First - we stopped at one of the campus dining halls to view the back-of-the-house composting operations. Workers collecting leftover food waste and collected it into compost bins. We then boarded a charter bus to Panorama Pay Dirt, a local farm which composts food waste from University of Virginia dining. While I've seen composting operations before at my own campus (U Minn), I hadn't had the opportunity to hear from the farmer's mouth about the experience of composting. It was really motivating to hear his passon shine through.
Here's some pics from the compost site:
Can you see the steam rising off this compost pile? That's how hot it is! Incredible.
Next, we boarded the charter bus in route to Wolf Creek Farms, about 20 minutes down the way. This is one of the farms Univ of Virginia Dining purchases their local, grass-fed beef from. Farmer John was so nice and very interesting as he talked about the process of raising cattle for slaughter and the land life cycle (he's really a grass farmer, he said). If you've read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, you know exactly the type of farm I'm speaking of. What a moving experience!
The farmer loaded us onto a hay rack ride and drove us up one of his hills where some of the cows were grazing. The cows were super friendly and came right up to us (I think they're used to workers being near them). The funniest (or not so funny) story he told us was about the heifers. Every heifer is expected to birth a calf every year. If she doesn't get pregnant one year, she's sent to the slaughter house. Tough life, huh! The bulls are also fed the crap hay because they don't want them to get too fat - the fatter the bull, the more impotent it is (true to humans too, right?). There were so many more stories he shared with us about the differences between corn-fed and grass-fed cattle. What an amazing experience to have the opportunity to see first hand, absolutely amazing.
Check out a few photos from Wolf Creek:
The hay ride up the hill to the grazing cattle
As we drove up the path, all the cows wandered our way to see who was stopping by
The hillside - look at all the beautiful trees!
One of the cows in the lot - look how close she came to us! No fear ...
After we left Wolf Creek, we headed to one last farm near the Univ Virginia campus. We toured the grounds of an estate someone left the university. Upon leaving, we drove the charter bus down the steep hillside only to arrive to a gate which was LOCKED. Our bus driver got out and investigated, then slowly backed up the charter bus UP the hill, in the pitch dark. Half way up, he attempts to make a three-point turn in a roadway. I'm sitting in the very front row and all I could see is the VERY STEEP drop off the side of the road where I was sure our bus was headed. After about 20 minutes, he accomplishes the turn and we're on our way. .. ... .. To only arrive at another gate. Another STUPID gate. Another STUPID gate which is standing in the way of us all having 30 precious minutes to ourselves at the hotel before dinner to clean up after being on farms and compost piles all afternoon. One of the coordinators from the campus attempted to call our contact at the farm, but her phone died. So all the local people in our group called EVERY SINGLE PERSON they knew who MIGHT know someone with a key to this stupid electronic gate. And two hours, TWO HOURS, later, someone finally came to let us out of that stupid farm. It was miserable. So while we waited for two hours, one of the girls in our group stood up and ran to the front of the bus. We weren't sure what the matter was, then she pointed to her neck. She was CHOKING! on her gum. After a few stunned minutes, the lady sitting next to me jumped up and gave her the heimlich maneuver!! It was the freakiest, craziest drama filled two hours on a bus in the middle of nowhere farm. I still can't believe that all happened.
So...after someone finally arrived to let us out, we headed straight to dinner at a restaurant called The Local and dined on delicous local foods from the Virginia area. All was well, after a very long, wonderful, hectic, crazy day of sustainability tours.