Implications and Potential in Agriculture

Maybe it was because I thought agriculture was all about in-the-field farming or maybe it was because I just didn’t understand the broad applications of technology within the agricultural industry. Whatever it may have been, I never expected to come to Governor’s School for agriculture and visit a research laboratory that housed highly expensive mass spectrometers. Aside from some DNA and Covid-19 uses that I found interesting, I learned how mass spectrometers could be used for soil classifications and other agricultural necessities. The soil processing aspect of this machinery intrigued me. Learning about the vitality of soil from professor Tim Durham during the preliminary week at Governor’s School for Agriculture was fascinating; not only was the structure and composition of the soil vital for agricultural production, but soil management is a huge issue that has to be dealt with on farms regularly. Back in Virginia Tech’s genomic sequencing laboratory setting, winding through the halls of this high-end web of complex machinery with my peers and staring in awe at the complicated and confusing technology was a lesson in and of itself; agriculture is part of every industry and the possibility of coupling agriculture with any interest out there is very likely. As the lab director discussed the applications of the laboratory to us, I realized that any higher learning that I pursue will be related to agriculture and my passion for the topics relating to agriculture and life sciences can have many, many implications and potential.

  • R.A.H

The Most Prominent Part of GSA

What has been the most prominent part of my experience at Governor’s school thus far? Other than the academics (of course) I can’t help but think of D2, our dining facility. We are provided with an abundance of meal options three times a day. I’ve enjoyed the orange chicken so much that when I went to the counter the other day the server greeted me saying, “the usual?” This goes to show how often I venture to D2, and that counter specifically, but I only realized recently how much I took D2 and its accessibility to food for granted.

A few days ago we had a class on food security taught by Kas Church who works for VT Engage. She opened my eyes to the prevalence of food insecurity around Virginia Tech which is a much bigger issue than I had expected. Kas works to run “The Market” a food system on campus that puts together bags of meals for students to pick up weekly. I got the opportunity to go to her office and pack some of these food filled bags myself. Being there just for two hours left me impressed at how much effort Kas has put into this market. I was most definitely inspired by the work she does to assist students on campus who are in need of food.

Learning about food insecurity has had a lasting effect on me; once I leave governor’s school I want to seek out a similar organization in my area to contribute to that has the same aspirations as “The Market” does. In the future when I go to college whether it is at Tech or not I would like to contribute to the food pantry to try and combat this extremely prevalent problem that is faced nationwide.


Choccy Milk: A Recovery Drink

Chocolate milk is a recovery drink. At least that’s what I tell myself every morning when I drink a glass at breakfast: “three times a day isn’t an addiction it’s simply my way of preparing for the day.”

When I got the opportunity to attend the Governor’s School for Agriculture, I never thought chocolate milk would be a central part of my day-to-day routine. However, it has certainly become one. On day one of Governor’s School, I first saw the shining little box of magic full of tastiness that dispenses chocolate milk. Since then, I have had at least one glass of chocolate milk per meal. Needless to say, the chocolate milk was too good to only have with meals. At Governor’s School, we had several classes taught by Nicola Nunoo and Jama Coartney, two Virginia Tech professors. In one class, we had a group activity to practice researching and writing papers. Our group quickly concluded that researching chocolate milk as a recovery drink would be a great topic, so we carried out a quick dive into articles found on the trustworthy sci-hub (a nifty resource that removes the cost barriers to many scientific articles) before we wrote our short practice paper on Choccy Milk™.

Later in Governor’s School, I got the chance to learn about the sourcing of chocolate milk when we visited Kentland Farm, a local farm that works with Virginia Tech. Kentland Farm has about 400 cows of which about 200 are used for milking while the other 200 are calves. At Kentland Farms, we toured their barns and saw cows getting milked. Cows are incredibly interesting animals and can produce around 9 gallons of milk per day. This milk is then cooled and stored before being processed at a local facility and shipped to the magical chocolate milk machines back at Virginia Tech.

Working with Hydroponic Systems

The first week of Ag school centered around the study of soil and its relevance to the growth of living organisms. Being a kid from Northern Virginia, I at first did not see this as a relevant topic to my agricultural endeavors. My agricultural experiences don’t center around cultivating the ground at all; NOVA isn’t the environment for that. Instead, I spend most of my time in agriculture working on hydroponic systems that don’t use any soil. These systems mainly grow in clay, pebbles, rockwool.

In my school, we use these materials to grow vertically and experiment with various types of urban agriculture. I soon realized the slightly ironic truth was that soil class revolved around much more than just soil; it was instead about any type of grounding where plants can grow.

Whether it’s soil or coir (another name for coconut fiber), the material is just a filler, while the nutrients they hold are what the plants need. Dr. Tim Durham flipped through pictures of plants growing in every material imaginable, from metal cans to gravel, or even aeroponic systems, where the roots hang freely. These materials do not provide any nutrients to plants. However, with the right care, plants can grow in any ground. Systems of misting and calculated nutrient solutions can make up for any lack of soil.