The Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center in southwest Virginia’s scenic Catawba Valley is undergoing a transformation. In the last three months, coordination of efforts between Virginia Tech, Conservation Services Inc., Virginia Department of Forestry, and many volunteers led to a planting of more than 1,200 trees on 9 acres of creek side bottomland and hillside fields at the Center. Species included fruit and nut producing trees such as American persimmon, American plum, shagbark hickory, mulberry, pawpaw, elderberry, Chinese chestnut and a suite of creek side trees such as black walnut, sycamore, river birch, and bald cypress.
Sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the project called Conservation Credit for Agroforestry Production (CCAP) looks to evaluate and demonstrate the potential of agroforestry practices for use in Virginia's water quality credit trading program. Agroforestry looks to bring trees back into our agricultural landscapes and production systems for their ecosystem services and additional yields of food and medicine. “This means farmers can establish trees that provide conservation benefits and achieve production goals,” said John Munsell, Associate Professor and Forest Management Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech. “Through tree-based conservation practices, they are able to generate nutrient credits that they can sell to developers to offset the environmental impacts of their activities in other places of the watershed. Together we can work through a private market to protect the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and with the right trees farmers can also produce goods.”
Katie Trozzo, Ph.D candidate at Virginia Tech, designed and coordinated the plantings, which include various configurations to research and demonstrate establishment and care of the trees. “What’s been so powerful about this experience and this design process is really that we’ve been able to develop systems for producing products that meet our needs like food, fruits, nuts, but we’ve also been able to do it in a way that really takes into account what the land needs and what’s appropriate for that land,” she said. This approach to farming considers much more than the highest yield and demonstrates the benefits of a creative combination of trees and agriculture. Not only is the crop diversity expanded, but income can be augmented through the sale of phosphorous credits, all while promoting the overall health of the land. The Catawba Sustainability Center provides models for farming outside of the box to help us create our farms of the future.
Catawba Sustainability Center
5075 Catawba Creek Road
Catawba, VA 24070