food systems and direct connections between producers and consumers. Although student farms began decades ago, recently their numbers and impacts have increased. Campuses have integrated student farm and garden projects, offering authentic experiential learning opportunities for students, as successful measures of sustainability. This study explores student perceptions of the campus food systems related to the Virginia Tech (VT) Dining Garden and the Farms & Fields project venue in a main campus dining hall. A twenty question survey was created to assess student-awareness and interest in the VT Dining Garden using mixed quantitative and qualitative methods and analysis. The survey was conducted in two dining halls, over two time periods, lunch and dinner, to ensure a broad range of consumers. Surveys (n=600) were distributed with a total response rate of 50.3%. Results overall showed 55% consumer awareness of the project. Close to this same response level, 51% reported they were more likely to utilize the Farms & Fields campus dining option knowing its connection to the VT Dining Garden. Relatively little importance of organic or local procurement versus nutritional value, portion size and variety of choice was indicated from the survey response. Student motivations for volunteering in the garden were tracked identifying opportunity to work outdoors, gain horticultural skills and participate in local food systems as highly rated factors. Qualitative data showed positive responses toward the community aspect of the project and perceptions of higher quality and healthier options available. Based on these results, continued outreach for student engagement in the project could focus on community and university partnership development at the VT Dining Garden.