Planting Chestnuts at the Catawba Sustainability Center
    Planting Chestnuts at the Catawba Sustainability Center
    Catawaba Sustainability Center
    The beautiful Catawba Sustainability Center
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The Catawba Sustainability Center, a 377 acre property situated in the Catawba Valley, is located in the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. It is 10 miles from the Roanoke Blacksburg Regional Airport, 22 miles from the Blacksburg campus, and directly adjacent to the internationally recognized Appalachian Trail. The Center falls under Virginia Tech Outreach and International Affairs in collaboration with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Roanoke County. Partners include:

  • Local
  • State and federal agencies
  • Nonprofits
  • Academic institutions, foundations, and community groups
  • Along with an advisory committee that aids in guiding future research and projects.

The Center carries out its mission by encouraging projects that:

  • Showcase innovative land-management practices that create environmental stewardship and advance economic development initiatives; and lend support to new agriculture and natural-resource businesses.

Faculty and students find this outdoor classroom beneficial to conducting research as well as demonstrating, teaching, and evaluating sustainable practices. Programs and classes address issues of water quality and quantity, green energy, food security, increased crop production, and green building design that will shape a sustainable future.


Virginia Tech agricultural technology students plant shortleaf pine trees at the Catawba Sustainablity Center. Photos by STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times

Catawba Sustainability Center seeks to nurture budding farmers.

 “There are a couple different stories to tell here,” farm manager Josh Nease said. “One of them is about the history of this place and this farm in particular and its importance to the community. There’s another story to tell about what we’re doing now.”   Read about how the Catawba seeks to define its story and its impact on the Roanoke Community


Projects at the Catawba Sustainability Center

Silvopasture Demonstration Project

Silvopasture is a land management conservation practice where trees are integrated into pasturelands for environmental and economic benefits. Currently 12 acres of silvopasture have been installed.

Partnerships: Department of Crop, Soils, and Environmental Science (CSES) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), VA Division of Forestry (VADOF), and the American Chestnut Foundation

Agroforestry Demonstration

Agroforestry is the integration of trees into a farm landscape for economic and environmental benefits. In an effort to create more diverse and healthy land use, the Center has incorporated several species of trees onto the property.

Partnerships: Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation (FREC) in the College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE)

Collaboration with Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) on Educational Programming

VCE has dedicated a specialist to the Catawba Sustainability Center that will conduct sustainable agriculture education and demonstration programs.

Partnership: Virginia Cooperative Extension


The StREAM project brings together scientists and educators in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) 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.

Partnerships: Biological Systems Engineering (College of Engineering), Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS), and the Virginia Water Resources Research

Backcross Breeding Orchard Project

The Backcross Breeding Orchard will breed American chestnut trees with those resistant to the chestnut blight. Installation of Phase I of the orchard took place during April 2014 and is expected to produce a 300 – 500 tree orchard within five years.

Partnerships: American Chestnut Foundation , Catawba Landcare

Grassfed Beef Partnership

Rotational grazing is a process whereby livestock are strategically moved to fresh paddocks or partitioned pasture areas to allow vegetation in previously grazed pastures to regenerate. This project will lead to the implementation of the “Grassfed Beef Partnership,” where a local producer interested in learning the practice can capitalize on the expertise of the university.

Partnerships: Agricultural Technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), Pratt Scholar student recipients

Small Farm Incubator and Growers Plots

This project provides land and resources for beginning and expanding farmers and entrepreneurs. In 2014, six growers successfully produced vegetables, flowers, and sorghum.

Partnerships: Local growers and entrepreneurs, Virginia Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Coalition

Blue Blaze Trail

Roanoke County and Virginia Tech are collaborating to construct trails that connect hikers from the Appalachian Trail to Catawba via the Catawba Sustainability Center property. This project includes a trailhead and an area for parking at the Center. The initial phase will open several miles of new trail and a new access point to McAfee Knob. Construction is underway and the trail system is slated to open in fall 2015.

Partnerships: Roanoke County, Pathfinders, Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Historic Farm Renovation

The Catawba Sustainability Center is repairing the barns, demolishing unsalvageable structures, and developing a master plan for future build out. The university is committed to preserving the historic integrity of this former dairy and beef cattle farm.

Partnerships: University Planning and Facilities Services, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Native Warm Season Grass Management

Over 40 acres of pasture host a mature stand of Native Warm Season Grass, including switchgrass, big bluestem, and Indian grass. These grasses serve as ground bird nesting habitat in the spring, livestock forage during the summer, and biofuel feedstock in the winter.


The Center provides hands-on learning opportunities to students interested in taking on projects related to our events and activities.


The Center hosts groups of volunteers interested in getting their hands dirty and participating in sustainability projects. Projects generally entail some aspect of farm work or landscape maintenance. Please inquire by contacting Josh Nease at

Linking the Catawba Sustainability Center to the Local Food system

    Linking the Catawba Sustainability Center to the Local Food system- 2015 Report funded by the Governor's Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund


2015 Report funded by the Governor's Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund