Nutritional sciences student to work at Penn State Student Farm this summer

Marjorie S. Miller
April 09, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Bowen Zheng wants to bring nutrition back to its roots. 

Zheng, a junior majoring in nutritional sciences, will work at the Student Farm at Penn State this summer to complete an undergraduate field experience.

His goals at the farm are to learn about food production, apply his nutrition training to develop new materials for the farm, and teach Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members and students in the dining commons about healthy eating and cooking. 

This is the first time a nutritional sciences student will complete his or her fieldwork requirement at a farm, said Mary Dean Coleman-Kelly, associate teaching professor and dietetics option program director in the Department of Nutritional Sciences.

“Bowen’s fieldwork is a great opportunity to showcase the many different opportunities a nutritional sciences degree can provide, such as learning how food is grown and how to make healthy meals from the foods grown on the farm — important skills for careers in nutrition and dietetics and life,” Coleman Kelly said. 

To help prepare him for the experience, Zheng is currently enrolled in a two-credit AGECO 495 training course, alongside Student Farm field interns. The course teaches students about farm planning, seed starting, pest management, community engagement and other areas of farm work. 

In the mornings at the farm, Zheng will be doing hands-on work, such as seeding, watering, harvesting vegetables, preparing beds and giving tours of the farm. The rest of the time he plans to spend blogging, taking photos and making recipe videos. The farm also sends out a weekly CSA newsletter to its members, so Zheng will create and curate content for the newsletter as well. 

“We're excited to work with Bowen to expand cooking demos on the farm and create video and other educational content for social media, to encourage people to eat more and different veggies,” said Leslie Pillen, associate director of farm and food systems at the Sustainability Institute at Penn State.

Zheng’s hopes his videos highlight the nutritional benefits of vegetables, as well as ideas for preparing and cooking them. 

“One example of a less-common vegetable we grow is kohlrabi. It's related to broccoli and cabbage, but many people have never tried it,” Pillen said. 

Pillen added that the farm also hosts tour groups throughout the year, so Zheng’s nutrition background will be helpful for connecting how the farm grows the food, and how different colors and types of vegetables contribute to good health.

Zheng said when he was first presented with the idea to complete his field work at a farm, he was intrigued. His mother works in the health care field, and has always expressed to him a need for, and the importance of, registered dietitians in the field. His mother’s career is one reason he decided to pursue studies in nutrition. 

Zheng’s family is originally from China, and for a while he lived on a farm there, which is why the field work at the Student Farm appealed to him. Though he doesn’t have much hands-on experience in farm work, he is looking forward to learning as much as he can. 

“I’ve always been interested in food,” he said.

Although Zheng will be the only intern from the Department of Nutritional Sciences, he will work with several other students this summer, as well as three AmeriCorps members. 

“Everyone will work together to plant, maintain and harvest the field, and each person will also have a specific management role,” Pillen said.

For example, two interns will manage the Community Supported Agriculture program, an intern will manage the sales to campus dining; two interns will work with some of the farm’s community partners on food security projects; and an intern will coordinate some on-farm workshops.

“I am excited for students from various backgrounds and majors to learn from one another about the whole food system, and to make connections across those different aspects of the food system to better understand how their own area of expertise contributes to the whole,” Pillen said. “I hope Bowen will gain real-world experience in how to translate and apply his nutrition knowledge to the general public and to a student audience.”

Zheng said he plans to use his farm experience after graduation to pursue a master’s degree to work in a long-term care facility, or to continue making videos and blogging about farming and healthy eating. Or, he could do a combination of both, he said: Teach aging adults how to farm and eat healthy foods. 

The Student Farm at Penn State is a living laboratory rooted in the community and campus. It is cultivated on campus by and for students. As a part of the Sustainability Institute and its mission, the Student Farm seeks to enhance food systems education, improve local food access, and grow and develop a community around sustainable agriculture. This year, the Student Farm was nominated as one of the class gifts and is currently raising funds to establish an endowment for the long-term support of the program.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 20, 2019